I'm going to blame Doug for this too :)

A while back, I bought a 5.1 sound set off boffer.co.uk. Although I couldn't use it at the time, it was cheap, at some point I'd connect it to the PC or DVD, and what could possibly etc etc 🙂 So for the past two years, it's lived under the PC desk under the stairs, unopened.

There's more space here, so today it got taken out of its box for the first time. With this one, the mains power goes to the sub-woofer, and there's a fixed wire between that and the control box to give the latter some low DC voltage. Plug that in (there's only one place it will go) and attach the speakers. As it said at the start of an episode of the awful original V series, 'At first, (it) looked normal, but then…'

Immediately it was powered on, the control box started to catch fire. I was initially more concerned about why the speakers were emitting a horrible buzzing noise, but 'Where's that smoke coming from?!' soon crossed my mind (and nose!)

Fortunately, it doesn't look to have damaged anything (the DVD player still works, for example) and I am currently resisting the temptation to see what voltage is coming from the sub-woofer / open the control box to see which component leaked its magic smoke out. Partly this is because I'm waiting to see what Boffer say… It's way out of their advertised warranty, but electrical kit you sell that badly overheats the first time it's switched on is not exactly merchantable quality.

Oh, yes, of course there's a 'QC checked' sticker on the control box.

Curse you, Dr Doug!

As his PC has stopped working properly, it is clearly his fault that, when unpacked, mine didn't either.

That turned out to be the PSU (all that was happening was that the CPU fan was making a pathetic attempt to start up and replacing the PSU courtesy of a very nice small PC shop near here means it now works) but it does mean that the hibernation state was broken.

Which means that I can't find the PDF that came from a parcels website that was printed out just before I left for BiCon and which was used to send a parcel to Belgium. I know the parcel was collected, but it doesn't look like it arrived. And the PDF has the tracking number. One possible reason for the problem is that there's no evidence that I paid for the courier. Why I would have had all the forms before I paid is beyond me, but…

Update! It was in my browser cache. I now have the tracking number! It looks like two attempts were made to deliver it (on the Monday and Tuesday after BiCon) and it wasn't collected in the following week, so it's now coming back to me L18. I still have no evidence that I've been charged for this.

And so this is the middle third of September

Anyone else surprised that there's no special Google logo today?

Thanks to Google, I know that more than three thousand people die in an average month on US roads.

I wonder if anyone is reading out their names, or six thousand or so US deaths in Iraq or of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths there.

And people wonder why I call them evil

It is a sign of how often I look at evilfacebook stuff that I have only just realised that the RSS feeds I was collecting stopped working in June – evilfacebook have turned them off.

Is there a way to read it via RSS? A sample error message says

This feed URL is no longer valid. Visit this page to find the new URL, if you have access: http://www.facebook.com/statusupdates

.. but that's the normal interface and I can't see a RSS feed of it.

Thinking of Kay

I can't go the funeral, but he is still in my thoughts.

A favourite memory is his delight that I not only knew about one of the poems from Stanisław Lem's collection of short stories, The Cyberiad, but could quote it. *

One of the two protagonists has made a machine that writes poetry. The other tries to think of harder and harder tests and finally demands ".. a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!"

The first starts to protest that this is impossible, but while he's speaking, out comes the result:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.


Hearing of the machine, all the first rate poets come to challenge it in a poetry contest. They are crushed by the machine's brilliance and throw themselves off a cliff on the way home. The same thing happens to all the second rate poets. Then all the third rate poets arrive for their contest.. and go home happily – being third rate, they do not realise how badly they have been beaten.

Kay is one of the reasons I know I am not a third rate person, because I recognised just how good he was.

* I had to look the poem up this time. Huge respect to translator Michael Kandel – there's apparently a book, written by someone who has no idea of where it came from or the constraints under which it was written, quoting it with a dismissive comment that the author isn't very good.

I like them even more now

You know those companies / organisations which, when you ring up to cancel your membership, do their best to make it as hard as possible for you to do so?

Well, the Tate isn't one of them. Not only did they send me something to remind me that the current year is up soon, it included the best date to cancel the membership by and, when I rang up, they were lovely about me doing it.

The only reason I'm not renewing my membership is that I'm going to be living rather further than a bus ride away from their London galleries soon. Had I still been in London, this attitude would have been a reason to renew… not that I would ever have known!

Oh, how quickly they grow up

JA (currently 9 2/3, but looking more like eleven every day) has decided that High School Musical is for seven or eight year olds and so the DVDs have hit the 'not want it' pile, along with some classic Disney ones.

She was never hugely into it – I think the third one was coming out when she saw the first one – but it still feels like the end of a small era.

And I've kept The Jungle Book.

A modest proposal for Ofcom to implement

A short prefix which, when dialled before any number, tells you how much the call will cost, including any (evil but increasingly common) flat rate 'connection fee' and a per minute fee. You can then press a key to make the call, or hang up and write a letter / send an email instead.

Why? A sample tariff (Virgin Media cable costs for non-geographic calls from 1st August 2011, PDF file).

I defy anyone to pass a test on what a series of numbers will cost to call without looking it up. There are fifty two A4 pages with three columns in smallish print of numbers and their cost tariff codes – the four pages saying what any particular code actually costs is in another document!

07021 70.. is different (the PNS2 rate table) to 07021 71.. (PN18) and both are different to 07021 72.. etc down to 07021 76..! That's seven significant digits you have to know before you can know the cost! There are twenty one columns of 070 numbers alone.

Seven isn't even the record for significant digits: see 0844 0010 (I22) vs 0844 0011 (I23) vs 08440012 (I24) etc, where it's eight you need to know. The actual record is probably within 0845, where three numbers (eleven digits long) are free, and all the rest aren't.

It's not even easy to do a program to say what costs what. When it comes to mobile numbers, 07956 (FM3) is not the same as 07956 7 (MB1). Huh? Why isn't it covered by the former?

This is before you've got me going on why the basic 0845 tariff ('UK local') is the same as the 0870 one ('UK national') except that the latter is often free, depending on your package, whereas the former never is…

And Virgin Media are not the worst at this sort of thing! I still bear the scars of having to know some obscure details of the BT price list, while Cable and Wireless never could tell ex-work the basis for what they were charging us – I was glad when we were among the 90% of customers they told to find another carrier.

I should post more Pepys stuff

I borrowed Oh Lucky Man! from a library recently. It's flawed, in particular it's too long, but it's also utterly wonderful with images that have stayed in my mind from the first time I saw it 30+ years ago. It's one reason why I was never tempted by medical research money – the reveal of the delicious Professor Millar's work is more chilling than anything Hammer ever did. Plus there's Alan Price's songs, the chocolate sandwich party, the British-to-the-core scene of a tea-lady coming in during a torture session, how to get a job as an assistant to a businessman with no morals, and what happens when you do…

Today's Pepys diary entry contains a reference to something not unlike the latter. As the notes explain using someone else's telling of the story, in the reign of Edward VI, a seditious outbreak at Bodmin was put down but not everyone who had taken part wanted to suffer the consequences:

At the same time, and neare the same place [Bodmin], dwelled a miller, that had beene a greate dooer in that rebellion, for whom also Sir Anthonie Kingston sought: but the miller being thereof warned, called a good tall fellow that he had to his servant, and said unto him, 'I have business to go from home; if anie therefore come to ask for me, saie thou art the owner of the mill, and the man for whom they shall so aske, and that thou hast kept this mill for the space of three yeares; but in no wise name me.' The servant promised his maister so to doo. And shortlie after, came Sir Anthonie Kingston to the miller's house, and calling for the miller, the servant came forth, and answered that he was the miller. 'How long,' quoth Sir Anthonie, 'hast thou kept this mill?' He answered, 'Three years.' — 'Well, then,' said he, 'come on: thou must go with me;' and caused his men to laie hands on him, and to bring him to the next tree, saieing to him, 'Thou hast been a busie knave, and therefore here shalt thou hang.' Then cried the fellow out, and saide that he was not the miller, but the miller's man. 'Well, then,' said Sir Anthonie, 'thou art a false knave to be in two tales: therefore,' said he, 'hang him up;' and so incontinentlie hanged he was indeed. After he was dead, one that was present told Sir Anthonie, 'Surelie, sir, this was but the miller's man.' — `What then!' said he, 'could he ever have done his maister better service than to hang for him?'"

If I were a theatrical producer – and every time I see the Producers, I am tempted – then I'd put on Sir Martin Mar-all, or The Feign'd Innocence, John Dryden's adaptation of a Molière play, and have this as a quote on the posters:

It is the most entire piece of mirth, a complete farce from one end to the other, that certainly was ever writ. I never laughed so in all my life. I laughed till my head [ached] all the evening and night with the laughing – Samuel Pepys