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3 September, 2011

Well. It's been a while.

When I last posted, in February, I was already drifting towards the dreaded 'hiatus', having dropped back from multiple posts per day at the blog's peak to a comfortable ~10 per month in 2008-9 and a half-hearted 2-3 per month.

20 January, 2011

Let your fingers do the cancelling

A BBC report about UK phone books getting smaller (it wasn't particularly interesting) happened to mention something that hadn't even occurred to me: that it's possible to opt out of receiving phone directories altogether.

23 June, 2010

Minding own business

Note to self: don't, even in a spirit of friendly assistance, inform a colleague that he could be doing his job better.  You won't be thanked.

21 June, 2010

Wait for it

Why does my employer's Twitter feed receive so many new 'followers' * with websites 'in preparation', 'nearly ready' or 'coming soon'?  It's entry-level marketing to promote oneself via social media as well as by SEO, etc., but why not get the website ready first?

8 June, 2010

Good start

A job advert for a Web Editor post at a HE institution in Edinburgh mentions that "if you do not have access to the Internet, you may request an application pack by contacting Human Resources".

18 May, 2010

Changing times

I haven't watched broadcast TV since mid/late March, nor bought a CD within the past 6-7 months.  How did that happen?

12 May, 2010


Hmm.  Most of my friends are as old as the Prime Minister.  Not sure how I feel about that.

27 April, 2010


Though I have 'perfect' vision in each of my eyes, they focus independently (i.e. their lines of sight don't converge correctly), so I perceive objects more than ~10 m away as very slightly blurred.

20 April, 2010

Just the facts, Ma'am

Writing in the Guardian, Malgorzata Górska explains how to succeed as a conservation activist, but the key advice appears in the article's comments.

14 April, 2010

Blaming the victim

Last week, a 'journalist' illustrated an online article with a copy of an illustration he found on the web.  Without making any attempt to contact the artist for permission.  Uh-oh....

12 April, 2010


Seen on the 'reduced for quick sale' shelf in a shop on campus, neatly stacked between the nearly-stale muesli bars and cheesy Wotsits:

17 March, 2010

Someone must be mistaken

Argh!  Architect is not a verb!

4 March, 2010

Just add sand & cement

According to a white van parked in my street, the owner isn't merely a humble builder.

29 January, 2010

No ads, you twit

I've mentioned before that one of my responsibilities is to monitor who's following my employer's Twitter feed, eliminating follow-sp*ammers.

12 January, 2010

New entertainment

According to a student newspaper, the installation of two 2.1 MW wind turbines would "reduce the University's energy consumption by one third, equivalent to a cut of 72,000 tonnes and £8.1 million".  How does that work, then?

28 December, 2009

Don't see it myself

Okay, I can see why piratical eyepatches are common novelties in christmas crackers, but why would a cracker contain two?

17 December, 2009

Bizarre system

Bought a couple of weeks in advance, a rail ticket from Plymouth to Lancaster, via Birmingham, costs £124.

16 October, 2009

"Children's cancer appeal, sir?"

Well, no, not really.  Isn't that the whole point of charity collections?

29 September, 2009

Not playing this year

Before attempting to gather data on the sixty-odd million people in the UK, the Office for National Statistics is running a census rehearsal by sending forms to 130,000 households in Lancaster, Ynys Môn (Anglesey) and Newham.

24 September, 2009

I wouldn't

Commercial TV executives have suggested that online catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer should no longer be free, instead requiring users to make micropayments (though up to £2 a time isn't so 'micro').

27 August, 2009

Water for the wet

I can't imagine ever choosing to buy a bottle of spring water, but I've just been given one, left over from yesterday's University open day.

Apparently, a certain brand of water is "drawn from organic land".  How pathetic.

14 August, 2009

Tweeting dangerously

Since I've taken responsibility for eliminating sp*m 'followers from the University's Twitter account, I've become a little concerned about Systems auditing my browser history.

21 July, 2009

Millennium hand and shrimp

Wh d' s'mn mms b'cm n'vsty p'trs?  S'thr a dct'n t'st n't jb nt'rv'w?

6 July, 2009

If you insist

Anyone else think it odd that the government's 'easy to remember' hygiene advice about swine flu begins with "Catch It"?

21 June, 2009

Yes, in my front yard's fine

I'm an individualist.  You may have noticed by now.

16 June, 2009

Textbook detachment

The BBC reports that schools in California (eh? so why's the BBC bothered?) are phasing-out textbooks in favour of "approved online learning materials".  I'm not sure whether I have an opinion on the relative merits of paper-based and online learning (a bit of both seems sensible) but I do know I wouldn't be particularly influenced by sentiment or the sort of reminiscence provided by the BBC article.

8 May, 2009

Conservatively progressive

If a packet of crisps advertises its contents as 'NEW flavour', why does text elsewhere on the packet say 'same great taste'?

30 April, 2009

Conform early

It seems teachers are still employing the old exercise of asking children to write about "what i did on holiday".

28 April, 2009

Oh, and a fancy hat

My employer's Press Officer has asked me to "deal with swine flu".

7 April, 2009

I just don't like superfluities

My bank's branch staff plainly think I'm a bit odd: as someone who declines to use telephone or internet banking and who has neither a car nor a mobile phone* for them to insure, I must conform to a certain profile, to which they may be trained to respond.

2 April, 2009


I'm usually immune to marketing*, but I couldn't resist buying 'Time Control' toothpaste.

If it's good, it'll instantly restore my teeth and, particularly, gums to their prime a couple of decades ago (hmm... I wouldn't want that wisdom tooth back, though...).

If it's bad, one brushing will transform my teeth to a state typical of the 1740s: made of wood and stored in a location other than my head.

4 March, 2009

Tests found wanting

According to the Guardian, Manchester Grammar School is to cease operating the mainstream GCSE national curriculum of age-16 exams, in favour of the International GCSE system.

20 February, 2009

Watch the quiet ones

This afternoon I was informed that my beard looks less 'evil' than someone else's.

14 February, 2009

Consume, conform

Slogan on a poster advertising yoghurt:

Lick The Lid Of Life!

13 February, 2009

No more exams, ever

Wahey!  My sister's a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, specialising in Trauma and Orthopaedics!

Congratulations, K!

31 January, 2009

No cigar

Correctly, Google Maps depicts the English-Welsh border with the country name in English on the English side and vice versa on the other.  Well... not quite.

29 January, 2009

What it says on the tin

Heh.  A cryptic sign has appeared in my office corridor: 'Department Lists'.

It isn't hanging straight.

13 January, 2009

Top of the world - waa!

Since falling off my bike three times last month, painfully (it's debatable whether the bike or I sustained more damage), I've slightly lost my nerve.

9 January, 2009

Do what?

As I mentioned, I was in Glasgow yesterday, visiting the office of a consultancy we may hire.  This morning I returned to my desk and an e-mail from the MD "looking forward to reverting to you early next week to confirm things".

I don't think we'll ask them to generate copy for the website....

28 December, 2008

Bad sign?

If a restaurant menu's description of a seafood salad mentioned 'fresh lettuce leaves' first, should I have realised it might indicate a scarcity of actual, y'know, seafood?

22 December, 2008

A different world

Heh.  It's always amusing to see the different reactions when a topic from one social group is cross-posted to another.

14 December, 2008

True classics

When I added the 1997 recording of Bach's 'Double Violin Concerto', performed by Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music, to my Amazon wishlist, why was 'Aliens Love Underpants', the 2007 book by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, then recommended?

13 December, 2008

Belay that

Note to self: if you think the pattern on a woman's party dress strongly resembles 'dazzle' camouflage, as used to disguise the shapes of 1940s-era battleships, don't tell her.

21 November, 2008

Slacktivism: where?

Disappointing news: my employer has 'achieved' Fairtrade status.
Better news: that was eight months ago, and no-one seems to have noticed.

18 November, 2008

Can you point to it on a map?

No, boss, The Philippines is not a member state of the EU.

17 November, 2008

My body is a temple

I'm not one at present, but I would consider registering as an organ donor in the current 'opt-in' system, whereby people are presumed not to be donors unless consent has been given explicitly.

30 October, 2008

Someone else's problem

Looking at my recycling pile this morning, I estimated that unsolicited leaflets account for at least 70% of the waste paper, by bulk.

29 October, 2008

We do the work, you do the pleasure

Not content with imposing an open-plan office on us, senior management have decided my work colleagues and I need to be restructured.  I hope it isn't too painful – it's taken me almost 37 years to achieve this arrangement of intestines and sinews.

25 October, 2008

Euphemistically speaking

I don't think I've ever bought condoms from Sainsbury's, so I hadn't expected to see stickers on the packs stating 'Security tag: remove before placing in microwave'.

15 October, 2008

Slightly metrocentric

I've been invited to a seminar!  A free seminar!  Excellent!

3 October, 2008

Double entendre

I usually manage to curb my natural pedantry, but when an institution's Press Office advertises that a logo is available for use in stationary materials and that a student is seeking flat mates, I really can't avoid commenting.

26 September, 2008

Cheap as raging infernos

The new students arrive tomorrow, a majority of whom will be 18-year-old school leavers.  Without wishing to labour an overstated point, this'll be their first prolonged exposure to alcohol totally unsupervised by parents, and possibly the first time they've had control of their own kitchens.

11 September, 2008

Out to pasture

Climbing Ingleborough in July, we found ourselves walking on proper rectangular flagstones, as a particularly boggy section of the popular Three Peaks route had been upgraded.  All were cut into identical rectangles, and all were marred by 1-2 small holes, as if street furniture had been attached and removed.

It'd be pleasant to think that the old surface of, say, Leeds' Victorian city centre had been retired to the country.

10 September, 2008

Disney units

In a press release advertising our role in CERN's LHC experiments, my employer boasts that our project will generate 30 million Gigabytes of data per year, "the equivalent of 600,000 top-of-the-range iPods, which would cover over 500 tennis courts."

8 September, 2008

Impressive memory

Returning from Liverpool last night, I spotted a vaguely familiar face at Lime Street station.

4 September, 2008

Sign o'the times

A local taxi firm has posted a flyer through my door, urging me to "book your school run, with safe, experienced, CRB-cleared drivers".

31 August, 2008

Three degrees of separation

I discovered last night that a York-based friend of an Oslo-based friend is engaged to the vocalist of a 'prog' band, er, of rather more interest to a certain Manchester-based blogger than to me, to be honest.  Still, 'small world', and all that.

9 August, 2008

Just this once

Dilemma.  If I decline to find biorhythm-calculating software for my mother, on the grounds that it's meaningless woo, I know she'll only go looking for herself, and innocently download spyware from a dodgy 'freeware' provider.

5 August, 2008

Could get crowded

For the past couple of hours I've been dealing with printers.  Not the small items of office hardware, but actual, flesh-and-blood people who organise the production of, say, 20,000 prospectuses.

4 July, 2008

Needs asking

This morning's junk mail included a leaflet from a PR firm offering:

Hot enquiries from journalists in your inbox!
Is that supposed to be a selling point?  Sounds more like a threat....

1 July, 2008


The deaths of 23 dolphins in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago was unfortunate, but also somewhat disproportionate: why did that event receive major media coverage, whilst human hardship goes unreported?

19 June, 2008

Note to cold-callers

Quick tip:

19 June, 2008

I know what you had for lunch

I frequently wear a T-shirt (black, of course) depicting an anatomically-correct ribcage, spine and shoulderblades, as if x-rayed.  Online, I've seen a cartoony version which also shows a cartoon fish skeleton in the approximate location of the wearer's stomach.

16 June, 2008

Boot 'in'

So para boots may be almost fashionable, "after years in the wilderness".

13 June, 2008

Pass the vacuum

I know what it means, but it's still strange to read that a colleague, a sedimentologist, is to chair an international working group on... dust.

13 June, 2008


Of those people publicly praising the ex-Shadow Home Secretary for resigning yesterday over the issue of detention without charge, most have commended his acting according to personal principles.  For precisely that reason, I disagree.

1 June, 2008

Professionalism is all

Isn't it reassuring to see adverts in the local free newspaper inviting people to "Become a Psychotherapist/Hypnotherapist" ("Help others and earn from £45 per hour"), alongside the 'Earn £££ by stuffing envelopes!' and 'Taxi drivers wanted' ads?

23 May, 2008

Insert your own joke

Spellchecking 'Aberystwyth' (arguably the only significant town in western Mid-Wales), Macromedia HomeSite recommended 'A breast test'.

20 May, 2008

I don't do 'nice'

For many, "niceness" is a positive value to be striven for. A "nice" person is friendly, non-threatening, and not at all controversial. A "nice" meal involves digestible food, moderately pleasant surroundings, and a conversation that perhaps does not draw the attention of other diners. For others, that's the reason that they despise "niceness".

19 May, 2008

Deeply chilling

I have a visceral opposition to suicide, bordering on incomprehension.  Much the same applies to voluntary euthanasia, though I can understand (intellectually but not emotionally) how someone suffering a degenerative terminal condition might wish to take control, avoiding the worst final stages.  If a friend or family member made that choice, I'd struggle to accept it, but couldn't condemn it outright.

14 May, 2008

Keep drinking the water

It must be summer if the 'plastic water bottles' hoax is starting to appear in my referrer logs again.

12 May, 2008

Inadvertently perceptive

Oh dear.  Apparently we provide an "integrative environment that is conducive to learning for a culturally and ethically diverse student population".

29 April, 2008

Keep to the straight & narrow

My temporary office overlooks a grassed quad, with offices on two sides, student accommodation on the other two, and a large willow in the (boggy) middle.  A pedestrian entrance in the south-west corner and a door to my building the north-east corner are linked by a tarmac path along the southern and eastern edges, but from my third-floor window I can see the tracks people actually follow.

28 April, 2008

All aboard

I wonder how many Cumbrian slugs are transported to other (sunnier?) parts of the UK, or even abroad, on the bottoms of campers' hastily-repacked tents.
I wonder how many 'Cumbrian' slugs reached the Lakes that way.

27 April, 2008

Usage note of the day

'Enervate' is not a synonym of 'invigorate', as I'd always thought – quite the opposite, in fact.

25 April, 2008

Sinister cabal

A few minutes ago, I returned from a meeting with my fellow web developers/admins, in which I noticed for the first time that three of the four of us are left-handed.
Coincidence or significant?

24 April, 2008


Why is my 'Recommended' page at Amazon trying to sell me these?

19 April, 2008

Wrongly sweet

Why does sour milk smell like strawberries?

Immediately after it's 'turned', I mean; not the vomit-inducing smell which develops later.  I can't think of anything worse than that odour – not even long-dead sheep (yes, really).

9 April, 2008

Green hijack

"This year's theme for the Staff Learning at Work Day is 'Sustainable Workplaces'"

4 April, 2008

Pick a number, any number

What possible use is a University internal phone book which indexes all academic departments under 'D' for 'Department of...'?  That puts, say, the Dental Clinic before Continuing Education, and Geography before the Finance Office.

27 March, 2008

Price of fear

Eighty-four is a small number compared to the 'over 3,000' police officers employed by the Lancashire Constabulary, but I find it difficult to believe that, as my Council Tax demand alleges, sleepy Lancashire genuinely needs to recruit that many additional officers specifically to 'combat terrorism', over and above those officers already assigned to such specialist teams.

25 March, 2008

Bitter pill

It's been a while since I last bought refined white sugar.  I prefer 'golden granulated' unrefined cane sugar in my tea; it's not quite so sweet and I try to avoid overly-processed foods.  However, it's gone the same way as bananas: apart from the 'mass-produced' white sugar, Sainsbury's now only sells Fairtrade sugar.

24 March, 2008

Hard target

If you were planning to send out e-mail sp*m advertising mail-order degrees, wouldn't you think to filter out target addresses obviously affiliated with genuine higher education institutions – .edu,, etc.?

11 March, 2008

Run it up the flagp... no, don't bother

Amongst other, frankly half-baked, ideas in a review of British citizenship, an ex-attorney general has proposed that school-leavers be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country.
This is misconceived in several respects.

1 March, 2008

Out of touch

It was rather lucky that I did my Sainsbury's shopping today, as until I almost tripped over the temporary flower stall I'd had no idea that tomorrow is designated as 'Mothers' Day'.

23 February, 2008

Caveat emptor, II

Repeated title, repeated message: when buying from unknown sellers via eBay or Amazon Marketplace, remember to check past feedback ratings first.

19 February, 2008

Careful nomenclature

Lancaster University's nearest HE-sector neighbours are the University of Central Lancashire¹ in Preston and the University of Cumbria² in Carlisle and, er, Lancaster.

The University of Central Lancashire is commonly known as, even marketed as, 'UCLan'.  However, I really, really must stop thinking of the University of Cumbria with the same sort of abbreviation.  I must not blurt it out in a meeting....

11 February, 2008

What time is it, Eccles?

I've been working with printouts of screenshots today (I still prefer to perform initial page design offline, using pen & paper), but I think I've become a little too conditioned to the Windows GUI.
Each time I want to know the time, I glance down to the bottom right of the sheet.  It's been '14:29' all morning....

1 February, 2008

Not just a name

I was surprised to discover that unlike Coca Cola, which hasn't literally contained cocaine since 1929, the traditional diarrhoea remedy Kaolin & Morphine really does contain morphine, the Class A narcotic.

28 January, 2008

Hands that do dishes

"We don't want to throw out the baby with the dishwater".

Indeed, but should I inform Social Services about my boss putting babies in dishwater in the first place?  Maybe she was confused by the outline of a toddler on the Fairy Liquid logo.

26 January, 2008


Grr!  Isn't it infuriating when a phone company offers free calls of up to an hour in duration, but then charges for the full period if one accidentally overruns?

25 January, 2008

What's that got to do with it?

I see from the local paper that Morecambe is to host this year's UKIP party conference, the UK Independence Party being an anti-European, 'England-first' ¹ offshoot of the Conservative Party.  It's traditional for political parties to meet at the seaside², so if the major parties have conferences in Blackpool or Bournemouth, it's unsurprising that a minority-interest party would choose a second-rate resort.

21 January, 2008

Stock up

A slight problem with the current TV campaign to persuade people to buy free-range chicken (and eggs) rather than battery chicken is that it appears to be working.

8 January, 2008

Not quite

A few weeks ago, I was asked to advise on the scope of a two-day conference on Web 2.0, primarily aimed at policymakers rather than techies. 

31 December, 2007

Design for life

My sister stores teabags and sugar in decorative tins with the 'paint pot' type lids one has to lever off with a spoon.

31 December, 2007

Grim up north

I might be overgeneralising from a too-small sample size again, but those people I've encountered in North Devon over the past few days do seem to be friendlier to strangers than I'm accustomed to in North Lancashire.  I wonder why.

29 December, 2007

Modern houses are weird

Overstatement alert: I'm basing that statement on a single example, my sister's home.  However, I do suspect it's representative of modern commuter-belt design in at least some respects.

28 December, 2007

Not quite Big Brother

Driving to Devon today, we passed two of the RAC's regional control centres, in Birmingham and Bristol.  The former is a large, modern building overlooking the busy M6 motorway, whereas the latter goes further, with a control tower watching over the M5.

25 December, 2007

Age is...

... opening one's christmas presents at 15:30 (it was more like 06:00 when I was a child), receiving, in total:

23 December, 2007

We're SO sorry

Why, when informing passengers that a train will arrive at Warrington Bank Quay station twelve minutes late, does the pre-recorded voice sound like it's sorrowfully announcing the death of a puppy?
They ought to watch that – such concentrated insincerity will corrode the PA system.

22 December, 2007

Ring to complain

New telephone directories were delivered to my street this morning, one per doorstep.

21 December, 2007

Never too early to surprise that special someone

21 December – Yule, aka midwinter.

Kind of early to receive an e-mail promoting a web store's 'Valentines Ideas' section....

12 December, 2007

Break focus

My boss is in the middle of proofreading next year's prospectus, and is getting a little too close to her work.

12 December, 2007

Porcine preclusion

Why does cheap meat (especially catering bacon and sausages) smell so disgustingly sickly-sweet?  I have to open the windows whenever J. has brought a bacon bun into the office for his breakfast, and it's deeply unpleasant to pass County Diner (Cartmel Coffee Bar, as was) each morning.

11 December, 2007

Concept of the day

I learned a new word today: idempotence, in the non-mathematical context of 'that which has no lasting impact on the state of the universe'.  Specifically, it's used rather grandiosely in explaining the difference between the HTTP 'POST' and 'GET' methods, but I wonder if I can slip it into everyday conversation somehow....

8 December, 2007

Wrong question

In an article titled 'What single breakthrough would best advance the fight against climate change?', the Guardian asks a range of 'leading thinkers' (and David Bellamy) for their opinions.

7 December, 2007


Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, apparently believes that the online encyclopedia is now reliable enough to be accepted as an academic resource citable by formal (student) projects.
Well, he would, wouldn't he?

4 December, 2007

West Banksy

The Guardian reports that graffiti artist Banksy is in Bethlehem again, to stencil artwork onto Israel's security barrier 'in an effort to revive the tourist industry and stir interest in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.'

2 December, 2007

So that's what it means

Product packaging in the EU, and presumably the rest of the world, bears a wide range of iconography relating to recycling; I suppose the triangular moebius loop is the main one.  Some indicate the nature of the materials and hence the optimum processing technique, but one logo doesn't mean what I thought, and could confuse.

26 November, 2007

Foiled again

Seen on a pot of dried coriander leaf¹ :

New – Foil Fresh Seal

20 November, 2007

Absolutely not

I couldn't disagree more.  A nation's armed forces should be for it's own defence.  End of subject.

16 November, 2007

Some hope for understanding

Ben Goldacre has republished two articles at Bad Science today.  One, for the Lancet, is a wonderfully clear and concise summary of why homeopathy is and is not of genuine use, with both risks and benefits. However, without wishing to patronise, I suspect its phrasing could be misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with key concepts of scientific methodology and statistics.
The other article, for the Guardian, is a rewrite of the same piece for a less-specialist audience, incorporating a very accessible explanation of those key concepts.

13 November, 2007

No, you can't have a go

Earlier today, Sal said that:

Personally, based on historical observations, I'm of the cautious opinion that the bulk of the observed global warming is sun-driven, or possibly core/mantle-driven.

9 November, 2007

No winners

Wishing to avoid contributing to the whole mess, I've avoided mentioning the hijacking of this year's 'Best Science Blog' Weblog Awards poll.

9 November, 2007


At a time when the Post Office is closing 2,500+ under-used branches* , it might be considered impolitic of them to introduce colour printers for mere receipts.

2 November, 2007

Making a splash

Walking through the city centre this evening (a rare occurrence in itself for me, nowadays), I noticed a full-size billboard advert for canals.  Not a specific location or event, just a generic consciousness-raising 'use your local canal' advert from British Waterways.

2 November, 2007

Cynicism at work

Staff-development course offered by a local employer (not mine!):

Management and persuading tools

29 October, 2007

A comma would help

I've often wondered: when the text on a pot of cottage cheese instructs one to 'stir well before serving', does that mean 'it is necessary stir the cheese well (i.e. thoroughly), at an unspecified time before serving', or 'if you choose to stir the cheese, do so well before (i.e. an extended time interval) it's needed, then let it settle before serving'.

28 October, 2007

Security through obscurity

I was in Abbeystead earlier today; I took a few photos, but I'm not skillful enough to make good use of poor light, so mightn't publish more than a couple, instead referring you back to this earlier visit.

26 October, 2007

Hot air

Why does NatWest advertise the fact claim that it provides financing to wind power generation projects?  Of what relevance is that to its core business as a high-street bank?

20 October, 2007

Flawed premise

Last night, I received an e-mail circulated to alumni, informing us that our old school seems to be bankrupt, and railing against the governors' irresponsibility in reaching the stage of being obliged to auction the premises.  Sad news.

18 October, 2007

Now wash your hands

I already knew that one of the best ways to avoid catching colds and 'flu (apart from a healthy diet) is to wash one's hands regularly (but not obsessively).  However, in an article explaining how to do that properly, Jim Macdonald observes that:

15 October, 2007

Context is all

J. tells me that he attended a Nuclear Safety Culture course recently, at which the importance of "speaking up and not tolerating a bad safety culture" was stressed:

15 October, 2007

Mildly startled

I've been in the UK HE sector for seventeen years, yet until a moment ago, I had no idea that potential undergrads are now charged a fee merely to apply for a place at university.  When did that happen?

2 October, 2007

Sign o'the times

On seeing the headline 'Amazon could be lost in 40 years' at the Guardian website, my first thought was of the online retailer.

28 September, 2007

Soft world

J. has just startled me by asking which fabric softener I use.

27 September, 2007

Secondhand bananas

Anyone know what (specifically) goes into bark chippings, as used in gardening?

16 September, 2007

How to cook rice

This may seem to be an odd topic to cover, but if I've reached my mid-thirties and only just achieved satisfactory results, perhaps it's worth mentioning to others.

13 September, 2007

Still amused

Our hotel in Vienna¹ was kind enough to provide basic toiletries, as is customary: shampoo, toothbrushes, etc.

One item was an 'individual shower cap'.  Cue hours of gleeful speculation about the alternative: a communal shower cap.

30 August, 2007

Own goal

I dopn't want to say 'I told you so', not least because I didn't, but I could see this coming.  Despite the efforts of the NIMBYists, several areas of the UK do host wind farms, but due to piecemeal planning and excessive optimism by landowners, several are poorly located (it's as foolish as there being farms in places with low wind load factors), and some aren't even connected to the National Grid.

27 August, 2007

Off their trolleys

The website of Office Angels, a recruitment agency, operates surveys of working habits.  Using a fake ID, I've just completed one on desk tidiness and holidays.  It seems to be more in in a spirit of fun than rigorous research, so I'm not sure whether the conclusions of an earlier survey, reported by the BBC, are to be taken seriously.

24 August, 2007

Made of money

I'll be in London at the end of next month, for a one-day conference* on approvals procedures in web publishing; fascinating stuff, and evidently valuable, as the conference works out as £100 per hour.

24 August, 2007

Vicarious cognition

J. has received an e-mail from an external organisation saying "we like your idea and want to think with you".

What does that mean?

22 August, 2007

Mixed message

In their article's headline, the BBC claims that "Barclays and HSBC happy with HIPs" *.
Yet the first line of the text itelf says: "Two big mortgage lenders, HSBC and Barclays, have denied that they are unhappy with the recently introduced Home Information Packs."

20 August, 2007

No accounting for taste

Just seen: a Land Rover painted black with violet sparkles (not metallic blue-black, which would be a paint uniformly containing fine metallic particles, but distinct metallic violet particles in an otherwise non-metallic paint), with lime-green roof and bonnet.


19 August, 2007


Excellent idea, though hardly novel.  The presence of 'four-in-one' bins at S-Bahn stations was something I found particularly impressive about Berlin last year.

18 August, 2007

Programme schedule

The very concept of needing a licence to connect and watch a television is probably bizarre to non-Brits* , but I'd never really thought about one of the scheme's further oddities.

17 August, 2007

Stamp on it again

Remember that the opt-out from Royal Mail 'Door to Door' unaddressed junk mail only lasts for one year.  If you registered when the issue suddenly entered public consciousness last August, it's approaching time to renew your registration.

16 August, 2007


Is it a good idea for a prestigious university to operate under the domain name ''?

Just sayin'.

9 August, 2007

Mv mrtgage? Kthxbai

Whilst moving my mortgage, I've needed to complete a questionnaire for the new lender's solicitors, in which I was asked whether they could conduct future stages via text messages.
Maybe that's normal, but it seemed odd to me.  When tens of thousands of pounds are involved, I'd rather have some form of accountable paper trail.

8 August, 2007

Deviant now normal

Times change.  Even quite recently the tabloids would be frothing in righteous indignation (though still publishing the pictures) if a wholesome teen-orientated band appeared in anything as self-evidently perverted (ahem) as PVC.

6 August, 2007

Targeting germs

Within the next couple of week, the City Council is due to extend doorstep recycling collection and wheelie bins to additional areas of Lancaster; mainly the particularly hilly areas omitted from earlier phases of the roll-out.
(Wheelie bin roll-out? Oh, never mind).

4 August, 2007

No! Really?

Heh.  Allergy advice on a pot of pickled herrings:

Contains fish.

28 July, 2007

We have no bananas

Decisions, decisions...

It seems Sainsbury's only sells Fairtrade bananas now; it's no longer left to the customer to choose.

14 July, 2007

Go on, guess

I'm not being anti-American (honest) but why, after one has typed 'York' into the search box at BBC Weather, doesn't it simply default to York, North Yorkshire, UK?

13 July, 2007

(Raised eyebrow)

I'm told that larger branches of Tesco (i.e. a UK supermarket chain) sell riding crops....

13 July, 2007

On paper, wasted

I seem to have been mentioning recycling a lot this week (blame the BBC) but here's one more.

12 July, 2007


Mentioning the differing recycling services offered by councils, I made the throwaway remark that "few accept plastics".  That reflects my general impression, but wasn't based on any specific evidence.

8 July, 2007

Two ticks required

Amazon sends out each rental DVD in a slim plastic case, itself in a prepaid return envelope.  If there's a problem with a DVD, there are tick boxes on the case label, which one can tick (with a pen – remember them?) to indicate one is returning an incorrect or damaged disc, and whether one wishes to be sent a replacement.

7 July, 2007

Flood of angst

With a very few isolated exceptions, I've never been a fan of computer games.  However, a friend at work recently lent me 'Halo' to follow-up a conversation we'd been having.

3 July, 2007

Pass the hammer

I was already cultivating an intense dislike of Nigel Slater (or at least his writing persona) whilst he was describing the 'jolly' fun of messily eating crab; the very thought of braying middle-class ****s playing with their oh-so-exotic food made my teeth grind.

2 July, 2007

Language of faith

Madeleine Bunting makes an interesting point in the Guardian (again) that in the absence of a secular 'language of morality', politicians turn to christian rhetoric.  The most interesting point is that it may just be rhetoric: cultural shorthand rather than true religiousness.  Atheists like me needn't worry that Brown is another Blair.

2 July, 2007

Gesture security

Max Hastings in the Guardian: "the flurry of precautions after terrorist attacks are almost always charades".
Absolutely right.

26 June, 2007

Talisman restored

I'm not a materialistic person (no.75), but in 2004 I lost one of the very few physical objects which really mattered to me emotionally: a small Swiss Army knife.  I partly explained its significance in July 2005, but I didn't mention the tough times I'd experienced and survived with that knife.

19 June, 2007


I'm not sure about this.  It'd be a nice idea to provide continuous footpaths along sections of the English coast, but if it came to a matter of routing a path through a private garden, I'd certainly support the individual's right to privacy rather than mere public, er, convenience.

17 June, 2007


Somehow, a full fridge, containing sufficient food for over a week's meals, somehow conveys a sense of well-being.  An empty fridge is depressing.

Seriously: if anyone (else) is prone to mild depression, bear this in mind.

12 June, 2007

Open house

I don't have a fear of spiders (though I wouldn't be a proper mammal if I didn't feel at least uneasy about huge, tropical, bird-eating varieties).  It's quite normal for one or two spiders to live in my bathroom, and I only evict them if they get trapped in the bath.

11 June, 2007

The good book

Last week, I read of the slightly depressing case of a teaching assistant who left her job alleging religious discrimination.

8 June, 2007

Killer app?

I'm not going to get back into rebuttal of electromagnetic radiation scaremongering (nor am I going to call it debate, as the anti-scientists have no valid case to discuss), but Ben Goldacre makes an interesting tangential point about 'rhetorical devices and new media'; specifically that "blogs can actually be more reliable than newspapers for some forms of information, and in particular for 'who said what' comment and discussion".

28 May, 2007


One of the corner shops in Moorlands, Lancaster sells small cartons of milk for 35p.  The other, only a street away, sells them for 38p, so on the rare occasions I use my local shops, I tend not to visit that one.

24 May, 2007

Hard wind

Following the death of a farmer, which seems to have been related to confrontation over the siting of a wind farm in Norfolk, the Guardian offers a fairly long article about the siting of onshore wind farms in the UK.

10 May, 2007


According to the local free paper, there's a vast lake of spring water sitting on volcanic rock 60 m underground in the next valley over from Lancaster.  Very H.G.Wells, or perhaps H.P. Lovecraft.

8 May, 2007

Memorable goodbye

I realise it might seem pedantic, but when an e-mail announcement says that a "... funeral will be at x followed by internment at y and then onto z....", that really does imply that the congregation will be dragged from the church to a prison camp somewhere, then once released will presumably take the deceased to the reception.

6 May, 2007

Unfair use

A few days ago, I bought 'Blade Runner' on DVD (I know; it surprised me too that I didn't already have a copy, though I have both versions on VHS).  Inside the case, there was no leaflet offering further information about the film or chapter titles (frankly, the 'Director's Edition' available in the UK isn't a great package – there are no extras on the disc, either).  There was an anti-piracy leaflet, though.

2 May, 2007

Not now

A Guardian article about 'blackspots' of isolation from the global internet and mobile phone networks mentions the statistic that:

The productivity benefits of being "always on" are almost purely illusory: one typical study, among Microsoft employees, found that they took an average of 15 minutes to resume their focus on a serious mental task after being interrupted by an email or instant message.

30 April, 2007

The Scottish gamble

Evan Davis, the BBC's economics editor, examines the case for (and against) Scottish independence from the UK, in the context of the economic viability rather than the emotional and political issues usually discussed.

Sounds very promising to me.

30 April, 2007

Three random snapshots

A key pad lock has been fitted to the post room door in my office building "to allow 24 hour access".  Wouldn't removing the lock improve access?

28 April, 2007

Stick it in the bin

According to a survey by the Marine Conservation Society, there's an average of two items of litter per metre on UK beaches.  That includes direct littering by visitors (34%), fishing debris (11%) sanitary waste (10%) and shipping litter (2%).  I was surprised to read that the second most common item found was plastic sticks from cotton buds (84% of the sewage-related class), presumably the result of people disposing of them in toilets.

25 April, 2007

Droit de seigneur

Several British towns have a tradition whereby eminent dignitaries are declared 'freemen of the borough'.  It's usually merely honorary, though technically some carry obscure mediaeval rights such as a right to drive sheep through the town centre every third Thursday whilst wearing a satin hat and carrying a piglet.  Or something.

25 April, 2007


According to the local free newspaper, fish & chip shops in Lancaster and Morecambe are investigating the alternatives to cod and haddock in case stocks become too low for their economic use.

22 April, 2007

Not so altruistic

The terraced house backing on to mine is occupied by students.  They're remarkably quiet, which could imply they're postgraduates, less giddy about independent life than undergrads.

19 April, 2007

Not a nice chianti?

Shelf sign seen in Sainsbury's today: 'family juice'.
I wonder what's in that.  I'm afraid it had all sold out, so I couldn't check the ingredients.  Presumably simply 'families'.

3 April, 2007

150cm of unhelpfulness

Part of my job is to oversee the use of the corporate logo on departmental websites.

12 March, 2007

How come you cost so much?

I've been buying 'golden granulated' unrefined cane sugar for about a year, using it instead of standard refined white sugar in tea.  According to Sainsbury's, it's simply raw cane sugar "with all the natural molasses of the sugar cane retained for full flavour and with no additives".

10 March, 2007


Whilst in Sainsbury's I noticed the headline of the Daily Mail, the mildly xenophobic tabloid for middle-class people who wouldn't admit to reading a tabloid.  Yesterday it was announced that the EU is to phase-out traditional light bulbs in favour of energy-efficient CFL bulbs.

10 March, 2007

How kind

Sainsbury's in Lancaster provides free parking.  There is a ticket barrier, but I've only ever seen it in use at peak periods in December, presumably to deter those parking there for christmas shopping elsewhere.

6 March, 2007

Someone else's problem

Jeremy Paxman, once the nation's most incisive and dogged political interviewer (he still has his moments), attempts to explain the squalor of litter-strewn Britain, (by which I'm pretty sure he means London and its immediate surroundings).

27 February, 2007

Compete or die; either is fine with me

According to the BBC, the Royal Mail wants to increase the price of domestic postage stamps by 6p (an 18.75% increase on first-class, 20.7% on second class) to offset losses.

26 February, 2007


Two rail crashes in South East England in 2000 and 2002 were reported in terms of their specific locations, Hatfield and Potters Bar, despite those names meaning very little to anyone living or working outside the region.  A crash in London in 1999 was even more specific, naming the station involved: Paddington.

23 February, 2007


Well, now we have it in writing.  The UK is not a christian country, despite the presence of church representatives in the House of Lords and the assertions of typically xenophobic newspaper bigots (that's columnists and letter-writers).

14 February, 2007

Do you want spurious stats with that?

According to a press release from whichever organisation promotes National Chip Week (it's 12-18 February this year, as I'm sure you knew), "one in four of all British potatoes consumed in Britain are (sic) eaten as chips".

Who counted them all?

11 February, 2007

Odd ducts

Ever noticed that there are structures – membranes and tubes – in supermarket diced chicken fillets which one can't find when jointing a whole chicken oneself?

It's as if they're derived from different creatures....

10 February, 2007

Cashing in

Almost exactly a year ago, I commented on Barclays Bank's intention to change the signage in their branches to make them 'more friendly'.  For example, each cashtill was relabeled as a 'hole in the wall'.

6 February, 2007

Not all there

Seen on the label on a pot of 'Salad Cress':

"INGREDIENTS: Rape, Cress (20%)."

31 January, 2007

Propellor head

I've received an editing instruction from a client, presumably relating to an array of photos I produced a while ago.  Unfortunately, it was a while ago, so the message goes a little beyond cryptic:

Delete mortar board - replace with windmill.

25 January, 2007

Note to southerners and other foreigners

I'm not saying the following pronunciation errors actually bother me, but I do notice them:

23 January, 2007

Could be awkward

Must remember... must remember... Sybian and Debian are not the same thing.

19 January, 2007

Don't feed the vultures

Last month, the news broke that charges imposed by UK high-street banks may be excessive and hence unlawful.  Tens of thousands of people have apparently made successful claims and received refunds.

13 January, 2007

I said: read the screen!

You may well be a skilled sheetmetal worker/welder/fabricator with over 17 years experience, mostly in general fabrication manufacturing and ducting (including isotemp).  I'm entirely happy to believe you've worked in the nuclear industry and are qualified to City and Guilds 229 Levels 2 and 3.

5 January, 2007

Century of the fruitbat

Lancashire County Council has announced that all of its primary and special schools are to be 'assessed with a view to either replacement or refurbishment'.  The intention is to make at least 50% of the schools 'fit for the 21st century'.

27 December, 2006

Told you I was ill

I wasn't entirely happy about my weight in November (in the upper half of the 'normal' BMI range), and am glad to have lost a little, but ~5 kg (~10 lb) in six weeks, without actively considering my diet (nor increasing physical activity, for that matter)?  That's after the seasonal excess, too.

26 December, 2006

Questioning observations

Would anyone with a living room large enough for the huge sofas depicted in the TV adverts really choose to buy from a furniture warehouse?

22 December, 2006

What part of 'no' is problematic?

I've just received a mass-mailed e-mail from a certain cut-price airline, 'kindly' informing me I'm currently opted out of their mass-mailings.

13 December, 2006

Fur dos

I'm a little surprised to be ahead of the cutting edge* of fashion, but the Guardian suggests that the next big thing will be beards.

30 November, 2006

The gospel according to Carol

A neighbour¹ tells me that I have a moral duty to put up christmas decorations, because "the bible tells us to 'deck the halls'".

27 November, 2006

Print paradox

I've just printed-off an e-mail from MS Outlook, and it's appeared as two pages.  The only thing on the second sheet is a page number – if the pages hadn't been numbered, it would have fitted onto one sheet, which wouldn't have needed to be numbered.

23 November, 2006

Tough on the causes of light

The Lune Millennium Park, the cycle path following the river from Lancaster to Caton, is lit at night, not only in the built-up areas but even in the remoter rural sections.

22 November, 2006


When friends are planning to stage a sex show, why am I the only person to consider public liability insurance?

14 November, 2006


Did you know that UK legislation already exists to prevent food manufacturers and retailers using excessive¹ packaging?

8 November, 2006

You're not in the book

If your phone number was erroneously listed as that of a small commercial company, and you were receiving their calls, what would you do?

18 October, 2006

Painful handwriting

M. tells me that in addition to placements, oral presentations and typed coursework projects, his Executive MBA involves a few written exams, which do have to be handwritten.  It seems obvious now it's mentioned, but computers aren't allowed by University regulations, even for 'open-book' exams.

15 October, 2006

Matters arising

Some people visit pubs to get drunk.  Others attend for the conversations.  Fortunately or otherwise, drinking orange juice allows one to remember the unresolved topics.

13 October, 2006

Shrink to fit

There was a time when innovation in electronics was all about miniaturisation.
So why are photocopiers still so huge, and apparently growing?  The brand new one in Uni admin is too big for even the dedicated copier room, and has had to be installed in the corridor.

5 October, 2006

Great advert

The skin on my hands occasionally hardens and painfully cracks; it's a variety of contact dermatitis or eczema.  Hence, I keep a tube of moisturiser on my desk, currently Nivea Intensive Moisturising Creme 'for smooth and supple skin' *.

26 September, 2006

Another fine mess

One of the wonderful things about publishing a blog is that one can share wisdom, hard-won though decades of life experience.  It can be deeply satisfying to know that someone may benefit from knowing how I managed in a difficult situation; learning from my mistakes, even.

8 September, 2006

Packaging the curate's egg

Sainsbury's has announced an intention to switch from plastic to compostable packaging.  Good news, in principle, but I'm going to be ungrateful* and focus on flaws in the scheme.

30 August, 2006

Readdressing door-to-door junk mail

A day is a long time in ad-fighting.  Here are a couple of additional points and updates to yesterday's entry about opting-out of unaddressed junk mail delivered by the Royal Mail.

29 August, 2006

Addressing door-to-door junk mail

I'd like to think that anyone reading this in the UK will already be aware that it's possible to opt-out of receiving personally-addressed yet unsolicited commercial mail, by registering with the Mailing Preference Service (and associated phone & fax services).  However, that still leaves all the unaddressed junk mail.

23 August, 2006

Express evolution

"We're the little fish in [market sector], and have to find our feet."
You'd have been proud of me: I didn't even blink.

17 August, 2006

Poor advert

This morning's post brought an invitation for my boss to attend a reception at the House of Commons, London.  Unfortunately, the deadline for accepting/declining was in mid-July.
And this was from a publishing company – if they can't produce and distribute their own communications in time, can they be trusted to get it right for clients?

15 August, 2006

Think for a moment

Of those people who somehow mistake this for the website of a UK government department (The UK hasn't had a 'Ministry of Information' since 1946), a surprising number ask me to verify whether the e-mails they've received, saying they'd won the UK National Lottery, are genuine.

The big question is the simplest: did you buy a ticket?

4 August, 2006

Well done, Tesco

Some supermarkets* have made efforts to discourage the use of one-use plastic carrier bags, but Tesco has introduced a scheme to positively incentivise reuse.

31 July, 2006

Etiquette note

When requesting a prospectus from a UK university, it's not strictly necessary to add four 'x' kisses after your name.  Admission tutors might get the wrong idea.

30 July, 2006

Our representatives abroad

Wandering around the centres of national capitals, one tends to pass the embassies of other countries.  Naturally, one tends to look at them, considering their architecture and what each says about the resident nation's prominence and attitude to the wider world.

20 July, 2006

A what?

From today's local paper:

Thieves stole a stealth mountain bike...
How does anyone know?

17 July, 2006

Annoying aroma

I spent much of today dressing Bowland College for tomorrow, Graduation Day*.  This is the one occasion each year for which I escape the computer in order to arrange tables, chairs & windowboxes, fix the bar's spotlights, (re)hanging banners and, amongst other mundane yet novel tasks, inflate 200+ balloons.

16 July, 2006

A really good cup of tea

Put the kettle on.  Take it off, as it doesn't suit you and that's an awful joke.
Start heating water.

12 July, 2006

Amazon warning

It looks as if Amazon UK has covertly changed it's policy on adding items to customers' wishlists, which makes items look cheaper than they really are and discourages use of the free postage facility.  Don't be caught out!

4 July, 2006

Always on

I wonder if I'll ever become fully accustomed to the mobile phone culture.

3 July, 2006

Could work

There's a sign downstairs, directing delegates to a conference on 'aging parents'.

I understand soaking them in tea and crumpling their edges is a good technique.  Or is that aging documents?

25 June, 2006

Courageously convicting

I was very nearly gratuitously rude to a stranger last night.

23 June, 2006

What's on tonight?

Occasionally, BBC3's endless repeats can be useful.

27 May, 2006

Innovative utility bills

Thrilling subject, eh?  Okay, okay; I'll keep it brief.

My father tells me that electricity bills in Norway now include a bar graph allowing one to compare current household usage to that from the same period last year.  I think it's a great idea which would certainly encourage me to minimise usage.

24 May, 2006

Not Angus!

It's surprising what one finds irritating.
Twice within the last month I've heard people describe shaggy reddish-brown cows with long horns as 'Aberdeen Angus'.
That's totally incorrect; the Aberdeen Angus is an entirely different, short-haired breed, and the more photogenic breed is simply called 'Highland Cattle'.

22 May, 2006

Too close

Last night, I had the appalling suspicion that I'm older than Doctor Who – well, David Tennant, anyway.  That'd be quite a life landmark.

Thankfully, I'm not: Tennant is seven months older than me.

21 May, 2006

Kiddie tagging

Remember getting lost as a child, temporarily mislaying your parents when they inconsiderately wandered-off?  I still have a clear memory of suddenly being alone in the EPA supermarket in Stavanger, Norway, aged seven.  It was near the shoes aisle.  I think the first time I was announced over a PA system was in Chester's BHS branch.  Ah; memories.

21 May, 2006

Hansom thoughts

Isn't it odd that in 2006 British taxis are still called 'hackney carriages'?  That's not a slang term, it's official, presumably the result of antiquated wording in the regulating legislation, and appears in inch-high letters on the doors of all City-registered taxis* in Lancaster.

Maybe it's an urban myth, but doesn't each London 'black cab' still have to carry a certain quantity of straw, nominally for the horse?

16 May, 2006

Sea view

I'm currently trying to book a hotel room in Madrid.  Herself has left things a little late (we're supposed to be going next week...), so the obvious choices are fully booked.  The remaining hotels are those which have resorted to promotional text worthy of an estate agent.

15 May, 2006

You use what?

Surprisingly enough, I don't write scripts for Tim at 'Ctrl+Alt+Del'Honest.

11 May, 2006

Live for today

Last night, my sister told me that though she was considering buying a mp3 player, she probably won't, as such devices mightn't catch-on, and/or might be superceded by some other technology.  Seriously.

9 May, 2006

Pinned down

For reasons I needn't explain, I bought a rolling pin yesterday evening.  When I got home, I read the label, to find out how to remove the label (nice paradox, eh?).
It wasn't much help, but I did notice that I'd bought a 'Rolling Pin – For Home'.

4 May, 2006

Punk'd Uation

It seems that the BBC is to introduce a TV quiz show based on the premise that English punctuation, a topic presumably including grammar, is deteriorating.  I'm sure they'll make it a little more thrilling than that sounds.

30 April, 2006

New nationalism

I'm not into caravanning*.  My parents had a touring caravan (I think it'd be more accurate to say it was my father's, in hindsight), and I have a fairly clear memory of sitting in it on Anglesey in 1978 whilst my father explained we'd have to cut the holiday short as he'd obtained work in Norway.  Again in hindsight, that was a life-changing event – nothing was the same from then on.
Throughout my teens, family holidays were taken in static caravans in the same location in North-west Wales, but I haven't been in a touring caravan since the age of about seven.

25 April, 2006


Cycling and walking in the Lake District at the weekend, I was impressed by the amount of dead wood in the Coniston area.  Though the National Park Authority, the National Trust and individual landowners do prune branches overhanging roads or otherwise causing hazards, the material is left to decompose in the immediate vicinity.  Likewise, dead trees aren't routinely felled.  This is immensely valuable to the semi-natural ecosystem (pity about the overgrazing), enriching the ground level of wooded areas and promoting true undergrowth.

25 April, 2006

Should treasure be hidden?

The major museums of most Western European nations (and the USA) contain numerous relics from other countries, typically as a result of wars and our colonial adventures.  An article in the Guardian makes a useful contribution to the ongoing debate about whether to return artefacts to their source countries.

14 April, 2006

Two-thirds fluff

Perhaps I'm unaccustomed to the conventions of food labelling, but if 100g of Sainsbury's honey roast (surely that's 'roasted'?) Wiltshire ham contains:

11 April, 2006

Management term of the day

'Architect' as a verb:

Given that [x] is intended to be an interim solution only, it does not make sense to expend a lot of effort architecting it.
No.  Just: no.

28 March, 2006

Hot air

In an unfailingly positive article (pass the salt...), The Guardian reports that, according to the British Wind Energy Association (which, it has to be acknowledged, is likely to be biased):

Britain's wind energy is set to exceed expectations with 50% more wind farms powering British homes and industry by 2010 than predicted four years ago.

23 March, 2006

DVD rental is dead; long live DVD rental

Though high street rental outlets such as Blockbuster deny it'll affect their viability, online services like Amazon's seem to be taking over the UK DVD rental business.  Independent market research reported by the BBC suggests that shop-based companies are due to experience a sharp decline in their revenues.

17 March, 2006

Remote control

Ha!  The USA is apparently attempting to sell jet fighters to the UK, whilst retaining control of the operating software.  I don't think so, and nor does the Ministry of Defence &ndash the deal's off unless the full source code is provided.

It's kind of scary that this would even be tried.

16 March, 2006


The motivations behind certain management decisions can sometimes be unexpected obvious.  The print publications side of my department produces 54 subject-specific factsheets about the University, to be handed-out at presentations, enclosed with prospectuses and sent to enquirers.

15 March, 2006

Simply iconic

She doesn't have the same level of mainstream recognition, but it's arguable that Bettie Page had at least as much of an impact on post-1950s popular culture as Marilyn Monroe.  Even if her name isn't familiar, the pin-up model's 'look' is, and has been massively influential.  I could even use the word 'zeitgeist' in this context, but that'd be dangerously pretentious....

14 March, 2006

No comment required

I've just encountered someone who believed a glockenspiel to be a breed of dog.

9 March, 2006

Shooting's too good for 'em

My ex-landlord's father farms pheasants for the Duke of Westminster, and I obviously don't mean for their eggs – the mature birds are released into the wild and subsequently shot for 'sport'.  My personal opinion of that isn't relevant.
Point is, in preparing a few photos for publication, I noticed that the farm appears in the background of one image, so mentioned it in the accompanying text.

8 March, 2006

The naming experience

Oh dear.

Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for College, Staff and Student Affairs has been rebranded* as the 'Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Colleges and the Student Experience'.

5 March, 2006

Peer pressure

Dr John Parkinson, politics lecturer at the University of York, makes an interesting argument for the retention of the House of Lords, the unelected 'second chamber' of the UK national government.

28 February, 2006

Douglas Adams was right

As part of my 'Random Queries' thread ;)  Neil links to an explanation of how to wear a shemagh (a Middle Eastern head wrap also popular with the British military).  It's sad that looking 'Arabic' would be considered inadvisable in the current political situation, as I'd happily wear one for walking or cycling.  It'd have to be a black one, of course.

28 February, 2006

I'm not techie enough

..., I'm glad to say.

I've just received the following by e-mail:

"We will need to do a reccee to establish where an inject data point can be founding in Man School LT 1 for the coded output of the Osprey."
Eh?  Is that supposed to mean something?

3 February, 2006

Stupidity tax

In a BBC article, bookmakers William Hill claim that the odds of willing the £125 million jackpot in today's EuroMillions lottery are 76 million to one; about the same odds as they're offering anyone who wishes to bet on the end of the world.

1 February, 2006

Print and be damned

In my view, the inseparable converse, even the corollary, of freedom of speech is the responsibility of self-censorship.  One may have the right to say something, but one shouldn't deliberately and unproductively make a special effort to exercise it, knowing that it offends others, merely because one can.

25 January, 2006

Little darlings

It seems my boss is organising a birthday party for her young daughter, as there's a stack of preprinted invitations on her desk, from a 'family pub' in Preston.
The invitations outline the pub's terms & conditions ('no sharp objects in the play area', etc.), a childrens meals menu, and a tear-off slip confirming parental permission for facepainting.

23 January, 2006

Less junk for Lancaster, please

I returned from work this evening to find a postcard from the Lancaster Recycling Forum (which I presume is a City Council project), inviting me to register with the Direct Marketing Association's Mailing Preference Service, and thereby opt out from 95% of UK mailing lists.  The Recycling Forum takes the view that junk mail is a waste of paper rather than simply ****ing annoying, but it's great to see a proactive, citywide, stance taken against the direct marketing industry.

21 January, 2006

Stone hedges

While I'm on the subject:

The region encompassing North Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria is renowned for its dry stone walls: field boundaries constructed using irregular stones, typically cleared from the enclosed fields themselves, but no mortar.

21 January, 2006

Didn't know that

Neil Gaiman informs (reminds?) the world that one of the words over-used by H.P. Lovecraft, 'Cyclopean' doesn't mean simply 'of giantlike proportions'.  It refers to a prehistoric style of construction common in the eastern Mediterranean, in which huge, irregular boulders were carefully fitted together without the use of mortar.

Lovecraft probably meant 'ancient beyond recorded time', not merely 'big', though the latter applies too.

20 January, 2006

Designed to confuse, says pope

It's unusual for me to agree with the christian Church, never mind applaud it, but that's what I'm doing: the official Vatican newspaper has explicitly come out against 'intelligent design', acknowledging that it's not science and should not be taught in schools in the same context as evolution.

[Via Spinneyhead]

19 January, 2006

It's all there, alright

190106-01. © NRT, 2006Sorting my childhood possessions a couple of weeks ago, I found this: 'Plantagenet Somerset Fry's Complete Book of Facts'.
I'm always grateful that my parents spent the extra for the deluxe edition; Mr. Fry's 'Incomplete Book of Facts' would have been rather frustrating.

"The longest river in Central Europe is... oh, that page is missing."

Seriously; wasn't it redundant to specify that the book is complete?

And doesn't 'Plantagenet Somerset Fry' sound like the sort of name a sp*mbot would generate?

19 January, 2006

Wear it with pride

I've tweaked my '100 Things' page (the nearest thing to an 'About Me' page I intend to offer) a little.  A few weak or outdated items have been replaced (some still need work), but unfortunately, that's meant the removal of a link I still want to offer.

17 January, 2006

Work in progress

It's always amusing to watch students acquire their own individual fashion senses.  For their first term at university, they're plainly dressed according to the sensibilities of their parents.  Now, at the start of the second term, is the bizarre stage.  Next term, or by the start of their second year, they will have conformed to the student 'uniform', just as conventional in its own way as anything their parents might have chosen.

16 January, 2006

Now will you try harder?

It's ungracious to say 'I told you so', but I did.

16 January, 2006

News rolling over

The Guardian reports that the UK's main 'rolling news' TV channels, BBC News 24 and Sky News, have abysmal market shares: the average News 24 viewer watches nine minutes per week, the same as a typical Sky News viewer sees of that channel.  The suggestion is that web-based news reporting and presentation has rendered TV 'rolling news' obsolete.

11 January, 2006

Oi! Behave! (Not you, Tarquin)

Readers outside the UK mightn't be aware that the Prime Minister has launched 'the respect agenda'; in my view, the latest in a series of nebulous (vacuous?) government pseudo-initiatives intended to render the populace more compliant and to distract them from more important issues.

Whatever; the aspect I wish to highlight is one raised by Deborah Orr at the BBC website.

10 January, 2006

Grammar matters

It really does.  I can honestly say that correct grammar is second-nature to me, but as Sarah explains (in a more compelling manner than I could achieve), even if one finds grammar difficult, it is worth making the effort.

6 January, 2006

Couldn't resist it...

As an ex-employee points out, in objective terms, Apple is "a mid-sized company with a tiny share of its primary market... about the same size as Marks and Spencer in terms of annual sales."  If a non-UK reader thinks 'Marks and who?', you get the point.

3 January, 2006

Funding the trough

I don't know how to interpret this, beyond being slightly repelled by the Guardian's gloating tone.  To save people clicking the link immediately, the article reports that the Bush administration is not going to ask the US Congress to allocate further funding to reconstruction work in Iraq.  The existing allocation ($18.4bn) will expire in 2007, leaving key Iraqi infrastructure projects far from complete.

31 December, 2005

Screening out the provincial

Okay; I was wrong.

I've been critical of multiplex cinemas in the past, as being generally unpleasant and inferior to one-screen cinemas.

24 December, 2005

I'll ride, thanks

My sister is also due to attend a workshop in Birmingham, then another in Edinburgh, so has been trawling obscure websites trying to book cheap flights.

24 December, 2005

Surgical practice

Surgeons don't mess around.  My sister is due to attend a workshop in Exeter in January, and this is the itinerary.  I promise I haven't changed anything:

17 December, 2005

Sun lite

Why is daylight so 'thin' at this time of year?  I was in the Lune Valley today, and noticed that whilst objects in direct sunlight were brightly, even harshly, illuminated, anything out of direct sunlight was very deeply shadowed.  The lee side of a typical hedge was downright dark.

5 December, 2005


Every time I see or hear that figure, I remember that it's the number of pathogens supposedly carried by the average housefly, 100 of them disease-causing.  I don't know why, but that little fact seems to be embedded in my brain.  It's like an contagion in itself.

Just thought I'd pass it on.

3 December, 2005


The European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, is one of Britain's commonest wild mammals, and pretty much everyone in the country will have seen one, if only as roadkill.  I nearly contributed to the statistics a couple of weeks ago, when a stone on the Scotch Quarry cyclepath suddenly strolled in front of my wheels (don't worry, I swerved).  A few years ago, my father rescued several piggsvin from anti-bird netting protecting a neighbour's fruit trees in S.Norway and gave them food and shelter for a few hours to recover, but they were very much wild animals (I suppose I'd be a bit annoyed about being trapped, too).

30 November, 2005

Get serious

I don't want to sound too precious about the formality of universities, but there's a basic credibility issue in making an enquiry about required entry qualifications from the e-mail address ''.

[Address very slightly amended to protect the foolish.]

29 November, 2005

Another happy customer

I speak/read nine languages, but only 10-20 words in each (perhaps fifty or so in 2-3 of them, and rather more in English).  In short, I don't think my language skills are adequate, and it'd be seriously cheeky of me to criticise others, or to mock a non-Anglophone's mangled attempts at written English.

25 November, 2005

Don't tell the tories...

The latest edition of Heist's higher education marketing magazine, 'EM' has appeared on my desk.  One day I might get further than the front cover.

Whilst I'm on that page, the cover photo is of 1-Euro coins arranged into a map of Western Europe, illustrating 'the spreading cost of fees'.

The UK, made out of Euros?  What would Kilroy-Silk say?

24 November, 2005

Old chestnut time

The BBC:

Michele Tollis became convinced that satanism had something to do with his son's disappearance.
"No one can contradict me when I say that heavy metal and satanism are closely linked. They're inseparable," he says.
Oh, come on.

14 November, 2005

Inhuman scam

The BBC reports the startling story that counterfeiters are threatening the lives of millions just for a quick profit.

10 November, 2005

Lights out

There seems to be a trend whereby one person in a neighbourhood decides to go 'all-out' on christmas lights, illuminating his (and, let's face it, this is a male thing) entire house.  People from the entire area drive past to see the display, and sometimes there's a collection for charity.  I can think of two examples in Lancaster alone.  Very tawdry.

9 November, 2005

Wish I'd thought of that

In his e-mail signature, a colleague claims the job title 'Perception Administrator'.
That sounds wonderfully Machiavellian, and no-one can hassle him for not doing his job, because who the **** knows what that role actually entails?


8 November, 2005

Off to the law library

Maybe it's because I haven't been paying especial attention to the topic, but I hadn't appreciated the extent to which the Government's Terrorism Bill will affect legitimate levels of free speech*, and specifically the activities of higher education institutions.  As the Guardian reports, academics and librarians are concerned that chemistry textbooks describing explosives or ethics seminars on political violence would have to be withdrawn, rather than face prosecution for aiding or glorifying terrorism.

3 November, 2005

Firefox recalled

In case anyone didn't know, a red panda is also known as a firefox.  I image it's fairly good at browsing, too.

1 November, 2005

Backward stamp

The image on the new (to me, anyway) first class stamp is explicitly christian.  I didn't know the Royal Mail was allowed to do that nowadays. Unless they're planning to claim that's a generic mother & child, celebrating the modern UK family unit....

1 November, 2005

Colour prejudice

'White van man' is UK cultural shorthand, referring to the (stereotypically aggressive) driver of a typical tradesman's/delivery van, as seen in their thousands on British roads.  But why white?

21 October, 2005

Dis isn't good

I've just learned a new word.  It's a project management term:


If I ever use it, shoot me.

20 October, 2005

Are you sure?

Ravage is the name of a lingerie company?

17 October, 2005

A clarification

When I say I don't drink, that doesn't mean I don't drink.

Clear now?

9 October, 2005

Because I say so

Where a proper name ends with 's', it seems the current grammatic fashion is to end the possessive with 'apostrophe-s' rather than the earlier style of just using an apostrophe.  Hence, Sigur Rós's, not Sigur Rós'.  This applies to modern names; an apparently arbitrary exception is made for ancient names (e.g. Achilles', Jesus').

It seems to be a matter of personal preference, and that neither is actually incorrect (whatever the BBC says).  Therefore, a statement of intent: I don't use the redundant 's' here.

8 October, 2005

Seriously gothy

I've just discovered that a leading academic specialising in Gothic literature and culture (post-1830, but including contemporary fashion, film and culture) works in an adjacent building to mine.  It's a subject area which somewhat interests me*, so I must find a way to meet her. ;)

I wonder if she needs a new website... let's see... ugh.  Yes, but I'd have to redo the whole Department's site.  Maybe not right now.

28 September, 2005


This may be incorrect (I overheard it in the queue in Spar), but apparently a popular chocolate bar in the UK is labelled "contains Brazil".

Anyone know which it is, and how that's achieved?

27 September, 2005


Yay!  It looks as if the animal 'rights' terrorists who stole a woman's body from her grave have finally been arrested.

Hanging's too good, throw away the keys, etc.

Seriously, this disgusting action only served to discredit the extremists' cause (or would have done, if that cause had had any merit in the first place).  Presuming the correct people have been arrested, I hope they can be charged with something substantial.

27 September, 2005

Cetacean Terminators

This sounds like dodgy sci-fi, but the Observer reports the, well, rumour that dolphins trained by the US Navy to fire 'toxic dart' guns at swimmers were accidentally released into the wild by Hurricane Katrina.
The alleged intention was to use the dolphins to shoot terrorists attacking military vessels, but it's possible they might now attack and immobilise any swimmer or surfer they encounter.

23 September, 2005

Made it look easy

For those who don't know, the UK driving test is in three parts: a theory test, a hazard assessment (video) test, and the on-road practical test.

20 September, 2005

RIP... oh, hi.

It's probably quite revealing, and less than flattering, that the first blog post about New Orleans to evince an emotional response from me is about a cat.

[Via Boing Boing, which only gives a misleading excerpt!]

8 September, 2005

Critical-faculties refresher (now with added science stuff)

Ben Goldacre, in his regular Guardian column (archived at his own site 'Bad Science'), offers an excellent thesis about the mass media's inability to report science stories meaningfully, and alleges an unarticulated agenda to belittle science.

There are too many valuable points to quote individually, but I really, really recommend you read the article, and without automatically accepting its content as absolute truth (that wouldn't be scientific), use it as a critical filter through which to absorb all media-reported stories.

7 September, 2005


Within the next few decades, the UK will have a major problem meeting rising demands for energy generation.  We also already have a situation whereby farmers are paid to not use some of their land, to avoid contributing to overproduction. [I know; both statements are simplistic, but they're good enough for the purpose of this entry.]

How about combining the two?

3 September, 2005

No more e-mail

A certain retailer, which I won't promote by naming, has ~200 high street stores worldwide (most in the UK), a web store and a phone-based direct ordering service.  The latter two have just withdrawn all e-mail contact addresses:

We've come to realise that e-mail is a very poor way to deliver customer service.  Every question we receive could easily be answered more quickly, comprehensively and unambiguously over the phone.

29 August, 2005

Cut off

I've received a letter from my electricity supplier, informing me that their costs have increased, so prices are increasing.  Fair enough, and unsurprising.
The new rates will be 10.32p/kWh + VAT (the logic of 'value added' tax on energy is an issue for a different entry...) for the first 200kWh of each quarter, then 8.17p/kWh thereafter.

Conceptually, isn't that the wrong way round?  Shouldn't the first units be the cheaper ones, and subsequent ones be more expensive, as an encouragement to minimise energy usage?  Under the current model, there's no especial incentive to switch off lights, etc.

23 August, 2005

No chance

Here's another example of under-publicised invasion of privacy.

Were you aware that if you buy a ticket for the UK National Lottery at 18:02 on 23/08/05 from Master's Mini-Mart, Moorlands, Lancaster, that information will be available to the police?

22 August, 2005


The University's Travel Co-ordinator has just circulated an e-mail explaining that a gate linking the railway station with the adjacent cycle track has been locked since the London bombings because it isn't specifically covered by a CCTV camera.

Does this mean that every access route to every mainline railway station in the UK is now being watched?  That it's impossible to get on a train in the UK without police surveillance?

22 August, 2005

'Piano man' discharged

I've often wondered what happened to the 'piano man', who was committed to a mental health unit in April after being found wandering on the Kent coast, distressed and unable to speak or otherwise identify himself but able to play the piano with considerable skill.

In case anyone else had been wondering, it's reported by the BBC that his condition has improved, he has revealed that he's German, and he's been discharged to return home.

Due to patient confidentiality concerns, the public is unlikely to hear more, but I wish him well.

19 August, 2005

Not disastrous

This tip was buried amongst the responses to a slightly different issue at Metafilter, so I might as well isolate it here, for Google to catch:

If you accidentally write on a whiteboard with a regular [permanent] non-dry erase marker, all you have to do is write over that with a dry erase marker, and wipe it off.

18 August, 2005

Small problem

The Royal Mail has announced that it's going to start charging according to the size and shape of envelopes/packages, rather than just by weight (the current system).
That sounds reasonable, but it might be difficult for individuals and companies to gauge the size thresholds.  Fine; there will be templates in post offices.

18 August, 2005

Pointless illusion

The Peter Gabriel compilation album 'Hit' was £10.99 at Amazon UK until recently.  Now it's £7.99 (wahey!) but with a £3 'sourcing fee'.  Strange.

16 August, 2005

Confused lions 'hunt' small cars

A warning to the drivers of especially small vehicles, such as Minis or Smart cars:

Small cars driving through a safari park in Merseyside have been chased by confused lions who think they are prey.

16 August, 2005

A blow to sovereignty

Cannabis is all-but-legal in Canada.  In the USA, dealing carries a minimum sentence of 10 years, even life.
The Guardian reports the case of a Canadian man openly selling marijuana seeds by mail order from Vancouver, untroubled by the police for years yet suddenly arrested this summer – on the orders of the US DEA.  Because he sells to US citizens, the USA is demanding his extradition, for trial under US law and to serve a long prison sentence for an activity tolerated in Canada.

12 August, 2005

No 'Fry-day'

In May, the UK Met Office's seasonal forecast suggested that July and August might be warmer than usual.  An appropriately cautious, vague statement from an experimental service suitable as a rough guide, but not definitive.

However, the tabloid newspapers took the central idea, elaborated on it (i.e. blatently invented 'facts'), and convinced the masses that today would be the hottest of the year.

11 August, 2005

How do you spell ****?

It's a bit depressing that, according to unspecified 'reseachers' cited by the BBC, the newly updated Oxford English Dictionary contains 350 insulting expressions, but only 40 ways to compliment someone.

9 August, 2005

Psst! Want to buy an AONB?

Bookshop receipt. ©NRTThe Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (one grade down from a National Park) is 802km² (312 square miles – the same size as New York City) of beautiful open countryside in Northern Lancashire (and part of Yorkshire), of international significance for its diversity of unspoiled landscapes and wildlife.

However, the word 'forest' is widely misunderstood, and doesn't necessarily involve a single tree; Bowland is mostly characterised by upland moors.

All bought by me on Saturday for £7.49.  Bargain.

5 August, 2005

Casual observation

The 'Spar' shop on campus sells fly swatters, but only in packs of six.  Why? 

5 August, 2005

Nice selection

Obviously, UK banknotes don't feature overtly religious symbols, but I've only just appreciated the fact that the person illustrated on the reverse of the £10 note is Charles Darwin.

Heh.  I wonder what Creationist/Intelligent Design believers think of that....

3 August, 2005

'Evian' backwards is...

As the NY Times explains, the standard justifications for drinking bottled rather than tap water seem bogus, it's extremely expensive (250 to 10,000 times more so than tap water), and is environmentally irresponsible.

Read the article, reject the marketing, and leave the trendy herd.


2 August, 2005

Weather or not; definitely not

I've just followed a Geo-URL link to a privately-maintained weather station 5 km from my house, and discovered that it's affiliated to the US 'Citizen Weather Observer Program':

1 August, 2005

Defining spam

Most unsolicited spam advertising is extremely blatant, but just occasionally, the boundary of legitimacy can become blurred, and cause problems.

22 July, 2005

So THAT's how it works

There are some things one is expected to just know, without being expressly told, or by discovering through a 'coming of age' rite of passage – learning to shave properly is one.  I haven't used a razor within the last six years or so, but I don't remember there being instructions on the packaging. 

Likewise with mobile phones.  This afternoon, nine months after buying mine, I grasped the concept of predictive text recognition, and learned how to use it.  Thanks for the explanation, J.

22 July, 2005


I've mentioned before that I'm unimpressed by the very concept of petitions.  An opinion piece at Snopes covers much the same topic (specifically online petitions), but expands it to cover 'slacktivism', another subject attracting my contempt.

21 July, 2005


I may have received a slightly garbled message, but this is the situation as I understand it second-hand:
A new colleague visited the University's Staff Learning Centre today, and was given a test on general office working practices.  It was a multi-choice questionnaire to assess the nature of assistance the SLC can offer him, not specifically mentioning software packages.

19 July, 2005

Да, Господин Президент

Do you realise how difficult it is to maintain focus through a 90 minute, fairly high-level, technical (in a management sense) strategy meeting with someone who looks exactly – to the extent that one is reminded every couple of minutes – like President Vladimir Putin?

19 July, 2005

The trip is over

'Magic mushrooms', containing hallucinogenic psilocybin, have always occupied a strange loophole in UK law.  Possession of the fresh mushrooms has been absolutely legal, but since 1978, the very same mushrooms, dried, have been treated as a 'Class A' illegal drug, alongside heroin and cocaine; those convicted of possession could receive a seven-year prison sentence, or life for supplying.

However, the Drugs Act 2005 'simplifies' the matter: since yesterday, they're just plain illegal.
I know a few friends have the remains of last year's harvest tucked away, so it's probably worth spreading the word.  Don't get caught-out.  Man.

11 July, 2005


I received this suggestion via e-mail (twice), but it's also available online.

Many people carry a mobile phone 'in case of an emergency', but it seems 75% carry no details of who they would like telephoned following a serious accident.
A paramedic in Cambridge has made the excellent suggestion that everyone adds an emergency contact number to his/her phone's 'phone book', under the standard acronym ICE.  Should the owner become incapacitated in an accident, the emergency services would immediately know who to call, rather than just guess whether 'Mum' is the most appropriate person.

5 July, 2005

An offer you can't refuse

I'm in the process of moving my mortgage (don't tell my existing provider).  The company to which I think I'll be transferring has a rather odd slogan on its letterhead:

You're either with us. Or without.
Doesn't that sound a bit menacing?

27 June, 2005

Odd sell

In the middle of 'From Hell' (which, incidentally, failed to impress) last night, Channel 4 showed an advert in which a woman was pleased to have split from her boyfriend, as it gave her material to compose a song, record it, and burn it to CD-R, with fame and fortune to follow.

The advert was for Windows XP, and irritated me.

23 June, 2005

Who wants to know?

A Guardian article about Crown copyright (information owned by the state) contains the following statements:

Essentially, the deal is that information is free, so long as you register online.
Registration also creates a database about who is doing what with government information, though officials claim that no big brother monitoring goes on.

14 June, 2005

City cred

£7.95 ($14.40) will buy you a bottle of spray-on mud (real mud, filtered to remove stones).  Applied carefully, it'll give the impression that your massive 4x4 has ever actually been off-road.

[Insert your own mockery here]

11 June, 2005

Free list suspended

Whenever I read local cinema listings, I'm always mildly curious about the statement 'free list suspended' which seems to accompany every film shown at the mainstream cinemas in Lancaster and Morecambe.  I asked the box office staff once, and was merely (and rather rudely) told "it's not for you".

7 June, 2005

Selective quoting

A health food company in the USA manufactures the 'Ezekiel 4:9' range of grain products (breakfast cereals, breads and pasta).  The name is obviously biblical, citing:

Take also unto thee Wheat and Barley and Beans and Lentils and Millet and Spelt and put them in one vessel and make bread of it.

6 June, 2005

Why change?

The government proposal to replace road tax (i.e. licence for a vehicle to be used on a public highway, even just parked – a 'per vehicle, per year' tax) and fuel tax ('per litre/gallon') with a pay-as-you-go tax on actual usage is an interesting one, but there are a few points which concern me.

1 June, 2005

Where did it come from?

So far as I'm aware, nut allergies were very rare when I was a child in the 1970s.  It wasn't until at least the 1990s that I noticed foods labeled as 'may contain nuts', presumably as legislation was introduced.  Now it's a routine warning on packaging.  The impression it conveys is that nut allergies are a massive social problem, affecting a significant proportion of the population.  Is that really the case, or is the scale of the problem inadvertently exaggerated by companies merely having to protect themselves against litigation?

20 May, 2005

Greasy road

Why is it that a road surface during/after light rain feels 'greasy' underfoot and is drastically more slippery than during/after heavy rainfall?  Further rain onto this 'waxy' surface somehow improves traction, which isn't intuitive.

13 May, 2005

I'm appalled

In my teens, I met Prof. David Bellamy, then a famous science populariser frequently seen on TV.  On that occasion, he was narrating Britten's 'Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra' and Prokofiev's 'Peter And The Wolf' at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, and somehow a friend of a friend (I remember!  the clarinetist was my cousin's music teacher) invited my mother, sister and I to visit him backstage.  That, and the fact he represented a career path to which I aspired, meant I've always regarded him with a degree of warmth.

10 May, 2005

Photo finished?

There seems to be an flawed assumption in today's Guardian report that:

Jessops profits hit as digital camera sales fall... The group said the digital camera market had unexpectedly run out of steam in February, hitting its worst level since digital cameras were launched in the mid 90s.
Is that really true?  Has there been a sector-wide reduction in sales volume, or just in the number of people buying from Jessops?

8 May, 2005

Cheeky ***s

Each year, Games Workshop runs an international competition* for those sculpting and painting fantasy/sci-fi 'toy soldiers', the Golden Demon Awards.  I happen to have won twelve, plus the Slayer Sword for 'best-in-show' once.

Each year, some months after the event, GW publishes a feature article in their monthly magazine, 'White Dwarf', devoting ~20 pages to photographs of the winning entries.
A couple of years ago, the article was separated off into a paperback 'collectors'' booklet of its own, provided free with the magazine.

7 May, 2005

Not-so-secret ballot

Just one more election-related entry – probably!

Last year, I complained that the postal voting system wasn't anonymous, and votes could be readily matched to voters.  'Musicandcomedy' commented that 'in-person' ballot papers have always been that way, and voting by post didn't change that.  In my experience, that wasn't the case, and there had been no way to trace an individual ballot paper to a voter, only to a voting station.

In Thursday's election, 'Musicandcomedy' was proved right in Lancaster, but I'm still reasonably sure it's never been that way before, and my contact in election admin in North-East Wales reaffirmed that ballot papers there are nominally untraceable.

5 May, 2005

Bikes are best?

At least in the opinion of a self-selecting sample from a small, specific subset of the population (and other alliteration), the bicycle is the most significant invention since 1800, by a huge margin.  Almost 60% of participants in a BBC Radio 4 poll (phone-in?) voted for the bike, the next most popular being the transistor with a mere 8% of the total:

30 April, 2005

Make my vote count

I don't read the Guardian for the columnists; I rarely agree with the opinions and politics of people like George Monbiot and Polly Toynbee, so usually just stick to the news reports (whilst allowing for potential bias in them too, of course).  However, yesterday's piece by Ms. Toynbee does make some good points about a subject in which I'm becoming increasingly interested, perhaps even concerned: electoral reform.

25 April, 2005

Distantly connected

If only this worked between the UK and Poland....

Actually, I'm not much of a mobile user anyway, so the current arrangement using e-mail and ordinary (if expensive) phones serves okay, and being rather independent people, I doubt H & I would welcome the intensity (extensivity, really, if such a word existed) of contact described in the article; the level discussed in a related Wired article is more usual for us (using e-mail, not IM):

23 April, 2005

Card cred

Just curious: how easy is it to get a 'platinum' credit card?

Are they really considered a status symbol, or are are they just a marketing gimmick, as rare and as difficult to obtain as cheese?

20 April, 2005

More slime

Another eBay parasite is selling one of the unofficial concert recordings I put into free circulation.  This one's even less subtle than most, as the auction is accompanied by an image of the back cover artwork (the original of which I can produce on demand), prominently displaying my signature and, in block capitals, 'NOT FOR SALE'.

19 April, 2005

None of the above

Yet again, it's anticipated that voter turnout will be very low in the forthcoming general election.  Some of the non-voters will be acting deliberately, actively withholding their votes, rather than passively just not bothering to vote.  Not Apathetic provides a non-judgmental* opportunity for them to state their motivations.

Incidentally, this entry's title is slightly misleading, but gives me an opportunity to mention that a spoiled vote is counted, so it is almost possible to vote for 'none of the above'.

I, almost certainly, will be voting, but I certainly identify with many of those posting at the site.

10 April, 2005

Too well-travelled

The core of this evening's meal was prawn fishcakes from Sainsburys.  The packaging states:

Caught in the North Atlantic and Cultivated in Ecuador or Indonesia
Not 'processed', but 'cultivated', which implies that live prawns (31%) and/or hake (14%) were transported halfway around the world and er, cultivated before being turned into fishcakes and sent all the way back.

Explain, making use of maps and the the phrase 'food miles'.  You may turn over the monitor now.

2 April, 2005

You're not doing it properly!

I've just discovered that a typical American teabag contains a mere 2.1g, whereas a standard British teabag (which doesn't have a superfluous tag and string) holds 50% more, 3.1g.

That explains a lot.

31 March, 2005

Get 'em while they're... too late

'Hot cross buns' are, well, currant buns with a dough cross across the top.  At least in the UK, they're traditionally eaten (toasted and buttered) around easter.

'Hot cross pies' are a marketing gimmick invented by a certain exceedingly mass-market baker/confectioner.  They're standard individual fruit pie cases simply filled with currants and with a cross cast into the pastry of the lids.  The result is a less than tempting hybrid of mince pies (a specifically christmas tradition) and Eccles cakes (a Lancashire invention, comprising currants in puff pastry).

24 March, 2005

Banksy does NYC

I've mentioned before that I like the subversive art (often aka graffiti) of Banksy; his 3½ tonne bronze statue of Justice, skirt raised to reveal pvc thigh boots (not leather - c'mon, BBC!), was particularly good, and his stencil graffiti is inspired.

24 March, 2005

Very interesting...

I so want to change the Psychology Department's FAQ page, entitled 'Your Questions Answered', to 'Your Answers Questioned'.

But I'm a professional and would never do such a thing.


23 March, 2005

The almighty boing

Spring has definitely sprung.  By the calendar, the vernal equinox was last Sunday and, for once, seemed to coincide with the sudden onset of spring.  On Saturday I noticed green in a hawthorn hedge in Caton which had been entirely bare the week before.

10 March, 2005

That was quick!

I've been using Amazon's free delivery service, whereby orders totalling £19 or more are delivered within 3-5 days for free, for so long that I'd forgotten how fast the full-price (first class post) service can be.  I ordered a CD yesterday for Fi's birthday (I'll take the risk of presuming she won't see this, and say it's Depeche Mode's 'The Singles 86>98', apparently for the track Marilyn Manson covered), but I've left it a bit late to risk the slower option, and paid for delivery.  It arrived within twelve hours.

8 March, 2005

Practice, practice

In December I noticed that because I always held my toothbrush in the same hand, I was applying less pressure to certain areas of my mouth, eventually resulting in slight discoloration.  I immediately started to routinely switch hands halfway through, for even coverage.  At first it was awkward, but this morning I realised that I can no longer remember which was the dominant hand (probably the left).

If there's any point to this entry, it's to record that it's taken less than three months of twice-daily practice to become ambidextrous in a simple, repetitive task.

6 March, 2005

And another Mothers' Day thing...

Am I the only one to think it a bit odd for a high-street window display to market nipple tassels as an appropriate Mothers' Day gift?

2 March, 2005

Obvious, really

I discovered this Latin quiz at the BBC website a full month late, but it taught me something new: that 'a.m.' is the abbreviated form of 'ante meridiem'.

I knew it was 'ante', not 'anti' (which apparently confuses some people), but without really thinking, I'd always merely presumed that the second word was 'meridian', which, now that I have thought about it, plainly makes no sense!

Keep challenging assumptions....

1 March, 2005

Ugh. Teenage skin.

At present, I'm processing photos of the College JCR Exec (student representives, organisers of sporting/social events, etc) for posters and the website.

28 February, 2005

What a way to go

Over the past week, parts of the UK have been experiencing "heavy" snowfall*, but here in Lancaster we haven't even received a light dusting.  I believe it's partly due to proximity to the Irish Sea, but even if snow falls, it's extraordinary for significant amounts to stick.  Elsewhere, though, there have been deaths.  A man in Yorkshire died last week after sledging into a tree, and, bizarrely, a child died at the weekend after being crushed by a snowball.

A snowball weighing a quarter of a tonne.

24 February, 2005

Blackfield blocked

Blackfield, the collaboration between Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen, have been obliged to abbreviate their planned US tour in March.  Shows featuring the five-member electric band have had to be replaced with a smaller number of concerts given by just SW and Geffen, playing acoustically.  The reason?  Unexpected overwhelming difficulties in obtaining visas to work in the USA.  The band have said that if they'd known, they wouldn't have booked a tour at all.

18 February, 2005

The end of the world is nigh

They're going to stop selling Smarties in tubes!

The colourful sugar-coated chocolate oblate spheroids (eh? squashed spheres) have been in cardboard cylinders (closed with cardboard at one end, plastic at the other, with a lowercase letter on the inside of the lid.  Collect them all.  I didn't.) since before I was a child - since 1937, in fact.

14 February, 2005

Just testing

Ignore this entry; I'm just experimenting with Google and Movable Type, by checking the indexing of these earlier entries: Manchester photos 23 January and Manchester photos 24 January, in conjunction with the word 'haddock', for reasons I probably won't bother to explain.

12 February, 2005

Your call is very important to us

Quoted at This Is Broken [16/04/08:  Site dead, so link removed], Paul Roub articulates a thought that's occurred to me a few times, but which I've always forgotten immediately afterwards.

8 February, 2005

Most accidents are in the home

The Guardian reports that the number of burns received by making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (today) may exceed those on Bonfire Night (5 Nov.), though obviously the likelihood of serious injury is less.  Still, take care, eh?

[Via Spinneyhead]

21 January, 2005

There will now be a short interval

Play nicely.

20 January, 2005

Don't stoop to their level

I don't remotely support the tactics, nor particularly the cause, of campaigning group (aka irresponsible, self-publicising idiots) 'Fathers4Justice', but the comments of Yvonne Roberts in the Guardian are deeply unhelpful.

18 January, 2005


In case it's unclear, the Ministry is British, with Brit English spellings.  I see from my logs that someone repeatedly searched the site for 'medieval history' this morning, and left unsatisfied, as the only references here are to 'mediæval'.  Likewise, if you're looking for 'esthetic'', try 'aesthetic'.  I can't think of others as I write, but I'll probably amend this entry to add others appearing in the logs, so future searchers at least find this entry, and know how to rephrase enquiries.

I don't think it's relevant to the blog (but it is to other Ministry departments), but all abbreviated dates are in the non-US form dd/mm/yy - never mm/dd/yy.

17 January, 2005

Colour saturation

Just as I start wearing a high-visibility jacket for cycling*, Jon Ronson suggests in the Guardian that dayglo garments have become ubiquitous in urban areas so are barely noticed.
To become practically invisible, wear a workman's safety jacket.

16 January, 2005


Something which annoys me disproportionately:

The off-road sections of cycle path between Lancaster and the University are shared use; pedestrians on the western side of the tarmac, bikes on the eastern.  That's bikes on the left, pedestrians on the right as one faces the University, and vice versa facing the other way - bikes on the right, pedestrians on the left.  It's not 'keep left' - pedestrians ought to keep to the same side in both directions.  Bikes should only cross over to pass, then return to the bike side.

Okay, it's trivial - I did say "disproportionately" - but still, grrr!

25 December, 2004

Slime on weed

I'm a little surprised it hasn't happened before now, but one of the 'Ministry weeds', the unofficial concert recordings I 'remastered' (cleaned up the audio and indexed into separate tracks) and distributed for free amongst CD-R traders, with artwork prepared by a professional graphic designer (er, me), is being sold on eBay by some parasitic ****.
Thankfully, it hasn't received any bids yet.  The asking price is £17.95, or $34.72 - as I said, I made it available for free, and continue to do so.

20 December, 2004

Blurred hindsight

Before going on holiday, it's advisable to learn how to use one's camera.  It's also a good idea to check the camera is functioning correctly at the time the photos are taken.

It's less advisible to return with 110+ images of a foreign city, all captured using the macro setting (i.e. with focus fixed 10-20cm from the lens), then expect one's friendly neighbourhood Photoshop user to 'fix' them.

I can offer sympathy, but nothing else, I'm afraid.

19 December, 2004

'Free' iP*d

Let me get this straight.

You receive a free personal audio player in return for my personal and financial details?

Yeah, right.

17 December, 2004

That kettle's not so white

Speaking of marketing, I was distracted by the claims of one company a while ago.  I've mentioned before that I like Kettle Chips, which are sold under the slogan and ethos of "Real ingredients.  Real taste" (and "No science. No fiction. Real.", whatever that means).
I have no reason to doubt their claims that they use all-natural ingredients*, without flavour enhancers (apart from salt and sunflower oil), and that the cooking vats are stirred and monitored by humans rather than machines (not necessarily a selling point, as far as I'm concerned.  Why is automation a problem?).
The declared nutritional information on each packet reports that they contain significantly less salt and fat (especially saturated) than other types of crisps (US: chips).

16 December, 2004

Don't take it personally

Ha!  Within a day of my commenting that US domestic politics might be of limited relevance to a UK musician, this blog's rating at BlogExplosion plumetted from '9/10' to '6/10'.  Oversensitive readers, or downright vindictive?  You decide.

That posting wasn't criticism, folks, just an acknowledgement that US affairs aren't at the forefront of minds outside the USA.

14 December, 2004

A thing of beauty

The BBC reports that the Millau Viaduct in southern France, the tallest road bridge in the world (23m taller than the Eiffel Tower), has been inaugurated, and will open to traffic on Thursday.

Some have criticised its imposition into otherwise relatively undeveloped countryside, but I think it's an elegant supplement to the landscape, certainly not a detraction.

7 December, 2004

Not broken, just different

This Is Broken [16/04/08:  Site dead, so link removed] inadvertently highlights a difference in acquired visual shorthand between N.America (and to an extent, the UK) and mainland Europe (well, at least France).

The example given is of a French street sign, incomprehensible to those in the USA and to me in the UK, but utterly obvious, "even to little children" in France.  The difference in perception is striking.

27 November, 2004

Forecasting forecasters

Since I happened to name several UK TV weather forecasters in an earlier posting, I've received quite a few visits via Google searches for their names (typically of the form '[name]+photos').  They seem to occur in bursts of several for a particular person in one week, then none for that meteorologist for a couple of weeks, then another grouping.
I've only just realised this probably corresponds to their duty rota!  From the data, I'd say that Helen Willetts has covered the entire country for the BBC this week, whilst Northern England has seen outbreaks of Jo Blythe on ITV.

24 November, 2004

Promote literacy for free

For personal reasons it wouldn't be fair to publicise, I already support The Breast Cancer Site, even though it's USA-specific.  I noticed today that there's an associated scheme, The Literacy Site, which helps to distribute books to children (the site is experiencing server flaws today, so I don't know where the books go).  Just click to send books; visitors aren't asked for direct donations.
[Update 2/12/04: Link removed; see why.]

There are a number of charities I don't support*, but literacy is an issue I personally value, and which can often be overlooked in favour of more fundamental concerns such as food and water.

16 November, 2004

Blair isn't Britain

I don't plan to comment on this extensively, but Urban Fox has gone to the effort of writing a reasonably fair summary of the current party political system in the UK, thereby saving me the trouble of doing so myself.  It might be of use to non-Brits interested in our system.

Had I written it, it would have been in this context: the commonly-expressed view that the UK and USA have stood 'shoulder to shoulder' in Iraq, particularly in the run-up to the war, is a misconception.

27 October, 2004


About a year ago, a major multinational company ran a promotional campaign.  The title of the campaign, and a microsite at the company's website, was a fairly common everyday phrase; for the sake of narrative, let's call it 'Herding Cats', though that isn't the actual term.
I found the campaign interesting, and mentioned it in the blog.  I used the phrase as the entry title, and it's in the URL of the microsite (e.g., but the phrase didn't appear even once within the 153-word entry itself (purely by chance; it's so generic I didn't even think about it).

Last night I received an e-mail from a total stranger, an author in the USA (I'm in the UK) who alleges that the phrase is a registered trademark, that anyone would need express permission to use the phrase in a blog or other publication, and that I should remove the phrase from my website within five days or face legal action.

26 October, 2004

Dogs and masters

There's an ex-colleague I still see occasionally, at parties hosted by mutual acquaintances.  In a work context, I've just spoken to his immediate boss.  For a moment, I thought I was speaking to the employee, not the employer - they have an identical, abrupt mode of speech.
There's probably some deep sociological significance to this acquired similarity, but I don't have time to pursue it today.

23 October, 2004

Wonderful concept

Ambient, as I tend to use it in the blog, refers to a musical style characterised by textures but no beat, which aims to create a mood or atmosphere; an ambience.
As World Wide Words clarifies, this isn't really the correct modern usage of the word: 'ambient' refers to the conditions surrounding an object.  Hence, supermarket items which do not need refrigeration (sugar, canned tomatoes, etc.) are known by food technologists as ambient foods (strictly, ambient temperature foods).
Consequently, a purveyor of fresh, unchilled fish can be called an ambient fishmonger.

24 September, 2004

Toning down

Incidentally, I'm very aware that several recent entries may seem unusually negative, perhaps even aggressive.  Though I stand by the content, apologies if the tone has been off-putting - it's been a tough week, and frustrations/depression may be showing.

I'm working through a backlog of photo entries as I find time, so there should be more pretty pictures soon!

22 September, 2004

Blizg is weird

With a mere six positive, two negative and one 'remove' vote (that's only for dead links, you idiot!), the blog somehow rose to no.8 of 8,618 in the Blizg index.  That's flattering, but not especially meaningful.  Hence, I wasn't upset to notice that an additional negative vote at the weekend caused the rank to plummet to something like no.52.
I've just looked again, and have dropped off the top hundred ranking altogether.  Votes only last three months, so one of the positives must have expired.  It's an odd ranking technique, but I suppose it prevents a minority of sites from continuously accumulating points and becoming permanent fixtures, and unfair negative votes aren't permanently damaging, either.

13 September, 2004

Free delivery at Amazon

I suppose this is an advert in a sense, but it's also a useful piece of information I do want to pass on.

4 September, 2004

Laïcité - wassat?

As a couple of people have requested, a definition of the word 'laïcité', which I used a couple of days ago:

29 August, 2004

New Olympic sport?

Almost a quarter of a century ago, Dirk Van Loon wrote an indispensible guide to Small-scale Pig Raising.  It's scandalous that pig lifting has yet to be represented in any major international sports tournaments, even as a modest demonstration event, as the title seems to suggest (unless there's an advantage to lifting pigs with a slight skin disease?).

Now, don't start.

4 August, 2004

Singular abbreviations

Can anyone think of a Brit English word which is plural when spelled out in full, but singular when abbreviated (not counting acronyms)?
The example which sparked discussion at the weekend was 'mathematics', abbreviated to 'math', but that's US English, and in UK English, simply wrong.

13 July, 2004

First rule of marketing

It's hardly a secret that photos are often heavily retouched before publication, but it's relatively rare that a source image is available, allowing direct comparison with the final version.  Here's a particularly blatant example.

9 July, 2004

Not a Googlewhack

Think of two words.  Search for them as a single phrase at Google.  If only one web page in the entire Google database contains both of those words, and hence the results page shows 'Results 1 - 1 of 1', congratulations, you've found a googlewhack.

There are a few rules, though: the words have to be found naturally rather than in a forced search for a phrase, so the search can't include "quotes", the search terms have to be real words appearing at, and the terms have to appear in a page containing genuine content, not merely a list of random words.

2 July, 2004

Oi, slave!

Does anyone else find it oddly offensive to receive an internal e-mail beginning 'Dear Colleague'?  It's as if the sender has so little consideration for the recipient that he/she can't even be bothered to offer a greeting ('Hello' is perfectly adequate), never mind use the person's name.  If an external e-mail began so impersonally, there's a good chance that I'd register it as apparently generic and delete it unread.

It doesn't endear the sender to me, and certainly disqualifies the request from priority treatment.

Or maybe I'm just tired and irritable ;)

11 June, 2004

Eggs $4 a dozen

Aftenposten reports statistics from Eurostat  which show that Norway has the most expensive food in Europe, a typical grocery bill being 56% above the EU average.

3 June, 2004

D'you want to think about that?

The price of milk rose on campus recently, but the barcode readers in Spar have yet to be adjusted.  If one buys a pint, the till says 34p, but the cashier knows to ask for 35p.  If one buys a couple of items, the cashier doesn't think to add on the extra penny, so the old price stands.

Who's the fool: the Spar manager, who loses a penny on each transaction, or the customer who buys more that she would otherwise, just to feel smug about 'saving' an illicit penny?

Names omitted to protect the gullible.

29 May, 2004

I can see my house from here

In addition to the usual maps, now offers aerial photographs.  I'm not sure what practical purpose they serve, and image resolution is poor (deliberately - they sell high-res images, but don't give 'em away!), but just for interest, I've compared my home area of Lancaster, NW England, UK to the village where I grew up, Northop Hall (Pentre Môch), NE Wales, UK.  I found it interesting, anyway, though it mightn't mean much to those unfamiliar with the places.

2 May, 2004

More disappointed visitors

Since I made one posting about a pair of novelty boots, my visitor logs have been showing slightly odd, and definitely related hits.  I don't mean one or two, but a distinct trend.
Either the world of boot fetishists is very small* and a single comment stands out, or they're very diligent searchers!
*: I understand that isn't the case; a fairly recent newspaper article (I don't remember which) claimed that a shoe fetish is one of the commonest.

30 April, 2004

Mixed feelings

According to Deutsche Welle, Poland's planned restriction on economic immigration from the current EU won't apply to nationals of Eire and the UK,  countries which have not imposed barriers on the movement of workers from the new EU member states.

Which makes Helen's status as a Warszawa resident more secure.  Good news.

Isn't it?

23 April, 2004

Be like that, then

A certain band with a talent for self-promotion has a discussion forum on its official website, as do many other bands.  From my server logs, I see that a posting at the forum must have commented on something in this blog, as there was a sudden slight increase in traffic (~30 visitors) from the same source.  Curious, I tried to sign up to the forum.

I've been a member of several such groups over the years, so am accustomed to sign-up procedures.  I'm also accustomed to this band's marketing tactics, so knew to offer only the barest minimum of personal details.  Typically, there'd be registration page, a verification e-mail to ensure that some joker wasn't signing me up without my knowledge, then I'd be admitted to the group immediately.

18 April, 2004

Unexpected visitor

Heh.  It's always amusing to find that someone whom one hadn't realised reads the blog, does.



17 April, 2004

Big milestone

I've just noticed that, at the time of writing, 500,100 pages have been served to 145,822 visitors to the Ministry since 28 November, 2001.

Thanks, everyone.  I hope you've found it worthwhile ;)

15 April, 2004

Changed BT tariff

This may seem an odd topic for the blog, but might be useful for those who haven't read the small print of their latest BT phone bills: the prices of a couple of core services are increasing on 1 August, 2004:

  • The cost of a call to the Speaking Clock will double.
  • A new charge will be introduced for call return.  When one dials '1471' for the number of the last caller, that'll remain free, but if one then presses '3' to return the call, there'll be a charge of 6p (plus the cost of the call).  That's not much, but totally avoidable if one breaks the connection and simply dials direct.

14 April, 2004

Not that Firefox

Firefox - the gameAnyone remember this?  The 'Firefox F-7' electronic game, made by Grandstand in the early eighties and resident of a cupboard at my mother's house since then.  I remember playing it, but even at the time I thought it repetitive and fairly boring.  I've never been a big fan of computer games.  I wonder whether this game had an influence on that fact.

Growing up in the eighties, this really is the nearest I got to computer games at that time, apart from 'Centipede' or 'Space Invaders' on my father's PC when I visited him each year.  I vaguely remember seeing a Sinclair Spectrum while I was in primary school (i.e. pre-1983), but never had one myself.  There were a couple of BBC computers at secondary school, but apart from one 'taster' session for everyone, I think they were only made available to pupils studying 'A'-level Mathematics (that's 'Maths'  in English, emphatically not 'Math').

6 April, 2004

Disappointed visitors

Since the Tull Tour History includes some 80 instances of the Jethro Tull song 'Pussy Willow', it's unsurprising that a few Google searches for porn appear in my referral logs, but when have I ever written about 'back-door doggie'?  Ah; it's picked up the Tull songs 'Back-Door Angel' and 'How Much Is That Doggie...?', both part of the 1974 set.  Maybe that's what the enquirer was looking for, or maybe it was a carpentry issue.  Maybe.

31 March, 2004

Language evolves

It's not something I'd noticed, but Cliff reports that the signs at express checkouts in the Lancaster branch of Sainsburys are deliberately ungrammatical in saying 'ten items or less'.  He wrote to Sainsburys and was told that:

"... the way we communicate as a brand is based on the use of real english, we want to be clear, friendly and honest - like in a conversation with a friend.  While 'fewer' may be grammatically correct, we believe using the word 'less' fits this criteria in a more realistic way."

Ignoring the multiple grammatical errors in that response, I rather agree with their point, surprisingly.

29 March, 2004

Anyone know of a good e-mail discussion group?

No, I'm not looking to join one, I'm just wondering if such a thing still exists, or whether discussion groups operating exclusively by e-mail have been superceded by web-based discussion boards with threaded topics and additional features.

20 March, 2004

Backpacking? Not me, mate

As I write this, Jason and Hedley will be on the train to Inverness, a trip of eight hours from Lancaster, to begin a walk from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh i.e. across the entire width of Scotland, covering 70 miles in a week.  Good luck, and have fun, gents, but I'm staying here!

15 March, 2004

Familiar name

I see a new series begins on ITV* on Thursday (19:30), about dangerous drivers (I think).  One of the presenters is Cary Cooper; presumably he'll be covering the psychological aspects of the subject, as in addition to being a TV presenter, he's Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School.  Another of his roles is the University's Pro-Vice-Chancellor ('Director' might be a comparable title in business) for External Affairs, for whom I've recently produced a web page.

8 March, 2004


Thanks to this avatar generator, here's NRT!
My beard isn't really a goatee, though it is a little pointy and thinner at the sides.  My hair is considerably longer than this, though I rarely wear it loose.
Have a go - see how accurate your avatar can be.

3 March, 2004


A slightly odd statistic from Lancashire County Council's self-congratulatory newsletter, 'Vision':

29 February, 2004

Private zoo

This isn't 'new' news, but it's only just reached court: a 55-year-old woman appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court this week, charged with 69 counts of animal abuse.  Several months ago (before I started this blog, or I would have mentioned it at the time), the RSPCA raided her home, removing - from a standard-sized house - a total of:

28 February, 2004

Rock buns recipe

As requested (overtly and by search engine hits from the '+rock+buns+recipe' term), here's the recipe I've been using (2, 3)  to make rock buns.  Credit for the recipe goes to Harriet O., with suggested amendments by NRT (me!)

6 February, 2004

What's a cockle?

It's become evident during the day that non-Brits, or maybe non-Europeans, don't recognise the word 'cockle'.

3 February, 2004

New Chancellor for the University

So, the new Chancellor of Lancaster University is to be Sir Chris Bonington CBE, taking over the role from HRH Princess Alexandra who has been the Chancellor for the full 40 years since the University was founded.

22 January, 2004

Logo design trends

An overview of fifteen current trends in commercial logo design; not only useful for inspiration, but also a warning of what's becoming passe.

8 January, 2004

NOT anti-American

No doubt the foregoing two posts (1, 2) will attract accusations of being anti-American, but that genuinely isn't true.
There's a disturbing absolutist view that everyone is either entirely pro-American or entirely anti-American; all or nothing.  To be 'pro-American' is to accept the whole package without hesitation or question; to express doubts about a single policy is totally 'anti-American'.  That's obviously ludicrous, and hopefully a passing trend.  Nowhere is perfect, no administration is infallible.
To question is healthy, both for the state and individual, in a free country.  Fortress USA is a free country, isn't it?

14 December, 2003

Is this a good thing?

When this information was circulated via e-mail at work, I thought it had the characteristics of urban myth, even including 'friend of a friend' references, but having checked the website of the system's manufacturer, it seems true.

5 December, 2003

Spell checker or randomiser?

When spell checking that last post, it was suggested that 'lactose-intolerant' should be replaced with 'lightgoldenrodyellow'.  What?

2 December, 2003

PVC storage - be aware

Most online retailers state that PVC should be stored in a garment bag away from other clothing, but I think Stormy Leather is the only one to explain why.

1 December, 2003

Those magnificent men in their crashing machines

This story in The Guardian proves that the age of the British eccentric isn't quite dead - nowadays he (and it usually is a 'he') simply makes a documentary. One could easily transfer the whole account back a century - it has all the essential elements: a long-term obsession; journalistic interest in (to the journalist) a whimsical, even trivial subject; a project driven by enthusiastic (but certainly not in an excitable way) amateurs; a degree of patriotism; rigid understatement; and several silly names.

26 November, 2003

Follow up: Socialise, or...

In case anyone's been waiting with bated breath, the missing student has been found, at his parents' home. He's been struggling with his course, and plainly isn't getting the vaguest support from his flatmates, so ran away from it all. It doesn't look like he's returning, or if he does it's rather too late to change degree course, so he might need to take a year out and start something new next year.

3 November, 2003

Semi-random observation of the day

Rubber gloves, as used to wash dishes, are textured for a reason.

2 November, 2003

Private world public - and always was

I don't think I'd heard of loganberries until I was in my twenties. In case you still haven't, they're almost identical to raspberries, only longer and less sweet. I first heard of them when my father started to grow them in his garden a few years ago, as his grandfather had done. I presume his mother, a keen gardener, did so too, but I was too young to register them being other than raspberries. My point is that until today I thought loganberries were unusual and little known.
I've just eaten a Sainsbury's low-fat fruit yoghurt, presumably produced in the tens of thousands and supporting a significant proportion of the British fruit growing industry. The flavour of this pot? Loganberry.

29 October, 2003

Why do goths wear stripey socks?

It's not a joke; I just don't see the inspiration or reasoning. There must be a reason, right?

NP: Staind, '14 Shades Of Grey'. Second run-through, and I still wouldn't rate it higher than 'inoffensive'.

17 October, 2003

Who the hell are you to speak?

At recent 'solo' concerts on his 'Rubbing Elbows' US tour, Ian Anderson has made offhand comments critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq situation. Though it seems no-one has challenged these comments to his face, Anderson has been heavily criticised on a discussion board, seemingly because a) he's not professionally involved in the situation, so is unqualified to speak and b) he's a 'guest' in the USA, so should defer to Americans, restraining his right to free speech.

14 October, 2003

Caring for Your Introvert

If you want to know me better, try this remarkably accurate article. It's one of those profound pieces that seem obvious afterwards.

9 October, 2003

Speaking of numbers... seems we failed to notice a big one yesterday; the Ministry received its 100,000th visitor since 28 Nov., 2001, which would be something like 107,000 since the launch (different tracker at the start). At the time of writing, 100,271 (3 since I started this post!) visitors have accessed 352,421 pages over the last 22 months.
Thanks, everyone!

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