Blog : Posts from May 2008

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It’s all in the timing

In which we are not as wet as we might have been


Last weekend, feeling like we needed a holiday, we went away and pitched the tent. And it rained. The tent, fortunately, didn’t leak, but we ended up with great puddles round the door, a wading trip whenever we wanted to go in or out. Our last morning, we looked out to see ducks sitting and paddling in the water.

Still, it could have been worse. For no particular reason, we’d decided to visit Somerset. If we’d gone a week or even half a week, we’d still be there now, camping by a river. And we’d be rather deeper in the water.

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The image of popularity

In which we see how popular food is


After posting pictures of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week, it got me looking at my Flickr account and wondering what pictures are the most popular. Flickr will, if you like, give you pages of tables and graphs to tell you how many people have been looking at each of your photos,* so I thought I’d see if there’s any general pattens in what sort of photos people like to view at full size.

The results were rather surprising. The least popular photos: pictures of random countryside, close-ups of tree bark, that sort of thing.** More popular than that: trains, with steam trains and “heritage” trains being more popular than normal ones. But, what photos get the most hits, and fastest after they’ve been posted? Food. Pictures of food being cooked or ready to be served. I don’t know what you think, but I wasn’t expecting that. Post a picture of a nice meal being made, and hits come up right away.

Given that: here’s some pictures of a nice meal being made. Pan-fried parmesan-crusted chicken breast, with salad. Very very easy, and delicious.

Cooking: bashing some chicken Cherry tomatoes Coating chicken Cooking: frying tenderised and coated chicken
Cooking: salad dressing Cooking: frying tenderised chicken breast Cooking: fried chicken breast with salad

* in my case, the graphs (for individual photos) are generally rather flat with the occasional spike

** That’s not quite true: the very least popular are photos of people at parties. That’s unsurprising, really; photos of people at parties, unless they’re exceptional photos, are usually only likely to attract other people at the same party.

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Milk (redux)

In which FP gets a reluctant refund


A couple of people have, for reasons best known to themselves, asked how I’m getting on with the office milk lady since we fell out. Well, I don’t think I’m any more popular with her than I was. Fed up of there being no milk, and fed up of the woman in question – Administrator Of The Tea Fund – refusing to accept that tea supplies were anything to do with her, I told her that in that case she could give me back the balance of what I’d put into the fund, and I’d make my own arrangements from now on. Which might have been a bit petty, the balance being only 20p, but there you go.

She said “I’ll give you it later.” A few hours later, she phoned me up.

“Have you stopped chucking your little tantrum yet?” she said. “We’ve got some milk in – are you back in the fund or do you still want your money back?”

“I’ll have my money back, please.”

“You’ll be very thirsty this afternoon then.”

“Er, no I won’t be.”

“Well it’s very silly of you, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

There was a pause. I wasn’t entirely sure what she expected me to say, other than possibly start begging for her forgiveness.

“So are you back in the tea fund now?” she continued, persistently.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Well, I gave you one last chance. I’ll get some change and bring it down for you in a few minutes. You said you don’t want your 20p back?” A nasty little switch at the end there.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.”

So, a few minutes later she came downstairs, slammed 20p on my desk, and went away again. And since then, all has been peace and quiet. I can see why some colleagues, those who have to work with her more, don’t like her very much, though, after that conversation. This is someone whose job is to talk to customers over the phone, take orders, and so on – it makes me wonder if she tries doubling back on herself and making quickly misleading switches when she’s on the phone to customers as well as to colleagues.

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Birth

In which we praise Parliament, a very rare thing


As you’ll have no doubt read in the news, Parliament has voted against reducing the abortion time-limit. I’m pleased and amazed – for once, a political decision has gone by which has been apparently been decided on the basis of fact, not emotion.* That’s been a rare thing for the past few years. Maybe we need to have free votes more often.

In case you missed it, the media debate leading up to this vote went something like this:

Religious fundamentalists:** We need to ban abortion reduce the abortion time limit.

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [some facts showing that we shouldn’t]

Religious fundamentalists: [emotional handwaving]

Scientists, doctors, medical charities, and so on: [more facts]

Religious fundamentalists: [more emotional claptrap]

Lots of Conservative MPs [the religious fundamentalists’ surveys and anecdotes repeated wholesale]

Parliament: 190 in favour, 332 against.

Maybe I’m being slightly unfair, in that it wasn’t just the Conservatives voting for the amendment. Ruth Kelly did, of course, although I was surprised that Jim Dobbin, Labour, and leader of the parliamentary all-party pro-life group was nowhere to be seen. He’s a Catholic, and has previously said that he’s against both abortion and contraception. Well, I suppose he’s a better Catholic than Cherie Blair, at any rate. The Tories were the only party whose leadership was pushing hard on the issue, though – K’s MP, a Tory frontbencher for many years, voted with the party line. My own (Labour) MP, I’m pleased to say, voted against.

* This may not be quite true – I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt here. What is true is that Parliament voted for the fact-supported side of the argument; it may be a step too far to say that it was the facts which made them vote that way.

** Nadine Dorries, the apparent leader of the campaign, has claimed that she is not at all a religious fundamentalist. However, she worked very closely with religious campaigners, and admitted that they supplied a lot of the information she used in the campaign. The website run by and for her campaign was set up by and in the name of a group of very fervent religious campaigners, Christian Concern For Our Nation. Ironically, Dorries likes to go on about “the abortion industry” and how it needs to be stopped, when she was formerly a director of BUPA, one of the largest non-NHS abortion producers in the country. One wonders how much anti-abortion campaigning she did in their board meetings.

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Artwork

In which we visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park


A photographic interlude, from a couple of weekends ago.

Sculpture, Yorkshire Sculpture Park Sculpture, Yorkshire Sculpture Park Deer Shelter, Yorkshire Sculpture Park Henry Moore, Yorkshire Sculpture Park Deer Shelter, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is near West Bretton, between Barnsley and Wakefield, and is open year-round.

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Lawyers

In which we wonder about fancraft


The BBC has a history of having heavy-handed lawyers on the payroll, so it wasn’t surprising when they threatened to sue a website featuring Doctor Who knitting patterns. I’m old enough to remember the Teletubbies,* and the way the BBC responded to websites that poked fun at them: send in the lawyers. What’s the most important thing about Doctor Who, after all? Inspiring kids to be amazed at things, and look at the world in a different way? Hiding behind the sofa? No, silly, the important thing is to generate lots and lots of merchandising money for BBC Commercial. Where would we be if everyone started knitting things for their children instead of going down the shops? If you start spending time and care on things like that, when are you going to find the time to watch more TV? What’s going to happen to all those traditional Chinese peasant plastic-mould farms? And never mind that, what on earth do you think you’re doing to the economy, going out and making things instead of buying them? Where do you think you are, Cuba?

Seriously: I’m sometimes in two minds about fan-created stuff, largely because of the effect fan fiction has on me. It makes me want to run away and scream, partly because of the smug little disclaimers that fanfic writers always seem to put at the top of their stories. “These characters aren’t mine, I’m only borrowing them.” Did you ask, first?

Fan art, though – which includes fan crafting, in this case – is a different matter. It does, to my mind, at least, imply a lot more creativity than most fanfic. But I can’t draw a rational line between the two, or explain why one seems acceptable to me when the other doesn’t. Maybe that in most cases fan art seems to add something to a world, where fan fiction seems to take it away. That, though, isn’t something you can exactly quantify. And it’s not an excuse that would go down well with a lawyer, either.

* I was just the right age to appreciate them when they appeared – about 19 or so.

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Dirty Books

In which we consider the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act


The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act gets its Royal Assent today. And it might have banned extreme porn. It might have banned some quite ordinary books, too. Nobody knows. Lord Hunt, who pushed the bill through the Lords and defeated opposition amendments, stated in the form letter he sent out to correspondants that he didn’t know what pictures would or wouldn’t be banned by the bill he was promoting; that would be up to the courts. The government defeated an opposition amendment which would have explicitly said the bill would only cover material also covered by the Obscene Publications Act. However, at the same time, the Ministry of Justice says that it does only cover this material, in any case, even though the government refused to say this in the text of the bill. Campaigners are celebrating their “fight” to criminalise Things They Don’t Approve Of; but at the same time, The Register is reporting that the law hasn’t yet taken effect, and – when they wrote that, at least – nobody had decided when it would. So, in other words, nothing is certain and nobody knows what is happening. The government hastily inserted a clause to state that it does not cover photos of events you participated in,* but nobody knows exactly what counts as “participation”. There may be more debates on what the bill actually should and should not do, or a select committee. There may, indeed, be jam tomorrow – it would certainly fit in with the general tone.

Meanwhile, people are still hard at work campaigning to get the thing dropped, or, at least, to raise enough of a stink that its unworkability becomes obvious. It’s good to see, too, the effect all this has had on kinky people around the country, too. The public face of BDSM in the UK isn’t a very good-looking one; but with this legislation on the way, lots of sane and ordinary people** put their heads out, went to the press, and said: I’m your ordinary man or woman in the street. There’s nothing wrong with being kinky, or with liking the things I like, and I don’t do anything illegal, so why are you making it illegal to own photos of the things I do?

* assuming that everything is consensual and above-board, everyone else taking part was happy and smiling and so on, of course.

** part of the reason the public face of BDSM is so ugly is that the people who stand out aren’t the sane, ordinary people; they are the ones who shout loudly because they’re in it for the money and their ego. For more on how the UK BDSM “scene” is broken, I suggest reading Bitchy Jones, when you’re not at work of course.

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Running The Place

In which we consider the blind spots in people’s xenophobia


People I come across, for once, seem to be getting themselves interested in politics. The local elections, and the soaring cost of petrol,* are for once getting people interested in who runs the country, or things like that.

Sadly, most of the people I come across at work and day-to-day aren’t the sort of people you’d trust to run the country. Trains of thought go along two lines. “Wouldn’t it be nice if things were a bit cheaper,” and “there’s too many foreign people about, you know.” They then say to our Token Polish Office Temp: “I don’t mean you, of course, but you know what I mean. There’s too many foreign people about.”

They don’t really mean that he’s white; it’s just that people everywhere seem to have an enormous blind spot when it comes to “these dirty foreigners.” The sort of people, at least, who say there are too many foreign people about, always have one big exception: foreigners they know personally. They don’t count. They are decent people, unlike the rest of them, the great mass of indistinguishable and interchangeable Foreign People who are here to steal their women and marry their jobs (or something like that). “Oh no, I don’t mean you, I mean all the ones who you read about in the papers.” Why is it that they still believe what they’ve read in the papers, have heard from a mate in the pub, will pass on in a “joke” text message, when all their personal experience goes in the opposite direction?

* it is a Rule Of Clichés, apparently, that any time the cost of petrol is mentioned, the word “soaring” has to be attached.

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Milk

In which we upset colleagues


At the office, I’ve been doing more to make myself unpopular. Specifically: I’ve fallen out with the woman who runs the tea fund.

My complaint is this: if you run the tea fund, then you’re responsible for buying tea, milk, coffee, sugar, and so on. If I give you money, to buy tea, then your job is to make sure tea gets bought. Tea Fund Lady – who has only taken the task on recently – did not see things this way. She was there to collect the money. The money sat in her drawer, and anyone who wanted to go and buy supplies could go and get some. Buying supplies herself, though, was entirely out of the question. It was entirely impossible, she said, because she doesn’t have a car. I was tempted to set up a “Stop The Tea Fund Lady Starving!” campaign, because if buying groceries is that difficult I’m not sure how she manages to stay alive.

So, the way I see it, I may as well manage things myself from now on. Have my own tea bags and my own milk, and see how much it ends up costing me. We will see.

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It took a little wine to make a window

In which we discover a Lesbian who wants publicity


This post has nothing, really, to do with the above title; I was listening to a Hefner album this morning, heard the above lyric, and liked it. Maybe soon I’ll write something which applies to that title, post it under a different title, and so on.

I burst out laughing at the news – which you’ll have heard by now – that campaigners on Lesbos are suing a Greek gay rights organisation* with the aim of getting rid of the word “lesbian”. The word, they say, infringes their human rights. I’m smelling a rat over this story.*** I suspect that “campaigners” actually means “publisher Dimitris Lambrou”, who is the only person mentioned in any of this. If he wants us to stop using “lesbian”, he really ought to come up with an alternative suggestion, because “gay woman” doesn’t really cut it in my opinion. I suggest “dimitrians”, or possibly “lambroans”. Either would be ideal, I reckon.**

The Mother had something to add when she heard all this. “Back when I was a nurse,” she said, “we used to get crank calls all the time. One girl I worked with had a man on the phone, who said: ‘are you a lesbian?’ ‘No,’ she answered, ‘I’m Church of England’.”

I’m sure I’ve heard that story before, as a joke. Never mind.

“She didn’t know what it meant, you see,” continued The Mother, making sure I got it. “Mind you, neither did I then.” This would have been in 1960 or so. And I’m not surprised. Back then she was pure and virginal, The Killing of Sister George hadn’t been made, and I definitely doubt that The Well of Loneliness was on the curriculum at Cleethorpes Girls’ Grammar.

* actually, in the stories I’ve read, it’s not entirely clear what type of organisation is being sued

** He would no doubt object to “sapphic”, too, because he’s claiming that ‘new historical research’ has discovered that she was married and loved men. ‘New historical research’ presumably means ‘I looked it up on Wikipedia’, like I just did; it gives both of the stories Lambrou mentions and references them to a 1982 edition of her surviving poetry. In short, his claims aren’t new, by a few thousand years, and nobody’s going to be surprised by them.

*** it’s just as iffy as the “man regrows missing finger” story, also in the news, which Ben Goldacre has easily debunked

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