Archive for November, 2006

That last post was serious! Better put an end to that…

…with stupid memes! Hooray!

So we have:

You are The Hierophant

Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching.

All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.

The Hierophant’s purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant’s only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

…and that’s about it. Livejournal, my once-reliable source of random memes (and emo whinges by random tosspots) has done away with it’s “random journal” finder, and has replaced it with an all-too-rapidly flashing link to the most recently updated journals. Nuts to that; I’m going off to read bash.

Thoughts For Our Time, No. 1: How d’you like them apples?!

The Set-Up
I meant to do a post about this a week ago, but I somehow didn’t get round to it, so I’m using a bit of me flexitime to get it done now, before I go and forget.

There’s a lot of talk being talked with regard to the environment, at the moment, and the fact it’s screwed and we’re in for a seriously crap time during the next century or so. This is all very depressing, and nobody’s doing much about it beyond saying “this is bad, but we’re going to try and sustain our current habits anyway,” which is tiresome.

About a week back, as I say, Ruth and I had a conversation about the way food gets ferried around the world, and then around the country, for no real reason. It’s all pretty stupid – take Rowse honey, for example, which comes
in many tasty varieties, all of them fairly goopy and in jars.

Rowse have a factory in Wallingford, roughly next door to the Habitat warehouse. From there, insofar as I can tell, the honey is put into jars, given labels and loaded onto a truck. The truck takes it to a distribution centre, where is is collected by various representatives of the supermarkets and other shops which stock the honey with a view to selling it on to such honey-seeking shoppers as come through their doors. The supermarkets drive it to their distribution centres, then load it onto trucks and deliver it on a store-by-store basis, with the end result that the particular jar of honey we’ve been following ends up on a shelf in Waitrose, Wallingford, approximately a quarter of a mile away from where it started out some days earlier.

This cannot, in a world containing inventions such as the Wheelbarrow ™ be a sensible use of resources. Nor can shipping apples from South Africa – prime temperate apple-growing climate – to the prime temperate apple-growing climate of the UK, over 6,000 miles away, be considered remotely sensible. Shipping pineapples and things which don’t grow well over here perhaps makes sense. Shipping apples? What the Hell for? So we can eat apples all year round, and strawberries even in the winter? That’s certainly a convincing “pro” for excusing global warming; I wonder why nobody thought of using it before…

The Hook:
Now I can’t arrange all of this by myself, you understand – I need help from things like the Government and people with money like the supermarkets, so I doubt it’ll ever really happen. However, I reckon the following plan might just work, if only people would back it, and that won’t happen if I don’t tell anyone about it.

What we need is proper information about how far food has travelled to get to where it is when we buy it. That’s the first hurdle. Now I reckon anything up to a hundred miles or so is fair enough, maybe two hundred and then you can cover Scotland without too much trouble.

So you’re now in a supermarket in which you have chiller cabinets where the milk bottles clearly state that some of the milk has travelled – not necessarily come from, mark you, but travelled (remember our jar of honey, from before? – to get there. Some of it, having gone about 70 miles, costs a reasonably typical 90 pee. Some of it, which has managed to go 215 miles costs, say, £1.50.

Yonder we have apples. Those from the orchard down the road are priced at whatever 50 pee a pound is in metric. The ones from South Africa cost about six times that.

…Interesting… Can you see what we’re doing here?

The Tale:
The plan is we slap a nominal tax on foodstuffs that travel more than a distance of, say, 200 miles (although we need to get some boffins in to work out what that precise distance is). The trick, however, isn’t to say “10 pee per mile after the first 200 miles,” but to grade the tax, based on the item in question.

  • So for things like milk, which can be got, even in these Dairyman-shafting days, fairly locally, any tax of the sort is going to be about a penny per mile.
  • For things like apples, which again, grow in the UK, but not in areas like the Highlands of Scotland, you get a tax of, say, five pence a mile.
  • Apples from South Africa, and other locally-available produce that still gets shipped all over the world, take a high tax of fifty to seventy pence per mile after the first 200 miles, which rapidly prices them very highly, making them rare luxury items.
  • Things like bananas, which come from a long way off but don’t grow well in the UK still get a fairly high tax – say thirty pence per additional mile – but aren’t priced as highly, because there isn’t a valid local alternative.
  • The tax we’re now raking in from this lot can then get funnelled into things like research into bio-fuels, and more efficient forms of renewable energy, and so on. The precise details of that would need to be done by someone who understands such things better than I do, but the main point is there is now readily available funding with which to investigate alternatives to fossil fuels, and high-impact air travel, and so on. Half the problem at the moment is that people working on such things are having a devil of a time getting the money together: no longer. Hooray!

The Sting
What we now have is a system where it costs far more to buy South African apples than apples grown in Devon, for example. This discourages the consumers who blindly wander the supermarkets going “I need apples, here are apples, I will get them,” from buying those items which have a high-impact transit pattern above those who don’t – if it’s costing you an extra fiver to get apples from the other side of the world, you might just get Cox’s instead, no?

This is going to have three main effects:

  1. Demand for long-travelling food is going to drop, as prices rise. This is going to force down demand, making it less economical to have foods shipped a long way, and forcing suppliers to streamline distribution in order to keep things economical. (Time Rowse invested in a wheelbarrow, huh?)
  2. Demand for local food, in the manner of a see-saw, rises as distance food falls. Local produce sells better, which reduces the damage done by the large supermarket chains, and the mass-production style farming that’s been making life harder for everyone else – sure, the battery farm in Devon can knock out several million more eggs than the local Yorkshire farm, but by the time they’ve got up there, they cost twice as much… Farmers begin to get a better deal, and don’t get done over by the supermarkets any more – supermarket profit margins are dropping, but local grocers are doing better and better, meaning it’s time to cut out the middle man, forcing supermarkets to offer a better deal.
  3. Money rapidly becomes available for research into more eco-friendly approaches to everything – fossil fuel alternatives, better distribution networks, and so on. After a while, the money drops somewhat as people buy less of the high-tax, high-distance goods, but money is still coming in because of the token taxes on anything going more than the 200 miles – it’s not as much cash as before, but we’ve just built in a huge time-buying disincentive to long-distance haulage, so we’ve bought ourselves more time to develop the alternatives anyway (and this isn’t supposed to be happening as an alternative to proper funding, but in tandem with it).

So we end up with better distribution logistics, a return to the use of local produce and a boost to the rural economy, a reduction in the power of the big supermarkets to screw over the producers – and, incidentally, a reduction in their profit margins which might persuade them to cut costs by not triple-packing everything – and, because their money is now involved, greater awareness of things like how much impact a ship full of apples has on the environment.

Things which we can only get from abroad do cost more, but they’re only as cheap as they are because supermarkets keep prices artificially low anyway, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and things like South African Apples, for which we have frankly no need, cost far more than their intrinsic value, because, frankly, an apple from 6,000 miles away deserves to be treated like a luxury item that only a few people can afford, rather than the thing everyone munches during a coffee break. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Now I know the supply industry says things like “but we use huge cargo ships – it’s not like we fly the food half-way round the world!” but that, of itself, is not actually a justification: that’s saying “You should be grateful; we could put these babies on a ‘plane, and that’d really screw the icecaps!” and saying “I could be an even bigger bully than I am!” has never been that great as a justification for hitting someone.

I don’t think it’ll ever really happen, since it involves rich people offering to have less money, and there’s probably flaws in it that would need a lot of careful ironing out, but I do still think it’s a damn good idea, even if it’s not a blueprint, and I do believe good stuff could come of it, if only it got thought out properly, and implemented by people who didn’t just kowtow to the rich bastards…

…Ah well. When capitalism collapses, eh?

“I’m sorry…

… but we are currently dealing with an unusually high volume of pain, and are unable to deal with your information at present. Please listen to this litany of swearing and nervousness, and we will deal with your message as soon as possible.”

Wassat, then?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the message that greeted my elbow yesterday afternoon, after I fell, whilst sober, down the stairs.

It really hurt.

I’m still not exactly sure what happened, but the sequence of events was more or less as follows:

  1. Begin descent of stairs
  2. Crack head, hard, on corner of study wall, where it overhangs the stairwell. Swear.
  3. Legs continue to move forwards whilst skull remains firmly arrested, embedded on aforementioned corner of wall. In consequence, legs swing upwards, pivoting around my waist, until gravity kicks in.
  4. Hover in air, exactly parallel to stairs, for approximately one second, as per ‘Statutory Scenes in Cartoon Violence Treaty, 1956’
  5. Drop two feet flat onto the stairs, where corner of sixth stair up catches me firmly under shoulder blades, winding me awfully. Shout.
  6. Slither-and-bump down remaining stairs, shouting “ouch” every second or so.
  7. Come to rest in heap at foot of stairs. Struggle into sitting position, feeling very winded and with an aching head. Say “fuck” very distinctly.
  8. Put hand on bruise on head, as Ruth and Caro & Jerry run over looking worried. Assure them no real harm done.
  9. Remove hand from head, causing horrified gasps from everyone who can see said hand. Trickle of blood chooses this moment to run down forehead and into eye.

Presently, after Jerry had been trying to run my head under the shower for a while, and the pain from the gash in my scalp had temporarily overwhelmed the ache in my back (now returned) I realised that my elbow was killing me, and I’d got a two-inch-square graze of carpet burn, which still hurts now. My head still hurts, too, of course, and is in a rotten state which currently prevents me from either combing my hair or otherwise trying to wash the blood out of it, because any such attempt will pull the cut open again, and I’ll go back to looking like something out of a cheap horror flick.

What was bizarre, though, is that for most of yesterday (indeed, until mid-morning today, when I realised that my back really does hurt quite a lot – not, in itself, that surprising since I effectively battered it with a 13-14 stone lump of wood) my grazed elbow was by far the most painful (and annoying) part of the whole catalogue of injuries, and yet my nervous system totally ignored it jumping up and down saying “Hello? I’ve got grazed, and it really hurts!” for a good five or ten minutes, whilst it dealt with things like my skull saying “Ow, I’ve got bashed, and I’ve split the skin, and there’s lots of blood and pain and things.”

In many ways, this shows a commendable ability to prioritise messages on the part of my brain. It also makes it very annoying that, having finally bothered to take a message from my whiny elbow, it kept taking the message constantly for the rest of the day, long after any risk of further nasty grazing had passed…

And you have no idea how much my head now itches. Still, I’m not going to touch it, or I’ll go seeping blood over everything again…

Bam! (pt. 2)

Following my previous Mansbridge – Statto – Possibly-Katherine Byrne – and-now-Peter targetted “Bam” post(*) I give you another Home on the Strange strip that takes a pop at Robert Jordan.

[Nah, I still don’t like him. This is because I still think he a) doesn’t understand female characters. b) doesn’t understand male characters either, and c) doesn’t realise that putting in lots of needless description isn’t the same as writing a good novel. I’d be less pissed off by it if he hadn’t had such an excellent start; as it is, he took a great idea, pissed it up the wall, and pissed me off something shocking in the process.]

But never mind all that: go have a dekko!

(*) Also someone called Chris. If it’s Chris from Ruth’s course, Hello! Hope HP are treating you well…

Plug ‘n’ Play: compatability not included.

So, as I mentioned on Wednesday I’ve brought my computer down to Wallingford, and, as Robin ran off with my old monitor, I needed to buy myself a new monitor.

Now I’m not working on an Overclockers budget (but I really love ’em and their “anything below high-end? Yeah, we’ve heard of it…” attitude), and I haven’t got the patience to wait for Scan to work out that when I ask for one specific component, I want actually that one, rather than something a bit similar… so I hauled off to Dabs and had a nose about there to see what I could get.

Since, for all it’s now a year old, my box remains fairly beefy (it’s now down to something like “cutting edge,” rather than “bleeding edge;” – buying computers: slightly more depressing than building cool new ships in Stars), the graphics card I’m trying to work with here is an Nvidia 6600, full of DVI-ported goodness, it made sense to go properly digital.

So, I thought, here’s a good-priced monitor, I’ll get that. Dabs duly sent it off, and it got here yesterday.

And that’s where things got nasty. The monitor came with all the usual stuff – a box, a D-sub cable, a power cord, a quickstart guide, a CD and some polystyrene. I’d got Dabs to send me a DVI cable as well, and all was up and running in about five minutes. Except… well it kept saying there was “no signal input” from the computer. How strange…

…So, usual drill for Windows boxes in these situations: cue Safe Mode. That worked fine, but nothing else worked… Or, rather, everything else worked, but only in VGA, which I like in the DOS-box, but which I don’t look for in my main computer, where it’s not so much a low-resolution as a crime against God.

Still, VGA at least meant I could log on, and get the accompanying CD into the drive. Install some drivers, I thought, and then we’ll be away. Or not, as a matter of fact, because what the CD contained was not helpful drivers, but a pdf version of the manual. In the manual was a helpful bit of information regarding the error message I was getting – “no signal input: check cable”.

Basically, it said

Your monitor will not function unless there is a video input: if your monitor displays the message ‘check cable,’ you should check the cable to ensure the cable is properly connected to your computer.

Uh. Yeah, well I was kinda able to work that part out for myself… So let’s try it with the D-Sub connection… Nah, that didn’t work either. So I need drivers. None of the windows generic drivers worked, so I did the usual “hit the Internet” thing…

…Google showed up a load of message boards with people saying they can’t find drivers, and it also showed up the Hanns-G website, which informed me that,

No Operating System specific drivers should be necessary. Hanns.G monitors comply with DD2B plug & play standards.


Meaning “Your computer is too good for our cheapskate pile of cack. Tough shit, hotshot, we can’t be bothered to do anything about it.”

This was very annoying. I don’t mind plug ‘n’ play, indeed, I find it very useful. On the other hand, plug n play is a fairly generic thing: you plug in a component, the computer is able to speak to it, and then you can optimise things. As far as I can tell, plug n play is rather like peripheral component Esperanto; it works rather well, but you wouldn’t use it to write poetry. You wouldn’t rely on it for international peace negotiations – you’d get an interpreter, to make everything go as smoothly as possible. Drivers are rather like that – plug n play is good for the average joe, but it’s not going to work all the time.

As far as I can tell, therefore, the Hanns-G approach to providing monitors is something along the lines of firemen who opt for cheaper, 30-yard hoses because that’s enough to put out most fires, and, well, if there’s a few buildings that’re too tall for the hoses to put out, that’s fine, because they’ll burn down to less than 30-yards in no time.

It’s all profoundly annoying, not least because, as far as I can tell, it’s only come about through laziness on their part – who the fuck ships hardware without drivers and just trusts it’ll work on anything? Come on, dudes, I’ve just bought a monitor that’s a whole year newer than my graphics card, and it’s not sufficiently advanced to work with the computer?

Could you not have made it nice and plain that it wasn’t designed for good hardware? How hard is it to describe a monitor as a “Hanns-G Budget Office LCD”? That says everything it’s designed for, and quietly points out to anyone paying attention that they didn’t ought to buy if if their idea of using a computer is more than “opening Word and playing a bit of Solitaire”.

So that was tiresome.

Kudos to Dabs, though, for having a sensible returns policy – sending the useless bastard back is still going to be complicated, but that’s because I’ve got AACR2 training all next week so I can’t take a random day off to orchestrate it all.

Honestly. What kind of fault is “Computer too advanced for monitor to operate,” anyway?

* If someone can suggest a reason other than the plug n play not being good enough and it needing specific drivers, that’s excellent; please do it soon, though, else I’ll have to pay a tenner to have the glorified turd that’s now back in its box upstairs shipped back to Dabs in the hope they can foist it onto someone whose main requirement from the monitor is that it’s flat, and can plug into a wall.

O buggery…

Nigel Kneale’s died.

Speaking as one of the (probably remarkably small) number of people under 25 who knows who he is, I can’t imagine many of you being that bothered, but it shook me.

For the reference of the few who care:
Here is something of an obituary, and here is the Wikipedia article on Quatermass.

That is all.

Ah… Evening Duty…

…Apparently the one time of the week when I manage to get a post done!

Well, now, life here moves on apace. Last week I got ill with a stinker of a cold and got sent home, and spent a couple of days sleeping. Ruth’s birthday happened, however, and a huge pile of family turned up (I say huge, because it was. Ruth says it wasn’t, because it didn’t feature sundry cousins. Such an approach to families baffles me; where I come from – and bear in mind my immediate family is about four people – sundry cousins, of which I have many – are left to fend for themselves). Still, there were about fourteen people (as I say, masses), and it was all good fun, fuzzy headaches notwithstanding.

It’s suddenly got a lot colder down here; I need to fix my gloves up and get some decent dubbin back onto my hat; the lousy weather last month stripped it all off, which is annoying. The practical result of this is that my knees have started playing up on a regular basis again. I figure now’s the time to get the buggers properly sorted out, since the lack of any impact from ibruprofen is starting to worry me a bit. And, of course, it’s actually quite tiring to wake up with knees that feel like they’ve got knitting needles run through ’em sideways, and not shake the feeling ’till you go to sleep at the end of the day…

At the weekend, Friday being nine years since what I still mentally pigeonhole as ‘the Accident,’ Ruth & I headed up to Newport to visit my mother and sister, and generally did Shropshire-y stuff, including Stokesay, which was cool, and a bit of a mooch round Much Wenlock, with it’s amazingly cool butcher (seriously, Christmas Eve you get people queueing up from two in the morning so they can get in when the guy opens at six…)

The plan only really went wrong when we tried to come back, burdened with the computer (on the grounds that it’s silly to let it mothball) and Arriva predictably buggered the trains up. That, combined with the sodding obvious fact that if you run about privatizing a railway network what you get is No Co-Ordinated Timetable meant we didn’t have seats booked for any of the journey and we stood for about eighty miles, i.e, the whole trip from Birmingham to Didcot, crammed into a baggage car like, uh… people crammed in very tightly in uncomfortable trains, and still trying to safeguard a large-ish computer and pile of luggage.

My box, as many of you know, is this cool bastard (but from Overclockers, not the other guys). This seemed to confuse people somewhat; as the Arriva train (finally) pulled into New Street, a guy who’d been sat with two youngish boys, and casting me strange looks, came over and said something like

Him Hi, uh, I’m sorry to butt in, but what is that? [pointing at case]
Me Er, it’s a computer.
Him [to one of the boys] O! You were right! [pointing to other boy] He thought it was a musical instrument…

…so that was a bit random, and faintly cool.

Now the thing’s down here, of course, it needs a new monitor (Robin eloped with my old CRT one) so I’m getting a new one, hooray! DVI and everything, ‘s very nice…

I can do that because I’ve got paid. I like getting paid. I now have to stick to a budget. I like this a little less.

Went to first Panto audition, yesterday; looks like it’ll be entertaining, which is good.

Getting tired of typing, now, and the readers are looking troublesome. Signing off…

Edit – 01/11/06; 1749h:
If you’ve not seen today’s Home on the Strange then make sure you’ve read this storyline and then go read the latest episode; had me laughing as quietly as a could for ages, that did…