Wednesday, May 31, 2006

H1 2006 TV

Over the last week or so I've seen some great television. Three series have come to a close - Season 5 of 24, Season 2 of Lost and Season 1 of Prison Break. To commemorate these endings I've penned some pointless haikus to summarise each series.

Lost 2
Button in a hatch
Must be pressed often or else.
There's also more folk.

Prison Break 1
Baldy Linc's in jail,
Framed by an evil comp'ny.
Escape with Mike's tatts!

24 5
Jack's back from the dead
To save LA from nerve gas:
(Spoiler deleted)

All three series together add up to the best part of two to three days worth of solid television. This means that I have spent one to two percent of 2006 watching these. Although that's not a huge number, it feels a bit... wrong.

But all the same, roll on next January!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm a loser, baby

On the way home from work today I saw a car that had a numberplate with the letters CAR on it. A few minutes later I saw a bus that had a numberplate with the letters BUS on it. How strange!

In related news, a car owner and a bus driver today saw a man walking up the road with LOSER written all over him :-)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Cambridge Brass

I went back to Cambridge at the weekend. I think it's the first time I've been down there since around 2000, or possibly 2001. Either way, it's quite some years. I was at university there so I know the city reasonably well. Or at least I thought I did. I navigated to the hotel easily enough, but then I started to remember places I used to go to, but then realised I wasn't 100% sure of the directions any more. Example: I remembered a pub by the river called The Mill, but I couldn't quite remember how it fitted into the city. How time destroys the old grey cells. Finding it actually turned out to be quite straightforward once I was actually out walking around (It's on Mill Lane), but I still felt a little disconcerted.

Most of the colleges are closed to visitors at the moment to give the lazy students a bit of peace and quiet whilst they study for their exams. I might have been able to get into them if I'd remembered to take a university membership card or something like that, but I hadn't so that was that. I did have a wander up to my old college, Selwyn though. It hasn't changed much, from the outside at least.

Selwyn College, Cambridge (1)

They have begun to construct a whole new court next to the main part of the college. It's coming on well and seems to fit in well with the architectural style of the older parts (apart from horrid looking Cripps Court over the road). It was nice to see it in real life rather than just photos on the internet.

The reason I was in Cambridge was though completely unrelated to me being a past student there. My girlfriend's sister was competing in the confusingly named All England Masters International which is a brass band competition. And it is certainly not comprised only of teams from England, or even the UK. Odd.

A brass band competition seems to comprise of (in this case) 21 bands who all play the same 15 minute long piece. Yesterday it was Paganini's Variations (you know it - it's the one that goes Da da da da da da da da da da). If you have a good ear and are familiar with brass then you might be able to spot differences between the bands. To me though they all sounded pretty similar.

Well, ok, I didn't actually sit through all 21 of them. We left after the first two (which included the one we had gone to watch). But they both sounded fine to me. I think if I'd had to sit and listen to all of the bands I might have gone a little insane. Nobody should have to sit through something like that.

The worst thing was however the price. Sixteen pounds. Each! Arguably that's good value if you sit through all six hours of the competition, or however long it lasts for, but still... Sixteen pounds! They weren't even the best seats - we were near the back of the balcony!

Saturday, May 27, 2006


This is cool. I'm in Cambridge this evening and as an experiment, I'm writing this on my phone! Don't know if it will work or not though!

Puzzle not Street

I think I'd forgotten how much fun Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo was to play. Way better than the Street Fighting variety. I've remembered now.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sandwich News

Over the last couple of years, a lot of Subways have opened in York. I'm talking about the sandwich shops rather than the underground tunnels. To the best of my knowledge, York still lacks a decent subway system. It could be a secret, eyes only type network I suppose. Possibly used to smuggle illegal vicars out of the Minster.

I have only eaten from Subway once before, and that time I didn't actually go in myself - Chip went in and did all the complicated stuff. That was about two years ago. Today I felt like trying the full experience for myself. Not sure why, I just did.

I had a Foot Long Chicken Teriyaki on Hearty Italian bread (Toasted) with Lettuce, Red Onion and (stop me if you're bored) Green Peppers. With Sweet Onion Sauce. Now it was undeniably a very tasty sandwich. But it cost £4.60!! I could have had two pints of beer for that! Or a Pizza Hut All You Can Eat Buffet plus two packets of crisps. It seems like a VERY EXPENSIVE SANDWICH to me.

But it was good, and I would return. I'll just have to save up first.

In other completely unrelated news, I've just noticed that Flickr has finally gone out of Beta! And in to... Gamma. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Beware of Peril

I'm a big fan of the little messages on TV film trailers that warn of the nasty things that may be in store for unsuspecting viewers ie "contains scenes of sex and violence". The best ones are the ones that warn of quite innocuous things. "Contains mild peril" seems to pop up on children's films from time to time. I'm never sure quite how perilous peril can get before it ceases to be mild and becomes instead just "peril" or perhaps even "strong peril".

I also worry about the films that warn that they contain "language". That's just odd.

I saw a trailer for the new monkey-based cartoon Curious George the other day. The warning on this one was a bit strange. It said "contains no sex, violence or bad language". This is weird.

Why have they felt the need to mention that there is no sex in a children's animated cartoon about a monkey? Do parents watch a trailer and think "Wow, that film looks great for my children but there's a risk that the curious monkey, George, might take a banana and be curious as to what might happen if he stuffs it up his arse. Oh, no it's fine. The warning implies there will be no monkey-buggery here. It's safe". Have perhaps parents been burnt by unexpected cartoon sex before? Was there some in Bambi that I missed?

I just don't get it.

Going somewhat the other way is the upcoming film Reeker. I know nothing about this film but my attention was drawn to it by a letter in this month's Total Film. The warning for this film says "This film is not yet rated. Graphic bloody violence, terror, language, drug-use, half a trucker".

Yes, Half A Trucker. How cool is that? Probably not suitable for children though.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I went driving in a car this evening for the first time in over three years. I was expecting it to be quite scary but it wasn't too bad. Clifton Moor is quite fun to drive around in an evening if you like car parks. Then I drove round the ring road to Monks Cross and did some shopping. Beer, wine, crisps and pizza. What more could I ever need from a supermarket?

I was quite pleased with myself that I wasn't distracted by car numberplates whilst I was behind the wheel. Last time I drove I wasn't playing CNPS. Now that I am, I have to be careful to avoid crashes whilst monitoring plates. It went ok and I even got one spot whilst on the road. Which rather nicely was my third of the day.


Monday, May 22, 2006

I got wet

Today has mostly been rainy. Yesterday was fairly wet, but today was super-wet. I spent most of the afternoon with wet legs after I stupidly decided to go out at lunchtime. I didn't take an umbrella with me (not my brightest move) and so I rapidly became soaked. When I got back I had to dry my hair with a pret-a-manger napkin. It wasn't really successful. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Finland, Finland, Finland

Last night was the 51st Eurovision song contest. Our annual dose of odd euro-tunes and strange dancing. This year, a Finnish band came out of left field and won by a comfortable mile by dressing like aliens and playing some Death Metal.


In reality, it was about as metal as Mcfly. It was very entertaining though, and featured lines like "It's the a-rock-a-lypse" which it would be hard to use in any song in a bad way.

Lithuania deserve a special mention for possibly the most blatantly unsubtle. yet briliant lyrics I've ever witnessed: "we are the winnners, of Eurovision - vote for us" etc. They came about fifth in the end which made them liars. Shame.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Beast racing

I went to the horse races yesterday. It was very very windy. Although not sunny, it would have been warm enough without the wind. With the wind it was a little unpleasant at times but, being British, we darn well suffered it and stayed outside as much as possible.

Due to stopping off for a pint and a burger along the way we missed the first race, or at least the opportunity to place a bet on it. The next four races didn't go so well for me though - I lost five pounds on each one by choosing shit horses. Luckily in the sixth race my horse came in at 5 to 1 (well done Collateral Damage!) putting me five pounds up in total. I then did something rather sensible - I quit while I was ahead. I could have put the five pounds of winnings on the final race and ended up no worse off than break even. But I didn't! I took my money home. Wise decision as it turns out as I would have selected another donkey.

We also went to look at some of the horses in the paddock. They are big! I don't normally get so close to the animals but they really are big beasts!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A decent performance

I just heard this evening that my team from last week's treasure hunt, Beg, Steal or Zorro somehow managed to actually win the thing. To celebrate this momentous feat, I dressed back up as Zorro and attacked, and captured Clifford's Tower.

Zorro up Clifford's Tower

Seems like our scores weren't top of the hill in any category, but we put in a solid performance across the board - decent costumes, decent treasure, decent quiz answers, decent drinking and decent whatever else. It all led to an overall first place. Go us!

Actually, there was one category we did do best in and that was getting video(s) of people answering the question "What Is An Actuary". And that video was my baby. Go me! Not sure I contributed too much else though :-)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Doctor Who Conspiracy...

I'm not normally one for conspiracy theories but I think there's something going on over at the offices of New Scientist. Specifically I think that:

New Scientist is in league with the creators of Doctor Who and are publishing articles to make people believe that stories in said programme could actually happen.

I have evidence.

A couple of weeks ago, shortly before the episode where everyone's favourite robot dog, K9, returned to our screens, an article was published about... Robot Dogs! Scientists have been using Sony's (now discontinued) Aibo to conduct research into robotics. Now that it is no longer being produced they need to build an alternative. "Now is the time for us to stop being lazy and using Sony's platform. We need to get together to build a better system." says David Calkins of San Francisco State University. What would his ideal replacement look like? It would be "brick shaped and include a standard computer "brain" From that base it would be completely modifiable. Researchers could snap on different heads, legs, cameras and sensors". Presumably wheels too. Sounds like a perfect prototype for something that could one day evolve into K9!

But that's not all. The next evidence is even stronger!

In this week's issue (13 May) there is a special report on "Enhanced Humans". "Why settle for what you were born with?" it asks. "Are you ready for your upgrade?" it also asks. It talks about replacing body parts with artificial ones... can it only be coincidence that this was published in the same week that the Cybermen returned in Doctor Who? I think not.

I will be scouring future issues for some more evidence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's that coming over the hill?

Heard a fantastic song on the radio the other day: Monster by The Automatic. I don't know much about the band - they're possibly quite well known. I'm not sure. The song's great anyway. A real stomper.

Still tired again today and lacking the energy and imagination to write anything longer than th

Monday, May 15, 2006


I haven't written any of the hilarious things I meant to write today. But now it's bedtime and I'm tired. Goodnight world!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

How to make gammon

I went back to Sheffield today to visit my parents, sister, bro-in-law and nephew. It's always excellent to get a decent home-cooked Sunday lunch. Today was gammon.

This made me realise something. Gammon comes from pigs. Pork also comes from pigs. Pork is not gammon. I have no idea what makes pig into gammon compared to what makes it into pork. I could probably look it up but I'm lazy. I will assume for the sake of argument that the pig-slaughterer has two knives: a pork knife and a gammon knife. Each of these knives has been blessed by a different meat-god. Hence if the pig-slaughterer wants to make gammon all he has to do are the following steps. I've phrased them in a way that a text-adventure parser would understand - this might be useful for you if you ever need to kill a pig in Zork.

1. Choose pig
2. Take gammon knife
3. Kill pig with gammon knife
4. Enjoy gammon
5. Quit

Your score is 3/200. You are a loser.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Drinks of Zorro

Another actuarial pub treasure hunt on Thursday which meant more fancy dress fun. This time me and my team were Zorros - masked up, sworded fighters for all that is good.

Zorro in the pub

I'm not quite sure what I was thinking when I took this next photo:

Zorro in the toilet

One task we had for the evening was to find a stranger and film them answering the question "What is an actuary?" - a question that even I have been known to struggle with from time to time. We only needed to get one, but I got a bit carried away and ended up with about nine videos. Hard to pick a favourite, but I did like the answer given by a young couple down by the river. The guy tried for a while to give an answer and wasn't really close - he sounded to be describing an auditor if anything. His girlfriend though finally had inspiration and shouted in at the end "and they're gay!".

I also liked the chap on reception in the Moat House Hotel who despite looking very confused and slightly scared by us did try to give an answer and didn't call security to eject us. The firemen in the fire station were much less friendly though. They wouldn't talk to me at all. Stupid life-saving uniformed miserables.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Top Time-saving Tip

My new shiny box has an excellent time-saving feature that I hadn't anticipated. Possibly all similar boxes do this too.

If you've recorded something on to the hard drive you can play it back before work in the morning. So far so normal. But then when you watch it back, rather than watch in realtime, you can play it back at 1.5x normal speed. The sound is all still fine, speech is perfectly understandable and not even raised in pitch. The only times things are hard to follow are periods of fast talking, or fast action scenes. Other than that it's just like normal except everyone has a bit of a hurry on.

It works really well! And it means I can watch a 45 minute programme in just half an hour. An extra 15 minutes of my life is released for other things!

If only I could do the same thing at work...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The pineapple ain't so bad

Nice sunny day => first fruit pastille lolly of they year. Yum!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Argos of sandwich shops

What occurred to me today was the following: York's sandwich shop, Krusties, is the Argos of sandwich shops. Let me briefly explain.

You go in and you choose your sandwich from the menu on the wall (Argos catalogue). Sometimes they have special sandwiches on a blackboard by the front door (special offer / sale mini catalogue). Then you order your chosen sandwich (electrical appliance) from the serving wench (serving wench). Then you wait for a bit and after some time your sandwich (electrical appliance) is brought out from the back room by a different serving wench (different serving wench). Then you leave and eat your sandwich (plug in your appliance).

See? Identical!

Without wishing to take the analogy too far, Krusties also has a special glass cabinet where they keep the special things. This is again just like Argos which has a special glass cabinet for the highly classy Elizabeth Duke jewellery.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Top Gear and Doctor Who

I ended up watching Top Gear last night. Not because I wanted to, just because there wasn't anything better on. But as always when I end up watching it, it was highly entertaining. Considering it is a programme about cars and not much else, and I have no major interest in cars, it's always very watchable. And it's also very funny. For example, last night they took a people carrier and inexpertly converted it into a convertible. Then they took it to a safari park, argued about whether monkeys or lions are most dangerous, before finally driving it through a very powerful carwash. It was more dangerous than both lions and monkeys because there are big sheets of exposed glass flapping around (the design of the convertible seemed to involve just removing the metal that normally surrounds the windows).

But the main thing that struck me was something else.

Richard "Top Gear" Hammond looks very like David "Dr Who" Tennant. It's uncanny.

Which brings me on to Dr Who. I'm quite enjoying the new series. The first episode wasn't the best but it's been strong since then. David Tennant is a fantastic Doctor. For the first time, the BBC have been putting commentaries for each episode online after the episode has been broadcast. Like the ones you get on DVDs, some are more interesting than others depending on who's doing them. Sometimes you get long silences as the people talking try to decide what to say, or you just hear them going "Hmmm.... ahhh..... yes.... ahhhh...." etc. But sometimes they work really well.

The most recent one (for ep 4) features writer Steven Moffat (who wrote Coupling amongst other things) and the actor who plays the not-quite-as-irritating-as-he-was-in-the-first-series Mickey, Noel Clarke. They were happy to drift off on tangents such as discussing how the monks in episode two looked like they'd been taken straight off one of the BBC One idents where they have lots of red dancers. Which is a valid point. Most of it revolved around a discussion over whether the Doctor was getting any or not.

I've got into a routine now where I listen to the commentary whilst out running on the Sunday. It's tragic really. But it entertains me and keeps my mind off the constant leg-moving.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Running water

For the second Sunday in a row I've just done an eight mile run and then had a bath with a glass of red wine (Valpolicella, if you're asking) and currently I'm actually feeling pretty good. I did a new thing this week as an experiment - I took a bottle of water with me. Often when I'm running I will think: "My mouth is quite dry. I wish I had some water to drink". But inevitably I have no water and no way of obtaining any. I don't take money out with me, and even if I did I'd have to make a stop to use it to make a purchase and I'm not allowed to make that sort of stop within my own self-imposed running rules.

Even were I to have money and even were I not to have imposed self-imposed running rules upon myself, I'm not sure most shopkeepers would want a sweaty man coming into their nice local shops to buy a bottle of water. I'd make the place look untidy. They might even think I was a violent sweaty drunk tramp and call security (ie get out their big stick from under the counter). So it's not an option for me.

Taking the water with me from the outset wasn't too bad though. The obvious drawback is that you have to carry the water with you the whole time. This isn't so bad though as it gets lighter the more you drink. And if you sweat lots then even the overall weight you're taking round may decrease as time goes on. It was only half a litre (ie half a kilogram) in any case - and it probably means I'm getting even better exercise. Minor weight training for the old arms.

I did, however, realise fairly soon that I'd made one fairly basic mistake. The water I took was straight from the fridge. Hence it was cold. This would have been alright except that I had to carry the coldness in my bare hands. Brrrr! It warmed up after a few miles though. Whether that was caused by heat being transferred from my hands, general atmospheric warming, kinetic energy from being shaken a lot or just a passing solar flare I can't say. Whatever it was, it worked and I was glad.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Death by Typewriter

I've spent some time today playing an old computer game that I've not played for years. Possibly one of the daftest (in a good way) games ever made: The Typing of The Dead. It's basically exactly the same game as the lightgun game House of The Dead 2 but rather than shoot zombies with guns you... er.. you type at them on a keyboard. For example a zombie might appear with the word "rabbit" displayed in front of it. All the player (ie me) has to do is type the letters as quickly as possible before the zombie attacks. And each letter sounds like a gunshot. Bang bang bang bang bang bang. More powerful monsters have longer phrases. Little ones might just have single letter to type.

I think the game was originally put out on the Dreamcast, possibly only in Japan, but I have the PC version. This has led to a very surreal design decision on the part of the makers. Virtually all the in game graphics are identical to those in House of the Dead 2 except for one change. Rather than the lead good guys carrying guns around with them, they now have keyboards strapped around their front and a Dreamcast strapped on their back Ghostbusters stylee. So this means that rather than the keyboard just being a substitute for a gun for gaming purposes, it has also replaced the gun for story and visual purposes too. It's just plain odd.

Despite the inherent weirdness, the game works really well and is lots of fun to play. And it even has a proper touch-typing tutorial mode too in case you start having too much fun.

I'd quite like to see a version of Saving Private Ryan with the same replacements. The beach landing scene would be hilarious. I suppose there'd be a further level of incredulity caused here since Dreamcasts weren't invented until 1999. But then Tom Hanks isn't really a soldier either (no, really - he isn't) so maybe you could put it all down to the magic of the movies.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shiny new toy

Today I finally leave behind the murky world of VHS video cassettes forever. And not a day too soon - they're rubbish. I've just got myself a combined DVD-recorder, hard-drive recorder and Freeview box which means I can now do all sorts of fun things like... er... watch DVDs, record things and watch digital telly. Which is cool, except I could do all those things already. I'm sure I'll find some proper advantages to the new system soon.

Hopefully soon, anyway. I haven't actually got the thing yet. I'm sitting around waiting for a delivery van to arrive. It's due anytime between 5pm and 8pm, so I still have potentially another hour to wait. This is annoying because:

a) I want my new shiny toy
b) I want to go running tonight before it starts raining

The rain isn't definite but I think it's pretty likely since it's been dead warm all day.

Anyway, one advantage I definitely will have is a reduction in the amount of boxes and spaghetti around my television. I'll be combining three existing boxes plus all their wires into a single unit. There'll still be a load of other stuff cluttering up the area but it'll be a certain improvement on the prior position.

So now I'm just waiting, waiting, waiting, bit bored. Perhaps I'll just sit here typing nonsense for the next hour.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What could be better than pizza and beer?

Whilst in Glasgow, we visited the Republic Bier Halle. It's like a German beer hall and sells a huge range of beers. However, I feel it has improved on the German model in two very important ways:

1. The Food
2. It's not in Germany

Item 2 here speaks for itself. Item 1 requires a little more explanation. A typical German beer hall sells food that is typically German: mostly sausage and cabbage. All German food ends in "age" I think - it must be a local law. Anyway, the Glasgow place has abandoned this and instead serves really nice pizza. Good thin crispy base, and excellent range of toppings. It's cheap too - they seem to have it on 2 for 1 most of the time. I like.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Drink Limitations

Last night I went to see Snow Patrol at the Glasgow ABC - an old cinema that's been converted into a venue.

Snow Patrol (1)

It was a great gig, even though I don't approve of what Gary's done to his hair. He seems to have had a perm. Not a good look.

Snow Patrol (3)

I had a strange experience at the bar. I went to order two glasses of red wine, and the lady serving me said that they were only allowed to give one alcoholic drink per person. Because I had gone to the bar on my own, I was unable to prove that the second drink was for someone else over 18 and so she only let me buy one (large) glass of red wine.

This was odd because:
a) earlier in the evening, two beers had been purchased in similar circumstances with no problems,
b) the wine was easily big enough to count as two drinks had it been in two glasses rather than one. I could easily have taken this extra large wine and shared it with a hypothetical 17 year old elsewhere in the venue.

After I'd bought the drink, I think I was supposed to leave the bar. However, I asked the lady if I could then buy a second glass of red wine. She thought for a couple of seconds and then said ok. Although this was the result I wanted, it clearly makes a mockery of the whole rule and the serving wench in question should probably be sacked. Doesn't she realise that I could have been buying that second wine for a child?

It seemed like such a weird, odd rule though. I think the implication was that had I been buying drinks for a group of four 40 year old men (rather than one 30 year old man and a girl who was definitely over 18) I would have had to take all three of the other men to the bar with me or maybe just their ID cards, should they have thought to bring them. Maybe people just don't buy drinks for other people in Glasgow.

One thing that was nice about all the bars though was the new Scottish no-smoking law. It really does make places more pleasant to visit. Roll on Summer 2007 where the same thing will be introduced down here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Coffee time

I made some Espressos (Espressi? Espressa? Espresseywessey?) yesterday. They turned out well:


Any resemblance between this photo and a pair of breasts is entirely coincidental. And would have to relate to a very odd looking lady.