Friday, October 27, 2006

A word on airports, part 3

Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates. We arrived at Dubai airport about 5.30am, it was still dark, and after clearing another security point (seems the only way into Sheikh Rashid Terminal after leaving an aircraft is through more metal detectors) we headed to the food court for breakfast, carefully stepping over the acres of sleeping people lying on the floor, there were chairs of course but obviously not enough as one false step and you’d be waking someone with your shoe in their leg/head/hand luggage.

The food court is located on the side of the terminal which kind of looks like a giant tube that’s been partially squashed flat. I sat with my coffee and croissant, watching the dawn arrive through the glass walls. The daylight allowed me to see very different world to that I’d left. It was an alien panorama of misty desert and distant sand coloured buildings (excepting of course the ubiquitous taxiing planes and concrete runways in the foreground) very different to the pastural views seen from Melbourne airports windows the previous evening.

After breakfast it was time to head to the departure gate for the third and final seven hour leg of the trip. The airport itself is quite modern although I personally question the need for the life size, fake, palm trees, the trunks of which are made from plastic gold bars, that line the central concourse. A proud symbol of the country’s wealth, or just tacky decor? I couldn’t decide. Well thinking abut it I can – tacky.

Like many airports, it seems overrun with golf buggies ferrying the old, infirm or just plain late people up and down the endless corridors. They airport employees who drive these buggies do so with apparent disregard for those walking in front of them. They don’t seem to be looking where they were driving, and apart form the constant siren/horn/warning signal the buggies emit, they seem to just assume the crowds through which they speed will separate like the parting of the Red Sea. Perhaps this was a reasonable assumption considering the relative proximity of the Red Sea itself, I don’t know. But part the crowds did, usually. I did note though that every now and again some weary traveller seemed not to hear the approaching buggy and failed to jump out of the way like all the others. The buggy would come to an abrupt halt and the driver would stand on his horn until the hapless pedestrian turned around to be confronted by the bizarre scene of a roofless golf buggy laden down with exotic looking (but often elderly) passengers, driven by an exasperated looking official with an evil stare.

The smoking areas were interesting. They looked like they were based on the model I’ve seen used in Frankfurt airport of confining the smokers to small areas located right in the middle of the main thoroughfares just below what appeared to be a small domestic kitchen extractor fan hood. The billowing clouds of cigarette smoke would lazily ignore the extractor’s feeble suction and happily disappear sideways out of the ‘smoking zone’ before curiously investigating the nostrils of the many nonsmokers who coughed and spluttered their way past. Unlike Frankfurt’s design though, which didn’t see the need for any form of enclosure for the smoking areas, Dubai had partially enclosed theirs with clear Perspex about six feet high (apart from a few entrance/exit gaps for the smokers) which gave the whole thing the odd look of a smoke filled goldfish bowl that was so full of smokers who had been deprived of their fix for hours on board a plane, that the walls would almost be groaning against the pressure of bodies within. Now and again the smoke would clear and you could make out the gaunt face of someone, their nose or ear squashed flat against the grubby Perspex, gasping for breath. Of course the cleverer ones simply stood outside the entrances of these zones (probably office workers in their daily lives) whilst half heartedly making an attempt to be inside by ensuring a foot or an elbow was just within the enclosed space.

So that was my experience of Dubai airport. On the whole I liked it, it was interesting, but slightly tacky.

Monday, October 16, 2006

- Interim Post -

This post replaces our regular post this evening due to, well, inexcusable indolence by the blog owner (and an un-missable episode of Mythbusters).
The regular program will resume shortly with 'A word on airports part 3 - Dubai International'
Please stay tuned to this channel.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A word on airports, part 2

Changi Airport – Singapore. Always somewhere I just travel through, this one (one day I will stop there a while) – but one of the best. Compared with Dubai and Heathrow it is quiet and relaxed usually. Plenty of space, always somewhere to sit other than the floor (unlike Dubai which seems so busy any time of the day/night that there is nowhere to sit as we shall see in the next post).

I like the fact Changi has free internet terminals in many of the waiting lounges too. If you don’t happen to have your Wi Fi laptop with you, you can just find a free terminal and check your email to pass the time before your next flight. As would be expected in a place like Singapore, it’s spotlessly clean. I have never even smelt cigarette smoke or actually seen anyone smoking, although it must go on, I think that the airport management have banished smokers completely to an out of the way corner that can only be found by those desperate for a nicotine hit.

Next airport revue - Dubai Airport, UAE.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A word on airports, part 1

Travelling between Australia and the UK (relatively regularly) you have the pleasure of visiting quite a lot of airports. Different carriers use obviously use different hubs, and this time I flew with Emirates. So I thought I’d relate here the differences between some of the airports I noticed on this most recent trip. Obviously my first one was my point of departure; Melbourne Airport.

Melbourne Airport – My first impression of Melbourne airport in the mid nineties made me think, well, it wasn’t really going to give Heathrow a run for it’s money in the ‘modern’ department. The arrivals hall was really basic, with just a small painted wooden screen separating the new arrivals from the waiting family/friends/chauffeurs. Everything had a tatty air to it. It had a car park that was no better than the average supermarket’s. Now though, after extensive redevelopment the whole place actually matched the style of the rest of the city. The arrivals hall has been dragged into the twenty first century, gone is the chipped wood replaced by cut bluestone walls and a more airy atmosphere. There is now a large piece of artwork on the wall so the families/friends/chauffeurs can stare blankly at something other than arrivals board. Even the car park has been enlarged with a number of stories added.

However I have one major issue. When I had passed through immigration and found myself waiting for my flight’s allotted take off time I was planning on spending my last few minutes on the ground having a quite drink. A handy place to do this in Melbourne airport was TGI Fridays which had an outlet near the departure gates. I discovered on this trip though that TGI Fridays has gone, in it’s place was now another duty free outlet. Nearby was what seemed to be to be a hastily put together little bar that sold nothing but bottled beer and pre mixed drinks in a can. Not being a fan of cheap spirits in a can with no name cola (and not fancying a bloating beer) I found that any choice had been removed from my hands in the matter of pre flight drinks and that didn’t make me happy. The bottom line is if you need a small (or large) pre flight nerve calmer – get it prior to going through immigration when in Melbourne...

Next post - Singapore airport.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Unexpected Trip...

Is anybody there, or do I return to an abandoned blog? Well I expect it is the latter, but that will not stop me from making my excuses. I have recently experienced an unexpected absence from Australia. A short notice trip home to England has necessitated a lack of entries on my blog. Why didn't I blog in England? Well they don't have the internet there you see... OK, I found that I was doing so much interesting stuff whilst there that blogging was, I am ashamed to say, quite a long way down my list of things to do. Perhaps you can draw from this the kind of commitment levels I have to the blogosphere. But trust me - you would have done the same in my position. However I am now returned to antipodean shores so it's time to reopen the Sanctuary.

Actually I have something else to add. My last entry was on the 23rd of June and to be honest I haven't been overseas for a whole three months, in fact my trip took up only a small amount of that time, so I am even less committed to blogging than you thought I was. There it is said, and my head is now hanging so far down in shame I cannot see exactly what keys I am prwessindg (I can't touch type. Wish I could but I can't).

It's amazing how quickly you can get used to not working and actually enjoying your life. I never find it is long before I begin to take the fact I can do what I want when I want, for granted. But I always find holidays make coming back to work almost impossible. It's only then you realise that the majority of your waking life is spent doing things that you don't want to do, and you are being kept from the things you want to do by the ever present spectre of things like, well let me see, starvation or exposure due to the fact you will find yourself on the streets because you lack an income.

That's enough of the self pitying waffle; excuse me whilst I adopt a more positive attitude.


There, that’s better. Let me begin again - this time with some pictures I snapped in London,

The Millenium Bridge with St. Pauls to the north across the Thames

Well maybe just this one then. I would upload more, but Blogger has decided it doesn't want to play anymore and two images per post is enough for now, but trust me when I say I took more than one photo during the trip... About 800 more...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Creating order from chaos.

Ikea. The destination of millions worldwide every weekend. And that’s why I try and avoid it on weekends. Opinion seems split regarding the quality and style of Ikea products, but I for one have been bitten by the Ikea bug and find I have an odd fascination with the place.

In my vast experience with mess, I find quality of life can be strongly influenced by your immediate environment (read: home) and if your home is disorganized or chaotic then so too can you, and in order to stem this propensity toward chaos we need to organize ourselves. There is a word for this, and that word is Ikeaize. Anyway enough feux Feng Shui and on to the story. Mrs. Logan and I found ourselves with Monday off this week so we took the plunge and made a visit to our local Ikea store. Being a Monday it was relatively quiet - which means you could actually move, see the displays and hear yourself above the screams of a thousand bored children. This makes for a far more civilized shopping experience, even more so when we had time to stop for a leisurely lunch at the Ikea in-store restaurant. The Meatballs were great and I highly recommend the excellent Spendrups Swedish beer, although I think they should rename it Ikea Beer in keeping with the theme.

The day wore on and more impulse items were grabbed (my favourite being a square plastic digital clock/timer/thermometer/alarm that changes it’s function when you turn it around – the ‘Virra’ for those of you who wish to rush out and buy one). Eventually, loaded down with our prepackaged goodies, we wearily headed towards the checkouts. After a brief but intense CPR session on my wallet everything was paid for and loaded into the car, then, wishing we drove a Volvo, headed off into the sunset. Having said that, we actually headed away from the sunset (less romantic, but I try and keep this blog as close to the truth as possible at all times). Here is a picture snapped through the rear window of the car by way of an illustration.

During the ensuing few days we have been industrially constructing our new Ikea products, and now have a lounge that looks a quarter Ikeaized rather than an eighth Ikeaized. Only another three quarters to go…

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Everybody needs good neighbours.

I think it’s time to take a break from my grumpy old man monologues for a while and talk about something else. I would like to clarify something. In a previous post I may have painted the Australian TV show ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ a bad light, and perhaps this was unfair of me. Granted it was a bit of a revelation to view it for the first time. A bit like being introduced to the family of a new friend on their home turf as it were, where all pretence is dropped and the real face is shown. It was the sort of show that could only be watched and enjoyed by a home audience with an intimate knowledge of the history and foibles of the native social structure. In fairness it was no more shocking than what is, in my opinion the British equivalent (as near as there can be one); ‘Noel’s House party’, shown on the BBC with Noel Edmunds as host. Over time I actually came to enjoy ‘Hey Hey’, and was not a little sad when it was cancelled. Like many Aussie TV shows it grew on you until it had become part of your TV diet, and a week without it resulted in mild withdrawal symptoms. And that is exactly how Neighbours became an addiction for me, many, many years ago. The story goes like this…

It begins in a medium sized English town in 1988. Friends of mine were planning to emigrate to Melbourne, and in an effort to acclimatize themselves, they had began to watch Neighbours, which had just started to become popular on British TV. As with most things that suddenly become popular with the masses, I avoided it like the plague, and thus without having seen anything more than the odd glimpse of the show, ridiculed it, and those who watched it. I relentlessly teased my friends who were planning to relocate their lives to Australia about their viewing habits, but one night I happened to be visiting them when it was ‘Neighbours time’ and under protest, I sat and watched it all the way through for the first time.

The following night, at home alone, with drawn curtains and a heart full of self-loathing, I turned on Neighbours and willfully watched. That was it. I became hooked on living a vicarious life in the perpetually sunny suburbs of this wondrous new world. A world of ‘mates’ and ‘barbies’ with ‘snags’ and ‘stubbies’ in the ‘arvo’. Where It was always time to put on your ‘sunnies’ and go to the ‘oval to chuck a footy’ or take a short drive to the beach to lay down a towel on the endless golden sands.

It was the Australian dream packaged for envious British eyes. Slowly but surely the Aussie terms crept into the British vernacular. It was not long before the playgrounds from Southend to Penzance, from Brighton to John O’Groats rang with the Australianisms, and a whole generation wondered why their dreary neighbourhoods were not as bright and sunny as those of the fictional Neighbours suburb of Erinsborough. This of course paved the way for the first wave of Aussie colonization of Britain with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donavan. Generation after generation of Neighbours actors migrated north from the channel 10’s Melbourne studios to the well-worn boards of London’s West end and the hallowed halls of the BBC. Anyway, my addiction to the show grew and, I found if I was unable to watch it one day for some reason, I would tape it, but then, due to the episodic format, I couldn’t watch the next episode until I had watched the taped one - so, if I hadn’t seen it by the time the next one was shown, I’d have to tape that one too. Sometimes I would have a week or two to catch up on, and have to spend a whole weekend in a Neighbours watching marathon, which looking back on now, I realize was extremely dangerous behavior, bordering on wanton recklessness…

Ironically it was not Neighbours that precipitated my own migration to Melbourne, it was meeting up with my friend who emigrated in 1988 during a visit of his back to the UK. I decided to try my luck out there too, but by then I was not watching the show nearly as much as I had before. And so now, nearly twenty years after first watching Neighbours, I find myself living that very ‘dream’ I first glimpsed on my television all that time ago. Sometimes I spot the British fans searching for their Erinsborough Elderado. In fact they can catch the Neighbours tour bus (click here for the Neighbours Tour website), which takes them directly to it. You see them, pasty and listless, all strange haircuts and thick regional accents, waiting outside backpacker hostels throughout Melbourne city for the bus to pick them up and whisk them off to Ramsey Street, where I am sure they stand with incredulous facial expressions, saying to one another "Ay, that's brillyunt that is." and “It’s just like on the telly innit?”

I still remember my first inadvertent brush with a Neighbours cast member after my arrival in Melbourne, but more of that in a future post.

Do I still watch Neighbours? Of course I do, it’s still better than watching Home And Away!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grumpy Old Man Monologue No. 5 - Throat Clearers

For my thoughts regarding throat clearers on public transport see the previous post, Grumpy Old Man Monologue No.4 - Sniffers, and substitute the term Throat Clearer for Sniffer, although thinking about it, not all of it will make sense, but try it anyway.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grumpy Old Man Monologue No. 4 - Sniffers

Today we examine the public transport using Sniffer. Not the substance abuse sniffer, we shall investigate the criminal element on public transportation in a future post, but today I wish to talk about the sniffing person who has the eternal running nose. Not as common as The Loud Person On The Train or The Personal Stereo Listener, the Sniffer is accursed with the condition of excess olfactory fluids whilst lacking tissues or a handkerchief with which to right the embarrassing situation. Two broad groups of Sniffers can be observed: the habitual sniffer, who usually doesn't even know they are sniffing, and the cold stricken, sick Sniffer, who should be home in bed rather than playing the martyr by refusing to have a sick day and insisting on going into work, only to do substandard work due to illness, and spread their contagion to all others they encounter. What do you people think you can achieve by going to work? Are you that important that the company will collapse without your invaluable input? Are you that vain and egotistical that you think you are indispensable for just one day? Get over yourself.

Regardless of the category, The Sniffers are annoying in a particularly subtle way. You hear the first sniff after they board, or perhaps after you have sat down, or maybe had the misfortune to choose a seat next to a Sniffer already on the train but didn't realize they were such as you boarded in between sniffs. You think, OK, that was one sniff, probably just a one off. Then a few seconds later you hear another one, *sniff*. Your shoulders drop and the fear begins to creep over your soul, you wait then there it is, a third and decisive sniff... You know that the rest of your trip you will be listening for the next one, then the one after that and so on, unable to concentrate on your book, meditative exercises or sleep, as you know there will be another sniff at any second.

*Sniff*...*sniff*...*sniff*...*sniff*...*sniff*...*sniff*... etc.

In my experience the timing of the sniffs varies between individuals. There are rapid machine gun sniffs, then there are the slow, plodding sniffs (which are particularly annoying as they can lull you into a false sense of relaxation when you begin to think that perhaps they have stopped - but then *sniff*). There are little meek sniffs and there are great snorts where I have seen small children almost drawn into the nostrils of the snorter, such is the nasal power.

If it annoys you that much, why not offer them a nose blowing implement? I hear you cry. Well if you were to offer one of these sniffy individuals a tissue (assuming you had one to offer) your actions run the risk of misinterpretation. You could well be seen as being patronizing or perhaps trying to deliberately embarrass them in front of the whole carriage and attempting to bring to the attention of the others the fact they were sans tissue. Commuters rarely like to embarrass other commuters in this manner (they appear to shy from even the most basic of communication in my experience).

So like the Loud Person and the Loud Personal Stereo Listener, the Sniffer will continue to obliviously cause aggravation to the rest of us, and sleeves everywhere will be slightly apprehensive.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Grumpy Old Man Monologue No. 3 - Personal Stereo Listeners

The meteoric rise in popularity of the MP3 player, notably the iPod has been a growing thorn in the side of every train traveller who seeks peace and quiet on their journey. The phenomenon of the noisy personal stereo first started appearing in the late seventies and really took hold in the eighties, however the numbers of people inflicting their 'music' on others has exploded in recent years due to Mr. Steve Jobs and his clever Apple marketing. He accurately predicted and exploited the human need to appear musically and stylistically superior by plugging little white ear buds into the sides of their heads and listening to the vast collection of illegally downloaded mp3s that they had amassed on their computers. I think the word 'personal' is not entirely accurate when it comes to this. We have all been there, admit it. The guy or girl, in many cases sitting well away from you who has the music blasting into their ears at full volume and all you can hear is the nasty tinny noise blaring out. Sometimes these audiophiles are not satisfied with the smaller (more popular) ear buds, eschewing convenience for the larger, full headphone style. These people obviously know what they are doing; they do not want to be confused with the general riff raff of personal music consumption, with their unsubstantial little ear plugs. These 'Full Headphone Wearers' purvey an air of musical superiority, in a 'mine is more professional looking than yours, bigger is better' kind of way. I concede that the enclosed phones do cut out much of the surrounding noise, especially the noise of Loud People talking at full volume to the person next to them, to the person on the phone or to themselves. But that does not make up for the fact these people look like they have just left the recording studio and forgotten to remove the 'cans'. I half expect to see the ‘phones ripped off their head as they get up from the seat to leave the carriage, having forgotten to unplug the headphones cord from the mixing desk. There is no mystery as to what type of music they listen to because it is being listened to at number eleven on the volume dial. Inevitably the enclosed headphone wearer is always listing to rave/techno music, as this type appears unable to leave the 'rave scene' behind, even when commuting. This may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but I challenge you to actually pay attention to these ‘enclosed headphone wearers’ next time you see one, and consciously listen to the type of music pumping out – it will be techno.

Do these people realise that their personal music is anything but? Do they notice the uncomfortable sideways looks shot at them by their long suffering fellow travellers. Like the Loud Person, I am sure there is an allocation of a certain number this type per carriage; usually they outnumber the Loud people by about two to one in my observations. They are to be found evenly spaced along the length of the carriage - arranged so that the circumference of their noise 'footprint' just overlaps the other Personal Stereos Listeners' on board. Looks like I’m going to have to get myself an iPod to drown out the noise…

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Grumpy Old Man Monologue No. 2 – Knee Jigglers

Sometimes, seen out of the corner of your eye, spied over the top of your newspaper or book, half glimpsed across the aisle are the Knee Jigglers. They sit oblivious to the world around them, usually absorbed in a book or staring with empty eyes out of the carriage window, with one or both of their knees moving up and down constantly. The rate at which the knee moves varies with each individual Jiggler. Some are slow, but the vast majority seem to vibrate their knees at speeds rarely seen in the animal world. For the Jiggler's fellow traveller this presents a distraction almost impossible to ignore. The concentration of those around the Jiggler collapses, and all they can think about are jumping patellae. However it's not always the knee that is afflicted for these Jigglers. It can be a foot, doing a constant little dance on the carriage floor or maybe suspended from crossed legs. Whichever, the effect is the same on the observer; extreme irritation that elicits an urge to lash out at the jiggling appendage with a rolled up business section. This though rarely happens due to the etiquette of commuting. In fact even asking the Jiggler to cease their unending movement is taboo, so the jiggling goes on and silent pain of the non Jiggler continues...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I'm not grumpy...

I have been watching the BBC's grumpy Old Men TV show, where middle aged British male TV personalities whinge on camera about things they find tedious and stupid about modern life. It has made me realise something - I am a grumpy old man. At the beginning of the show the narrator - a brilliantly chosen Lionel Jefferies, states that the generation of men in the age group 35 to 54 are the grumpiest of all. That hit home a bit, as I just fit into the lower end of the demographic, and I get very annoyed and frustrated at society in general these days, ergo, I am a grumpy old man...At first, just because I fell into that age group and had the occasional whinge about things, I didn't necessarily think I was that grumpy, but when I watched it with my wife, she turned to me and said "That's you, you know?" That made me think, and I realised I agreed with these grumpy old men on the show, and found that they were grumpy about many of the aspects of modern life I too am grumpy about. So I have decided to examine some of the things that cause my grumpiness in a series of posts called The Grumpy Old Man Monologues.

Grumpy Old Man Monologue No. 1 – The Loud Person On The Train

I cannot help be get angry when, having carefully chosen the least noisy and most boring part of the carriage to sit, I am disturbed by a Loud Person. Again and again this happens.

Imagine a peaceful commuter carriage scene in the earlier morning. A little quiet murmuring, but nothing you can really decipher. Everyone is minding their own business, reading the paper or half asleep. Upon boarding I carefully select my spot, as far away from any potential source of disruption as possible. But with monotonous regularity, usually one or two stops later, a Loud Person gets on. They look around, for a good spot on the half empty train, then head directly for me. They often travel with a quiet person – this allows them to speak at high volume to a real person rather than be forced to call someone on their mobile. After settling down in the seat directly in front/behind/beside me, the Loud Person proceeds to launch into the most asinine conversation possible with their long suffering travel partner. This partner nods at intervals in total agreement with the Loud Person and very occasionally actually says something, but never loud enough to be heard. This one sided conversation is full of spurious, cringe worthy detail such as the travel itinerary for their planned trip to Noosa or the Gold Coast in six months or how the new girl at work is a useless waste of space. Of course I could simply move seats, but the fact I was there first and letting these people win galls me too much to do that. However sometimes I have to resort to such actions in order to preserve what little sanity I have left. Occasionally I even need to move to a different carriage only to find yet another Loud Person there as well! I have a theory that the public transport organizations actually provide at least one Loud Person for every carriage. It’s as if they are evenly spaced along the length of the whole train – ensuring any chance at a quiet journey is completed destroyed.

In the next post we shall address the question: foot and knee jigglers; excess energy or full bladder?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Excuse me, do you know if this is Farfrompoopen Road?

Well, according to the voting has just finished in the weirdest and wackiest street name in America poll, sponsored by the U.S. Mitsubishi Motors website, and I have to say that those Americans can sure name a street. Of the many nominations the top ten (all verified as real existing roads and streets) are as follows:

10. Tater Peeler Road in Lebanon, Texas

9. The intersection of Count and Basie in Richmond, Va.

8. Shades of Death Road in Warren County, N.J.

7. Unexpected Road in Buena, N.J.

6. Bucket of Blood Street in Holbrook, Ariz.

5. The intersection of Clinton and Fidelity in Houston

4. The intersection of Lonesome and Hardup in Albany, Ga.

3. Farfrompoopen Road in Tennessee (the only road up to Constipation Ridge)

2. Divorce Court in Heather Highlands, Pa.

1. Psycho Path in Traverse City, Mich.

I really don't think any more need be said...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Checked Your Attic Lately...?

Being a 'New Australian' (if you can call someone who has been in the country nearly twelve years 'new') I am still often amazed by the quirkiness of Australian popular culture. Luckily having watched the Aussie TV show 'Neighbours' for a number of years in England prior to my arrival upon antipodean shores, the shock was not as bad as it might have been. Having said that, I still live with the mental scars from my first encounter with a show called 'Hey Hey It's Saturday' only days after I stepped from the arrivals hall at Melbourne airport...

But then I come across stories like this in Britain's The Guardian newspaper:,,1703094,00.html about a man who recently found a preserved alien in a jar in his attic, and somehow I don't find Australia as odd a place as I once thought it to be...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Addiction is a sad thing...

I have a confession to make, I have an addiction. I would normally remain quiet about this sort of personal shortcoming, but things have reached crisis point and I feel compelled drag my secret out into the cold and sobering light of day.

What is this awful thing to which I am addicted?

OK, here it is; I am addicted to RSS news feeds. Or Really Simple Syndication as it is known by it’s full name.

In fact it’s worse than just RSS, it’s XML, RSS 2, all flavours of ATOM and of course +My Yahoo.

It’s a disease, a fever that takes over my very being to the point of obsession. Some people collect stamps, some collect comics, some sad people even collect beer mats (I actually used to do the latter) but I am addicted to collecting news RSS feeds. I look for the little orange button on every web site I visit with a view to adding it to my burgeoning aggregator list.

For those still unaware of RSS, come out from beneath your rock and listen; it basically allows you to check all your favourite news websites (that support RSS, XML etc) from a single program on your computer. All you need to do is paste the feed URL into this aggregator program and it will check for updates as often as you like. The vast majority of serious news sites support these feeds, all you need to do is check for the orange button (or sometimes just a text link). Once it’s added to your news aggregator program you can see the whole web page in the frame within the program interface. My favourite aggregator program currently is Awasu. It’s well designed, easy to use and FREE!

This technology is of course designed to save the news junky time and effort, in practice however (for me at least) it means that I spend the majority of my time catching up on world events that, frankly, I really don’t need to know about. I greedily grab feed details from almost every site that supports feeds I happen to come across. I am bitterly disappointed if the latest online newspaper I have found is not quite advanced (or important) enough to have the little orange RSS/XML button on it’s front page. My computer is constantly beeping and demanding my attention so I can read the latest headlines from San Jose to South-End-Sea, to peruse the editorials from such worthy web publications as The Argos News from Brighton and Hove, The Star Press from Muncie Indiana or The Bangkok Post. I feel I must digest the latest political commentary from The New York Times online, know who won the 3.30 at Newmarket and keep abreast of the weather in Wichita.

There are more specialist website feeds: automotive feeds, space exploration feeds, blog feeds, weather feeds, financial feeds, science feeds (essential if you want to be the first in your office/workplace/classroom to know about the latest advances in nano-technology or superconductivity), then there are the plethora of gadget and computer news feeds for keeping up to date with this week’s new iPod colour or the latest release date for Windows new Vista operating system.

A myriad of papers and news sources vie for the reader’s attention with seductive headlines. Well, not always seductive, in fact more often than not the headlines are rather mundane; reports on the latest union machinations in Glasgow or perhaps the sad tale of a kitten stuck up a tree in Des Moines, Iowa. But that’s not the point. The point is you are plugged into the real world, whatever happens wherever on the planet, you will be the first to read about it on your computer screen, heralded by a little announcement sound of your very own choosing. You feel in complete control with your virtual news studio – you will umm and arrr over the morning press release from the Prime Minister’s office at number 10 Downing Street, and never will any story of a kitten stuck in a tree, somewhere in the news obsessed world, escape your notice again.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Today marks the 197th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s, and in my opinion, the world’s, most important literary figures. Poe was a progenitor of both the gothic horror (or dark romanticism) and detective/crime genres of literature. His short, tragic life coloured his writing. He used his own experiences of personal loss and grief as inspiration for his macabre and angst-ridden tales, often including supernatural events and settings to add menace, mystery and fear to his narrative, all of which were all told with a mastery of the English language that brilliantly matched the tone of his stories and poems.


Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 - 1849

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the letter H.

I want to say something about the eighth letter of the alphabet. When mentioning this letter in conversation it is pronounced aitch, exactly as it is spelled. There is no H at the beginning of the word. It IS NOT pronounced haitch. The word haitch does not exist in the English language; check in the dictionary if you doubt me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Beware the heather sellers…

Have you ever been to Covent Garden in London? I only ask as it was around this time of year in 1994 that I happened to visit the place. I was thinking about it just recently and remembered an embarrassing thing that happened to me there. Although not a native of London, I had been to Covent Garden before and have returned since, but it was on this particular occasion that I was (quite legally) mugged.

I had been standing in the cold January air listening to a string quartet playing Pachelbel’s Canon for the tourists. The musicians were wrapped in scarves and thick coats, their faces wore a look of intense concentration as their fingers made chords and drew bows across strings.

Gypsy peddlers (being gypsies selling things as opposed to people selling gypsies) swarmed around like they had fallen from the pages of a Dickens novel. One particularly insistent older gypsy women stepped in front of me as I walked by, having finished listening to the open-air recital. She barred my escape and proffered a dry sprig of heather in my face like it was a weapon.

“Sprig of heather for luck sir?” she offered desperately.

I decided, against my better judgement (and with thoughts of a nasty curse being placed upon me should I decline her offer, clich√© I know, but you do wonder) to offer a couple of pound coins for her piece of flora. It’s strange how, twelve years later, I can still recall the look of disgust on her face as she peered into my palm at the coinage as if I were holding out steaming pile of dog excrement in exchange for her tatty heather. She looked up, and with a piercing stare said,

Paper money only sir!” in the tone of one highly offended by my already generous offer.

Glancing around I saw some of her accomplices eyeing me with suspicion, ready at the slightest signal from their fellow heather seller to pounce, and for all I knew, bind my hands with some homespun washing line and bundle me into the Romany caravan no doubt waiting nearby, to give me my just desserts.

I decided not to test my suspicions, and with an air of defeat, pulled from my wallet and handed her the smallest paper domination issued by the bank of England, £5. In exchange for this I received a battered, greenish brown leaf with a couple of purple flowers clinging to it. I took it in a bit of a stupor as the gypsy muttered something unintelligible, and disappeared (as if by magic) to find another idiot to con – sorry, another tourist to whom she could bring luck and a genuine London experience.

It had all happened so quickly that it took me a few seconds to comprehend exactly what had occurred. I made my way sheepishly out of the market court and joined the bustling crowds of The Strand; sure that everyone I passed knew I had just been duped by a middle-aged woman in an apron and fingerless gloves.

Disclaimer: This story is in no way meant to be derogatory to those of Romany descent. It is entirely factual and in not embellished in any way.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year - for some...

Another year rapidly comes to its end today and it’s been the shortest one yet as far as I am concerned.

You could argue that this time we call New Year is really only an old tradition, an excuse for a holiday and for many to drink too much. In the physical world it simply marks the completion of another orbit for the Earth around the Sun. We have to mark it from somewhere, it just happens to be the end of December - for those of us who use the Gregorian calendar that is.

Of course it is most selfish and ignorant to claim that today is the end of the year for everyone. Although the 31st of December is in fact a whole year away from the last 31st of December it is only the New Year for those who actually follow the current Gregorian calendar. It’s strange how so many people assume that everyone will be celebrating this occasion, when in fact many won’t. I find it even stranger that those who don’t adopt this particular measure of time still have to be aware of it and use it in conjunction with their calendar to allow interaction with the western world. It’s odd how it doesn’t seem to work the other way around so much. For example, were you aware that currently it is the year:

5766 in the Jewish calendar (although it won’t be 5767 until March)

6755 for the Assyrians (although 6756 won’t begin until April)

1384 in the Persian calendar

1928 in the Reformed Indian Calendar which counts from the Saka Era (or if you calculate your year from the Vikram Era, which the Reformed Indian Calendar does not, it’s 2063)

1426 In the Islamic calendar

4703 (Year of the Rooster) in the traditional Chinese calendar (becomes 4704, the year of the Dog on February 9th 2006) in the rather complex Mayan calendar, although this one may not make much sense to you

214 in the now abandoned French Republican Calendar

Or, if you fancied yourself as a citizen of the ancient Roman Empire, it’s 2758 AUC*.

So Happy New Year to all Gregorian calendar followers, and in case I forget, Happy New Year to followers of all the above calendars when your New year arrives!

* Warning – Some readers may find the following footnote of limited relevance if they have little interest in historical fact and wish to remain ignorant as to why they actually follow the Gregorian calendar that they do, and are celebrating the new year at this time.

Of course there are many calendars that are no longer used. The Romans gave us many of the months we use today in the Gregorian calendar (and theirs was mostly based on the Greek calendar). The Gregorian calendar itself is in fact an modified version of the older Julian calendar devised by none other than Julius Ceasar in 46 BCE (July was originally called Quintilis but renamed after him, as Sextilis was renamed August after Ceasar’s ultimate successor Octavian, who changed his name to Augustus upon becoming Emperor). Prior to that there was the original Roman calendar which started out with only ten months, this though was changed relatively early on (around 713 BCE) by adding the new months of January and February. This brought the Roman year to a total of 355 days which of course didn’t keep up with the solar year very well so the length of February was reduced a bit and an extra month (or Mensis Intercalaris) was thrown in now and again to make up for it by bringing that particular year up to around 377 days.

All of this wasn’t exactly accurate in today’s terms but it worked to a degree. This though only explains the way the months were worked out. The year itself (after the Republic who didn’t actually number years but just called them after the consuls in power at the time) is supposed to have been calculated from the founding of Rome itself, which in today’s reckoning of years was 753 BCE. Therefore the Roman year 1AUC (Ab Urbe Condita – Latin for The Founding Of Rome) was 2758 years ago. So if we imagine that Rome hadn’t succumbed to the usual fate of civilisations and foundered, but remained the strong and invincible force it was during it’s prime, we might be celebrating the new year as 2759 AUC rather than 2006 CE (or AD,if you prefer).

Today the Gregorian calendar dates its years from (roughly) the birth of Christ whilst retaining the Roman names for the months (as mentioned above). Interesting isn’t it how our lives are so utterly governed by the happenings of the past, and the machinations of those who have been dead for millennia? Obviously considering all the inaccuracies of the whole thing, there is no way of definitely saying what year it is or when it really changes to the next in the Gregorian calendar.