Monthly Archives: January 2009

Shameless geekery – look away now.

  • One of my favourite pieces of the internet is this classic rant from my boy, Linus Torvalds, on C++. I read it regularly and it gives me a warm feeling that maybe I’m not wrong about everything. Well today I noticed the message ID (see above) – he uses Alpine too! I was beginning to think me and Michele were the last users on the planet.
  • The Google got broke this morning for over an hour. It turned out the culprit was a single solitary byte: ‘/’. The vast, global, unstoppable, empire-smashing Goliath knocked out by ASCII 0x2f. I wonder if it was fired from a slingshot ?

Nathan Barley

Ever since being introduced to Nick Cohen’s ridiculous claptrap I’m always astonished that serious newspapers give him column centimetres (let alone column inches). So it’s not surprising to read an article like this where he is given carte blanche to demonstrate what an inexcusably clueless twat he really is.

Really; Nathan Barley could do a better job.

Friends and fools

Obama’s inauguration was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to the descriptions of the coronation in 1952; the popularity of TV in the UK pretty much began with the coronation.

I was at work, and we all watched it on the big TV in the conference room. Afterwards, we had lunch, and when I got back to my desk this email from my dad was waiting. It summed up my own feelings in a far more elegant way than I could have achieved:

That was wonderful. Congratulations America.

The age of George Bush is over; The age of Obama begins. Not my words but those of the BBC reporter.

This is the Labour Party winning the 1945 election. The end of the the War In Europe. The final end to The Second World War.

How about the beautiful poem and the emotional speech at the end of the ceremony by the old Civil Rights campaigner.

And Aretha!

Three great days in one lifetime is really more than one can expect

And Obama is already putting into effect the things he promised. For a day or two, the media on all sides couldn’t avoid acknowledging the greatness of it all.

But now, we’re back to business. Fox has already started its campaign of hate that would be comical if there were no stupid people to lap it up.

“Do you want terrorists living in your back yard ?”

But the cynicism in me, seeded by being English, left wing, and not part of the aristocracy, has now mutated to aggression. Anyone who doesn’t realise how wonderful and historically significant the recent events are, is clearly an irredeemable moron.

Twice today I got very angry as the result of ignorant, bigoted, bullshit. This time I’m going to keep up the pressure. Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction. Even if it means losing touch with friends or even family, I’m going to be true. Leaving my own parents, and some of the best friends I could have ever imagined, has taught me a lot. Not matter how crap I am at keeping in touch with people and how crap they are at keeping in touch with me, the real friends don’t mind. Bernard Baruch (not Dr Seuss) summed it up many years before though:

Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.

Cops and Nutters

Last night’s drive home from work was interrupted by a total nutter. There were four of us in the car: Jon driving, his wife, me and another freeloader in the back making fart jokes. The traffic slowed right down, as it always does near Conshohocken, because two major roads merge. Jon let a car merge from the slip road and carried on driving. This was the correct behaviour; one car lets one car in, it’s called the “zipper system”. But the next car to merge disagreed and kept driving, slow pushing left, despite there being a car, our car, in the way. We couldn’t believe the guy was doing this and watched while he slowly drove into the side of our car. Jon, appreciating that this guy wasn’t going to let up with his bizarre behaviour (courtesy, safety, and physics clearly not his key skills), braked to halt, letting our friend scrape past us and in front of us into his position of victory – where he remained until the next exit. Meanwhile, as the traffic was moving so slowly during this period, Jon had called the Police and given them the details, including the registration number (so clearly visible directly in front of the windscreen). All the while, the guy was giving us the finger. He got off at the next exit and we pulled over on the hard shoulder to wait for the law.
A state trooper was there in less than 5 minutes. He pulled up, fired blinding lights at us and swaggered up to the passenger window with another blindingly bright flashlight. He asked us if we wanted to file a report – and on being told that we did, asked us all for ID. In order to save you the tedious details of the ensuing conversation, the outcomes were:

  • Even though we’d called the po-pos, he treated us in the same way they always do – as if he was doing us a favour for not nicking us.
  • After an extraordinarily long wait, he returned our IDs and told us they were treating the incident as hit-and-run (good – the guy who did this is clearly not fit to be driving himself around).
  • I was breaking the law because I didn’t have State ID.

This last point was news to me, and I understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse but…I gave him a green card! That is federal ID. It was issued by the Department of Homeland Schutzstaffel. I had to get photographed, x-rayed, fingerprinted, interviewed, and give blood for that, and yet he’s telling me I have to go down to the department of transportation with a gas bill and pick up a poxy “license not to drive” ? It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that he was clearly making that shit up. A compulsory^Wmandatory ID card is unconstitutional isn’t it ? I don’t know, so have asked the ACLU. We’ll see. All this goes to show that I forgot the golden rule: don’t ever, ever, ever involve the Police ever, ever, ever….unless you need to claim on insurance. As I’ve mentioned before (ignore the first bit about 70’s wallpaper), the Police aren’t there to help you. And they do it so well.


At its core, our street still harbours an old-style community neighbourhood. This is the first place Michele and I have lived where we know and communicate with many of our neighbours and it’s a good thing.

The “Mayor” of our street was indisputably Mrs J; a formidable 83 year old lady, with a burgundy coloured perm, and the energy of three five year olds, who lived over the road. Every morning as we left for work she would be catching up on the last 24 hours worth of gossip with the school crossing guard and her friend at the top of the hill. We’ve recently discovered that she attended this appointment only after being up and active for several hours and having completed her rigorous housework schedule. Michele also discovered that the trash can fairy who returned our bins to the ally after the trash men had called was…Mrs J. Evidently she and her late husband lived in the area their whole lives, and in our street for the majority of that time.

One morning last week we were disturbed to find that the other two members of Mrs J’s dawn posse had abandoned their post at the top of the hill and were outside her house looking concerned; Mrs J hadn’t arrived that morning. It turns out that she was in hospital at the time. She died later that day.

We were both amazed and saddened by this – during our entire time at this house (all nine-months of it) Mrs J had been a fixture. I imagined she would always be around, long after Michele and I died. And then, with no warning, she’s gone. In the UK, one of us would probably have attended the funeral. Over here, one of us would probably attend the “viewing”.

It’s still not clear whether the “viewing” is an American thing, a Philadelphia thing or a Catholic thing, but I’ve never heard of it before. As luck would have it, Michele couldn’t attend and so I represented the house. If you’ve never heard of a “viewing” then it’s probably simpler to explain it by describing what went on at this particular instance.

Tim kindly offered to drive me to there, and then to work, as he was passing King Of Bollocks on the way to his job. Another neighbour, Mary, came with us. It took place at a funeral home up the road and the events were as follows:

  1. We enter the home and are ushered into a room full of photos of the deceased and her family dating from 1923 to 2009.
  2. After examining the photos we sign a guest-book which simply involves writing your name and address.
  3. We then move to the next room, where a line of teary relatives of the deceased await our presence.
  4. We follow the other mourners along the line, shake hands, and tell the relatives how sorry we are that the deceased is…well…deceased. I was completely out of my depth at this point, but luckily Mary did a sterling job of explaining who we were (neighbours) and how we knew Mrs J (we were neighbours).
  5. Then, the main attraction: “viewing” the body of the deceased. This is just plain freaky to me. There she was! Lying in a coffin. She looked like she was going to wake up at any minute! The lighting and decor around the coffin are brilliantly designed to make the body look as normal and healthy as possible.
  6. Then we leave. The whole process takes a maximum of ten minutes and on the way out we pick up a little collector card with a mellow picture of waterfalls on one side, and the deceased’s name on the other, and a prayer/poem sort of thing. I don’t know what happens if you collect the set – perhaps it’s like PG tips cards and you get sent a book to stick them in.

To me this was a very weird experience – macabre even. But it really is the norm over here and people take it as such. If you want to pay your respects to someone who has died, this is how you do it.

We’re both still slightly in denial that she really has died. The community structure of our street has lost a keystone.

Domestic Consumption

We’ve both been under the weather since we came back to the fatherland and so this week we’ve been curled up at home for the majority of the time. By Friday we were well enough to venture out into the city after work, and so we took Kevin up on his suggestion of going to our favourite fish restaurant. Michele had never been there before, and I was sure she’d love it. From the outside it looks like a fish market and most people, including those who live in South Philly, have no idea that it’s a fully fledged restaurant, consequently we managed to get a table with no reservation and no notice. The menu is unashamedly targeted at fish lovers; there are absolutely no concessions for vegetarians or fish-o-phobes. As usual the food was phenomenal! Michele and I both had the platter with scallops, shrimp [king prawns], garlic mash, flounder with crab meat, fresh broccoli, carrots and garlic mash. Kev opted for scampi pasta [Brits – this is not the scampi you know – see Wikipedia on scampi] and we all shared a starter of fried oysters.
On the way back to Kevin’s we made the compulsory visit to the Mexican bakery, because both Kevin and Michele love their pastries. They really do. In fact, it’s astonishing how much they love that stuff. It’s also not fair that I’m the fatty and I don’t even eat that shit, even though it looks and smells like manna from heaven. Custard croissants….mmmmm…

Anyway, continuing our extravagant weekend of consumerism, we spent Saturday schlepping over to one of the endless, soulless, consumer paradise cum car-parks around here to do some essential shopping.

Despite Michele’s best efforts to break the house into tiny pieces, so far the casualties total a few window frames, a dishwasher (which we replaced using our home insurance), a microwave (which we are about to replace with tuppence ha’penny as that’s all they cost nowadays) and a gas-powered clothes dryer (which isn’t covered by our poxy insurance.)

We lived together happily for 14 years in the UK without a dryer or a dishwasher, but we have become so used to them now that the absence of either one seems catastrophic; this is how capitalism works.

By the holy cock of Christ, I’ve just realised that I’m writing a blog about buying a cheap Bosch hammer drill and a clothes dryer. The drill was cheap, and the dryer we got on interest free credit. That’s it. That’s as exciting as it gets. Is this the world’s most bollocks blog post ? I’m sorry. Really. What’s happening to me ? There is possibly nothing more uninteresting in the world than a clothes dryer…well apart from a hoover I suppose, so why the bloody hell would anyone consider blogging about buying one ? Jesus, this is madness. Sorry again.

One man’s pirate is another man’s coastguard

Over the past few centuries the word “pirate” has been used in a very similar way to “terrorist.” You can apply either to “the enemy” and win instant support from the masses.

People who speak out against the the status quo have been labelled “terrorists” for hundreds of years, even if the most terrible thing they ever did was to suggest that the rich should give more money to the poor. Likewise, “piracy” has been applied to everything from armed robbery, to kids recording copies of “Manic Miner” on cassette tapes after school.

Terrorist groups sell pirate DVDs to raise fundsPerhaps the most beautiful abuse of both words can be illustrated by this 2005 poster, about which I have previously blogged. In a nutshell, if you copy a DVD, you are not only a pirate, but a terrorist. Brilliant.

So the recent tales of invincible “pirates from Somalia” have confused me. How can this happen in the 21st century ? I’m sure we’ve all made jokes about them having one leg, a bunch of parrots, and making the victims walk the plank, but perhaps that’s significant; we have no idea what pirates are, or even were. “Pirate”, like “Terrorist”, is a word that is more emotive than descriptive. So what is actually going on ?
Here’s an article that may muddy the waters even further, but it’s thought provoking if nothing else.

Quick things

Some quick thingies:

Back to work tomorrow…oh bollocks…