Did the net bring you together?

I know it’s a long shot, but do any of you know a couple or couples who met online? I’m not looking for people who met via online dating, but people whose eyes met over a crowded deathmatch, or during a vicious flame war, or while they blethered on in chat rooms. It’s for a feature I’m doing – I need a few case studies. Cheery ones, rather than “I flew to America and he had his mum’s body in the basement” ones, heh…

When scare tactics are too scary

I’m reading Chuck Palahnuik’s Non-Fiction at the moment, and he tells a wee story about health scare tactics. College students were shown pictures of diseased gums and bad teeth to encourage better dental hygiene. As he recalls:

One group was shown mouths only a little rotten. The second group was shown moderately rotten gums. The third group was shown horrible blackened mouths, the gums peeled down, soft and bleeding, the teeth turned brown or missing.

The first study group, they took care of their teeth the same as they always had. The second group, they brushed and flossed a little more. The third group, they just gave up. They stopped brushing and flossing and just waited for their teeth to turn black.

This effect is called “Narcotization” [sic].

When the problem looks too big, when we’re shown too much reality, we tend to shut down. We become resigned. We fail to take any action because disaster seems so inevitable. We’re trapped. This is narcotization.

Naturally, I can see parallels in anti-smoking campaigns. Pictures of black lungs on fag packets will have the same effect on me as the current, terrifying health warnings: none whatsoever. What does help, I think, is what I call the “pain in the arse factor”. Instead of trying to scare people into a particular form of behaviour, it’s better to make their bad behaviour a pain in the arse. The smoking ban, despite the appalling and arrogant way the Scottish Executive introduced it, will add the pain in the arse factor to smoking. Not smoking inside your house or flat – well, that’s a pain in the arse. Having to stop the car because you’ve promised your wife you won’t smoke in the car – pain in the arse. The pain in the arse factor isn’t as dramatic as putting pictures of autopsied lungs on a packet of smokes, but it’s more effective.

There is a downside to the pain in the arse factor, though. I don’t smoke in the house, but today it’s a beautiful sunny day. Going out for a cig isn’t a pain in the arse at all; it’s a chance to experience a rare blast of Scottish sunshine. So I’m off for a smoke. Seeya…

Banning clerics who preach hatred

I was in Northern Ireland at the weekend, and as ever I skimmed through the local papers to see the news that doesn’t get reported over here. A man was shot in the chest as part of a feud between protestant paramilitaries. A fairly hefty bomb was defused in Belfast. A couple of riots, not many injured. And so on.

I doubt it made the mainland editions, but in one of the Irish editions of the sunday newspapers a columnist made a good point: not all the clerics who preach hatred are based in London, or have brown skin.

More responsible health journalism from the women’s glossies

This month it’s the turn of Red Magazine, which runs an excitable story about a woman who lost an amazing 5lbs in ten weeks, leading to an incredible 2-inch reduction in her waist size. And the weight has stayed off!

The miracle cure? A 10-week course of vitamin injections, costing a mere £2,750. Mind you, the article also mentions in passing that the so-called expert also recommended “some dietary changes”. Now I’m no health professional, but I reckon that the successful weight loss (and 5lbs in two months isn’t a lot; you only need to make very small dietary changes to lose that amount) is more likely to be the product of a better diet than three grand’s worth of Haliborange injected into your arse.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is something that really bugs me. The crap in the glossies is probably the most visible version of it, but it’s the tip of the alternative health iceberg (pedantic note: surely the alternative to health is illness, or death?). What we have here is a massively profitable industry that’s taking the piss out of people and in many cases, selling snake oil. As the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre – who’s rapidly becoming my favourite journalist – writes, this is an industry based on:

the dismal outpourings of flaky humanities graduates in the media and the bogus pseudoscience of people with products to sell.

And then there’s what Goldacre calls “science by press release”. In this week’s column, he writes:

In February 2004, the Daily Mail was saying that cod liver oil is “nature’s superdrug”. The Independent wrote: “They’re not yet saying it can enable you to stop a bullet or leap tall buildings, but it’s not far short of that.” These glowing stories were based on a press release from Cardiff University, describing a study looking at the effect of cod liver oil on some enzymes – no idea which – that have something to do with cartilage – no idea what. I had no way of knowing whether the study was significant, valid or reliable. Nobody did, because it wasn’t published. No methods, results, conclusions to appraise. Nothing… It’s 17 months after “nature’s superdrug”: I want to know where the published paper is.

I love this stuff. Here’s Goldacre on nutritionist-free diets, and in another piece he skewers canned oxygen. Does anybody know if Goldacre’s put together a book of all this stuff?

Freeview? Better off with ExpensiveView

Ronnie’s asking about Freeview, and I’ve given him some expert advice: Freeview is teh sux0r!

If you’re not familiar with Freeview, the idea is that it gives you most of the benefits of satellite TV without the cost of Satellite TV. However, in reality what you get is a bunch of rubbish channels with no option to upgrade (unless you want the overpriced and unimpressive Top-Up TV, which requires a more expensive set-top box and a monthly subscription).

Here’s what you get:

BBC1, 2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 – just like a normal TV!
BBC3 – occasional comedy goodness
BBC4 – worthy stuff you’ll never watch
ITV2 – the stuff that isn’t good enough for ITV1
ITV3 – the stuff that isn’t good enough for ITV2
Sky Travel – pffft
UKTV History – worthy stuff you’ll never watch
FTN – no idea, never seems to have anything but ads
ABC1 – doesn’t seem to broadcast in my area
Yooplay – search me!
Men & Motors – programming for pimply masturbators
E4 – big sodding brother
E4+1 – big sodding brother, an hour ago
CBBC – unless you have kids, it’s a dayglo horror show
Cbeebies – see above
The Hits – really lame music channel with nasty, compressed, mono music
TMF – as above, interspersed with the odd VH-1 documentary
A couple of news channels
Teletext – this is a selling point?
UKTV Bright Ideas – occasional programming from the other, better UKTV channels that only seems to broadcast when you’re not home.
Ideal world – shopping channel
QVC – shopping channel
Bid TV – shopping channel
Price-drop TV – shopping channel
Teachers’ TV – tv programming for teachers. Like a less interesting open university.

If you want access to digital radio stations, by all means get Freeview. But if you want decent telly programming, stick to cable or satellite.

Anyone want to buy a Freeview box? Philips dual-scart model, used twice…

Mighty Mouse is here to save the day

Apple’s latest product made me laugh: Mighty Mouse! Brilliant name and quite an inspired design, with a 360-degree scroll ball instead of the traditional scroll wheel, and four programmable buttons. £35 from the Apple Store.

(still on a bloody modem, hence lack of blogging)


I ordered a new fridge a few weeks ago, and the courier called me to arrange delivery. Would I be in on the 18th of July? Yes! Did the fridge turn up? No! So I called the courier, who checked the records and informed me that it was a delivery *week commencing* the 18th. Would I be in on Friday? Erm…

Me: I’ll be in all day, but I need to go to a hospital appointment in the afternoon. Would a morning drop be possible?
Courier: We won’t know that until Friday.
Me: Can you give me an idea of the delivery time at all?
Courier: Sorry, no.
Me: Okay, then. Is there any way you can contact me to let me know when he’s on his way?
Courier: Yes. The driver can call you on Friday morning.
Me: That’d be great. Can I check you’ve got my mobile number?
Courier: [writes down mobile number]
Me: You’ll need to use that number. My new phone line hasn’t been installed yet.
Courier: No problem. The driver will call your mobile on Friday.
Me: Great, because I’ll be out from 2pm. If he lets me know when he expects to arrive, I can make sure someone’s here.
Courier: No problem.

No call on Friday. Called the courier at 5pm.

Me: Hi, I was expecting a delivery today?
Courier: We tried to deliver.
Me: When? There’s no card or anything here, and nobody called.
Courier: 2.02pm.
Me: Oh, for crying out loud. Can we rebook the delivery?
Courier: You’ll have to call back on Monday.

Called back on Monday.

Courier: We tried to deliver on Friday.
Me: I know. The driver was supposed to call.
Courier: The driver did call. You didn’t answer.
Me: The driver didn’t call. My phone was on from 6am.
Courier: Well, we called XXXX XXXX XXXX.
Me: That isn’t my phone number. I gave you my mobile number.
Courier: No you didn’t.
Me: Yes I did.
Courier: Well, we don’t have it on file.
Me: Can you take a note of it now?
Courier: There’s not much point.
Me: Why not?
Courier: We can’t redeliver.
Me: What?
Courier: We tried to deliver and there was nobody there, and nobody answered the phone. So it’s going back to England for a credit.
Me: Nobody answered the phone because the bloody phone line hasn’t been fitted yet. I told you all of this last week.
Courier: No you didn’t.
Me: Yes I bloody well did!
Courier: Well, I can’t help. It’s going back to England.
Me: Let me get this straight. I called to let you know my mobile, and nobody bothered to write it down. Your driver then called a number that isn’t mine, and which I never gave you, and decided to deliver the fridge at a time when you already knew I wouldn’t be there. And because of this you’ve decided I don’t exist, and you’re sending my fridge back to England?
Courier: Well… yes.

*call ends in a flurry of expletives*

I spoke to head office, who promised me that there’ll be a delivery this Friday. I’m not holding my breath.

Then there’s the broadband, the plastering, the missing DVD player…

Still disconnected

…and getting really pissed off about it. Bulldog broadband asked BT for an install date last tuesday, and is still waiting for a reply – so not only don’t I have broadband, but I have no idea when I’m likely to get it.

BT claims that it’s not having many problems with Bulldog orders, and that it doesn’t favour BT Broadband installations over other ISPs’ installations. Uh-huh.

One of those infernal blog surveys

Mr Squander has “tagged” me with one of those music questionnaires. Normally I don’t do these but in the absence of a proper internet connection I can get sod-all work done; it’s either fill this out or do gardening. Naturally, internet questionnaires win.

Total volume of music files on the computer:

I’ve just had a clearout. 22GB of MP3s, plus loads of gigs of my own stuff and working files. Almost all of the collection is either ripped from CDs or downloaded from BitTorrent after the original CDs got scratched, chewed by dogs, run over by cars etc etc etc. So for example I’ve shelled out for The The’s Infected on vinyl, on tape and on CD (twice) over the years, so I feel perfectly entitled to grab it from a torrent. Which probably means I’m a terrorist.

I know purists balk at the quality of MP3s, but if you encode ’em at high bitrates then the convenience of having 3K songs in a playlist massively outweighs the slight sound quality loss. Mind you, 128Kbps MP3s are painful to listen to.

Last CD you bought:

Sixteen Tons, by Eels. Bought it at the gig. Radio sessions and stuff.

Song playing right now:

Nothing on in the house – can’t concentrate when there’s music playing; my brain can’t treat music as background – but I’ve got Jem in my internal jukebox. Along with the Charlotte Church single, which is rather worrying.

Five songs (or albums) you listen to a lot or that move you:

Walk Like A Man – Bruce Springsteen (off Tunnel of Love)

I never really understood the appeal of Springsteen, probably because of the “Broooooce!” uber-fans I encountered as a teenager. But as I’ve got a bit older I’ve started to appreciate some of his stuff, and I reckon the Tunnel of Love album’s fantastic. Dated as hell – horrible eighties drums infest many of the tracks – but Walk Like A Man is a towering song that could make a rock cry.

Going To Your Funeral Part 2 – Eels (from Electro-Shock Blues)

I could have picked any Eels song really, as they all do the bittersweet thing in an amazing way. This one’s particularly good, though, especially in the context of the album. It’s classic Eels: heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure.

The Show / Wake Me Up / Love Machine – Girls Aloud

Yeah, I know that’s three but I’m counting them as one. It’s my weblog, so nerrrrr. Anyway… I love Girls Aloud, and these songs are pure pop perfection with some cracking lines (the “should have hung around the kitchen in my underwear” bit of The Show is utter genius). Unfortunately they also make me want to dance, which is never a good idea.

Midlife Crisis – Faith No More

Nu-metal always baffled me, because to my ears (which are, I’ll admit, older than nu-metal’s target audience) it always sounded like a pale imitation of much better bands from a decade or so back. In particular, most of ’em sounded like a bad photocopy of Faith No More, who were never better than in this song. Of course, fashions move on and now everybody sounds like a different bunch of bands. There’s a very worrying Secret Affair vibe to a lot of the current crop, and listening to Radio 1 makes me feel that I’ve been transported back to the late seventies / early eighties. We are the mods! We are the mods! We are! We are! We… Ahem.

I wonder, does being an early-thirtysomething mean that chart music is suddenly off-limits because you’ve heard it all before, or is it just that the current crop of pretenders are just talentless plagiarists? They might as well go the whole hog and call themselves The Jim, The Happy Mindys, The Stone Rises and Talking Heids depending on which band they’re cheerfully photocopying.

Dry County – B-52’s (from Cosmic Thing)

The sound of warm summer evenings, cold beers and pretty women. Although in reality it was pretty summer evenings, warm beer and cold women. Them’s the breaks.

Tag three others:

Hmmm, I don’t really like forwarding on these things so I’ll leave it open to anyone who feels like adding their own list in the comments…