Apparently the fear of leaving hair-straighteners turned on is a widespread phenomenon. My wife certainly suffers from it to a ludicrous degree: pretty much every time she uses them there will be a phone-call or a return home to ensure that the things are indeed off. To limit my frustration, and to mitigate the risk that she ever does leave them turned on I’ve created didmicheleleavethestraighteneron.com. Not only does it let her monitor the state of her straightener, but if she should ever leave it on, she can turn it off remotely. Thank you Z-Wave
Early Halloween fun – I’ve been trying to find this classic cartoon for years but I didn’t know what it was called. Turns out it’s called “Bottles” and from 1936 – set in a pharmacy after hours, the bottles come alive.
One of the wonderful things about traveling on public transport, that car drivers will never experience, is the joy of discovering you’re sitting in a pool of the previous occupant’s urine. For the whole journey home.
I convinced myself it was simply some spilled Dr Pepper but once I had reached home it became clear, on closer inspection, that it was actually 100% pure tramp’s piss.
Non-Americans: look at this fake house, built out of chipboard and plastic bags. What’s it for, you may be wondering? Is this for a movie set? Perhaps it’s some subterfuge to fool an enemy into bombing a fake encampment; much like the allies did to the Nazis in North Africa, and Sheriff Bart together with “the good folks” of Rock Ridge did in Blazing Saddles?
Well it’s neither of those things.
Do you give up? In fact this is actually how they build houses here in the USA! Really! And these are real houses for people, not dogs or anything like that. Not only that, but when they’ve finished building it they’re going to sell it for half a million dollars! That actual house, there! Not a real house based on that cheap mock-up, that is the actual house!
I don’t blame you for being incredulous, I didn’t believe it at first either but it’s absolutely true.
OK in fairness, the house isn’t finished yet and obviously the finished product won’t look like that. Firstly there will be more of those plastic bags stapled to it. They’re not your normal plastic bags either – over here they call it Tyvek and it’s a bit tougher than than the supermarket jobs obviously. Secondly they’ll cover it in other material like stucco or cheap Aluminium siding to hide the fact the whole thing is made of offcuts from the local lumber yard.
Half a million bucks – amazing isn’t it? It’s only a matter of time before this sketch becomes a reality:
San Jose, from the perspective of a non-driver in my hotel, is exactly the same as San Diego: a fucking horrible set of roads interspersed with malls and business parks. King of Prussia with mountains, palm trees, and mountains. The mountains are in the distance because you can’t walk to them. I tried. That’s another story.
Today we were supposed to start work with the client that was paying for our flights and rooms in this four star hotel, but we didn’t because of some bollocks I still don’t understand. They make so much money that it doesn’t matter apparently. Instead I slept off the bloody awful flights, went for a walk, and then spent the evening in the hotel bar.
The bar is also pretty horrible, with five 50 inch TVs above it forcing the miserable sport of American Football on all clientele. But I am happy as long as I’m left alone to read my books, respond to quiz challenges, and do all of the other things with my phone that keeps me feeling attached to sane people.
Then the drunk guy next to me starts demanding my attention. That’s fine, I understand drunk people, and so I use my drunk translation skills to express un-interest and preoccupation, but he doesn’t take the hint. Oh dear. He must be really gone…
We chat, which involves several circular conversations in which I tell him many times where I’m from, what I do, and why I’m here. He tells me his name, which I decline to print here, and that he is a pilot, for an airline that I also decline to name.
We talk nonsense, have a laugh, and then he notices that my nationality seems incongruent with my stated job as info-security guardian, and goes a bit weird. By this point he is slurring his words and thoughts so apparently that I fear for his passengers tomorrow morning at 10am – the time he told me earlier that he was due to fly. He asks me what clients we work for and I explain that it’s a closely guarded secret. He then turns serious and asks me if we’re working against ISIS! On being informed that we don’t directly work against ISIS, he makes a big, loud joke about how he’s going to call the police by typing 911 into the iArse login box of his iPhone. I play along with his stupid joke and hope that my new colleague, whom I have yet to meet, will appear and rescue me. At this point my opinion of the drunk pilot is that he’s hitting on me. I don’t have a problem with this because by now he knows, or rather would know if he’d actually absorbed anything I’d said to him, that I’m straight and married. So I don’t run away.
My new colleague appears and we recognise each other by the vague descriptions we gave each other over the phone a while before. I enthusiastically invite him to sit down at the bar and we talk nerdy stuff – he’s an awesome guy it transpires and we have a lot to talk about. Our drunken pilot friend meanwhile amuses himself by putting his head in his hands and murmuring to himself. As my colleague and I begin to bond about microcontrollers, Flight-Captain Pisshead clambers off of his bar stool, puts down some money, leaves the rest of his glass of Chardonnay and shambles off to talk to the bar staff. My new geek friend and I move on to discussing SDR, and begin to enjoy ourselves, especially as Orville Wrong is observed to depart the vicinity.
The geek-fuelled chatter continues now that the mad bloke has departed and it is a while later before I ask Mine Host if the Flying Sotsman was alright, and whether he had spoken about us. He laughed sheepishly before explaining that we had both been reported to the hotel management as terrorists!
As unlikely as this seems, we really had been reported to the hotel manager as terrorist suspects and, frankly, I’m surprised we’re both not incarcerated at this moment. Luckily his demeanor of an incapable drunk did not convince anyone of his theory. I only hope that by 10 am tomorrow – in 12 hours time – he has his shit together enough to pilot a plane load of passengers across the country.
For someone who spends an embarrassingly large proportion of his time watching detective and spy TV programmes, it was quite galling to discover I’d been oblivious to a British show that aired in 1978 and was described by the New York Times as “The best spy show in TV history.” Worse still, I was made aware of it by an American work colleague. The final indignity was to discover it was every bit as good as the hype suggested.
There’s no James Bond nonsense here, just a tiny Whitehall department, encumbered by budgets and politics, that nonetheless has to undertake missions ranging from foiling terrorist bomb plots to organizing foreign coups. There are no absolute rights and wrongs, and no conventional heroes. Instead there some extraordinarily plausible plots, brilliant acting, and superb characterization that combine into a thoroughly gripping, albeit traumatic at times, TV series. There are many reviews out there that express this better than I ever could, but If you’re a fan of complex, well thought out, realistic spy dramas in the mold of Le Carre then please get hold of this as soon as you can
As a final enticement, here are two Interesting facts about the mysterious author of this masterpiece, Ian MacKintosh:
- One episode of the second series was dropped because it contravenes the Official Secrets Act.
- Before the scripts for Series 3 were completed, Ian MacKintosh disappeared under mysterious circumstances in a private plane together with a friend and his wife. This is why the series was cancelled.
The first time I encountered Deputy Doofus was a week last Saturday at John Wayne airport in Orange County, California, after flying in via Atlanta. It was around 10pm local-time, despite the insistence of the little clock in my brain that claimed it was actually 1am. The previous 12 hours (time-zone be damned) had involved various forms of travel, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best of spirits as I waited by the carousel for my bag to appear – yes I checked a bag – no I won’t be doing that again on a domestic flight.
My plane-mates and I stood in languid silence as we watched the bags proceed on their perpetual journey around the carousel whose name, if it had one, was “Atlanta”, according to the monitors above. Occasionally a lucky passenger would recognise a suitcase and react for a brief moment as if they’d won a life-altering sum of money until they managed to regain their composure and wrestle their bag away from the scene and re-commence their journey. As we waited, Deputy Doofus lumbered into the scene to offer his valuable insight into the situation. He was about 50, adorned in a loose representation of the airline’s uniform and clearly appeared very happy with his role in the business of facilitating air travel. He approached some passengers standing nearby and asked them in a loud friendly voice if they were from the Atlanta flight. They affirmed his suspicion and he replied:
“Well, the baggage has all been unloaded and it’s coming on to the Carousel right now!”
They expressed mild gratitude for the information and continued to hunt for their luggage on the now busy conveyor. He walked two steps away and addressed me, with exactly the same question:
“Are you from the Atlanta flight?”
“Well, the baggage has all been unloaded and it’s coming on to the Carousel right now!” he enthusiastically repeated.
“Ah, OK.” I said, desperately trying to sound like this was even vaguely helpful, and he went on another two steps, then repeated the procedure for the benefit of the next group of people. It struck me as a very peculiar service for the airline to be offering, after all we obviously had some inkling as to why we were standing here. Perhaps he thought we were confused by the sight all of those big lumpy things going round and round?
Once he was satisfied that everyone in the general area knew exactly what was going on with the bags and our relationship to them, he changed gear; the work was over, it was fun time! He had been accompanied all this time by a short female colleague who had wisely decided to let him do the talking.
“And it’s Jane’s birthday today isn’t it Jane!” he announced, pointing at his colleague. “It’s her birthday!” he repeated to the next group of people standing nearby, as if they couldn’t hear his shouting it the first time around. “I’m embarrassing her!” he continued, and Jane did indeed look embarrassed while she followed him around the assembled crowd. However her look also conveyed a resigned weariness that suggested she had spent time with her colleague in public before.
A week elapsed. Hotel, work, food, drink, nice weather, etc.
The journey home was due to commence with a flight at 6:45am, and so in preparation I arranged with the hotel desk to order a cab for 5:15am.
At around 10pm, as I was preparing to go to bed in advance of the early start, an email popped up on my laptop. It was from the airline and it explained that my flight would be delayed until 8am. So, I put on enough clothing to allow me to schlep down to the hotel reception without causing a scene and travelled in the elevator to the desk. The guy was extremely friendly and understanding and I returned to my room with a comfortable feeling, partly derived from the knowledge I had an extra hour of sleep ahead. Obviously, I’d left my access card in the room and so had to return downstairs to ask the guy, who was slightly less friendly now, to give me another one. But eventually I got to bed and slept.
The lovely, lovely sleep was broken by the harsh sound of my mobile ringtone at around arse-o-clock, or 3:45am whichever is more accurate. On answering the call a robot announced that my flight had been rescheduled. It wasn’t clear whether this was the reschedule I knew about, or an entirely new reschedule so I reluctantly climbed out of bed and investigated the situation, after negotiating the hotel’s crappy wifi captive-portal for the umpteenth time. The airline’s website indicated that my flight was leaving at 6:45 as originally planned, with no indication as to whether the 8am rumour was ever true or mattered any more. Wide awake (that ringtone is really jarring) I acknowledged that the only solution was to aim at the earlier of the two deadlines and stay on the safe side. So, I showered, put on some clothes and returned to the lobby where a new assistant was in attendance. This guy was older, grumpy looking, and wearing an ill-fitting suit jacket over a hawaiian shirt. I explained my predicament and he sighed. “I’m not even supposed to be working now,” he explained without my asking. “I’m haven’t had a day off in four weeks.” Restraining the temptation to quote Monty Python and ask him if he knew his statement was irrelevant, I asked if he could reschedule the cab. Several heavy sighs and a couple of unnecessarily long phone calls later I went back to my room to spend the last fifteen minutes of my time in the hotel rapidly stuffing a weeks worth of dirty clothes into my rucksack. Up until that point I’d be overjoyed with the hotel and genuinely wanted to give them a 10/10 on the customer survey – so much so that while I was waiting in the lobby for my cab I asked the guy if they had my correct email address on file. He faffed about on the computer for a minute or two before saying “I don’t know what you want me to do – send you an email or something? There is no email, it was a web booking.” I was tired and suddenly lacking in enthusiasm for the rest of the conversation and so sat down and waited for the cab.
We got to the airport very quickly – for some reason the roads were relatively clear, who knows why? After taking part in the surreal interactive security theatre the TSA had put on, I put my clothes back on, collected my dignity and went to look for my flight. Consulting the large screen containing details of all upcoming departures I located my flight and was irritated to discover the 6:45 departure time had been amended to…8. It was 5:30 and I had been up, and in a grumpy mood, for 2 and a half hours already but the tiredness was successfully beating down the anger and so I staggered to the departure gate where the departure time was still listed as 6:45, so asked the lady at the desk what was going on. “Look, let me announce this over the PA, because everyone is asking” she said. She announced that there were in fact two flights, one at 6:45 and one at 8. All of the assembled people looked as confused as I felt. I tried to explain about the email and the contradictory phone-call but she looked incredulous and continued to repeat the same story. But whatever was to happen, there would be a way out at either 6:45 or 8 and so I sat down in a sleepy-haze and waited. Many of the other passengers looked non-plussed, and overheard conversations frequently included snippets such as “did you get woken up at 3:45 too?” and “is it 6:45 or 8 that this plane is leaving?” The desk clerk only once offered a suggestion and it was that perhaps whoever had been in charge had managed to obtain another plane and switched it…or something. No-one looked convinced but waited patiently, or more accurately sleepily, for something more concrete or someone who knew what was going on. We had nothing to fear, because the airline had called in the A-Team to clear up the mess: Deputy Doofus!
Wasting no time, he headed straight to the PA microphone and turned on the magic.
“As you may have heard we had to swap out the plane for your flight this morning and although it’s the same type of plane, a 757, it’s a slightly different model and so the seat layout is different. If you confirmed your flight last night and have an electronic boarding pass, your seat may have changed and so you should approach us and we’ll take care of it for you.”
Immediately after he’d finished speaking, a planes-worth of unhappy passengers left their seats and mobbed Doofus’ poor colleague who, up until that point, had been doing a reasonably good job of keeping tempers at bay. She began frantically tapping away on her terminal and before the full wrath of the crowd was upon her she started yelling to anyone who would listen, “it’s alright – everybody’s seat is safe. No-one is affected!” Doofus re-engaged the microphone, repeated his colleague’s announcement and the bitter mob slowly dispersed back to their holding pattern in the seating area.
Eventually the boarding commenced and within a period of around twenty minutes, everyone was on board. A further twenty minutes elapsed during which nothing happened – the most notable instance of nothing being the movement of the plane. We were still attached to the gate and certainly not about to take off any time soon. There was a growing air of disquiet on board which was interrupted by the sound of Deputy Doofus over the plane’s PA system.
“Well, as you probably know there was a whole lot of bad weather in Atlanta that caused a whole lot of disruption to flights going in and coming out, and that’s why we originally moved this flight to 8am, and then found another plane that could take off at the original time. Well, it seems that this information didn’t make it to the pilots, and that’s why we can’t take off. Hopefully, if they believe the flight is due to take off at eight, they’ll actually be here any moment now and then we can take off.”
So the airline had done everything to salvage the flight except arrange for someone to fly the plane. Either Deputy Doofus had been given way too much responsibility or the airline is actually run by Laurel and Hardy, I thought as I desperately tried to sleep and make it all go away. Another twenty minutes of bugger all dragged by. Cue Doofy.
“Well we’re still trying to find the pilots, and right now there’s someone at the gate waiting for them. As soon as we find them we’ll be able to take off. Now, for those of you with a connecting flight at Atlanta, we have representatives there who know the situation and will be waiting for you. If you’ve missed your connection you’ll have been rebooked on another flight. You may know that Atlanta is the biggest airport in the world, that’s the world! They have 750 flights out of there a day! So you will get another flight, and there will be people there to help you.” Then, with a flourish that could only be matched by Alan Partridge he added, “And in case you were wondering what the second largest airport in the world is…it’s Frankfurt.”
Obviously when we reached Atlanta the airline reps didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on, and the only advice I was given was “you betta run!” I did.
Somehow I missed this whole thing the first few times around and it’s nice to see it come back and get taken seriously because if it’s true then it’ll make Operation Yewtree look like a case of nicking a Twix bar from a newsagent. In 1981 Dickens used parliamentary privilege to name a senior MI6 operative, and knight of the realm, as head of a paedophile ring with the user-friendly branding of “Paedophile Information Exchange”. This is extraordinary for so many reasons. Also bear in mind that back in those days HMG denied the very existence of MI6 and so Dickens’ action was pretty audacious. Hardly surprising he was later the victim of two “burglaries” and multiple death threats. Damn it, I’ve started to respect a Tory.
Here are two nice examples of how the ubiquity of the Internet has impacted two distinct age groups: those who have had the Internet all of their lives, and those to whom it’s still a “new thing”.
One of our neighbours recently celebrated her retirement by buying her first computer, a Macbook Air, and inviting the Internet into her home. Once I’d helped her set everything up she was emailing, web-browsing and printing like a natural.
A couple of weeks ago one of her dogs was attacked by another dog and, knowing M’s ability to fix a variety of wildlife, she knocked on our door in a panic. M explained that she really couldn’t help with a domestic pet, especially one that probably needed surgery. Nonetheless she went round to see if there was anything she could do to help. The scene was intense: the wounded dog was being held by our Neighbour’s sister who was accordingly splattered with a liberal quantity of blood, while our neighbour was hunched over the phone book frantically trying to find the address and phone number of her vet. M was a little surprised by this for a several reasons, not least of which was that people still had phonebooks. “Wait!” she couldn’t help exclaiming, “where’s your laptop?” A quick Google later she’d located the name and address of the vet to the amazement and relief of everyone. It hadn’t even occurred to our neighbour or her sister that the task of looking up a phone number could have been achieved by any other means than the traditional dead-tree method. But what of the generation that have never known a world without The Internet?
Being middle-aged and a code-monger means that my day job frequently involves being surrounded by what I now call “children” (that’s pretty much the only benefit to not being young any more.) We work in the city, but not too near the food action, so we often get together and order food for delivery at lunchtime. Most of the local vendors have switched to using GrubHub for orchestrating orders and in fairness Grubhub do a pretty good job of it on the whole – their cutesy, patronising communications notwithstanding.
One particular lunchtime a group of “children” were ordering Sushi via grubhub when the unthinkable happened: Grubhub went down mid order! Worse still, the vendor didn’t have any other ordering mechanism on their website. Imagine the panic! The Sushi vendor wasn’t totally inaccessible – a reasonably short drive, or a considerable walk away – but on this particular day the outside world was hostile; the ground was covered in snow and ice, the temperature was around -10C, and it was raining. The would-be lunchers were despairing when a slightly older colleague spoke up and suggested they phone the order in! A few seconds of silence followed while everyone considered this bizarre suggestion. “Of course,” said one of the sushi-seekers, “I would never have thought of that!” And the lunch came, and it was good, and there was much rejoicing.
This is the best advice for anyone hoping to learn about…well…anything: get used to failure, because failure is part of the process.
At a previous job, one of my friends used to make a point of asking interviewees for new positions what was the worst disaster they’d ever caused, and what they did about it. It’s a brilliant question because it tends to paint a picture of the candidate in a real life high-pressure situation. Anyone working in a technical field who hasn’t caused some sort of disaster or other has either not been given the controls or is unaware of the impact of their actions. How would they actually cope with fixing a disaster – regardless of whether it was their fault or not?
Obviously there is the finite possibility that they are indeed perfect and infallible, but this is so unlikely that it’s not worth considering – and anyway, would you really want to work with someone like that?