Monthly Archives: November 2003

The Stephen Frys of this world, the Woody Allens.

We need a new word. It’s always a disaster when this happens because unless carefully planned the wrong one can be adopted with catastrophic effects.

The problem is with celebrities. There are two clear types. There are the people who are famous for being famous and there are the people who are famous for too many things. The Stephen Frys of this world, the Woody Allens. Now Mr Allen can be quickly defined elsewhere as he is an auteur. But with the others there is a problem. Most of them come from the world of comedy but… is Stephen Fry simply a comedian? He’s an Actor, Author, Director, writer (of scripts not just novels), comedian and general good egg. Now normally this question doesn’t come up but if “God” forbid something tragic were to happen. What would they announce? Can they get all of that in the headline? It’s not like the normal people where they say “the greatly respected actor Richard Harris died yesterday”. This is something different.

You see “celebrity” would work rather nicely in many way. Except for the fact that it sounds so cheap now.

There is one other possibility of course. Perhaps these people have received, through hard work and diligence, the biggest accolade of all, the unannounced name. Even her Royal Highness doesn’t get that. It will still be “Queen Elizabeth II has died”.

Her job description “the Queen” is right there in the announcement. She doesn’t have much hope of her death being announced any other way.

Although this does give me an idea, perhaps they will go with, “the well respected queen Stephen Fry”?

Steve Shaw sat on a sea saw.

Steve Shaw sat on a sea saw. He was waiting for something to happen. The swing moved slowly in the light breeze.

One of the movable pieces of plastic on a spoke on his bike slid down and startled him.

He needed to be calm. He consciously thought about lowering his heart rate.

A big boy came into the playground. He looked angry and cross.

“Forget being cool” said every sinew. But he wasn’t that kid anymore. He was Steve Shaw. He couldn’t forget to be cool. He just was cool.

The kid came over to him.

“What you got?”
“Nuffin.”
“What? You? Got?”

“This!” said Steve. And with that he ran up the length of the sea saw. As he reached the other side it tilted and the big kid was clocked right in the chin with the rising seat.

“Right,” said Steve, “that’s sorted that”. And with that he walked to his bike and, you guessed it, rode off into the sunset.

I had dropped my bottle top.

So I was at a football match the other day. No, it didn’t seem very likely to me either. But it was a situation connected to my brother’s birthday. He had wanted season tickets to see AFC Wimbledon*. This is the new name of Wimbledon Football Club. Interestingly, and this is something that doesn’t really make sense to me but, apparently, some investors in Milton Keynes were able to buy Wimbledon’s team name, their players and most oddly their position in the league. But Pete wanted to see Wimbledon not a team in Milton Keynes.

“Well,” I said to Pete, “I happen to know the chairman, Kris Stewart, so I’ll see if I can come to some sort of arrangement.” The arrangement was that I paid full price, and I could bring round these West Wing tapes I owed him thank you very much.

Then, of course, I had to go to the first match with him. So off we tumbled. Pete, Pete’s girlfriend Debbie, and my good self.

We met up, when we got there, with Kris “the chairman” Stewart, and my good friends** Joe and Marian***.

So there was a football match. It was my first, and “we” won 6-0. Interestingly I correctly predicted the attendance of the match. I asked Joe what the average attendance was and he told me that it was “something like 3,000”. And I simply surmised that as there were 4 irregular people Marian, Debbie, Pete and Me the attendance must be 3,004. Which was exactly correct. But that wasn’t why I brought you to this scene.

I was happily standing about drinking my bottle of water when tragedy struck. I had dropped my bottle top.

I reached down and picked it up. This was, I can assure you not because I planned to replace it onto the bottle but more because I don’t like to litter.

Now I was faced with a dilemma I would have to drink all the water before I could return the bottle to my pocket. I can admit it now, I balked. Now usually I’m a person who likes to keep very hydrated. In a day I will usually consume about 8 pints of water. Along with about 2 pints of coffee and any beer or wine that happens to come my way of an evening. But by that point I had already had more than I would unusually get to in a day. And I couldn’t take any more.

Just then Debbie mentioned that she was thirsty. I pointed out that I had a bottle of water in my hand and would she, I wondered, be interested? She was. As I passed the bottle to her I explained the situation about the bottle top. She had an interesting question for me.

“How long was it on the ground?”
“Oh,” I replied, “not very long. I picked it up pretty quickly.”
“So,” she wondered, “was it on the ground less than 10 seconds?”
“Yeah why?”
“Well it’s the 10 second rule.”

With that she drank some water, placed the cap on, and put the bottle in her pocket.

In the interval (I’m pretty sure it’s not actually called this). I went to chat to Marian, the famous New York neurotic. I mentioned to her the whole incident, mainly just ot see her reaction.

She was disgusted by the idea of the bottle top on the floor but she also added, “but somebody else had been drinking out of the bottle first.”

It’s interesting to note something particular at this point. Debbie is a biochemist.

My particular flavour of thought on the matter was that sharing a bottle with a friend was okay, sharing it with the ground wasn’t. In the end though having an opinion that falls between the scientist and the neurotic sounds about balanced to me.

* A link to the AFC Wimbledon website can be found in the links section.

** This is certainly not to imply that Kris isn’t one of my good friend. He most certainly is a very good friend.

*** Although Marian called me a wiener. So is sailing close to being downgraded.

I came out with dinner = washing – drying.

I hate doing the washing up. But at the same time, rather paradoxically, I hate not having done the washing up.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a perfect solution to this. To either get somebody else to do the washing up, or get a dishwasher. Although if the other person who was doing your washing up was in your employ they, of course, would be a dishwasher.

The worst part is all of that stuff that is sitting there after a less than satisfactory meal. After a really nice meal you can, of course, just sit back and relax.

But after a meal that has been, shall we say, less than great it is suddenly very obvious that there is a horrible mess in the kitchen and while it might not be causing too many problems right now you are aware rather suddenly that if you leave it then tomorrow it will be particularly horrible ot face. And tomorrow you’ll probably be thinking about other things as you rush out of the door in the morning.

And then it’s tomorrow evening. Time for dinner again. You walk into the kitchen and the thing that crosses your mind is a simple question: “Is there a way to use the content of the fridge and the clean pans, cutlery and bowls/plates to create a meal?” And then while you’re thinking about all this you remember that you don’t want to live like a slob so you go and wash the dishes.

It’s very upsetting, and I’m afraid that in these modern days it’s no longer acceptable to guilt other people into doing the washing up.

It used to be possible to get somebody to do the washing up and drying (not “washing and wiping” please) in exchange for having cooked them dinner. But now it seems the international standard is closer to dinner + drying = washing up.

I was talking to a friend about this the other day and they agreed with me that the new standard was common practice. So then I tried to re-arrange the equation on the paper napkins they had kindly provided. I came out with dinner = washing – drying.

I tried therefore to claim that they could then wash and simply rinse at the end twice (getting rid of the suds is very very important) and that would be that. But they argued that rinsing wasn’t the opposite of drying and I shouldn’t try and wriggle out these things.

So clearly there is only one answer left for me. I need to get a dishwasher. Or of course stop being so lazy. Well I’ll try the latter for a bit.

Shaw!

Today we rejoin our exciting cool guy who we last saw cycling off into the sunset. (See: Peace reined and Rule Britannia was playing on his inner monologue.). In fact that’s where we last saw him last time too, perhaps that’s becoming a theme?

He was cycling uphill and it was hard work so he didn’t have any time of independent thought. But after a bit it flattened out, and after a bit further it started to go downhill.

Downhill, he decided was a good thing. While he slowly picked up pace by sheer force of gravity he thought o himself about his name.

It would have to be really, really cool. James Bond was named after an ornithologist. Which, based on the number of dates he went on, was probably a good name.

But part of the cool part of the name was that it was nice and short. Yes something like Sebastian Peregrine Foss Wortherington would be a little bit too long.

But what should he pick? He looked off into the distance and he could see the sea. Ah, she sells, sea shells, on the sea shore. That was it. Shaw! That could be his surname.

He could be Steve Shaw.

Steve Shaw, general cool guy. And secret stealth spy.

But we’ll leave Steve now as he, you guessed it, cycles off into the sunset.

Right. Right.

“What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know. The situation.”
“What situation?”
“Well you, the duck, the Hoover, the duffle coat.”
“Oh it’s not what it looks like.”
“In what way?”
“What do you mean ‘in what way’?”
“Well I don’t even know what this does look like, let alone what it doesn’t.”
“Oh I see.”
“So…”
“Right. Well I’d just got in from outside.”
“Right.”
“Well it’s raining out there so I was wearing this duffle coat.”
“Right.”
“And so I walk into my apartment.”
“Right.”
“And I turn around and there’s this duck just standing there.”
“Okay.”
“And then, right while I’m staring at this duck it suddenly does a crap right the on the floor. So then…”
“…you go and get your Hoover to get rid of it?”
“Exactly.”
“But wait a minute.”
“What?”
“That is exactly what it looks like. So, then, what really happened?”
“Ah…”

90% of the worlds mobile phones use one company’s predictive text product.

Who are the people who designed the mobile phone text messaging system?* and more particularly what’s the story with this auto-predict business?**

The reason that I’m asking is the particular example of trying to write the word “pub”. On it’s first attempt at guessing what you mean it always comes back as “sub”. Who are these people who are wondering around conversing on the subject of submarines? Mariners I suppose, but surely there aren’t that many of them about that they need to take precedence over the use of the word “pub”. Do sailors not also use the word “pub”?

Okay the one concession that I’m willing to five is that there is more likely to be an emergency with a submarine than a public house and in an emergency speed is of the essence.

Of course it’s probably some to do with American teenagers they have more mobile phones than anybody else*** and they tend to eat a lot of submarine sandwiches**** and are more likely to go to coffee shops rather than pubs.

And while I could get into a discussion about the fact that while everything else that we call a shop in England becomes a store once you’re in America it’s interesting that “coffee shop” does not. But I think I should probably leave that thought for another day.

* Well actually who did invent the SMS (Short Messaging System)? It is a bit of a puzzler. Lets have a nice little bit of history shall we? Mobile phones all got started with the Handie-Talkie made by Motorola during the Second World War. Sadly you needed a truck to carry it around with you. Then, also for Motorola, Daniel E. Noble invented the Walkie-Talkie. This did have to be strapped to your back but it did mean that you could talk to people within the call area which could be as high as 32km. And after 1945 civilians could buy and operate them. Okay so this isn’t exactly a mobile phone yet. In the 60s and 70s Bell Labs and Motorola were competing to bring out the first mobile “phone” i.e something that would be able to connect to the existing telephone network. In the end Motorola got there first, the team leader Martin Cooper made the first cellular telephone call in 1983. Who was the first call to? He called his rival at Bell Labs to gloat. Apparently the conversation was remarkably civil. But what of SMS then? Well as far as I can tell it was a rather backwards invention. In Europe there was a problem developing, every single country in Europe had a different mobile phone standard. In the end the European Union decided to make a standard. This standard was readily agreed to by the companies involved as if they a workable standard they would be able to make the same phone and sell it all the way across Europe. It seems, although this isn’t clear, that SMS was actually included as something to be implemented in the new system even though it didn’t exist. It was then invented to order.

** 90% of the worlds mobile phones use one company’s predictive text product. It’s called T9 and is made by a company called Tegic. Tegic is now a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL. The reason for the near dominance of the market by Tegic is because of the amount of time it would take to develop their system. They spent 12 years developing their predictive text system and introduced it in 1995. Yes, that’s right they started building a predictive text system the same year as the first mobile phone was ever used, even though text messages didn’t exist yet. Then when text messages did arrive they had an unbelievable lead over every other competitor. But how on earth did they guess that text messages were going to happen? The answer is that they didn’t. The technology was in fact invented for a completely different purpose. The company were originally creating access products for people with disabilities. The product they were designing was as method of typing for people who couldn’t use a keyboard. They had developed a system that could distinguish in which of 8 directions a users eye was looking (top-left, top, top-right, left, right, bottom-left, bottom, bottom-right, and centre to indicate that you are thinking). They then used a predictive system to convert 8 different inputs into words. It took a simple modification to make the system take 9 inputs and the predictive text message was born.

*** They don’t actually have more phones per person. There really is very little reason to have more than one phone. Just a higher percentage of their population has mobile phones. My friend Carol does have more than one mobile phone, but she is neither a teenager or American so is therefore outside the scope of our study.

**** Submarine Sandwiches are like baguettes but the bread is usually baguette shaped but sliced white soft.

We all love filling in forms.

A homeless woman told me that I smelt nice. Well at least I think she was homeless. She came up to me and asked me to sign a petition top help a homeless shelter. And donate some money. I looked down the form an I signed it. And gave her a bit of cash. So far so good.

But there was no registered charity number on the form.

I suddenly realised this as I was sitting on the bus a few minutes later. What a great scheme, I thought, get a few quid from traditional begging methods and then go to a web cafe and print up a few forms. In the five minutes she was standing by the bus stop she must have collected £20.

But what was it, I wondered that made us all think that it was okay to give her money whereas if she had just asked for it we would have all done the walk-fast-head-tilt?

And then I realised it, it was because it was a form. We all love filling in forms. Even people who don’t like filling out forms love signing things. For some people it’s their favourite thing in the world.

So she had played directly into our psyche and she had come up with a scam that worked perfectly. Why wasn’t I outranged by this? I should have been, I suppose, but actually, somehow, I just ended up admiring her ingenuity. She’d come up with a plan and it had worked.

She was a con artist who thought I smelt nice and much as I knew it was all part of the scam, getting a compliment from a stranger was worth it.

The other problem is music.

Today’s article is very exciting for me. I’m writing it completely without the use of my hands. Don’t worry my hands are fine, it’s just that I’m using exciting new dictation software. Moment it’s slower than using regular typing type business but confident it will improve.

The main problem is trying to find something to do with my hands. Normally if you’re writing something your hands are busy typing away but now they’re just flapping around about as useless as a screwdriver that came from a Christmas cracker which after you try to use it bent into an amusing corkscrew type shape and then got swept off the table onto the floor and then you stood on it in your bare feet.

Now if you were a smoker your initial thought would be obviously, “great I can smoke and write at the same time”, however we can all see where that would end up. You’d end up smoking 8000 cigarettes a day and of course by that point the machine would have a little trouble recognising your voice. Luckily for me I don’t have too much of a problem as my general position in life is to have my hands constantly in motion. I’m a gesticulator, a wild gesticulator. And I’m not ashamed of it. Although it doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect if it’s only a computer monitor that is looking at you.

The other problem is music. Now there are two schools of thought on this in the same way as there are two schools of thought on listening to music while reading. Most people would agree that if you are reading a newspaper article or magazine music is acceptable however if you reading a book, it probably isn’t. It also to do with pace, good writing should at least have its own pace. In fact, all writing, already has pace. It’s just that only some of it is worth listening to. Music also has pace and it seems a shame to be listening to two completely different paces at the same time. The question is, what to do when you’re writing?

When you’re writing, the situation is very different. You can, in effect, steal, the pace of the music. You just have to choose the right piece of music but if you are using this dictation software it becomes a bit more tricky. Certainly at the moment, it can hardly differentiate between certain kinds of words, in fact the beginning of this sentence it thinks is “subtly won at the moment”. I think adding music into the mix might be pushing it a bit too far.

So is it a good thing? It certainly is, it just means I have to adapt, I have to use this piece of software now. If I went back now, to the boring old-fashioned keyboard I would feel like the pilot whose suddenly been put onto a Boeing 747 after having flown Concorde. Or at least a Concorde, he didn’t have very much control over.

Today another one half of a conversation.

Today another one half of a conversation. It’s quite short so you have to be careful not to miss these things.

“Yes he died intestate.”

“No. That does not mean he was castrated.”