Monthly Archives: December 2007

You get gay animals

But no transvestite ones it seems. But how would you know? Except perhaps some of those monkeys in the PG Tips adverts.

An intriguing proposal

I’ve always wondered what’s really going on with those people who propose in really public places. Are they doing it so that the event is memorable? And if so why don’t they realise that:

A) Getting engaged is a pretty memorable occasion, and

B) If you want to do memorable, why not go to a great but relatively secluded location?

I blame the movies. Actually I saw a pretty good compromise in Rome. A guy there proposed while at the colosseum. It was just big enough an occasion to fit the criteria but small enough to be okay if she hadn’t accepted.

I think it is a weird lack of self belief that causes some guys to invoke the jumbo-tron. They want to make sure she’ll accept and also commit themselves to going through with it. But what happens if even with all of that peer pressure she still says no? Well you’d have to kill yourself.

Or of course you could kill her instead. That’s what a Spanish guy did recently when he proposed to his girlfriend on national television. Of course it makes me think of a follow-up question – why do people write amusing posts about things that aren’t that funny? Well I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one.

Wind farms

Unsightly yes… But what about small wind farms situated on an extended pole 1 foot behind gaseous persons?

Free is complicated

One of the strangest aspects of an economy is what happens when things are free. And in the new internet economy we are seeing some really strange effects.

One of the most obvious free things are blogs. Here you are reading something I have created for free. Not only that, but I have published it for free as well using software that is also free. So who is paying for this?

Like most bloggers, I am doing this because I enjoy it. Also I see it as Richard Herring puts it on his blog – I am “warming up”. But what about the corporations involved, why do they do it? They largely see blogs as free content to hang their adverts on. They might not even force you to have ads on your blog, in fact there are no ads here, but they know that most users will realize over time that they can charge for content (through advertising) and enough of them will do it to make it a hugely profitable business.

People’s expectations change when things become free. If you try and give something away people will assume it’s worthless (well no surprise, you just told them that in the price) but if you charge for the same item, people will buy it. This has been well-established and still is the way the economy works out in the physical world. But on the Internet this relationship has been broken. We have now all learned that free products on the Internet can often be very valuable. In many ways it is advertising’s fault – it allows the company to charge us without consent. When you watch a TV show, you don’t feel like you just paid for it, but you have. Or at least you will. Or perhaps you are one of those people for whom advertising doesn’t work. You realize everyone thinks they’re immune to it? You can’t all be right.

The strangest effect of free things is the incredible expectation of quality. Products from Google aren’t just useful add-ons to your computer, they are tools people use all the time. I have at least one of their products open at all times when I’m online (Google Reader, if you’re interested). The amazing thing is that they are useful and they work – and they’re free. But this leads to some wacky expectations of free products. If you look at the comments on (Dilbert-creator) Scott Adams’ blog, you’ll see some pretty critical comments. Scott’s blog is so good, that when he fails his readers in some way, they complain. Usually they seem to get upset when he says he’d like to make money from his activities or when readers don’t agree with their interpretation of what Scott said. The question has to be, what right do they have to complain? He didn’t force them to read the post and he gave it to them for nothing.

The final point is from Joel Spolsky. Joel is a software developer. He warned other developers from making custom-ware, saying that trying to please everyone is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps Scott should realize that his repeat customers are unlikely to be the ones complaining. But on the other hand he has boxed himself into a bit of a corner. His posts largely annoy stupid people who leave, and smart people don’t click on ads.

My suggestion to him? Split the blogs. The Dilbert blog can have all of the silly stories from around the world and the heart-warming ones too. Then on the Scott Adams blog he can talk about his philosotainment. I know I’d still read both, I just think it would make it more enjoyable for him.

Preparation – Part 1

Last night I dreamt of mandarins again. I know I’m worrying about the meal. Why do I put myself through it? Twenty people for Christmas lunch. I used to think it was for the kids so they would grow up seeing their family. And lately I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing it for Bob. He always used to love Christmas. I wonder how many times I’ll have to say it before I can forget him making the kids put all of the presents back under the tree because they were being too noisy.

No, I might as well admit that I do it for me. We never had fun at Christmas when I was a girl and I suppose I’m making up for it. Sometimes I do wonder when this fun is supposed to happen. I mean before you’ve served up, you’re cooking like crazy. During the meal you’re worrying about pudding. During pudding you’re trying to stop Malcolm setting fire to the napkins or Uncle Paul from getting too carried away with the brandy butter. And afterwards there’s the washing up.

Paul isn’t my uncle he’s my brother. I wonder when I started calling him that as though it was his name or his title? I guess it was around the time I started talking to the kids more than I spoke to adults. Just when I thought I was about clear, I now seem to spend quite a bit of my time in the company of the grandchildren.

I do know the part of Christmas I love most. It’s not watching the kids unwrap the presents. There is too often disappointment in some of their faces. I knew we were spoiling them when they were little but I didn’t see what harm it would do. Now I know they expected bigger and better presents every year, so now probably anything less than the
keys to an actual rocket ship is a bit of a let down. So no it isn’t that. It’s sneaking about the night before helping Santa fill the stockings. See there I go again, I’ve clearly been spending too much time with the grandchildren.

Now. It’s time to get out of bed. I’ve got a busy day today. I’m having lunch with a man. God, that sounds more exciting than it probably will be.

I had Simon on the phone last night giving me dating tips. As if he knows anything about it. He’s never even had a girlfriend. Well I suppose he still dates even though he thinks he can’t tell me about it. Right, must get up.

[Tune in next Friday for part 2]

Behind the label

I was talking yesterday about judging a book by its cover and it reminded my of something from the recent trip to my father’s house.

We were having a wine tasting and it wasn’t blind. This led naturally to the subject of what advantage a blind tasting has. The most important thing you’re guarding from in a blind tasting is probably reputation. If you know what Robert Parker thinks about the wine then you might let it influence you unduly.

But a second aspect is one of design – the design of the label, the weight of the bottle and any directly printed onto the bottle. This last was considered by some around the table to be a key indicator. A very poor indicator, by the by, is fastening (although plastic corks are a big no-no). Between screw tops and corks there is not much useful information to deduce the quality of the wine.*

All in all though, the only trend observed is that heavier bottles tend to be nicer. Not a guarantee of course and I can hear all of the objections coming. I’m not saying heavy bottles of wine will be nice but that wines of a better quality will often have thicker bottles.

As a side note we all knew what we liked about some labels but found it difficult to articulate what it was. Garish labels are usually bad, as are pun titles but not always (try drinking some Nine Popes if you don’t believe me). But as to what a good label looks like, it’s something you have to learn.

If all of this sounds wishy-washy then that’s because it is. What we clearly need to do is a double-blind test. Look at the bottles and score the wine without tasting it, and then score the wine. If we split the bottle scores into weight and label then we might be able to prove the better indicator.

Sounds like something to try over Christmas. The only problem is that if you’ve seen the label then you know what wine it is. Bringing previous experience and Parker back in to play. This might take some planning.

*Although everyone agrees that the screw top is far preferable. Because there isn’t consensus out in the industry there isn’t a trend in the wine.

Judging a book by its cover

I recently bought a copy of Woody Allen’s new book of short stories “Mere Anarchy”.

While nosing around a book shop in Rome, Katherine spotted the Italian edition of the same book. Just take a look at the cover – isn’t it far more interesting?

So I bought it – of course – even though I can’t read Italian. I literally judged a book by its cover. And I was quite pleased to.