29 January 2007

Well said, Dave Cameron

Good, solid stuff from "Dave" Cameron on two political hot potatoes today - sometimes it's hard to believe this guy is actually the Tory leader. He seems to the left of Tony Blair quite a lot - although that's not very hard.

Firstly, Cameron publicly supported the anti-discrimination law on gay adoption, against the wishes of the Catholic Church, and many in his own party. (To be fair, Blair has also decided to support the law.) This makes Dave considerably more progressive than Ruth Kelly, for instance (which isn't difficult.)

Secondly, Cameron made a speech today in Birmingham likening Muslim extremism to the British National Party. To quote:

Those who seek a sharia state, or special treatment and a separate law for British Muslims are, in many ways, the mirror image of the BNP. They also want to divide people into us and them. And they too seek out grievances to exploit.

Cameron puts his finger here on the very important point, made eloquently by Richard Dawkins in his excellent recent book The God Delusion (which I must post a review of soon) that religious extremism and racism are cut from the same cloth. They are both irrational philosophies which seek to attack that which is different to ourselves.

Of course, let's not get too carried away in this wave of enthusiasm for HM Opposition: Cameron still has very few policies worked out to make the "big changes" he calls for in his speech which will "take down all the barriers in the way of a stronger society" - he may well have a 'policy flavour', as the opposition PR guru famously declared in The Thick of It special earlier this month, but it's vanilla-bland; or simply incoherent. But, compared with the arse that Gordon Brown has been talking on Britishness, it's a model of eloquence. "Genuine" Conservatives must be tearing up their membership cards and reaching for the UK Independence Party joining number on their mobiles now, because if this guy is for real, he's a Tory, but not as we know it, Jim.

I must admit to being one of the rather sad people who will opportunistically back Cameron in casual conversation with colleagues, friends and impressionable strangers alike, for no real reason other than that I hate Blair and Brown so much that I would find it highly amusing if Labour took a real pounding at the next election. Criminally, I was half hoping there would be a surprise result last time round. But f*** the lot of them, it's the Greens for me at the next election. And the one after that... until they pull the plug on the whole thing 'cos no-one's bothering to vote and it's costing too much to maintain the charade. Don't mind me, it's late and I've been watching too many Alex Jones DVDs...

26 January 2007

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #15 - Archaeology

Simple name for a straightforward blog... until you actually try to read it. The latest post on the ancient city of Petra in Jordan is fine but when you get to "Artificial Eye Unearthed in Iran", you'll be struggling with the syntax. Particular favourite of mine:

Two holes in the sides helped to the grasping he in place in the socle of the eye of the woman.

Sounds vaguely reminiscent of one of the hexagrams of the I Ching.

None of the many comments on this post said "this is a really bad use of auto-translate software" or anything like that, which either means the content is good enough that people don't care about the bad English, or that the blogger is posting a lot of comments to him/herself to make it look like the blog is widely read. I did follow a link on the comments to an appalling blog which is honestly so ludicrously fascist it's probably a piss-take (or a "troll" in web-jargon) called "liberal dyke hags suck". Example content (far from the worst thing on there):

I think women should have certain rights but voting and going to school are not to be those. Like you said if women get educated then they think they will be too good to be wife of men here [in Afghanistan] and that is not how it should be. Also they should not be clerics because the Quaran tells us so.

This guy really needs to lighten up with some crystal meth, stand in a bucket and get somebody to pass him the jump leads.

Anyway back to 'archaeology'. The blogger, Brno, has a couple of other finance-related blogs - Forex and Make Money. Both are regularly updated but almost impossible to read. Case in point, off the Forex blog:

he expectations for an increase of the tariff in this meeting had descolorado far early this week already, since several officials and Japanese means of the government indicated the government recently worried raising tariffs could prevent too much early the economic development. There was only one certain speculation that the bank could make an independent decision. The Yens were debilitated more far after it left the decision the tariff really as dissapointing as hoped.

By itself this would be just another nonsense blog were it not for the fact that some of the comments left seem to indicate that people are actually reading this stuff. Is anyone actually trying to trade in the market based on this garbled nonsense? God help 'em. It makes Boris & Co look like good sense.

21 January 2007

Frak, and Frak!

Over the weeks since Christmas we've spent rather too long watching the series 2 box set of Battlestar Galactica which I very kindly bought myself in the sales (it wasn't on special offer but even at forty quid or whatever, it's still good value.)

It's been said many, many times on the web already, so I won't break any new ground by agreeing with many of the critics that this is perhaps the best sci-fi TV show ever, and certainly the best TV I've seen from North America since Twin Peaks. (It's filmed in Canada.)

If you haven't seen it, the bastards have got a way of reeling you in, by selling the 2004 miniseries which started the whole thing off at a very low price: £4.99 or even less in some cases. Once you've seen that you will probably move on to the individual season box sets.

Anyway this post is just to point out the amusing use of the word 'frak' as the 4-letter expletive of choice aboard Galactica - it's an homage to the original 1978 series, but more importantly, it essentially allows the production team to use as many 'F***'s as they want without offending anyone. The guy from the Jammer's reviews site doesn't like 'frak' at all, he thinks it's silly. I like it a lot. I think it's subversive. Basically it points out the absurdity of designating a particular word as a 'swear word' and then discouraging its use. There is no instrinsic reason why 'fuck' should be thought of as rude, while 'frak' is just amusing. It's all a load of lobsters if you ask me...

The other thing I wanted to point out was that there was another 'Frak' once upon a time... in the early 80s Frak! was a game for the BBC microcomputer, possibly the most ludicrous game ever made for that esteemed machine (I never had a BBC micro at school - only the rich kids had one. The plebs had to make do with a Spectrum, or maybe a Commodore 64 if you were lucky). As the wikipedia entry (very impressed that it's even there) says, Frak! was a platform game where you controlled a caveman who had to remove monsters such as large furry pineapples from your path by hitting them with a yo-yo. There were two memorable things about the game:

  1. It ran really slowly. I mean it was painfully slow. The graphics were just too much for the processor... on the Amiga, for example. it would have been fine.
  2. When your man got killed a big speech bubble came up saying "Frak!" The problem was that it was more fun getting killed than actually waiting around for the next platform to scroll into view.
Anyway Galactica producer Ron Moore has a blog where he takes Q&A from fans once in a while, and I think it's worth emailing to ask whether the BBC Frak! game could be used as a plot device in one of the later seasons. Maybe they could have a Star Trek holodeck where all the characters became 2D cartoons with yo-yos and it all.... went.... very.... slow. A bit like the sequence in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where they get trapped in the wormhole with the asteroid (an apt metaphor for the cinema audience, who got trapped in the cinema with an unfinished film.) "Time to impact........ 17 seconds but a second feels like a month due to Shatner's bassoon, which controls the perception of time." I think it's that sequence that makes The Motion Picture my favourite Star Trek movie. That and the sheer preposterousness of trying to cross Star Trek with 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I leave you with a storyboard sequence that has been stolen from the storyboard for one of the episodes of Galactica, Season 4. A new plot development is that the Cylons have mutated into a cross between a walrus and an aubergine. And Commander Adama has grown his hair a bit.

19 January 2007

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #14 - Make Art Every Day

Sorry to get back to the weather, but this time of the year really is a downer.

The fence blew down on Thursday when we had relatively severe gales and the compost bin lost one of its sides at one point. It was a bit like in Battlestar Galactica when the ship gets hit with nukes. At one point I was checking up and down the road outside the house for Cylon agents, or British Gas workmen as they are known in these parts.

I've been having a bit of a tough time blogs to review because the "new-look" Blogger no longer has the list of recently updated blogs on the lower right hand side of the page when you sign in. There is a scrolling list of recently updated blogs but it takes dexterity to catch one as it scrolls past. There is also the 'next blog' button at the top of most blogs, which takes you to a new blog randomly, but there is so much rubbish around that you have to make 20 or 30 jumps to end up somewhere interesting. Anyway, I found Make Art Every Day and unless I can find a better way to randomly sample (say) at least 10 blog titles at once, this will be the last Friday evening blog review for a while. (It's actually Saturdayt afternoon, but that's the wonders of the post management page.)

There isn't a lot here but what there is is extremely promising: a Boba Fett costume from a website called Instructibles, which is a cool-looking repository of stuff to make. I will get my old mate Nick Woolley to post his instructions for making a rocket out of a plastic squeezy bottle, an apparatus he perfected whilst out of work and living in Crawley in the mid-90s. Needless to say if he tried the same thing now he would probably be arrested...

I've always felt Boba Fett was one of the great Star Wars characters, criminally underused in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - although IG-88 and the guy with the reptile head whose name I can't remember had even less screen time - but Fett was cooler for the fact that you never actually saw his head or face because he always had his helmet on (at least in Empire and Jedi; you do see him in Attack of the Clones but he's just a kid then. His dad, Jango, has a similar outfit in different colours, but you see his head, which was a real disappointment for me. And I couldn't believe George Lucas didn't put the kid Boba in an outfit with a helmet too - it would have been an excellent running joke.)

Getting back to the blog, still on a Star Wars tip, there are instructions for making a woolly hat that looks like Princess Leia's hair; and for the Star Trek fans there's a "USS Floppy" - a model of the Enterprise made from the metal bit of a floppy disk. This is a great way of re-using old technology for art and comes from the wikiHow site, which is like a cross between Wikipedia and the old "Teach Yourself" books. Great stuff.

I think it is probably possible to build a Space 1999 Eagle craft from an egg box, some pipe cleaners, a plastic squeezy bottle and some jacks (not car jacks but the things that are a bit like marbles but crosses which you throw), but I don't have time to work out the details unfortunately. File under "projects to undertake after winning the Lottery jackpot".

17 January 2007

Big Brother generates its biggest free publicity yet

Channel 4 must be absolutely over the moon at the huge explosion in media coverage of racist comments by some of the white inhabitants of the "Celebrity" Big Brother house at the expense of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. It's sent ratings stratospheric far more easily than the kind of shock tactics they have been using to try to maximise viewing figures on previous seasons (even though that's been working OK, as it's my understanding that ratings have increased each year since the series started in 2000).

I think that once Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron get asked to comment in depth about a TV show, we're in danger of losing perspective. The story is: three women who are publicity-obsessed and self-seeking enough to have signed up to Celebrity Big Brother have been revealed as closet racists. Big deal! They are of course idiotic fuckwits, but we kind of knew that before they even went on the show. I'm sure there are many more like them out there in the UK population. The large proportion of the population that abhors racism needs to know what it is up against. From that perspective, Celebrity Big Brother has been instructive - although only in a minor way, along the lines of The Jerry Springer Show. It shows, as Dan Ashcroft said in Nathan Barley, that there is a danger that "the idiots are winning".

I don't think pulling the show off the air would accomplish anything at this stage (unless the situation escalates towards violence, which seems possible, but unlikely) - far better to keep the cameras rolling and then for Davina to present the miscreants with a selection of highlights of their racist behaviour when each of them gets voted out. I'd love to see each of them try to defend their statements live on national TV. That really would be reality TV. As David Cameron pointed out today the best form of censorship is the 'off' button on the TV. Or even better, don't even bother switching on the freeview box: use your DVD to watch the season 2 DVD box set of Battlestar Galactica you kindly bought yourself in the New Year sales instead. I will post on Battlestar very soon as it's such a classic it deserves further discussion.

Meanwhile, I await the views of the president of the European Commission, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Galloway and David Icke on the unfolding Celebrity Big Brother situation with great interest. Where are we gonna end with this?

13 January 2007

Brown attacks English/Scottish nationalism with British Nationalism to save his ass

Just seen a report on Gordon Brown's speech at the Fabian Society New Year Conference. Somehow, the Fabians contrive to put their flagship political shindig at the absolute worst point in the year to do anything at all. Here's the situation: you've been back at work for 2 weeks after the New Year and it's already doing your head in, your attempts to lose weight and stay on the wagon have fizzled out already, the days are interminably dark, wet and windy; is it really the case that the best thing you can do with your Saturday is hang out with a load of Labour hacks listening to a load of clapped out Labour politicians? If so, you're sadder than you realise.

Anyway, if I had managed to drag myself out of bed, I'd have been lucky enough to hear Brown talking complete bollocks about the union between England and Scotland. Brown's stated arguments in favour of continued union are so weak it's actually difficult to discuss them seriously, but I have to try. Appparently the identity of the UK is threatened by "an opportunist group of nationalists"; the UK is a country "built on shared values" of liberty, 'social responsbility' and fairness; and nationalists are agitating for a "Balkanisation of Britain".

This isn't even an argument. To say that would be giving it a credibility it doesn't deserve. It's pure electoral self-interest masquerading as stylised posturing.

What evidence is there that the UK is the only country built on the 'shared values' Brown identifies? There is none. So, therefore, there must be other countries that share these values. So therefore it matters not one jot to our shared values if Britain breaks up. What matters is self-determination. If the people of Scotland want to leave the union (or indeed if the people of England want to leave it), that's precisely what should happen. The idea that a Scottish nationalist, an English nationalist or a Welsh nationalist is in some way an opportunist scumbag whilst a British nationalist is a fine upstanding person is idiotic. And invoking the spectre of the Balkans is so ludicrous it doesn't even mention discussion.

Brown's real concern is that an independent Scotland would probably leave Labour unable to secure a working majority from the remaining English and Welsh parliamentary seats. I'm sure the Scots will be really happy if they're forcibly kept in the union to provide voting fodder for Labour. This kind of talk is precisely what's likely to deliver the electoral meltdown for Labour in the May Scottish parliamentary elections which might well be the first test of Gordon Brown's premiership. Give us a partisan defence of the union (and indeed of the whole first-past-the-post system) on the grounds of electoral expediency if you want, Mr Brown. At least it would be honest. But for f***'s sake don't insult our intelligence.

09 January 2007

Read About London... aaaarrrggg

The race to become Tory candidate for the London mayor elections in 2008 is becoming increasingly ludicrous. After obnoxious DJ Nick Ferrari pulled out of the contest last year, the names linked with the candidacy in the news have become increasingly bizarre - and none more so than ex-Radio 1 DJ and early 80s Saturday morning TV presenter Mike Read.

A Read candidacy would be preferable to ex-Radio 1 DJ and early 80s Saturday morning TV presenter Noel Edmonds, and there are some other names lower down the pecking order - Jonathan King, or Gary Glitter, for example. But that's about it.

I once had the 'pleasure' of meeting Mike Read during the recording of the one round of BBC Radio 1's 'Pop of the Form' that my two classmates and I lasted before we lost to Chingford School because a guy on the other team had a CD player at home and so knew what a song on CD fast forward sounded like, and so was able to win maximum points on the 'jumbled up CD' round. (This was the late '80s, you see.) I can't remember anything about him at all, but he had a long in-depth conversation with our English teacher, who was something of an intellectual, so maybe his public image of a dinosaur moron to be locked in the same filing cabinet as Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates etc. isn't fair?

Read's doing himself no favours with his basic campaigning shtick at the moment, though. His reason for wanting the job is:

On a daily basis I get angry about the state of the country, the nanny state and the way things are going.

Very "Thatcher 1975", Mike. Probably still upset about punk. And Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Unbelievably, the BBC article on Read's mayoral bid says that "he had been urged to consider standing by Tory activists after he made a speech at the party's annual conference."

Presumably the activist who said Read would make a good mayor was the same person who, at another Tory conference fringe meeting I attended, said that he was "deeply worried about proposals to introduce the Sharia law in Britain." I think these people all beam in from a parallel universe or something.

Why can't ex-Runaround presenter and Eastenders star Mike Reid make a bid for the mayor as an independent candidate? I think he'd take 'em all out.

07 January 2007

Hal finally bellyflops on to the Dilate Choonz blog

It's about that time... after spending 9 months pissing about 'getting round to' posting a contribution to the Dilated Choonz audio blog, I've finally managed to post a track from From Within, a classic 1990s ambient techno collaboration between Pete Namlook (mentioned in a post a couple of months back) and the Canadian techno genius Richie Hawtin. OK so it's not Aliens in My Suitcase, but I think many people will be somewhat relieved at that.

Dilate Choonz has been on the giroscope blogroll since day one and for anyone who likes damn fine tune after damn fine tune in a broadly dance-orientated direction, it's a surefire winner - do check it out.

Managing to post on an audio blog would not be a sufficiently big deal to most bloggers to warrant a post, but most people aren't as lazy as me. Techno strategist Al De Raan is even lazier, which is why none of his long-awaited tunes have been finished yet - but we are told it will be any day soon now, so I am ready with the MP3 player. Today I also managed to build a compost bin out of wooden pallets that we got from a couple of guys who were building an extension to their house, so it's been a very productive day. But I won't start telling you too much about that, or before long I'll be writing posts about how I left my keys at work and had to borrow a set from my parents to get into the house. And we don't want that, do we??

05 January 2007

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #13 - Boris and Company

Friday evening blog review took a week out last time because, in the hiatus between Xmas and New Year, I lost the ability to work out which day Friday actually was. But we are back on the gravy train this week friends, with a 2007 respray. The name 'Boris and Company' appealed to me because it reminds me of 'Cat and Co', which was a band which an Essex musician called David Brider had in the early 90s. (David was the local resident musical genius back when we were at school - we used to dream that one day we would write a song as good as one of his.) Cat and Co. sounded like an exact copy of Queen, only with worse vocals. Or so I'm told (I never actually heard them, it was my mate Benny Voller.)

Anyway, the theme of this blog is that Boris knows about shares. Apparently he was supposed to be a theoretical physicist but then discovered "the computers" and then finance on Wall Street. The blog contains innumerable references to 'QQQQ', which mystified me until Google revealed that it is the ticker symbol for the NASDAQ 100 index. For the most part this is the standard "technical analysis" quasi-numerology bollocks and I'm sure Boris will turn up on Deal or No Deal sooner or later. I hope the guy trades shares better than he writes English, too. The whole thing will be rather tedious to those of you not currently in an investment club, although there are some exciting graphical interludes provided by some piece of bespoke charting software that Boris & Co. use. An example is provided here: weird annotation to the graph reproduced below:

HOW DO YOU SPELL TOP? Sentiment is super bullish: bear is transportation not confirming buy pressure is rising, stocks not reponding - Dow has either topped Wednesday, may have 1% left. NASDAQ topped 22 Nov (as projected Nov 18 +- 2 trading days. God has worked in seven days, Dow is done in seven years... Suckers are intimidated with rusted old stocks Citibank, Chevron etc. GS - Goldman Sachs looks bad, 7 day distribution & double weekly reversal. Who cares, we http://borisc.blogspot.com are making money...

Which may well be the case, but I can't see Warren Buffet giving Boris a call just yet. 'Technical analysis' of stock charts (which is what this stuff is) is just the modern equivalent of reading the tea leaves, but with less excuses. Buy and hold! That's the strategy. Which of course explains why I've just sold my investment club holdings... (either that or the fact that we need a new bathroom - BADLY.)

02 January 2007

"The Thick Of It" makes a welcome return

It is unlikely that there will be a more keenly anticipated TV show on the BarneyRuddlecorder this year than the new 1-hour special of The Thick Of It. For the benefit of those completely out of touch with UK political comedy, The Thick Of It is an Armando Ianucci-penned cross between Yes Minister and The Office which manages to be at least as funny as, and probably better than either of, those classics. In the original 6-part series broadcast in 2005, Chris Langham (who starred in the late 90s comedy classic People Like Us, a direct antecedent of The Office's fly-on-the-idiots'-wall approach) plays the bumbling, mediocre "Minister for Social Affairs", Hugh Abbot. Abbot is a very similar character to Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister and similarly amusing, but rather than being manipulated by Sir Humphrey-style civil service mandarins, he is bullied, put through the grinder and generally f***ed over by Number 10 spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (played absolutely to perfection by Peter Capaldi). In Tucker, Armando Iannuci captures the essence of New Labour's political machinery. Abbot's own special advisers are also hilariously inept, in particular the very wet behind the ears Ollie Reeder (played by Chris Addison) who is a dead ringer for the kind of wide-eyed "Joe 90" know-it-all that think tanks like ippr and Demos leave standing on the doorstep in specially sized green bins every week to be recycled into special adviser jobs in various government departments.

The new special presents some changes to the format: Chris Langham is gone (due to currently being in the dock on charges of viewing child porn), his place being taken by deputising junior minister Ben Swain (Justin Edwards) who believes he has a clue, but like many of us, doesn't. This results in a particularly hilarious sequence where Swain is interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on immigration policy. The impending change of Prime Minister is centre stage in people's minds, with Tucker and the other special advisers under no illusions that the "nutters" (i.e. Brownites) who are about to come to power will nail him first chance they get. But most excitingly the opposition gets featured for the first time, as much of the show follows the fortunes of the shadow minister for social affairs, Peter Mannion (played by Roger Allam) who is basically a send-up of David Davis; a hard-line conservative who stood against "JB" (i.e. Dave Cameron) for the leadership but lost, so he has now been given a front-line brief where he has to spout bollocks about stuff he doesn't believe in for one second but it's either that or get fired. It's hilarious and so close to reality that casual viewers tuning in during one of these sections may well have believed they were watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary about an actual Tory politician. Equally good is the opposition PR guru who gets all the politicians to dress 'smart casual' - this is a direct rip of Steve Hilton, who advises Cameron, and again it's brilliantly done.

I have to admit, before viewing this I was worried about whether The Thick Of It would be able to survive Chris Langham's exodus, but it seems to have done so quite brilliantly. Now all we need is a Tory win in 2009 and the coast would be clear for a third series looking at what happens to the opposition guys once they get into government; which isn't a good enough reason by itself to vote Tory, but it might at least provide some consolation. The special is repeated on Wednesday 10th Jan at 10pm on BBC4; warmly recommended if you missed it first time round.

01 January 2007

First mis-spelling comedy of 2007

Right, let's get straight to work on completely disregarding those New Year Resolutions with the most frivolous article we can find... this is taken from the Inquirer website for 19 December so it's technically 2006 comedy, but I only noticed it today when browsing Linux news on www.linux.org:

"UK Government criticised for stifling open sauce in schools"

The article then goes on to explain how the DfES is monitoring usage of tomato ketchup and other condiments in school canteens and threatening to fine schools who exceed sensible daily limits per pupil. Also kids are being issued with ASBOs for failing to put the lid back on the sauce bottles after use.

It's a crazy world out there.


Did you hear about the guy who got the LCD monitor for Christmas? His New Year's Resolution is 1280x1024.

Terrible joke, but it gives us a chance to say Happy New Year from giroscope, as well as writing down our respective resolutions. Many of these will doubtless last a week at the most, but it's as well to have some written record of them, to have a good laugh at in the second week of January.

They are as follows:


  • Focus on the real political issues. Stuff like climate change, the continuing weakness and decline in our democratic institutions, and the increasing dangers of multinational corporate power. Compared with this, the forthcoming Labour leadership contest looks irrelevant even if it were a real contest (which looks most unlikely).


  • Cover a wider range of sports rather than just football. This may be difficult to achieve because Hal doesn't actually like sports that much in general. But then, he doesn't actually like football that much, and has still managed to write about it... well, mainly about Colchester United, anyway.
  • a lot more on conspiracy theorists - time to take the blog beyond mainstream politics. Difficult to strike a balance between believing any old crap on one hand, and a kneejerk reaction of anything to the left of Gordon Brown on the other. But someone has to try! Hal is taking on the additional title of 'special projects correspondent.'

  • drinking only at beer festivals from now on. There are just too many mediocre pints of Greene King IPA, etc, being served up at pubs.
  • getting some bloody music tracks finished and up on the web.

We'll review in 2 weeks and see where we are. Any of the regular commentators on the site got any interesting resolutions?