School uniform ‘competition’ call

BBC NEWS | Education | School uniform ‘competition’ call – I don’t understand the problem here. Let’s remind ourselves of some basic facts regarding children, school and uniform:

  1. All children have to go to school once aged 5.
  2. Schools have compulsory school uniforms.
  3. School uniforms have to be bought and paid for by parents.

None of these three facts are new. They haven’t just been sprung upon parents by a greedy government or corporation who haven’t allowed them enough time to prepare and budget for a school uniform. Just what is the problem here? Is five years not enough to set aside some of the child benefit that’s received for each child since birth to pay for a set of clothes that is actually in real terms very cheap since the child will be wearing it for seven hours a day, five days a week? That’s what child benefit is for! It isn’t for you to spend on lottery tickets and fags, it’s for your child, since it is child benefit.

Anyone would think that today’s parents are the first generation of humans that have had to raise children. If you can’t afford to have children then don’t fucking have them. I actually completely disagree with child benefit and I think it should be abolished, indeed I think that the third and subsequent children in a family should attract a tax in order to stop rampant baby factories from dumping useless copies of themselves onto the welfare state, which is seen as a lifestyle choice these days rather than the safety net it was designed to be.

Yes, I think that schools could be a little more reasonable about where they allow school uniforms to be bought, because they really are as cheap as chips in supermarkets and I see no reason why schools should be snooty about supermarket school uniforms. Part of the point of school uniform is that it removes snobbery and competition between pupils regarding the clothes they wear to school. But that aside, school uniform has always been relatively expensive but it’s also always been something that parents plan and budget for each year. I know my parents did.


I know nothing about these complicated machines!

I didn’t write this, but I think that it’s a splendid analogy, so I’m going to rip it off and post it here. It relates to the assumption on the part of many people that because someone works with computers that they’ll be happy to field personal technical support requests at the behest of their friends and family in their spare time. The question posed is do you think that the following actions would be acceptable, and if not, can you explain how it would be different if you replaced the mechanic with a person who works in IT and the car with a computer?

  1. Call your friend who is a mechanic at home, at dinner time.
  2. Tell him your car is not running right or won’t even start.
  3. Tell him you saw a neon sign while driving that said your car wasn’t running right, so you pulled in and let these strangers install Fuel Helper, Pot hole blocker, Wheel assistants, a special radio station and an engine watcher, all of which you now “need”.
  4. Ask them if they mind talking you through figuring out why the car won’t run properly. Laugh really loud and say “I know nothing about these complicated machines!”, because they love to hear that.
  5. Tell him you have no tools.
  6. When he asks you to open the bonnet and have a look, ask him “Where is the bonnet?” Optional: Tell them your cousin tried doing “something” to fix it, but you don’t know what it was and the problem is worse now.
  7. While looking at the engine, read them the very long serial numbers of the parts. Because mechanics have them all memorised for all cars.
  8. Always keep asking if you should turn things “left or right?”.
  9. Ask them if they see the part near the other part. Because they can see through the phone.
  10. Ask then if the problem has anything to do with the new garage door you installed.
  11. After they patiently talk you through checking for “fuel and fire”, and it still doesn’t work, ask them if they can drive thirty minutes to your home on their day off and come fix it. Whine about how much you need your car.
  12. Have them do all this for just a cup of tea and a thank you.
  13. Pretend to understand when they say not to believe neon signs saying your car isn’t running right. Just smile when they say you need to regularly schedule maintenance on your car, and to use only well known mechanics.
  14. Repeat the whole process every 60-90 days. Call from your family member’s house because you tried to fix theirs and you’ve messed up their cars now. Tell your friends too, have them call to have their car problems fixed as well.

5th incarnation of iMac

New iMac

New iMac

Apple have released the latest version of the iMac, the “all in one” computer where you get what looks like just a monitor with a keyboard and a mouse. It’s not a new concept, either in terms of Apple themselves (since the original iMac came out nearly ten years ago) nor in terms of computing in general, making reference to the days when many computers and terminals were manufactured in this format.

The new iMac has clear evolution with its predecessor, which is a departure from the predecessor’s own evolution; until now, with the exception of the third and fourth generation iMacs (which were outwardly identical with different guts), each iMac has been significantly different from its predecessor. I think it looks quite nice apart from the black surround on the screen. I prefer the glossy white Mac style, as does Chris, but I do like the aluminum design; that’s working well with a number of models in the Apple range at the moment.

The new iMac brings with it the latest designs of Apple keyboard, which are shipped with the new iMac and Mac Pro and are also sold separately. As far as I can tell and ignoring eBay, you can now no longer buy the old style keyboards. This I have mixed feelings about, for two reasons.

Firstly, here is the new wired keyboard. It’s nice looking and very slim, but is basically a laptop keyboard. Indeed its keys are identical to those on my Macbook. This is not to say that I dislike my Macbook keyboard, I don’t, but using a laptop keyboard with a desktop computer doesn’t feel right and I think I’d prefer a “proper” keyboard.

But then we move on to my second concern. The wireless version of this keyboard really is just a Macbook keyboard in an aluminum case, with the same number of keys and the same keyboard layout. Previously the wired and wireless keyboards were identical in their appearance, size and layout, so why Apple have chosen to force a differently sized keyboard on those who want a wireless model is beyond me. I could just about cope with the “full size” wired keyboard, laptop keys or not, but this would just piss me off.

But this happens every time. Apple are very good at trumping themselves with the design of their products and they’re not afraid to be radical. Every time they bring something out that looks unusual people are either totally in love with it straight away or say that they’ll never get used to it, but always do.

Returning to the subject of the iMac, I think that Apple could improve the scope of this product very easily. iMacs come with a built-in monitor, as you can see, but they also come with an extra monitor port on the back to which you can connect a second screen. The trouble with this is that no second screen, even Apple’s standalone displays, will match the iMac and you’ll always have this odd juxtaposition of mismatched equipment if you do choose to connect a second display.

The solution to this is simple. Apple should sell a range of monitors that look just like iMacs. They’d be easy to produce, since they would actually use iMac shells and iMac screens; they’d just not put the guts of a computer inside. They already have all the tooling and components available to do this, and I think it would be a great way of allowing people who use their iMac as their primary work computer to use a matching second display without having to plump for a Mac Pro which, although nice and fast, are expensive when compared to the iMac.

I’ve done a mockup of what such a setup might look like. Tell me that this isn’t a good idea? If it happens, you read it here first ;)

Mockup of dual-screen iMac

Mockup of dual-screen iMac


Confessions of a closet railway geek

I have many dirty little secrets, but one of the less (or more, depending on your point of view) embarassing is that I’m a bit of a railway geek. It’s not something I’m proud of and I have it under control. I would never mug old ladies to feed my habit, nor would I leave related detritus around for some kid to find and hurt himself on. I’m a very responsible addict and in that regard I’m going to geek out about in on my blog just the once.

So let’s get it over with. Here’s a list of the types of train I use on a regular and not so regular basis, presented in order of class.


Class 43 HST

High Speed Train (HST), formerly Intercity 125, formed of two class 43 locomotives and a rake of Mark 3 coaches. This is what took me to Cardiff in June. Really excellent train, smooth and powerful and quite oldschool. Completely let down by the abomination of a train operating company that is First Great Western.


Class 142

Class 142: A horrible little two-coach diesel multiple unit (DMU) that’s actually based on the Leyland Bus and uses a large number of bits out of its parts bin. As a result it’s slow, uncomfortable and lurches about like a fat kid on a bouncy castle. I used to sometimes take these to Liverpool.


Class 166

Class 165/166 (class 166 is a 165 with carpets and air conditioning): I used to use these a lot when I lived in Langley as they serve commuter routes between London Paddington and Reading. Pretty standard three coach DMUs with passenger information displays that always seemed to be broken somehow. I also seem to remember them being particularly smelly (in a diesel exhaust way).


Class 185

Class 185: Brand new DMU, part of the Siemens Desiro family, operated by First Transpennine Express. Also used to take these to Liverpool, obviously in preference to the class 142. Each of the three coaches has its own engine which allows it to accelerate better than older units. Can limp home on just one engine in the unlikely event that the other two fail.


Class 323

Class 323: Three-coach AC electric multiple units (EMU) operated by Northern Rail that I take to work every day when I’m working in the office in Cheadle Hulme. Pretty basic but generally clean and reliable. They have a large number of gears and very whiny motors so they sound a bit like the trains on the Jubilee Line.


Class 390 Pendolino

Class 390: Everyone knows about these. It’s the new Virgin Pendolino which is actually an EMU even though it looks like two locomotives plus coaches (like the HST which it largely replaced). This is the one that can do 140mph and tilt when it’s going around corners. Supremely well appointed and comfortable.


Class 450

Class 450: South West Trains ordered a whole bunch of these to replace their old “slam-door” EMUs, which became illegal a few years ago. I use these to travel between Dad’s house and London. Very fast, very clean and nicely airconditioned. They sometimes chain three of them up to form giant twelve coach trains. Makes a strange whistling noise when it sets off.


Class 444

Class 444: A five-coach version of the class 450 designed for longer-distance journeys. Has different door arrangements in order to maximise seating rather than making it eaiser to get on and off the train at more regular stops. Still has the whistling noise. This and the class 450 are in the Siemens Desiro family like the class 185.


Class 455

Class 455: South West Trains four-coach DC EMUs that used to serve under British Rail but that have now (mostly) all been refurbished and repainted, which is a good thing because the last of the un-refurbished ones are pretty shitty now. They still feel like the old “slam-door” trains because they use similar motors and much of the same running gear.


Class 412

Class 411, 412, 423 and similar: These aren’t used any more because they’ve been made illegal by the Health and Safety Gestapo (who don’t trust stupid people not to open the door of a train while it’s in motion), but everyone remembers these. Old, slow, unreliable, smelly, dirty and with more character than all of the above trains put together. Everyone complained about them while they were in service but secretly misses them now.

There, I’m done. I’m going back to the rehab clinic now.


Brighton Pride

para.DSC01424I did end up going to Brighton Pride in the end. A couple of mates were going and asked me to come with them. I didn’t much fancy spending such a glorious day just pipping things off my everlasting todo list so I went. I got up at about 8.30am and got on the train to Woking where they picked me up in a BMW M3 at about 10.30am. We didn’t bother with the parade but we did see the floats coming in to the park at the end of it. I guess we must’ve spent about seven hours in the park before going back to the car to freshen up, change our clothes and then hit the bars.

My friends stayed in Brighton for the night whereas I took the last train back home from Brighton, which was absolutely rammed full, obviously because it was the last train out of Brighton on Pride day. I managed to get a seat but I changed at Haywards Heath onto a much less crowded train so it wouldn’t have mattered if I was rammed into a vestibule for that leg of the journey. Indeed, some people didn’t even have that privilege and were left standing on the platform. I would have thought that First Capital Connect would have laid on extra services on a day like that but hey, what do I know?

Survival of the (very long) day was made much easier with the presence of my patented Pride Survival Kit. This is small bag containing the following items:

  • Pair of jeans for the evening
  • Three spare tops
  • Spare pants and socks
  • Wet flannel in plastic bag
  • Dry flannel
  • Sun protection lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Poppers
  • Tissues
  • Condoms and lube
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamines
  • Mepore in case of body piercing misbehaviour
  • Train timetable
  • Mineral water
  • Cereal bars
  • Smints
  • Sunglasses
  • Baseball cap

Absolutely everything that a gay boy could possibly need at Pride, whether he decides to stay out all night afterwards or go home with someone or not! Next one’s in Manchester, in four weeks I believe although Chris suspects that it’s in three weeks so we should definitely check that before too long.

I also got recognised by someone because of my tattoo. Chris posted a picture of it to BME (Body Modification E-Zine) and some bloke stopped me totally randomly in the field and said that he recognised my tattoo from a picture he’d seen on BME. Totally small world, and a totally random encounter. It blows my mind when things like that happen.