Nothing is What It Seems

A man stopped me in the street and asked for directions to the community center. Sweat was almost literally pouring off him, and he was trembling uncontrollably - the classic signs of an alcoholic in major withdrawal. I pointed him in the right direction (it was only street away), he thanked me as though I'd given him a hundred pounds, and we went on our ways.

It was Tony. Again he didn't recognise me. The community center hosts an Alcoholics Anonymous branch - maybe he's trying to get his life back.

The thing is, I'll happily play this tiny role in helping him kick his habit, but if he asks for coins to buy that revolting ultracheap cider he depends on, I'll give him spare change if I have it.

I'm reading Lenin's Embalmers - essentially the autobiography of the son of Boris Zbarsky, the social climbing biologist charged with preserving Lenin's corpse under communism. But it's also a history of paranoia, inflated egos and bureaucratic absurdity in 20th century Russia.

The sentiment is snipingly anti-soviet - the rumour that Lenin had syphilis is uncritically repeated as though it has some bearing on his ideas, as is the silly story that Lenin only tried to get Stalin booted out because Stalin was rude to Lenin's wife. Having said that, I was astonished to read just how easily the Bolshevik leaders sank from high-level theory and brave military action in the revolution, into squabbling and scheming afterwards. It's...worrying.

I caught another episode of Derren Brown's Trick or Treat. On the one hand, he's really scraping the barrel now. On the other, shows like this tell us something about what beliefs are now considered silly, and which sophisticated.

He appeared to teach a woman how to hold her breath underwater using "ancient yogic techniques known only to a few", and how to untie a knot using only visualisation. The latter, involving tying what looks like a strong knot, then hiding the knot itself with one hand and "dissolving" it by pulling on one free end, is a painfully familiar trick of stage magicians. The esoteric trick to holding your breath for ninety seconds keep calm. You see what I mean about scraping the barrel, but both these commonplaces are presented as an advanced level of "mind over matter".

Brown is repackaging old stage magic as remarkable but hidden and undeveloped abilities that all humans have. The message is that everyone can work wonders, that the paranormal is normal.

One sequence I think was quite remarkable, ideologically speaking. He claimed to teach the woman how to enter a special "mediumistic" trance used by Victorian spiritualists, which enabled them to break out of otherwise unbreakable ropes and chains, in the dark, in order for them to put on fake spirit manifestations.

In other words, he's openly assuming that the audience knows that all spiritualists are frauds, but claiming they perpetrated their frauds by effectively supernatural means.

Obviously there is no such special trance. Spiritualists broke out of bindings the same way they and magicians do it today - with fake bindings. But Brown confidently expects his audience to be sophisticated and skeptical of spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, while casually swallowing his similar mumbo-jumbo, packaged as "hidden human potential".

I recently saw a YouTube video (now taken down for copyright infringement) of the illusionist Chris Angel walking on water. He was surrounded by the same group of "bystanders" he always uses, looking amazed and whooping their bafflement. And the perspex ramp just below the waterline was just visible in some shots.

Angel is one of those illusionists who's just as well known for debunking new-age scams as for seeming to do the impossible, so his fans ought to know that he wasn't really walking on water - right? Judging from the comments on the video, fully half thought he really was walking on water. For real.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Penn and Teller once performed a seance, before explaining exactly how they achieved each of the effects. The volunteer student participants then tried to argue that some of the effects weren't faked after all - they just felt too real not to be ghosts.

People really are fuckwits sometimes.

Two comrades are preparing to move homes, which means they're throwing out a lot old books, which means...I've got a big rucksack full of lovely books to read.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Roddy Doyle, Anthony Burgess, Margarat Atwood, Robert Fisk...and one book explaining in great detail why Lawrence of Arabia was (a) a liar of epic proportions to the world, (b) a liar of similar proportions to himself and (c) a big screaming queen who liked being whipped by Arab boys.

Which one should I read first?

Mad, Innit?

Have you ever had a few minutes when you just had to sniff or wipe your nose repeatedly because it kept feeling like it was going to start dripping any moment? Were you one of those children who, having touched something once with one hand, felt compelled to touch it with the other hand? Did you spend your pubescent years trying to fit your actions into patterns based on a particular number?

Did you go through a long phase when you compulsively whispered what you or someone else had just said? Or when you only felt comfortable when you'd brushed all your upper teeth before your lower ones?

If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes" or "Not exactly, but something like it" then I have two items of news for you. First, you have or had Tourette's Syndrome. Second, I'm pretty sure most people have it to some extent when they're growing up.

Tourette's? Isn't that the one where you make animal noises and uncontrollably shout rude words in supermarkets? Well, not exactly. That's the popular image of Tourette's, but it's an extremely rare form. Mostly it's a repetitive action of swallowing, shrugging, saying particular words, humming, moving in a particular way etc.

The Tourette's sufferer don't do these things unwittingly or uncontrollably. Rather, they experience a very strong compulsion, which they can with discomfort resist for a while, before the "pressure" builds up too much and they submit.

In other words, someone with Tourette's doesn't have a neurological condition, or any kind of "genetic" "disease", or any condition that could be meaningfully called "insanity". No, what they've got is superstition. A strong, self-created internal imperative to perform some action - the action's value being ceremonial rather than practical. It's a ritual to ward of "the bad" - where the bad could be illness, pain, the disapproval of others, or anything regarded with fear.

You think that does sound a bit like madness? Then consider that Tourette's symptoms almost always occur between the ages of around seven and fifteen. And consider how children in that age range easily accept such superstitions as "Don't walk on the cracks or the bears will get you" and "You must drink from the special cup".

Tourette's Syndrome is simply the invention of one's own childhood superstitions - and then getting trapped by them, at least until they naturally fade away. Occasionally (or is it frequently?) they don't fade away. The actor Derek Jacobi has discussed in interview how, before doing some things, he has to nod three times and say the word "Amen" to himself - and to do it three times. He plausibly connects it to his catholic upbringing, with the special word "Amen" and the special number three.

Conventional psychology posits (on no evidence) a neurological cause for all this, and prescribes drugs. This is the same conventional psychology that diagnoses "lack of writing practice" as "Dyslexia", "being socially awkward" as "Asperger's Syndrome" and "School being boring" as "ADHD" - and prescribes drugs for the disease called "being human".

It's an open question, and I've no idea how to answer it, but: How many of the socially disapproved acts which get adults put in asylums or zombfied on medication are merely private superstitions which they never grew out of?

In cases where the ritual involves shouting numerals or spinning in circles, the "tic" is disruptive and obvious to all. But what about the presumable majority who have non-disruptive tics? Just odd little habbits that bystanders don't notice or classify as eccentricities? There doesn't seem a qualitative difference.

I only write this because, after revisiting a classic video cutup and following it up with the Wikipedia article, I realised that, yes folks...(cue drum roll)...I was a textbook Tourette's child.

My superstitions changed over time, but there were two basic ones:
1) Presage any important action with a voiceless glottal plosive - think of the "kick drum" sound made by human beatboxes - and close the action with another one.
2) Segment repeated actions, like those involved in eating or walking, into sets of four, and if possible square multiples of four. This was to "enclose" them in a protective box.

Those were my rituals, and I had then between around seven and twelve, but what were the fears they guarded against? I think a nebulous fear of unnumbered, uncompartmentalised chaos.

Of course, I've also been informally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, Dyslexia, and (my favourite) Social Anxiety Disorder. Seeing as these are all synonyms for "normal but has trouble with some tasks", and seeing as I can now speedread and sing in public, I reckon that makes me extremely normal.

Hack Cut-a-Cut

I'm still here, just rather busy most of the time and too tired to write about it the rest of the time.


I'm typing this on a rubber mat. No, I'm not sitting on a rubber mat typing on a keyboard - the keyboard is a rubber mat.

I've knackered at least three keyboards by packing them into bags or rucksacks and carting them around - they just get subjected to twisting and bending forces in transit, and eventually something breaks. But now I've got one of these - a flexible, rollable, portable keyboard for GBP10 - about the same price as a rigid, awkward, non-easily-portable keyboard.

And as a bonus, it's made of silicone rubber, so it takes me back to my pubescent years of using the ZX Spectrum keyboard, with it's famous "dead flesh" feel.

Actually, I've got some spectrum emulators somewhere, with a couple of hundred old speccy games. Oh the nostalgia.

There was exactly one good thing about being a ten year old gay computer nerd in 1982 - the computers. And yes, I did know.


Today I got slashed and burned. It was meant to be me cutting down thorny bushes and shrubs, but they staged a plantarian revolution and cut me instead. It was meant to be the browned greenery burning in the garden incinerator, but it just emitted plumes of lung coating smoke before going out, while I nursed areas of skin splashed by hot petroleum.

The war between man and nature continues tomorrow.


Someone asked me if I was depressed. It took me a second to work out why. Both my wrists have livid red cut marks on the underside - the result of trying to uproot a garden of thorns without scythe, secateurs, trimmer, shears...or gloves.

Thomas Edison said something to the effect that he'd discovered nine hundred and ninety nine ways to not invent the lightbulb. My claim is more modest - I now know four ways not to burn garden refuse. One of them involves a tub of vaseline and some cardboard.

Sill, I did get to watch the entire Eurovision Song Contest for 2008.

In 2006 eurovision lost whatever pretence of seriousness it had when a goth metal band from Finland - entered, I'm told, as a joke - won. Since then, Finland have been repeating the joke, with other heavy metal bands - and good ones at that.

In 2007 the hot favourite to win was a Ukrainian transvestite. In the event they didn't come close, but they're the only act anyone remembers - unless you're a Brit and remember the UK's execrable entry, which managed to look like it was painfully trying to be camp.

This year there was a thoroughly misguided attempt to give eurovision back its image of worthy respectability and international-understanding-through-friendly-competition. This is the image it's never had in the UK. About half the twenty six(?) entrants towed the line with completely forgettable "safe" entries - power ballads and eurodisco. The other half hoping to stand out by being...quirky. Apart from Finland's heavy metal, France gave us song which managed to be both instantly forgettable and intensely annoying, thanks to the pseudo-doowop backing singers. Romania did cafe jazz with ranting spoken interludes, the Ukraine gave us techno pirates and Bosnia-Herzegovina were...just willfully weird.

The UK broke with tradition and produced some pretty good soul-funk - but still came traditionally last.

The Writing on the Wall

In my last week in Bulgaria, I had a camera. In the days between booking the flight out and catching it, I took snaps of whatever caught my eye. Here's some of the graffiti.

You've got a spraycan and an opportunity. What's the first thing you think to draw? What does that reveal about you? Hmmm.

Is this patriotic? Is it about war or peace? Or is it just a nice shape that at one moment appealed to one person with a spare moment?

At least I know what these are about.

They export vodka to us. What do we export to them?

Nazis are wrong in every way. Even their geometry.

Still, some graffitio themes are universal.

There's also a second kind of wallwriting, whose purpose I could could only guess at.

And finally...a scribbled out mistake? A drunken whimsy? Something occult?

Graffiti. A message to everyone and no one. The vandalism of the creative. A way to personalise public space, cultural barometer, and Rorschach blot for the perplexed visitor.


Babysitting. A task that rarely involves actual babies, and sometimes no sitting at all.

Two little girls - D (aged three or is it four), and J (aged six or is it sixteen). D squealed with delight when I arrived and demanded that we throw pillows at each other. J arrived later, completely ignored me and made straight for a plate of food - which she also ignored after three bites.

They happily watched a Scooby Doo DVD, before deciding what they really wanted was ice cream - with sausages. I spooned out some ice cream which, after some arguments over who should get the bowl with the flower patterns, was much appreciated. I had the flower bowl.

Then J wants to put sugar on hers. Well, why not. And now D wants sugar too. And J wants chocolate so she raids the fridge, dropping several kinds of cheese on the floor before giving up. Then D wants jam on her ice cream so they have a contest to see who can put the most jam in their ice cream before they taste it and never touch the bowls again.

Good thing I'd hidden the chocolate.

D suddenly runs past saying she needs to go to the wee wee. A minute later she plaintively calls for help - she needs some new clothes because hers are all wet. I eventually find some new clothes, which she adamantly refuses to wear because they're pink and silly.

They build a tent of blankets and duvets and sit happily watching Scooby Doo again. I settle down for a read of Bill Bryson, but am soon interrupted by a half-hour stereophonic request for cooked sausages, but with ketchup instead of ice cream.

Okay, okay. I put some sausages under the grill, together with a pastie for me - which promptly goes black and smoking. The young ladies appreciate the two sausages each, but get upset when there isn't enough ketchup for a third helping.

D decides she wanted to go to sleep. But then decides bouncing and shouting on the bed was much more fun than lying on it. We have a pillow fight. She needs the wee wee again, but will only do it with the light off. Then it's back to the TV for Scooby Doo's third outing of the night.

I settle down with Bill Bryson just as the mummies arrive back. D puts some clothes on without fuss and I'm told I didn't need to give them food at all.

I've worked out what TV is for.

Or rather, I've worked out the only worthwhile purpose it can serve nowadays. It's there to be scratched.

You capture streams of video as it's broadcast onto your hard drive, then view them and keep the ones that look useful. You compose a backing track on your laptop, and edit the video (with sound) to go with it. The result is magic.

Dull film clips become scintillating pop videos, faintly silly documentaries become witty commentaries, Old songs become new soundscapes. and just occasionally a politician tells the truth.

It's not a new idea. For as long as there's been enough moving pictures for some to be disposable, people have chopped it up into something that isn't. In fact, I suppose there's been art made from trash for as long as there's been artists and detritus.

Anyway, I'd like to have a go at it. So I've set a PC to randomly record ten minutes at a time from random channels. Once I've got enough to fill a DVD-R, I'll let it mature for a few months while coming up with some music, and then see what sounds and images I can collage together over it.

If you're making videos specifically to go on YouTube, be aware that YouTube recodes all videos it receives to fifteen frames per second. If your original is at the standard US 30fps, that's not so bad because it effectively just chops out every second frame - though it's not that good chops out half your frames.

If your original is in the UK 25fps standard, or the US and UK 24fps standard for movies, then things get a little complicated, and the final form may be a bit jerky.

But of course, if the intended final destination is YouTube, you only need your original to be 15fps, and 320x240 pixels. Smaller files, faster uploads, and fewer recode problems.

Now. If like me you want to fit your images to music, with edit points falling squarely on beats, and if like me you plan on making your own music to do this with, and if like me you get a perverse pleasure from adapting your methods to the oddities of your other words if you're'll want to arrange the tempo of your music so each bar takes up an exact number of video frames.

Still with me? Well, nevermind. If the frames-per-second of the video divides into the beats-per-second (=BPM/60) of the music without a remainder, then you can edit exactly on the beat. So, here's a list of BPMs that are integral to 15fps. The number in parentheses is the number of frames per beat.

60 (15)
75 (12)
90 (10)
100 (9)
150 (6)
180 (5)
225 (4)
300 (3)

If you're working at 30fps, it looks like this:

60 (30)
72 (25)
75 (24)
90 (20)
100 (18)
120 (15)
150 (12)
180 (10)
200 (9)
225 (8)
300 (6)

At 25fps:

60 (25)
75 (20)
100 (15)
125 (12)
150 (10)
250 (6)
300 (5)

And at 24fps:
60 (24)
72 (20)
80 (18)
90 (16)
96 (15)
120 (12)
144 (10)
160 (9)
180 (8)
240 (6)
288 (5)

If you've read this far, you're probably me. So, hello Kapitano, now you know the tempos to use if you're being kind to video editors. Like yourself.

I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Okay

Monday divided neatly into two halves.

The first half involved watching some bureaucrats filling out some forms, and me putting random squiggles in the box marked "Signature".

I shouldn't be in the country for more than six weeks, and much of that time will be spent arranging a job. However, in order to receive the money I need for the plane ticket to take that job, I have to do a ten week course in how to look for a job.

I have now officially started this course four times, and completed less than three weeks of it. It starts (again) in three weeks time. Unless that is I have a good jobby reason for not attending the first day - like, for instance, having a job interview on that day. If I can't make the first day, I'm not allowed to attend the others.

I'll be dealing with at least a dozen schools, so it's a definite possibility - and some schools want up to three interviews.

Now, if, hypothetically, this happens, the procedure is as follows. One set of bureaucrats send me a letter asking me to confirm in writing what I've already told them in person - that I had an interview. They will want proof that the interview occurred but are forbidden to contact any third parties - such as, for instance, the interviewer, for verification.

I send them whatever evidence there is, and they forward it to a second set of bureaucrats in a different building, who forward it to a third set in a different city, who send me a letter asking for further proof - though they refuse to define what constitutes evidence. They also are not permitted to contact the interviewer. After three months they may or may not check that I responded.

Meanwhile the first set of bureaucrats fill out the same forms again and I put a squiggle on them again, arranging to restart the course a few weeks later. On two occasions the forms have got lost in processing and had to be filled out an additional time.

One week later I leave the country.

Yes, I've been through this before.

The second half of yesterday involved waving a great big chopper around - a real two-hander. There was a lot of pulling and pushing. And long poles of hard wood thrusting upwards.

Yeah okay, I was cutting down some trees.

Tuesday consisted mainly of taking a computer to bits, installing various video capture cards, trying out permutations of cables and adaptors, screaming in frustration, and occasionally reinstalling Windows.

Wednesday was similar, but slightly less enjoyable.

I did not cut down any trees.

I've bought some sunblock. At least I think I have. According to the label it's "Medium Moisturising Sunlotion" which "Protects Against DNA Damage".

So if you've got any mediums that need moisturising, or protection against damage done by DNA, I can help.

Still, that kind of labeling makes a kind of sense - most moisturisers contain sunblock, so sunblock is marketed as souped up moisturiser.

Tonight I've been asked to do some babysitting. This means the baby sits on me. I've asked, and it's definitely that way 'round - even when they're being too loud.


I've got sunburn.

I've also got blisters, splinters, cuts, and nettle stings.

This is the result of a few hours "honest work" in the "open air", which is part of the "healthy lifestyle".

Other people spend their lives wanting to be rich, trying to turn the clock back, regretting a single mistake, fighting for a cause, or just waiting for their lives to begin.

I spend mine being slightly annoyed.

My dad's running his car on vegetable oil.

He's not doing it for ecological reasons - he doesn't know the difference between CO2 and H2SO4, and probably thinks a carbon footprint is something left by a coalminer's boot. No, it's just that right now it's cheaper to buy a big can of unspecified "Vegetable Oil" from food wholesalers and mix it half-and-half with petrol from a station...than to buy twice as much petrol.

But then, dad always did think the best way to gain pounds was to save pennies. Our diet was always whatever's on special offer at the supermarket.

Just at the moment, between an oil shortage and a food shortage, a very few people can use one as the other. In six months I don't it'll be cheaper anymore.

I do know someone slightly who's converted their car to work entirely on all manner of edible oils, and his solution to climate change is for everyone in the world to do the same. But he thinks it's a mad idea for everyone to ride bicycles instead.

I know someone else who founded an ecological lobby group to push for things like carbon emission reduction tax breaks. His slightly Machiavellian idea was that it was only when such half measures had been tried and definitively proven themselves ineffective that the necessary radical measures would be considered by governments.

He got squeezed out of his own group for being too radical.

Whenever I hear someone on TV talking about "The Climate Change Debate" they seem to be ambiguous about which climate change question they're engaging with - "What should we do about climate change?" or "Is the climate changing at all?". Discussions about the former tend to drift into the latter.

So the world is doomed because the human race is too mad and silly not to destroy it. But nevermind, because I had sex tonight. In a garage. For the first time in (my god!) three months. It was meant to be last night but, well. he was delayed or something.

I really must dig out those old cricketing kneepads. Cramp is, uh, cramping my style. You know you're getting old when you want to stop halfway through a shag because it's unergonomic.

And when you start thinking of words like "unergonomic" halfway through a shag.

What am I going to call this post? Something that ties together several of it's themes. Oh I know!


Nothing much to report today, but I did stumble on a story/monologue that I wrote eight or nine years ago. So, here it is.

I was in, the other day. And someone had wallpapered over all the doors and windows. So if you wanted to move...between the kitchen and the bathroom...or the bedroom and the had to go...under the floorboards.

And if you wanted to go upstairs you had to be careful. Because someone had installed a moat and drawbridge...halfway up.

But that wasn't the strangest thing about this house. Because everyone in it...was a retired comedian...from one of those old music halls...that you only ever black and white. So every time you made a cup of did a song and dance about it. And every time you wanted to make said a loud...stage...whisper.

And I was feeling right at home in this old house, which had a giant beanstalk growing in the garden...and TV in every room. And I was getting along fine...because the people were my kind of people. Until they told me...that I was the guest of honour...and it was my job give the after dinner speech... honour if the patron...

...whose name no one could quite remember.

I was watching this film. And every time the hero slapped his thigh, the female lead broke into tears.

Or was it the other way around....

I was talking, to a friend of a friend, about the problem of quantum singularities in space-time, and I said to them, "Why is it, whenever anyone promises to telephone you at eight thirty, they never do it, until nine fifteen.

And why is it, you can never remember the names of all seven dwarfs."

And they said, "It's simple. We're all part of a single creature, feeling it's way towards cosmic truth. And sometimes it takes a wrong turning, and we all have to backtrack a little, to set it back on the right path."

And I said, "Okay then, why is it that whenever you want to open a new tin of soup, the tin opener is never where you left it. And why can you never find any paperclips when you need them."

And he said, "God has been watching you since before you were born, and he will be there the moment you die. Every misfortune and each little setback is just God's way of telling you to be patient."

And I said to him...

"The truth is music played on instruments that make no sound. Thought is a blind man guarding an invisible treasure. And a virus from outer space."

And then I noticed. That I was talking to the bathroom mirror.

The Life and Opinions of Kapitano Shandy

I've been starting to write a lot of posts, but not finishing them over the last few days - and so not posting. Rather than knock them into shape or throw them away, here's the posts what I did wroted, as they stand.

I seem to have been quite opinionated lately.


"Mayor of London" sounds like an honourary title with no power. Unfortunately it comes with quite a lot of power, which until yesterday was in the hands of Ken Livingstone - arch-sellout and one of those politicians who's always been a former socialist. Everyone knows that in the past he was a good principled leftist - but if you pick any point in his career, it was in some indeterminate period before that.

Now the mayor is Boris Johnson - arch-buffoon and rightwing muppet. This is the man who was invited on chatshows because he was guaranteed to be ignorant, offensive and opinionated - but it was funny because he was harmlessly silly. Now he's a big voice in the capital city.

Sometimes it's nice when the boss is a blithering idiot, because then the sensible people a few layers down can actually make things work without interference. Unfortunately those below Boris don't want to make things work - they just want to make money.

There was supposed to be a serious challenge from a genuinely left candidate, Lindsey German, but initially promising public support just evaporated. Seeing as I'm somewhere in the Russian-doll-like structure of left groups she represented, I'll have to go to some dispirited meetings to discuss the disaster. While avoiding words like "disaster" and "meltdown".


SkyOne reimagined Battlestar Galactica - as an angsty soap opera. The BBC reimagined Doctor Who - as an angsty soap opera. The movie reimaginings of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The X-Men and now Ironman are full of handsome youngsters with superpowers getting caught up in their tedious emotions.

Now SkyOne are trying to reimagine Blake's 7, and I for one hope they fail. B7 Enterprises tried the same thing and got bogged down in egos and truely abysmal scripts about telepathic badgers, before eventually turning out some audio adventures that, astoundingly, were quite good.

SkyOne also recently tried to remake The Prisoner recently, an endevour which thankfully fell to ego clashes before the abysmal scripts could even be written. You think I'm being unfair? Then imagine The Prisoner - ambiguous, enigmatic, left-leaning with zero love interest - filtered through the puerile minds that gave us Roswell High and Mutant X.

There's a reason all these old shows and comics are being reprocessed. It's because those in the entertainment business are cowards with no imagination. They're afraid to take risks, afraid of anything new and afraid to pitch above the lowest denominator.

There's also a reason why these new-for-old products are uniformally crap. And it's the same reason.


Item on the news: There is a "huge number" of illegal immigrants in the UK - "up to 57,000". And it would cost "the taxpayer" five million pounds to deport them all.

Some thoughts on this, in no particular order:

* The take-home message: "There's an army of them, they steal our wages, then they rob us again just so we can get rid of them."

* Supporting a faltering economy by removing its supply of invisible labour innovative approach to economics.

* Five million pounds is a tiny amount. It would be a large personal fortune for the taxpayer, whoever that is, to pay. In governmental terms, it's a droplet in the ocean.

* "Up to 57,000" doesn't mean "57,000", just like "you could win up to a million dollars" doesn't mean "If you win you'll get a million dollars".

* 57,000 is one in a thousand people in the UK. Now, if you're extremely gregarious you might know a hundred people. If each of them knows a hundred people, with no overlap, then you might know one person who knows one person who's an illegal immigrant. Truly a mighty army.

* Some civil servant was instructed to quantify the unquantifiable - to count the number of people who aren't in a database. So most likely they pulled the figure of "maybe one in a thousand" out of the air, and it became the official figure.

* We're now casually talking about "deporting them all".

* This country stinks. My instinct is to leave, and in a few years if the smell has faded somewhat, then think about coming back. Maybe.


Today I got covered in shit and cut my wrists.

The shit was dried pigeon poo, covering the neglected books and furniture I was carting up and down stairs. The wrists are from stray metal nails in some of the furniture I (rather gleefully) smashed up with a hammer to make it fit in the skip.

The less smashworthy furniture was taken away by a white van that happened to be passing. A local landlord saw by chance that we were throwing stuff out on the street for anyone to take if they wanted it...and somewhat eagerly offered to take it all. He bought us canned beers too.

The fellow obviously thought he was ripping off some gullible rich folk. When he tries to install the furniture in whatever property he's renting out to nonrich folk, he may change his mind.


A day of quiet house-sitting while my parents relax in their little holiday cottage, munch on a picnic, walk the dogs, and doze.

A day for getting an OD of TV on TVOD, including three CSIs (of the Los Angeles flavour), two Waking The Deads, and Derren Brown's Trick or Treat - in which Brown appeared to teach an ordinary man to memorise facts from hundreds of books in a week. From what was shown, he used a hybrid of Howard Berg's "Mega Speedreading" (with its use of spaced fingers as an eye guide) and Paul Scheele's "Photoreading" method (with its notion of letting all the info sink into the subconscious, which then regurgitates the relevant facts in cryptic form when needed).

Now, Berg's method does work, but needs years of constant practice. Scheele's method, so far as I know, simply doesn't work - the only evidence I've seen is both positive and anecdotal, which is a sure sign of a con.

So how did Brown or the man do it? Brown says he doesn't use stooges - but he also says he uses NLP, which is obviously untrue because NLP has always been a dismal failure. Not surprising, as it's based on Dianetics and EST, with sprinklings of misunderstood early chomskyian grammar and cod freudian psychology.

Derren Brown is a showman and a magician - doubly untrustworthy. If he were a politician too he'd be off the scale.

He demonstrated the effectiveness of his memorisation technique by instantly committing to memory the positions of a thousand or so coffee beans - so he could spot the single bean added when he wasn't looking. As I recall, the world record for memorising the sequence of a deck of cards (using mnemonics) is twenty seven seconds. So either Derren brown is several orders of magnitude better than the world record holder...or it's a magic trick.

Most magic is insultingly simple, and the simplest of all is to use a stooge, and the simplest way to convince viewers you're not using a stooge is to lie about it, just like you lie about everything else in your act.

Don't Rain on May Parade

Happy Mayday.

Also known as International Workers Day. If you're pagan it's the Festival of Beltane, or the Summer Solstice, and if you're German too it's Walpurgis Night. If you're American it's probably Labour Day, unless you're a bit mad, in which case it's Loyalty Day.

It's got a christian meaning too but no one can remember what it is. That doesn't seem to matter - it still gets celebrated.

It's also local election night all over the country, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I spent yesterday lugging unwieldy furniture up and down stairs, heaving sacks of rubble into a skip, and on one occasion dropping a large bag of bricklike books onto my foot.

I spent today talking to bureaucrats.

On balance, I prefer yesterday, which I why I agreed today to do yesterday again tomorrow.

Another name from the past contacts me. Aimee, who I met at university, and who sat through several weeks of me trying to teach them now an esperantist!

She's also the author of the online equivalent of keeping a list of things to do in your pocket - with the benefits that you don't have to decipher your own handwriting and you can't accidentally send it through the wash. Which always happens to my post-it notes.

She's looking to practice her esperanto and renew our acquaintance. Sounds good to me.

Iuj amikecoj daurxas, iuj mortas, kaj iuj dormas dum jaroj. Oni neniam scias kiuj faros kiun.

How large is your XP?

On installation, WIndows XP is about 1.3GB. But half an hour's work removing unnecessary services, components and backups gets it down to 1 gig. Some more work with tools like XPLite and you can have a fully functional XP of 800MB - especially if you remove the driver and DLL caches after installing all your software.

With some more tweaking, in particular the removal of networking capabilities, you can have a 600MB installation that can't access the internet, but can do most of the other things you'd want to do on a computer. If you're devious (or you use nLite), you can get an XP of 400MB that's fast and good for computers dedicated to one or two tasks - like being a Digital Audio Workstation - though it might be unstable.

After many trials (and a few tribulations) I've settled on an 850MB installation, that with a judicious choice of low-RAM-and-CPU-usage software, turns my old 800GHz 1024MB laptop into a workable DAW that can also play movies, read email and do accounting.

Not that I have any money to account. If I did, I'd get a better laptop.

Obviously these estimates don't include the actual programs, which are on a separate partition. Speaking of which, one trick I hit on: Set up a fixed-size page file on its own little partition. Reduces fragmentation and seems to increase speed.

As an addendum: How many versions of Vista are there? Six? Ten?

Actually there's just one. You pay different prices for the Basic, Premium, Business or whatever version, but what you're actually paying for is the activation code. The fifteen gigabytes of bloatware is identical for all editions - which means if you buy the Starter edition and enter a code for the Enterprise get the Enterprise edition.

Clever, eh?