Ironic health and safety incident at service station

General Manager
Welcome Break Services
M1 Motorway
Junction 14/15
Newport Pagnell
MK18 8DS

Dear Sir/Madam

I write to complain about the state of the gents toilets at your Newport Pagnell establishment on the M1. I am aware that most motorway service station toilets require a little adjustment in expectations from the norm when one is using them, but I’m afraid that my visit on the afternoon of Thursday 28th December was quite unacceptable.

It wasn’t so much that the cubicle I had selected was dirty, neither was it so much the fact that the seat sanitizer facility was not working. This sort of thing I am, albeit reluctantly, accustomed to at most motorway service stations. What I find completely astonishing was that when I had finished my business, I opened the cubicle door and tripped over a “health and safety” cone which one of your thoughtless cleaners had placed outside the door whilst I was occupying the cubicle. The cone was around 18 inches high and a very similar colour to the floor itself, and so to all intents and purposes it was invisible to me.

Were it not for the fact that I am quite a strong and agile chap with a keen sense of balance, I would have had a reasonably serious accident by falling to the floor after having the blasted thing tangled up between my legs. This would not only have made for a good You’ve Been Framed clip, but also a healthy court case brought to court by one of those dreadful “accident claim” companies who advertise on the television during the day. As it happened I merely kicked it to the other side of the room as part of my recovery.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the thoughtless placement of this cone very nearly had the exact opposite effect of its design purpose. I might therefore suggest that your cleaning staff do not put such health and safety devices where they themselves might become hazards. Having them in a more contrasting colour to the floors on which they stand might also be a good idea.

I trust that you will give this matter your full attention.

Many thanks, and a happy new year to you.

Yours faithfully

Stuart Benjamin Ford


Casino Royale

Watched Casino Royale in the cinema this evening. Another excellent Bond, if a bit unusual. I understand the thing about it being a remake and I understand the thing about it being an adaptation of the first every Bond novel, where Bond gets his 00 status, but I question the decision to set it in modern times. It was just a little confusing, especially since Judi Dench played M again; you’ve already seen her in four previous Bond films in which Bond was a seasoned and experienced 00 agent. They should have either set it in the 60s, or not bothered with the whole newly qualified 00 agent thing.

There was also a notable absence of many of the things that I look forward to in all Bond films, most notably:

  • No appearance from Q branch, and subsequently very few implausible gadgets
  • No Moneypenny or associated shenanigans
  • Hardly any one-liners
  • No secret evil lair or sinister world-conquering plan belonging to the villain, and subsequently no gruesome and ironic demise of said villain

The part where he “invents” his famous drink is interesting though, as is his introduction to Felix. Other usual elements such as the Aston Martin, the girls and M are all present and correct though.

Ignoring these little continuity issues (which are issues for me even if they are not issues for you or Bond fandom at large), it is undoubtedly a fantastic addition to the Bond series. It’s exciting, clever and tense. You’ll definitely enjoy it.

Vehicles spotted:

  • Aston Martin DBS
  • Aston Martin DB5
  • 2007 Ford Mondeo ST
  • Jaguar XJS
  • Range Rover Sport
  • Land Rover LR3 (Discovery)
  • Volvo S80
  • Ford Crown Victora
  • Ford Explorer
  • Lincoln Town Car

Each one of those cars and brands are owned by Ford, one of the three main sponsors of the film, the other two being Sony and Virgin, complete with cameo of Richard Branson being searched at Miami airport. There were a couple of other car brands there, notably Montenegran police cars, but it was definitely Ford that got to place its products throughout the film.


Children Of Men

Watched Children of Men in the cinema the other night, which is a splendid film, right up my street with its chaotic, dystopian vision of the near future. Based in 2027 Britain, in a world where the human race has been inexplicably infertile since 2009, it tells the story of a woman who, again inexplicably, has become pregnant, except unfortunately for her she is an illegal immigrant and therefore must be kept safe from the government and other factions. I’ll give nothing away, but if you like the genre you’ll love this film. It’s the sort of film you finish watching and then say “blimey”, but not because you were shocked and awed, but because it gets you thinking so much.

It joins a number of films that are based in post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian Britain which are all on my list of favourites, namely:

  • Nineteen Eighty Four – the classic that everyone knows and was probably at the very least forced to study at school. Britain is part of one of three superstates in the world and the government, modelled on extreme communism, rules using massive surveillance, propaganda and disinformation, convincing its citizens that they live in bountiful, victorious times, when in fact they live a squalid extistence in a shattered country.
  • Brazil – a semi-parody of 1984, in which Britain’s government rules using fear of terrorism and massive beaurocracy in a completely dysfunctional world. Terry Gilliam does an excellent job of taking the mick out of 1984 whilst at the same time worrying the audience to death with uncanny similarities to real life.
  • Threads – another well known production which deals with nuclear war on Britain in the 1980s, specifically the lead up to a nuclear strike on Sheffield, the strike itself and its aftermath going on for 13 years after the attack. It’s very grisly, pulls no punches and the plight of the protagonist and all around her just gets worse and worse as the film goes on. Needless to say that there is no happy ending.
  • V for Vendetta – a recent release in which mid-21st Century Britain is ruled by a tyrannical fascist government which rules its citizens using a police state, fear of terrorism and supression of arts, media and other “objectional materials”. There are many echoes of Nineteen Eighty Four with a very disturbing preface which does nothing less than smack you around the chops with the present-day “war on terrorism”. There’s a nice touch where they’ve used the actor who played the protagonist in Nineteen Eighty Four to play the tyrannical “High Chancellor” in this film.
  • 28 Days Later – zombie horror film in which 2002 Britain has been infested with a terrifying virus and has been abandoned. The story follows the attempts of a group of uninfected people to survive. There’s a sequel currently in production, but since it’s being done by a different director it remains to be seen as to how good it will be. I’ve heard that it involves Americans saving our sorry asses again, where would we be without them?
  • Reign of Fire – early/mid 21st Century Britain is a derelict wasteland after a species of fire breathing dragon takes over the world and burns it to a crisp. The story follows a group of survivors who seek to destroy the only male dragon. Another scary vision of an abandoned, shattered Britain.

There are many other films in the genre, but all based elsewhere, mostly in the United States. Noteworthy examples include Blade Runner, The Day After, Equilibrium, Escape from New York (a bit silly, but reminiscent of the Bexhill refugee camp in Children of Men) and of course the classic Soylent Green.


Charge for 5 minutes, drive 500 miles

This CNN article discusses a company that’s working on a new type of energy storage technology designed for electric cars. If it works as it’s supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles on about $9 worth of electricity.

Something about that doesn’t sit right with me, and after a bit of maths, I know why. Consider the following, and I will appreciate any advice necessary if I have somehow cocked up these equations.

  • Electricity costs around 5.5 pence per kilowatt-hour (kwh) in the UK.
  • $9, at today’s exchange rate, is £4.75.
  • £4.75 therefore buys us 86 kwh of electricity.
  • The technology claims that it can suck up this amount of electricity during a five minute charge.
  • 86 kwh in 5 minutes equates to 1,036 kwh in an hour, meaning that this technology requires a 1,036 kilowatt power supply.
  • That’s just over 1 megawatt.
  • At 240 volts (where, broadly, amps = watts divided by volts), a 1 megawatt supply requires 4,166 amps.
  • 4,166 amps is roughly 70 times that provided to a normal domestic premesis, assuming a 60 amp UK domestic supply.

I’m preparing to wield the big “BOLLOCKS” rubber stamp, but before I do, let’s run those figures again assuming that everything’s in the US, so that differences in cost and specification of electricity supply between the USA and the UK aren’t affecting the judgement:

  • Electricity costs around 4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) in the USA.
  • £9 therefore buys us 225 kwh of electricity.
  • The technology claims that it can suck up this amount of electricity during a five minute charge.
  • 225 kwh in 5 minutes equates to 2,700 kwh in an hour, meaning that this technology requires a 2,700 kilowatt power supply.
  • That’s 2.7 megawatts.
  • At 110 volts (where, broadly, amps = watts divided by volts), a 2.7 megawatt supply requires 24,545 amps.
  • 24.545 amps is roughly 204 times that provided to a normal domestic premesis, assuming a 120 amp US domestic supply.

It’s REALLY bollocks then. *STAMP*


Top Gear’s Hammond crashes jet car

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I’ve not had a chance up until now to comment on Hammond’s crash. This is terrible, terrible news, primarily because such an affable chap has encountered such serious misfortune, but also because it doesn’t bode very well for Top Gear one of the last few if not the last remaining television programmes that sticks two fingers up at political correctness and hippy handwringing. The Health and Safety fascists have been desperately looking for reasons to sanction Top Gear for ages, and this will give them more than enough excuse. If Hammond dies, then it will be the end of Top Gear for good, despite the fact that it’s one of the BBC’s most popular shows.

The show’s popularity speaks volumes about the general public and what they think about all this politically correct handwringing hippy nonsense that goes on these days. Every day we’re told by these sycophants which longstanding words are no longer acceptable and what we can and cannot do lest we offend some minority, somewhere. We also have loony organisations such as Transport 2000 basically telling us that we’ll all be better off if we regress by a century or two in terms of transport and that programmes like Top Gear are “irresponsible” and that it’s not what people want to see. Yet Top Gear, a programme that makes a point of NOT adhering to these liberal dictats, and that especially hates idiots like Transport 1700 (sic), is one of the most popular programmes on the BBC. Go figure.

It’s this sort of thing that makes it so good (from Wikipedia):

During the November 13, 2005 episode a news segment featuring BMW’s MINI Concept from the Tokyo Motor Show showcased what Richard Hammond quoted as a “quintessentially British” integrated tea set. Clarkson responded by mocking that they should build a car that is “quintessentially German.” He suggested turn signals that displayed Hitler salutes, “a sat-nav that only goes to Poland” in reference to the Nazi invasion of Poland that started WWII, “und ein fanbelt that will last a thousand years,” a reference to Adolf Hitler’s propaganda slogan of “the thousand-year Reich”.

If we can’t poke fun at the Germans, who can we poke fun at? Come on, lighten up.


Wireless: Not the convenience utopia everyone thinks it is

You know what? I fucking hate wireless networks. It seems that every single day of my life I’m somehow supporting or fixing a wireless network, whether that’s at home, in the office or for a broadband customer. Wireless simply isn’t the convenience utopia that it’s made out to be. It’s unreliable, unsecure and absolutely no substitute for a proper wired network, despite what some bedroom network consultant idiots I’ve overheard in the Institute of Directors claim.

At work I’m constantly being asked what the WEP key is, even though it’s the name of a reasonably popular children’s television programme which is hardly difficult to remember. Then as soon as a website doesn’t load or whatever, it’s immediately assumed that the wireless network has gone down and I get a phone call or a shout accross the office as if it’s somehow my fault.

At home I get friends coming round who decide that they want to check their e-mail or whatever and so ask if they can use my wireless. I give them the 26 character WEP key and of course this is a big old hassle for them to enter into their PCs (which of course they have to do twice on Windows machines) and there’s lots of huffing and sighing, as if it’s some fucking huge inconvenience for them to use my Internet connection for free.

Then there are the hotels which claim to offer a wireless network service but it actually transpires that all they’ve done is install a couple of crappy wireless access points here and there and haven’t actually checked that it’s usable in all parts of the establishment. The Crowne Pointe is a fine example of this. Luckily they also have wired connections in the rooms, but that of course meant that we had to drive all the way to Hyannis (some 50 miles away) yesterday to get a network cable, because the wired port is behind the dresser on the other side of the room.

Then you get the people who insist on having a wireless network, but that also want it to be 100% secure. It’s not going to happen. If you want a secure computer network, don’t connect a wireless access point to it. You must choose between the “convenience” of wireless and a secure network, you cannot have both, especially when you don’t want to invest in RADIUS servers, secure certificates, and all the other stuff that’s associated with WPA encryption; itself no guarantee of 100% security.

Don’t get me wrong, wireless does have its place, but by no means should it be considered to be an all-encompassing solution for network connectivity requirements. It’s limited, unreliable, unsecure, and a lot of the time just not worth the hassle. It’s been improving over time, and will continue to do so, but it’s not mission-critical just yet. Until it is, use it at your own risk, and if it goes wrong, use a fucking cable.


The Cult of Mac

Apple Mac Pro

Apple Mac Pro

What’s going on then? Why have I suddenly turned into a Mac weirdo recently? How do I justify this after spending so many years slagging off Macs and their users?

It’s probably exactly what you think; a combination of being utterly tired and pissed off with Windows (with XP now being over 5 years old and not due to be replaced for another 9 months at the very least) and much improved offerings from Apple over recent years. I don’t think that one of these things on its own would have been enough to convince me, and I expect Apple probably knew that too.

Yes, there’s Linux, and that’s good for many things, but Ubuntu (which is the closest thing I’ve seen to a useable Linux desktop) simply didn’t make me happy enough for me to be able to commit to it, and I never felt 100% at home with it (a reminder that I ran it on my old laptop for a number of months) and despite its advances it still required a large amount of tweaking to get it working with all my laptop’s hardware. This isn’t the case with my Mac. It really does “just work”.
Problems I had with Macs previously included:

  • Expensive hardware with poor performance: You used to typically pay around twice the amount you would have for a modern PC, with a specification around half that of said PC. Even when taking into account the assertion that Macs needed less resources to perform the same functions, it still didn’t add up and I saw little reason to spend so much on so little.
  • Rubbish operating system: Mac OS 9, in my admittedly limited experience, was a proprietary, buggy piece of shit and it was long overdue to be replaced (rather than just another release). It did things in its own way that made sense only to itself and to “native” Mac users, but that were completely baffling and counter-intuitive to anyone else. This put up a huge barrier to use and wider adoption.
  • Requirement for commitment to migration: While Mac OS has always enjoyed reasonable software support, it was still relatively limited when compared to Windows, for better or for worse (meaning that a huge range of software availability for a platform isn’t always necessarily a good thing).

Since then, Apple appears to have sat up, listened, and implemented a successful strategy for getting people to defect, including (but not limited to):

  • Cheaper hardware: I expect that this has largely been brought about by the introduction of Intel CPUs into all Macs over the past 18 months or so, but Apple made efforts previously to introduce more low-end models to entice people who simply couldn’t justify large expenditure on someone that, for them, was untried and untested. Things like the Mac Mini bridged this gap, allowing people to dip their toes in the water with relatively low risk. I am one of those people, and as a result here I am typing this on a brand new MacBook, a very capable laptop computer that, at £632 including NY state sales tax, cheaper than the vast majority of Windows-based laptops from other manufacturers. £600 will buy you a Windows laptop, but it won’t be a very good one.
  • Much improved operating system: The BSD based Mac OS X was a gigantic leap forward for Apple. It immediately attracted people from a UNIX background at a time when UNIX desktops left a lot to be desired. Its UNIX roots also obviously made Mac OS X extremely stable compared to Windows and Mac OS 9. While it still requires a little bit of getting used to by non-native Mac users, it can be picked up very quickly; certainly this was true for me.
  • Introduction of Intel CPUs: This has brought all sorts of advantages, from cheaper components (leading to cheaper products), through generally faster machines, through to the ability to actually run Microsoft Windows on a Mac alongside Mac OS X. Apple are quite correct in stating that many people will now have no excuse not to switch to a Mac. Mac OS X enjoys splendid software support, but even if that doesn’t prove to be enough and you’ve got some obscure Windows software package that doesn’t have an equivalent, you can still run it.

Other things that I really like about Mac OS versus Windows in particular:

  • Fairer licensing: Microsoft want money for each and every installation of Windows without exception, no matter who uses it, what it’s used for, or how often it is used. At around £300 for each installation, this is unfair and expensive, and now they’ve got their blasted product activation system to ensure that they get their readies. You have to be a large company in order to enjoy any sort of significant discount. Mac OS is not only siginificantly cheaper at £89, but spend £40 on top of that and you get to install it on up to five computers in your household, legally. Microsoft would want over 10 times that amount for the same privilege (assuming Windows XP Pro).
  • I didn’t have to spend hours uninstalling legions of useless crap when I bought my computer. My last two laptops and my desktop PC at work all came laden down with so much rubbish that it took me hours to remove it. Only after I had done so did the computer start to perform as expected. They do this because they want to push the fact that you’ve not just bought a PC, you’ve bought a Vaio, or a Thinkpad, or a Portege or whatever, and so obviously they need to make Windows XP less generic by filling it up with all sorts of manufacturer-specific rubbish that wants to manage your photos and play your MP3s and present you with special trial software with preferential purchase options. All bullshit.

So yeah, I’m hooked. Chris and I have an iMac as our “home computer” and now I have a Mac laptop. At work I currently have a Windows PC that I do all my work on, and sitting on my desk next to it is a Mac Mini that I use to test stuff with Safari. Next year when my PC comes up for replacement, I’ll be getting a Mac Pro, and instead of having the Mac Mini just to test stuff in Safari, I’ll install Windows on it and use it just to test stuff in Internet Explorer.

The real irony there is that the Mac Mini cost £400 and is smaller than my external DVD writer. I doubt that the same money would buy a Windows box of the same specification and size. So even for the things I need that a Mac can’t run natively, I’ll still be using a Mac. I hereby take back everything bad I ever said about Apple Macs and I willingly pledge myself to the Cult of Mac.

And yes, I’ll fix this site so it doesn’t look wonky in Safari, Howie, I promise :)


National Rail Passenger “Charter”

I’ve been reading the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, party animal that I am, in particular the section on compensation for passengers affected by delayed and/or cancelled services. It reads (emphasis added):

42. Compensation for delays

(a) Where delays, cancellations or poor service arise for reasons within the control of a Train Company or Rail Service Company, you are entitled to compensation in accordance with the arrangements set out in that Train Company’s Passenger’s Charter. This can be obtained from the relevant Train Company’s ticket offices, customer relations office or internet site.

(b) The amount of compensation offered by each Train Company in its Passenger’s Charter varies from Train Company to Train Company. However, if you are more than one hour late at your destination station you will, as a minimum, be entitled to compensation in the form of travel vouchers in accordance with the table below:

The table below then goes on to list various ticket types and the amount of compensation due, most notably (emphasis added):

  • Single ticket – 20% of the price paid
  • Return ticket with delay on both the outward and return journey – 20% of the price paid

It then continues:

(c) This Condition 42 sets out the entire liability of the relevant Train Companies in relation to delays, cancellations and poor service. Except as shown in this Condition 42, the Train Companies do not accept liability for any loss (including consequential loss) caused by the delay and or cancellation of any train. However, they will consider additional claims in exceptional circumstances.

Now I realise that these figures are minimums and that train companies can at their discretion increase the compensation if they see fit, but really, how likely is this at the end of the day? It really isn’t as if they’re in competition with each other for passengers; they’re each given a franchise, which in most cases represents a specific territory to run without significant competition from other companies. So their only obligations to passengers are at the end of the day just those set out in the conditions of carriage.

20% is bullshit, frankly. People aren’t going to get out of their cars if they think that the only recourse they have for being delayed for over an hour is 20% of their ticket price, no matter how expensive their ticket was in the first place. Not good enough. The train companies should be made to compensate 100% and then some if they inflict such inconvenience and poor service upon their customers. Lack of accountability is a huge part of what makes the railway system in this country such a huge joke.

The next condition reads as follows, and I include it because it applied to me the other week after my train home went the wrong way:

43. Help from Train Companies: if you are stranded

If disruption caused by circumstances within the control of a Train Company or a Rail Service Company leaves you stranded before you have reached your destination and the Train Company whose trains you are entitled to use is unable to get you to that destination by other means, any Train Company which is in a position to help will, if it reasonably can, either arrange to get you to that
destination, or provide overnight accommodation for you.

This is fair enough. Ironically, in my case the other week, the replacement transport laid on (a coach) actually got me home quicker than the original train service was scheduled to have done. I’d find that a little embarassing if I ran a train company. Not that having trains going the wrong way isn’t embarassing enough of course.

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