Month: June 2011

Train porn

Ooh, Hooton before it was electrified all the way to Chester! And hot 507-on-101 action as people change trains! Just look at those slam-door Class 101 rattly deathtraps and the 507/508s not in fucking yellow!

Aah, I needed that.

Sociopathy Today

Ah, the internet. I really don’t know what I did before the internet. I probably watched a lot of television (total broadcast television watched in the last 7 days: 0) or ran along the street pushing a hoop with a stick or something. I love the internet. Facts at my fingertips. Twitter. My t-shirt shop [ahem]. This blog. Unlimited porn. I love the internet.

Those who know me probably know that I’m not a huge fan of human beings. I’ve met many of them and they appear to exist to annoy me. Still, I get though most days without killing any of the fuckers, so it’s not like I can’t cope with them. The problem is, the human race has joined me on the internet. Again, I can cope, but I really wish I knew why it drew out in particular the sociopaths, the stalkers and the generally maddest in such numbers and so vocally.

The other day I posted a confessional of sorts about a dead friend of mine. Within a short space of time – too short, I’d’ve thought, for Google to have found it, someone popped up with a comment that suggested I was being disingenuous – my “gay lover” had clearly left me boat loads of money, so what was I complaining about. Now, tell me: if you’re in the pub and a friend, or a friend of a friend, or the person behind you at the bar or whoever was relating a story about the suicide of their partner, would you be inclined in any way to turn to them at the end and sneer “wah wah wah” and wonder aloud why they were complaining since, you had decided, they’d made money out of the entire business? And even if you were tempted, would you ever, for any reason, actually do it?

I signed up for something called Foursquare, mainly because I had a new iPhone and stuff that looked playable-with and was free seemed worth downloading. The idea of Foursquare is, every time you go somewhere, you “check in”, which notifies your Twitter and Facebook followers where you are. Yeah, bit strange, but still. If you check in most often, you get made “Mayor” of the location. You also can win “badges” for going to unusual places and can get not-very-appealing discounts by becoming mayor of certain overpriced shops and drinking establishments. Nevertheless, it’s an amusing enough diversion. After a few months of using it I was mayor of four places, none of them very exciting, as I pointed out in a screenshot of the application I posted on Twitter. Now here’s the thing: shortly afterwards, one of my mayorships was lost to someone else. Ah well, that’s how the game works. Then, another of them was lost to the same person a few days later. Looking them up online, I couldn’t see how they were visiting my places quite so much – they were far away according to their Twitter feed – but it’s how the game is played. Then I got displaced as mayor from the hotel I stay in London by the same person… while their Twitter feed had them at home. They were telling the app that they were in locations they were not, once a day, everyday, until they displaced me. And they were running down the list I’d posted earlier. So they weren’t playing the game, or visting places, or anything else: a complete stranger had stumbled across my list and thought, “I know, I’ll spend 5 to 10 minutes a day, everyday, from now until possibly six or seven weeks time, checking into these places and stripping this guy of his mayorships. Ha ha ha!” or the like. Why? Can you see any way at all that you would gain pleasure from doing that to a totally ordinary, total stranger? I decided that I wasn’t going to play, so deleted my account. I assume he wanted that (again: why?) or, when he saw I had deleted it, thought “oooh, get her, touchy!” or the like.

When I first started out on the internet at the beginning of September, there was very little to see on the web and most of the action was in something now forgotten called Usenet. I remember saying something in reply to a thread suggesting I didn’t agree with the poster. They replied to say I was wrong, but entitled to my opinion. All done. Except a day later they thought better of it and wrote to me by email to tell me I was a fuckwit. Fair enough. Oddly, over a month passed and I got a follow up email that just read “oh, get over it already you twat”. Um, okay… except that I didn’t realise I wasn’t over it; in fact I didn’t quite remember what the guy was banging on about because I was so much over it, whatever “it” was. Would you ever do that in real life? Publicly disagree politely, privately disagree loudly and then, over a month later, ring the stranger in question up, call them a twat and hang up sure in the righteousness of your actions because they clearly hadn’t got over the even in the way you had?

Yesterday, my mate Louis was minding his own business on Twitter when a “mention” lit up on his screen. A total stranger, someone not following him or any of his friends, someone Louis was not following, tweeted at him the single word “clown” (one of the few words the guy has spelled correctly in his tweet stream). Again: why? Louis asked him, but got no reply. He had taken time out of his busy day replying semi-literately to celebrity tweets to call a random and not-very-famous (comparatively – sorry, Louis; here’s a plug for one of your brilliant books as compensation) person he wasn’t following a clown. I assume he felt better for that, had gained a moral revenge against whatever crime he believed Louis had committed, or otherwise had a reason of some sort for setting fingers to keyboard and lashing out. It’s just not evident what that reason was.

Wikipedia is place where this type of thing goes on. Of course, with any open editing system you’re going to get vandals – idiots as compared to the people cited above who would seem not to be idiots per se – and if you undo or have blocked a vandal, of course they’ll turn up and attack you, which you’ll also undo. But the place crawls with people who are very happy to attack other people who are just editing, whether you’re a new user trying to add information with a source and being called a twat for not formatting it perfectly in their arcane markup, or an established editor reverting really nasty attacks but not doing a good enough job of it for a new user who then chooses to have a go at you for even trying.

At Transdiffusion, comment threads need to be kept under a watchful eye and pre-edited: the site offers a nice big “report an error” button, an email link on every page, even a postal address, but a spelling error (not a factual error, a spelling error) can earn the volunteer writer of the page a vicious tearing down complete with accusations of being deliberately ignored, and once even a disturbingly-specific death threat. For a spelling error!

I wonder if on the internet they forget that there is another human being at the end of the screed they’re writing to them; that they think it’s a bot at the other end with no feelings? Or has the internet liberated the inner-sociopath amongst a broad swathe of the population, giving them licence to be as creepy and vicious as they’d like to be with the bus driver and checkout assistant but don’t have the cajones to do in real life knowing that it could get them arrested?

Above all, how do they react when it’s done to them? Is the world now full of hurt little sociopaths, angrily crying into their laptops?

Stylish!

I really wish it was possible to dress so stylishly nowadays. And in clothes made entirely of plastic, so on a day like today I could lose well over a stone and possibly die in just a few hours.

Hat tip: Mike Knell (@mpk)

Arguing with the BBC

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Oh, there's so little point in embarking on the course I have embarked upon, yet I have embarked upon it: the modern version of "go fight City Hall", "go argue with the BBC".

I'm a huge BBC fan. I have to say this, because there are a very tiny but extremely loud minority of sociopaths, right-wing loonsacks and general hard-of-thinking fools who believe the BBC is biased to the right/left/centre, is too/not enough progressive, sucks up/insults the government, is anti/pro war, and would be better if scrapped so that Mr Murdoch's empire could have free rein and save us from any or all of these supposed ills. I am not one of those fuckwits. Certainly not: I actually think that the licence fee is too little and should probably double (and then be index-linked to the Sky subscription price, as a counterweight).

But there's no denying that the current BBC management are failing, dismally, to manage the BBC very well on a number of levels. Whose idea was it to sack experienced, dedicated people in London in order to hire cheaper people in Salford? Whose idea was it that BBC-2 should be rudderless and seemingly without a reason to be? Whose idea was it to sell Television Centre like this was still 1994? Whose idea was it to cave in to everything and more a pro-Murdoch, anti-BBC government wanted without a fight?

This lack of management has begun to filter down through the ranks. With nobody leading at the top, the middle management has got confused and the bottom management is operating without support, so much so that I've had reason to complain to the BBC twice in the last couple of months – and I almost never complain to the BBC, mainly because it's an exercise in futility, but also because, as I say, I'm a huge BBC fan.

I've previously detailed how I complained to the BBC over a trivial – oh, go on then, anal – matter of them putting on-screen, at prime time, on BBC-1, wrong phone numbers. The promo makers – possibly Red Bee Media in these outsourced days, I don't know – grouped a London number as 0208 576 9785, when the code for London is 020 and the number therefore is 020 8576 9785. Anybody in London who doesn't know that 020 is the code would dial 576 9785 and wait for about 45 seconds before the schoolmistress BT voice broke in to tell them to check the number and dial again you idiot. I hoped that the BBC would accept this point and say that they'd try to get the numbers right in future.

My mistake: they justified it instead. After careful research, the BBC has found that grouping numbers in "easy to remember" clusters is now policy. Of course, I had to get back to them (they make you go back to the website, jump through all the hurdles again and write your reply in a tiny box, possibly just for the lulz) and, tactfully or otherwise, call their bluff. If there has been research into such a preposterous subject, then please can they produce it, I asked. So they ignored me. Needless to say, I've put in a Freedom of Information request to attempt to unlock this research they claim to have done. I'm awaiting a reply, but if (when) that produces the reply "we can find no record of such research", then the next step is to take it to the BBC Trust: not because of the damn telephone numbers, but because the BBC, like everybody else, doesn't have carte blanche to lie to people when they can't find an actual justification for what they're doing. Who do BBC Complaints think they are, politicians?

I was typing my FoI request while listening to BBC Radio 4's six o'clock news. Three quarters of the way through, their science correspondent came on with a package about exciting research done by the charity Diabetes UK that offered real hope for a cure for diabetes. Several paragraphs of about the detailed "scientific study" were read out before, in a classic "Paragraph 19 denial", the correspondent added that the "study" was of 11 people. Eleven people? Nothing scientific, nothing statistically significant, nothing of note at all can come from a study of 11 people. A beat later and he 'fessed up that, of those 11, only 7 had had a medium-term improvement in their condition. He then added a brief disclaimer hinting that the science wasn't up to much and the package ended. In short, the man had come on the radio and read out Diabetes UK's press release.

I complained out loud Twitter and then directly to BBC Complaints – again in full knowledge that doing so will be futile and, on past evidence, knowing that they'll tell easy lies to make me go away. Interestingly, Diabetes UK saw my Twitter complaint. They were at pains to point out that they did think the research was important… but also that an 11 person study wasn't up to much and that they needed to ensure scientific rigour was evident in future; but particularly that my concern was valid and they hoped that the BBC would listen, which suggests a lot of things about that particular report, none of them flattering to the BBC.

I await the reply from the BBC, even if it is just fobbing me off as I expect, with real interest – and will report back.

Doctor Two

I’m not a fan of most (any?) YouTube “mash-ups”, where people assume that taking the pictures from one thing and the sound from another and putting the two together equals some sort of art. It doesn’t, it equals mindless crap and shows how mindblowingly unoriginal many YouTubers can be.

I make the exception for this video. How could I not: a great piece of title music (from a truly execrable programme) added to an unfairly treated Doctor Who – the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. It was under Troughton’s reign that most of what we think of when we think of the character of the Doctor was properly established: from regeneration to the mad-man-with-a-box persona. The series wouldn’t’ve worked without William Hartnell’s superbly strange performance to start it off, but Pat Troughton ensure that the character, and thus the series, had longevity built right into it. The thing that makes the current series, supposed production problems aside, so enjoyable is Matt Smith’s actorly choice to bring some of Pat’s mannerisms back to the show, despite Pat having left well before Matt was born and the BBC doing their level best to erase much of the second Doctor from the archives in their 1970s bonfire-out-of-vanity.

99p none the richer

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It’s my monthly team meeting for work today, so I have to get up at Stupid o’Clock, get 3 trains to Harrogate, prove that I’ve actually done some work in the last month, then get 3 trains home and collapse into bed.

I pitched up at the mainline station at about 0650 for the 0715 train forward. At this time of a morning, I can barely focus without help, so I’m not at my best. I popped into WHSmith, seeking a taurine-based beverage to prevent me sleeping past Leeds again and perhaps something breakfasty-sandwichy. Sadly, WHSmith couldn’t help with the sandwich, but they did have something called “Monster” that promised, almost, to be speed in liquid form. They also had an offer on Walkers crisps: 99p each and buy one, get one free (BOGOF is the trade jargon).

I grabbed two big bags of Quavers and a Monster and queued to pay. When I got to the head of the queue, the woman at the till said “If you get two Walkers bags, one of them’s free, like”.

Yeah, I said, these are Walkers, pointing to the Walkers logo. “No, it’s just them Grab Bags” she said. Uh huh, I said, pointing to the words “Grab Bag!” emblazoned on the front. “No”, she said, clearly now a woman on the edge, “them’s big bags. The offer’s on the others, like”. Clearly, we were at an impasse. The shelf with the Quavers was clearly labelled with the offer, I offered, and with that she catapulted out from the tills and on to the shop floor.

I scurried after her, surprised at the speed she was making. I arrived at the Quavers shelf just as she finished removing the offer label. “See?” she said triumphantly, crumpling the label in her left hand, “Those bags aren’t included”.

I was clearly being outplayed here, if such an obvious and painful lie could be told to my face without shame. She watched as I put the Quavers back and selected two, lesser, packets I didn’t really want instead.

I paid and left. I’m sure she felt she’d done the right thing by her store. I’m sure the store also would feel the right thing had been done. The sanctity of the offer was maintained, WHSmith didn’t lose money, Walkers got what it wanted from the marketing support they must be offering. Capitalism did really well.

Of course, now the WHSmith brand is damaged in my mind, with collateral damage to the Walkers brand. And I’ve spread this damage to my friends on Twitter and Facebook and now this blog. It won’t bankrupt either brand, but perhaps 40 or 50 people will spend the day feeling a bit negative about WHSmith. Some will be tipped over into not shopping there today. Others will forget this exchange but remember “wasn’t there something dodgy about Smiths’s special offers?” and stand a bit back next time they’re tempted by one, looking for the scam. The total damage to WHSmiths revenue will probably be less than ??100 so it’s nothing they will worry about, which is a shame. As for me, I’ll deprive them of profit for a few weeks (I’m out of Smints, but I’ll buy them at a locally-owned store at Harrogate station rather than Smiths at Leeds) then forget this incident and go back to shopping there. But I’ll join those who’ll never trust their special offers again.

Happy dance

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Ah, some good times for a change: Kate and Jon (Best Woman and Man of Honour at our wedding) got engaged in New York earlier this week. Yay!