Thursday, 30 December 2010

England F (second half)

No, I didn't think I'd be posting about sport so much either, but a few documents have appeared online which shed a little more light on where the money might have gone on the World Cup bid.

Of course in some respects it's a bit irrelevant. We all know politicians cite the financial studies that make these big events look profitable but they do it because they want to be the man (or woman) who brought the games to the city or the country. Even though the mayor who brought the Olympics to London was unseated at the next opportunity they never seem to learn. Still, I've got to admit that I sort of like the fact that our present mayor has withdrawn the free hotel stay he'd offered to FIFA during the Olympics. Only sort of though because I'm not sure it was worth giving them in the first place.

Friday, 24 December 2010

What I've learnt this week (written in advance to make sure it's on time edition)

Amanda Vickery was once told she was too old to present television programmes.

This year is the 500th anniversary of the first documented Christmas tree (in Riga).

Being in a largely abandoned office building can be a bit spooky. But the upper floors give you a good vantage point for pretty winter sunrises.

Both Tony Hancock and I were demoted in our school nativity plays. Of all the things I could have in common with him, that's one of the least bad ones.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

England F

One of the advantages of being a very slow writer is that nobody can blame this blog post for the fact that England won't be hosting the 2018 World Cup. Not that I'd be terribly bothered if it did, because nobody ever seemed to have made much of an argument for it in the first place, until suddenly we've got the heir to the throne, the Prime Minister and the man under the most famous haircuts in sport jetting off to Switzerland to claim the credit. Shouldn't at least one of those people have had more important things to deal with? Suddenly the Sun (or at least its English edition) was devoting an entire front page to a rant criticising the BBC for daring to investigate whether anybody in FIFA was corrupt.

Two days later, anyone south of Berwick-upon-Tweed who dared to suggest that anybody at FIFA wasn't corrupt would probably have been beaten with sticks. The more cynical might even have found themselves wondering whether somebody at News International had been tipped off that England weren't going to be the hosts and decided to get their blame in first; after all, if it had been held over here they wouldn't be able to run the usual "BBC Sends People Abroad To Report On Events In Other Countries Shocker" that they usually like when there's some international event. Funnily enough, few seemed brave enough at the time to ask whether it was worth even the legal bribery (in terms of tax relief for sponsors and so forth) in order to host two big sporting events within six years of each other. Mind you, I did hear a rumour that England did quite well in the last tournament that was hosted here... you'd think people would talk about that a bit more.

What I've learnt this week (too sleepy to type on Friday edition)

Taking the bus to work because I was running late was a waste of money.

DH Lawrence had red hair.

In order to be acquitted for crimes committed while sleepwalking, the accused must prove a defence of "non-insane automatism".

Wokingham is officially the least deprived borough in the UK, and is therefore used to calculate local government funding nationwide.

Not only was Police Squad cancelled after six episodes, the last two apparently weren't even aired in the US at the time.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

What I've learnt this week (only one day late edition)

The famous Shito Sauce is not suitible for vegetarians. However, British Sea Power's fudge is.

Women are not (yet) allowed to serve on Royal Navy submarines.

Home-made baked beans taste so much better than the tinned ones that even I like them. 

The generic name for the game commonly known as Jenga is "tension tower".

Friday, 3 December 2010

What I've learnt (on time edition)

Any time it snows south of Birmingham, it will be the lead story on the news in Britain.

Nicholas Sarkozy once had to chase a dog and a rabbit around his ministerial office in front of the US ambassador.

Apparently I have seen the film Airplane!.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

You know my name, look up the crime number

A few days ago, I heard a couple of familiar names in a news bulletin. As I learnt on listening more carefully to the next update, two people with the same names as people I knew from school had been convicted of a reputationally damaging crime (for reasons which should be obvious, I shan't go into specifics here). Inevitably I found myself having to go online just to check they weren't the same people, despite a faint trepidation if they had been.

Fortunately they weren't, I find myself typing, although of course that's a pretty self-centred way to look at things - the victims of the actual crime aren't going to care who the perpetrators might or might not have been at school with. It's fortunate for me and my classmates that there were even differences of spelling, although again that only makes things worse for people who do use the same spellings of their names. Anyway, I'm not sure what I would or could have done about it had these people proved to be criminals, but it did help to remind me that one of the advantages of having a common name is that you're less likely to be associated with anyone else who happens to have it. Though I was still a little cautious when I came to write this post on my other blog.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

What I've learnt this week (slightly less late edition)

Gary Numan is, in fact, older than Gary Oldman.

Only about 75% of ginger cats are male.

Andrew Marr used to write the Bagehot column in the Economist.

Bernard Matthews, the most famous man in the British turkey industry, died on Thanksgiving.

Honesty is only for poor people, apparently.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What I've Learnt (very late edition)

It can be very difficult to stop eating freshly-roasted pumpkin seeds.

Some people think Catherine Of Aragon might have had an eating disorder.

The reason I only like carrots when they're cooked certain ways might be to do with the sugar content. This also applies to many root vegetables.

The least-downloaded Beatles song last week was 'What Goes On' from Rubber Soul.

It was possible to take very vivid colour photos as far back as the 1950s, at least if you had the lighting conditions of Morocco.

Friday, 5 November 2010

What I've learnt this week

The association of red with the Republicans and blue with the Democrats in the US only seems to date back to the year 2000.

JML direct stands for John Mills Limited.

Japan has no daylight saving time.

e-books are subject to VAT, whilst of course printed books are not.

A colleague of mine once applied to become a firefighter. He didn't get the job.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

What I've learnt this week (slightly late edition)

Some people don't bother to check whether something is possible before the promise somebody else will do it.

More languages than you might think have words for the practice of making a mobile-phone call that isn't intended to be picked up.

The governor of Tokyo really doesn't like crows. The feeling may be mutual.

I'm even less likely than I thought to be related to Phil Collins. Or Edwyn, or Lewis, or Andrew, or Colin...

The title of Steve Reich's box Phases is a pun. Admittedly, that is a musical fact but one unlikely to appear on any of my other blogs.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Who cares what picture you see?

Some time ago, this was supposed to be the post that launched this blog. Indeed it was this story that finally persuaded me to set up a generalist blog to write about things other than music, or at least subjects that didn't fit the rigid structures of my other blogs. As usual, I spent a while prevaricating about whether or not to do it, and even longer thinking of a name for the thing, especially since I was determined to avoid an obvious musical reference there, and you know it don't come easy.

In the meantime, by an odd coincidence, a related issue has come a bit closer to home: I myself received a DMCA takedown notice for a post on one of my other blogs. By the standards of most people who comment on the subject of alleged online piracy, I seem to be something of a moderate: I've always rejected glib notions along the lines of "they can afford it" because I know that the ultimate victims are never going to be the multi-millionaire established stars who get paid fortunes for endorsements, nor the executives at media corporations who aren't going to go hungry whatever happens to the the companies; instead it's always the people in the lower-ranking jobs who have to worry. And unlike some people, I don't perceive the existence of the recording industry as an inherantly bad thing, if only because I'm too cynical to believe that something as important to people as music or film will ever not be a moneyspinner for somebody.

All of that said, though, I was still quite surprised to read this story on my local newspaper's website. And not because it isn't very well written or edited, which I'm used to. A 21-year old man from Harrow was sentenced to six months in prison last month for copying movies on his mobile phone: and when I say copying them on it, I mean he was actually sitting in the cinema pointing it at the screen, eating and drinking while he did so. It goes without saying that this is a stupid and wrong thing to do, and it probably shouldn't go unpunished, but actual jail time seems rather on the excessive side, considering the effects it'll have when he gets out; I'm not referring to him by name here because it probably gets enough Google hits as it is. And unlike the newspaper, I'm not giving the address of the presumably illegal website he uploaded this stuff to either. More to the point, perhaps, if someone said to me "When something is recorded at the cinema people no longer pay for tickets at the cinema or spend money on the DVDs," I might actually have thought about whether that's true or not before I printed it (a point also made in this more thoughtful post by another blogger). It may be just about possible that there's some potential loss of revenue in there somewhere, if people see the uploads of a film like The Bounty Hunter and decide it's rubbish, but in all honesty there can't be many people who make a conscious decision between going to a cinema and hunting round the internet for a grainy upload with munching noises all over it. There's a more subtle argument to be made about the harm that "camming" can cause, but once again nobody can really be bothered to make it.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

It's like looking into the eye of a duck

OK, I'm a few posts into this blog now, it's time for me to throw in a bit of pointless arrogance.

I've entered a few shots into the Wildfowl And Wetlands Trust's photography competition. I'm no Bence Máté and I have no real expectation of winning, but in the interests of public service, I'll supply links for anyone interested to see my entries:

Duck On A Green Lake

Hey I'm a mallard!

Pecking nene

Something at the Wetland Centre

This last one seems to be the most popular, even though it's just a cameraphone snap. If you read this before the end of October 2010, feel free to vote for as few or as many as you like. I'd strongly recommend checking out the competition as a whole, because there are some excellent shots in there. If you get to a WWT centre before the closing date, why not have a go yourself?

Friday, 22 October 2010

What I've Learnt This Week

Smoking lettuce might be dangerous.
Yes, I know I must have been about the last person on the internet to see that.

Eurasian Cranes like trying to eat shoelaces.

Some photos look a lot better on a lightbox than they do on paper.

The British Museum closes at 5:30pm, at least some days.

A traditional Japanese social ceremony included a five-course meal followed by thick tea and finally thin tea. And the host didn't even get to drink any of it.

Teenagers still say things like "Shame on your life" to each other.

A fortnight off work is very relaxing, even if you like your job.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

What I learnt last week (2)

In 1990, Charles M. Schulz appeared on the same episode of Wogan as New Kids On The Block.

Some people still think it's possible to walk and type a message on a BlackBerry at the same time.

People in shops is Chiswick are quite friendly.

Starting a blog and not telling anybody about it doesn't lead to a big hit count.

...However, Google thinks my Now blog gets a lot of views from Denmark.

Gauguin was a good painter, but not a very nice person. He did, however, do a carving with some monkeys eating mangos, which I liked.

Keeping to a regular blogging schedule is harder than it looks.

Monday, 11 October 2010

What I learnt last week

So I'm launching things here with an end of-week feature, at the beginning of the week. Start as you mean to go on, or at least as you expect to, I guess.

So, the idea of the feature is that I'll try to keep a tab on small things I've learnt over the course of a week just gone, in the hope that the need to write this will help me remember them and get me into the habit of blogging regularly. It should also help serve as a reminder of what a joy it is to learn things.

Johann Hari keeps a regular diary of things he's been wrong about. I have to hope this doesn't include "Not punching that funny-looking kid in the year above me at school".

'That's What I Like' by Jive Bunny has one of the most offensive videos in pop history. And the sleeve's not much better.

If your front door seizes up due to humidity, applying WD-40 will help loosen it.

If you stand around in your office holding a box numbered 9 and start saying "Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine..." people probably won't get the reference.

Magpies are very bold this time of year.