December 2005 Archives

Oh no. It turns out that practically everyone else in Europe is rubbish at cutting CO2 emissions. If the UK is near the top, given our record, we're all going to be in trouble.

The idea of on-the-fly conversions of phone conversations into text is both progressive and impressive. The problem is that a significant number of deaf people don't speak English as a first language: they 'speak' British Sign Language. So while this technology is going to be better than nothing, the nirvana is still going to be on-the-fly signing.

It turns out the Finnish and Hungarian aren't so close after all, despite my previous impression. According to The Economist, Estonian is a lot closer.

"Philologists' labours have identified some 200 words with common roots in all three main Finno-Ugric tongues. Fully 55 of these concern fishing, and a further 15 are about reindeer; only three are about commerce. An Estonian philologist, Mall Hellam, came up with just one mutually comprehensible sentence: 'the living fish swims in the water.'"

If you haven't picked up the Christmas edition of The Economist, you definitely should. It's a time when they let their writers go wild and scribble on about anything that interests them (as well as the news). This year's highlights include the history of wheat, a survey of human evolution, personal finance in Jane Austen's novels and an analysis of the sex-toy market in China.

Christmas absence

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I'm going to be out and about for Christmas, starting tomorrow, so blogging is likely to be either intermittent or non-existent over the holiday period.

A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all!

Graph of pirate activity against global warming
I for one will welcome his good words. Arr.

Kelvin MacKenzie

He's off. He spends millions getting there, fires everyone in sight and then quits after a few months saying there was too much debt. Did you not spot that when you bought the shares, Kelvin? What exactly is your idea of due diligence?

I'm guessing that he's using the issue of debt to cover his ego somewhat. He tried to play hardball with the banks, who have never liked him. He lost. Now he needs a way to cover up his failings.

Doesn't bode well for Highbury, though, to have your chairman quit during the middle of debt negotiations.

So Christmas is upon us and the usual tugs at our finances are pulling hard. Freelances like me get even more fun at this time of year: no one's commissioning much new work; accounts departments are going on holiday; and late payers don't get twinges of conscience and start paying their debts without ghosts rattling their chains nearby.

Even so, what none of us needs is fraudulent transactions on our business accounts. So imagine my delight last Thursday when I discover a payment from my account to “Vanquis Bank Chatham” for nearly £250. I'd never heard of them. I've been to Chatham once, but I went through very quickly once I'd had a look around. Needless to say though, I'd done no business of any kind with anyone in Chatham ever, let alone Vanquis. I hadn't even done any business that week using that account, certainly nothing to the tune of £250.

I pointed this out to my bank, First Direct, who were kind enough to do a Google search and point out what I'd already discovered for myself: Vanquis Bank runs a credit card for those with debt problems who can't get a credit card anywhere else. It has a maximum limit of £250 and (wait for this: it'll stagger you) an APR of 58%!

Surprisingly enough, I don't own one of these. First Direct shouldn't be surprised since I have a credit card with them with no balance on it at all at the moment. You'd think – and you'd have thought they'd think this too – that if I were going to buy anything using a credit card, it would be with that one. But no. I patiently explained this to them, but they didn't see quite to understand. So they got their disputes department to call me the next day. They sent me an e-message using their atrocious e-messaging system (not for us email! We want a system that you can't store messages in and can't easily print out any messages. Hoorah!), which I duly printed out and posted on Sunday.

Guess what. Today, another entry for the “Vanquis Bank Chatham”, again for nearly £250 appears on my statement. Despite my contesting the previous payment, First Direct has decided to let the second payment through as well. I'm down half a grand now. I can look forward to calling their disputes department again tomorrow, I guess.

But here's the fun part. Remember Groundhog Day? That's what it was like with First Direct. I rang up, told them what had happened last time as well as this time. And they then proceeded to do exactly the same things again, even repeating back to me things that I'd already told them that they decided to proclaim they'd discovered. They offered to do a Google search for me (“apparently, they run a credit card...” “I know, I told you that two minutes ago”), told me there was nothing they could do until the disputes department was open, etc.

First Direct: here's something you could do to improve your service. If there's a disputed transaction where the customer says they've never done business with the company in question before and if the company either looks dodgy or looks like it might have one or two dodgy customers, why don't you stop all future transactions on that account with that company? Doesn't all that evidence suggest to you identity fraud or something similar, particularly if your customer tells you it is?

My next worry is working out how the tea-leaf got my bank details. I don't use my bank details online that often, usually only for direct debits and the like with reputable companies. I have a Mac so spyware is not going to be the cause. When I use my Switch card, because it's my business account, I save the receipts for tax purposes. I shred everything I don't keep. So how's they do it?

I'm paranoid, but not paranoid enough it turns out. Any suggestions anyone?

Free speech in all cases

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A somewhat coherent argument about freedom of speech from Spiked's deputy editor today.

A New York Times reporter explains how he was able to stop a child porn ring and get one of its victims off drugs and into college.

I don't know: you'd have to ask China. Maybe they just have a really, really large sofa.

You know the argument that if a group of monkeys typed for long enough, they'd come up with Hamlet? I guess that if the government keeps suggesting laws, they might come up with some good ideas every once in a while.

The Media Guardian has a curious article today on the effect that John Spencer's death will have on The West Wing. I say curious because it seems to be written by someone who doesn't know that much about how television works and can't even be bothered to find out. Take this quote

The West Wing, which is in production on its seventh season and is thought to have got two or three episodes in the can before Spencer died…

“Is thought to have” is a great weasel phrase. You can use it in all sorts of articles. You can use it for making statements that you don't have the facts to confirm, the confidence to assert or which may even be completely untrue (eg “The Prime Minister is thought to have refused the deal in no uncertain language”, “President Bush is thought to have taken bribes from Osama bin Laden”).

You can use it to avoid having to do research as well. Here a simple check would have revealed that the first nine episodes of The West Wing have already aired in the US. The NBC web site or would have shown that. A quick check of the calendar would have done the same, since the majority of US shows start airing in September and October. A little thought would also have highlighted the fact that production companies tend to shoot episodes weeks before they actually air, so it's likely episodes 10 and 11, at least, are already in the can.

How are they going to address Spencer's death in the show? I'm pretty sure a second fictional heart attack is the most likely option. The ongoing story line already has various politicians pressing his character to do more for the campaign, with Spencer refusing: “They're trying to kill me”, a reference to his almost-certain fate were he take on even more stressful tasks than running for vice president.

Highbury spurned a takeover offer

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Not that I'm at all worried, being a regular contributor to iCreate, but Highbury's not doing too well at the moment. Yesterday, the Independent on Sunday broke the news that Highbury spurned an approach from one of its former directors last week to buy some or all of its titles.

I'm guessing it could well be Imagine Publishing that made the approach, although that would only make sense if they were planning to expand or only take on the IT titles.

What staggers me though is how quickly it all went wrong. The Independent has a nice piece that analyses the recent history of the company, but I'm curious about how 3i so badly misjudged the situation only a year and a half ago. Well, it didn't misjudge it from its perspective, of course, but Paragon certainly got the sharp end of it.

A slightly better version of the Tories' campaign

So David Cameron is now hinting that there may be a switch in Conservative policy towards asylum seekers. Curious. All that talk of “Are you thinking what we're thinking?” that he helped mastermind and now it turns out he thinks that was a bad idea.

Would a better line have been “Are you thinking what we're thinking? Then can you tell us what it is, because we haven't a clue any more? But we'd really like you to vote for us. Would you? Pretty please? We'll do anything.”

This change of heart is relatively simple to explain. Cameron knows that the Conservative party has an image problem: basically, anyone under the age of 35 thinks they're pure evil. He's also discovered that if a party argues that we shouldn't allow in more than seven asylum seekers each year from places that torture and murder you such as Zimbabwe, while greeting with open arms thousands of economic migrants from Australia and South Africa, it might be perceived as just the teenciest bit racist.

What? You didn't know that the biggest groups of immigrants to Britain each year are (white) Australians and South Africans? And you didn't know that most of them have come here to work, save up all their earnings then spend it all travelling around the rest of Europe rather than pumping up our anaemic domestic demand? Shouldn't rely on The Sun, Express and Daily Mail for your news then, should you?

As an aside, In case you're wondering where I stand on this, as far as I'm concerned, the more economic migrants the better. We should be thanking our lucky stars they want to come here to work their backsides off for us in jobs that none of us want to do. Or even in jobs that we do want to do, but we don't have the skills for. Think about it: the hotel service industry is practically run by Poland at the moment; God bless EU expansion for our daily room service. And I know of several companies that would be floundering with an undertalented staff of posh kids if it weren't for some highly educated Australians and South Africans bumping up the average IQ level.

Back to the Tories. A quick bit of maths: image of pure evil + covert racism = ?. David Cameron, former PR person, has done this calculation and realised that if he's ever going to win an election, he's going to have to appeal to people who don't have to wipe froth from their mouths every time they've ventured an opinion.

Unfortunately, David, you're still going to have to cope with the fact that a goodly proportion of your party, both members and MEPs/MPs, have sponges in their pockets for just such eventualities. Until we can be sure that the very second you lot get back into power, you're not going to rip your masks off and go “Ha, ha! Fooled you! We are Beelzebub and his minions after all”, you're not going to see our votes hitting the ballot boxes any time soon – or even in the next four years or so. Anyway, it's a secret ballot so stop trying to sneak a peak. Cheater.

Time's People of the Year
I may not like him or his company much, but Bill Gates does, to borrow a catchphrase, “do a lot of good work for charity”. So, actually, I'm glad he and his wife have been named two of Time's People of the Year. Well done, Bill. You deserved it.

Now isn't that interesting? Turns out that network providers can detect when a call is likely to be fraudulent. T-Mobile claimed it couldn't spot that 30+ calls to Romania from Spain in the middle of the night might suggest my phone had been nicked. Yet actually they could. They just wanted my money.

Just as a matter of interest, what do you call someone who benefits from the sale of stolen goods?

UK concedes in EU trade talks

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The FT is reporting the news that the UK has conceded some more of the rebate (effectively) to broker a budget agreement. Well, good. The EU has always been more of a self-support club than a simple single market, with richer members helping poorer members in order to avoid poverty, suffering and little things like wars in Europe (which always turn out well, don't they?).

The idea that we, the fifth largest economy in the world, should be sucking money out of little countries like Poland was frankly disgusting and I'm glad that we've at least reduced the rebate.

The other good news is the French have at least agreed to reconsider CAP spending, previously locked at agreed levels until 2013. Currently, 40% of the EU's budget goes towards CAP and as the current negotiations at the WTO show, the rest of the world doesn't like that. While the French have their own reasons for wanting CAP to remain, not all of them bad, and most of the UK's CAP subsidies goes on environmental conservation, rather than grain mountains, it's still an idea that needs to be slowly squashed out of existing - or at least substantially reformed.

It's almost a yearly ritual – the BBC article on the poor state of language studies in the UK. Still, I was fascinated to learn, after my earlier rant on the subject, the reason why the government decided to end the compulsory teaching of a second language in the UK.

The government justified its decision to end compulsion by arguing, in effect, that you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.

Its rationalisation was that it was better to encourage more language learning in primary schools (although ministers held back from making it compulsory at this level) than to force reluctant 14-year-olds to persist with something they had already decided they did not like or could not do.

Hmm. Aren't maths, English, PE and a load of other subjects compulsory? So why not a language? Or even two?

Maybe the government's trying to cover up the fact there's such a shortage of language teachers. Certainly, I doubt there's the required number for primary schools. But with so many of our young adults going off to Asia to teach English as a Foreign Language courses, couldn't we do the equivalent here? Maybe it would help with our rabid, insular xenophobia for all things European if we introduced more British kids to continental Europeans at an early age and got them speaking languages then.

Just an idea.

WTO fails to agree... anything

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Get a grip, guys. Everyone can see what the problem is, so have a little courage and do the right thing. OK?

George Bush
Don't you just hate it when an interviewee, even the president of the United States, refuses to answer questions on a subject, saying “That's not the story. This is the story...” and then talks about something that clearly isn't the story? With the alleged unlawful spying on US citizens on the front page of most US papers, President Bush still wants to claim the Iraqi elections are the real story. I don't think so.

A report entitled “Leading by Example? Not Exactly” shows that the government, as in most other green areas, is missing its own environmental targets. Nine departments missed over half their targets.

Choice stat of the article: government departments emit more carbon dioxide than Liverpool. That's a lot of hot air...

Of all the sites to find a guide to Hungarian language and culture, the last one I would have expected was the LinuxFormat blog. Yet there one is.

Hungarian looks like a fun language, with all those joined up words and suffices for additional meaning: German on steroids, really, although Hungarian is one of the few members of the Finno-Ugric group of languages, and is not an Indo-European language like German.

I'm tempted to add it to my list of languages to learn: after all, if JRR Tolkien was moved by the beauty of Finnish to learn it, I'm sure it's sister language must be mighty nice, too.

I suspect it'll be going on the bottom of my list, though, unless that trip to Budapest that we keep threatening to do ever happens. Somehow, I think the likes of Italian and Welsh are going to come in more useful.

According to the Media Guardian, BBC director of nations and regions Pat Loughrey “has made a call to arms to his journalists, telling them to break more stories and be more courageous.”

He also said reporters needed to go out on the road to get stories, rather than spending too much time in the office on computers, relying on “air-conditioned journalism”.

“One of the sadnesses of the technological revolution in journalism is that one can get by with so-called reporting that is entirely based on the PC.

”It would be tragic if we let new technology facilitate a sterility of journalism where the number of stories diminishes because we haven't the energy or the enterprise to go out and broaden the base.“

No kidding Pat. But here's the thing. How can the BBC expect journalists to be writing more and more stories for more and more media each day, while simultaneously cutting back on resources and staff? Something's got to give.

Technology isn't the issue. For the most part, journalists are just turning to the tools that allow them to do their job as best they can with the time and resources available. The real issue is the resourcing behind journalists. Unless organisations are prepared to let journalists spend time outside the office, maybe not delivering stories for days or even weeks at a time, when are journalists actually going to have the time to break these all-important, investigative stories? If organisations aren't prepared to pay the expenses necessary to research stories, how are reporters going to do their jobs properly?

Yes, certain skills and techniques are dying away, and that's bad news for everyone. But the issue isn't one of laziness in journalists: it's of media organisations refusing to fund journalism properly. Loughrey's remarks are simply a smokescreen for the BBC's own failures in resourcing.

Now Congress is backing the ban

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It seems both the House of Representatives and the Senate are against torturing people. Wonder if President Bush will veto an anti-torture bill? That would be interesting, politically. Can you be seen as being too tough on crime?

UPDATE: The White House is backing the measure.

So, let's get this right. First New Labour decides to end the mandatory teaching of at least one secondary language to children under the age 16. Now, it's setting targets for schools to ensure that at least half of them continue learning a second language. Meanwhile, they're trying to convince us all they're trying to reduce the amount of paperwork and target-meeting that teachers have to do.

What's wrong with this picture? Is it possible that the government have realised their mistake, don't want to appear to have done a u-turn and have done the next best thing?

Personally, I think teaching everyone at least one secondary language up to the age of 18 would be an even better idea. I would have hated it at the time, but I would have been very grateful now.


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A useful site designed to help Americans and non-Americans alike understand what the world thinks of current issues that involve the U.S by providing news and views about the United States published in other countries.

'Dr' Gillian McKeith I owe a lot to Ben Goldacre, author of the 'Bad Science' column in The Guardian. It wasn't so long ago that my lovely wife, Sarah, decided we needed to eat more healthily.

She was right. We did.

Now 'Dr' Gillian McKeith is a 'nutritionist' held in high regard by many. Channel 4 even has a show in which she goes round to people's houses, investigates their diets (and, erm, their faeces) and points out that they eat rubbish and need to eat better food.

Like that wasn't blindingly obvious.

But since Channel 4 has such faith in her, we thought, surely her advice would be worth following.

No sooner can you say 'we loves a nice book shop', then a copy of one of Dr Gillian's books was sitting in Sarah's hands and Dr G's advice was being followed. This included many things including eating lots and lots of blue-green algae pills every day, and regular shots of aloe vera.

Have you ever had aloe vera? Imagine what evil must taste like. Then take that thought and make it real. You now have aloe vera. For the record, ten out of ten people we know who tried it said “That's the most disgusting thing I've tasted in my whole life.”

But we were following the book so...

Anyway, one day Sarah was reading bits to me. I can't remember the exact words, but one sentence set off massive warning bells in my head. Dr Gillian was claiming that something was bad because it contained “inorganic iron”. Now, even giving her some benefit of the doubt (eg she meant that it was iron from inorganic sources or she was using the phrase informally), that still struck me as strange.

Iron, of course, is inorganic. Only things that are based on carbon are organic (hence “inorganic chemistry” and “organic chemistry”, the latter being the study of anything with carbon in it, the former being the study of everything else). To anyone with so much as an A-level in chemistry or biology, let alone a degree, implying that “organic iron” is better than “inorganic iron” is kind of like saying that “light-emitting lasers” are not as good as “dark-emitting lasers”.

A quick Google search and Dr Ben Goldacre's remarkable research into Dr Gillian popped up on my screen. Oh the horror. Dr Gillian's PhD is as worthless as a “Charles Kennedy: 10 more years!” T-shirt and her degree is in modern languages (or something equally arts-based).

I forward the links to Sarah and before you know it, algae pills and aloe vera are in the bin. Thank you Dr Ben Goldacre. Thank you Sarah.

But today, I read in the New Scientist the following words of wisdom from Dr Gillian's book Miracle Superfood: Wild blue-green algae:

Some algae enthusiasts believe that if you eat blue-green algae on a regular basis, you will connect with something essential and ancient. Richard France, a macrobiotic counselor, states it is not inconceivable that on subtle vibrational levels, unique genetic memories and messages of harmony and peace are stored in algae, which have grown undisturbed for aeons in a pristine environment. This information may be passed on to us at a cellular level, encouraging harmony among our own cellular family.... [algae] may even have special vibrational fields. Dr Gabriel Cousins describes it as subtle, organised energy fields. These vibrational energy fields are the life forces of the algae, which he believes have the ability to regenerate mind, body and immune forces.

Odd that in the whole time I was taking those pills, at no point did I feel connected to plankton, algae, amoeba or any other primeval-y organisms. Maybe I just didn't buy enough of them.

Or maybe, just maybe, she's talking complete cobblers. Does she even have as much as a GCSE in “combined sciences and woodwork”? Had I read those words before the diet of unpleasantry began, we could have avoided giving her even as much as a book's worth of cash. Still, at least we didn't give money to Mr Yousaff.

In his case you haven't been keeping up with tax cases, the news that Arctic Systems has won its High Court Appeal probably won't interest you very much. But for freelances, particularly those working in the IT industry, it's a very important case that strikes to the heart of how the Inland Revenue operates.

Salon has the cheek to attack Slate for boring coverage of the Iraq elections. While there are valid criticisms in the piece, the “boring” charge is amazing, given the sheer levels of frothing tedium that Salon strung together just over a year ago for the US elections. After that length of time writing snooze-worthy, yet rabid pieces that got everything wrong, right up until election day, Salon no longer has the right to call anyone's election coverage dull.

Economist's green coverage

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Life in sales

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Anyone in editorial thinking life in sales is easy, think again.

Online ABCs

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Ever wondered how you should be measuring your online readership numbers? Now you know.

A worrying day for Gordon Brown

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Gordon Brown
Looks like the Treasury is going to lose a few billions in tax revenue over the next couple of years, thanks to the ruling in the M&S case. Silly Gordon: it's not like you weren't warned.

New words you never knew

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I'm indebted to WebProNews for revealing the following new words that the next gen of predictive texters know - but most people probably won't. They're entertaining to say the least:

  • Lifehack - a tool or technique that makes some aspect of one's life easier or more efficient
  • Mashup - new information created by combining data from two different sources
  • Placeshift - to redirect a TV signal so the viewer can watch a show on a device other than his or her television
  • Playlistism - judging a person based on what songs are on the playlist of his or her digital music player
  • Podjack - to plug the cord of one's digital music player into the jack of another person's player to hear what the person is listening to
  • Puggle - a dog bred from a pug and a beagle
  • Sideload - to transfer music or other content to a cell phone using the cell phone provider's network
  • Vlog - a blog that contains mostly video content
  • Vodcast - a video podcast
  • Ubersexual - a heterosexual man who is masculine, confident, compassionate and stylish

Ahmadinejad is oddIt's the only explanation for why he's so completely mental: the CIA have obviously learnt from the KGB's efforts with Victor Yushchenko and have put something in Ahmadinejad's water to make him act off his head. Holocaust never happened? Why not move Israel to Europe? No one sane and free of Special Treatment 17 could come up with ideas like that.

Our one reassurance in such matters is that Iran's political class can't agree on much and there's such a massive disconnect between the leadership and the people anyway, that we can hopefully write this all off as one man's fevered ramblings.

Fetch your coat, Charles

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Somebody had to say it: it's time to raise your act a notch, Charles.

Improve recycling targets

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Friends of the Earth are running a campaign to get the government to improve councils' recycling targets. It's very easy to get involved - there's a page where you can send an email to Ben Bradshaw, the minister responsible - so please sign up.

Currently, the UK recycles less than a quarter of its waste, whereas Austria, Germany and the Netherlands recycle about half. Are we going to let them beat us? No!

Oh, the irony

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How amusing. An article on Spiked about bad writing. Still, this particular article isn't too awful and it does make a good point: polemical poetry really is bad.

Best errors of 2005

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Some cracking mistakes made in newspapers this year.

Whatever you think about the war, that's a shocking stat. To give you an idea, that's over half the number of people in the British armed forces (current numbers roughly 200,000) and 4% of the US armed forces (roughly 2.5 million).

More Instant Spanish flashcards

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I've finally posted week 5 of my Instant Spanish flashcards to my iFlash page.

It's always the poshest people who become the most vehement Marxists. Think of Anthony Wedgewood Benn - Tony to his friends; think of Kitten off Big Brother 5, who despite claiming an impoverished background and a life of enforced prostitution, turned out to have had quite a nice Berkshire upbringing and a stint in boarding school; then, of course, there's Timandra Harkness, whom I've already mentioned once today.

Fair dos and more power to them.

However, there is a certain irony and Islington-ness about it all that makes my blood boil. It just feels oh so patronising.

Take this Spiked article, all about how the demise of the Routemaster bus is an indication of the new nanny state we're all living in and the death of democracy. Now, I don't think anyone's going to argue too much that either of those is an incorrect summation of modern life in the UK. But choosing the Routemaster bus as a symbol of it all? What's up there?

When was the last time you were on a Routemaster? I'm guessing, if you're a writer or editor for Spiked, approximately ten to 15 years ago. Here's why I've come to this conclusion:

I'm a big fan of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column in The Guardian. I've also started reading Spiked, the magazine formerly known as Living Marxism but still not known for good writing.

Today, I had a sense of déjà vu come over me. An article debunking a recent study into homeopathy just appeared on Spiked. Yet, looky here. What's this over in Bad Science? It's an article debunking homeopathy that appeared a few weeks ago, that used more or less exactly the same arguments and ammunition.

They're not exactly identical so it's quite possible that two people independently came to the same conclusion. Yet Bad Science has become almost compulsory reading for science journalists and science readers, so it seems odd to me that Spiked's author wouldn't have read the piece.

Just as an aside, is Timandra really a name? Either poshest parents ever or pseudonym of the year...

UPDATE: Judging by her web site, I'm going for poshest parents ever.

Birthday absence

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Sorry I haven't been posting for a few days: work and my birthday both got in the way. Enjoyed my day off, but now I'm straight back into the slog of things.

The good old Amazon wish list proved useful this year, yielding Teach Yourself Instant Italian and Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopedia of Modern Life, both of which I'll be writing about later. Sarah also decided that I needed support in my rash promise to make a new Gordon Ramsay recipe every week (I made “Sublime scrambled eggs” yesterday) by buying me a blow torch. Crèmes Brûlées all round then.

My lovely wife is also taking me to the theatre on Saturday to see Otherwise Engaged, which should be fun: I'll be posting a review of that on my media blog once I've seen it.

But as a celebration party for the day, we did a tour of Greenwich, taking in The Mitre pub and Café Sol. The latter is a reasonable TexMex, although we encountered the strangest waitress there. She spoke fluent, accentless English, but couldn't understand a word of it. Very strange. Wished she'd had a label on her saying “I'm from...” so that we could have used our combined French, German, Spanish, Russian, Welsh and Greek to have a stab at helping her out. She was probably from Poland though, so we'd almost certainly have been stuck on a certain river without either a paddle or one of our main courses all the same.


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If you haven't heard that Living Marxism (I know, I know...) has transformed itself into Spiked, now's a good time to have a gander. There's very little hint of Marxism and there's some good writing there. In common with New Statesman, there's also some appalling writing there, but that can't be helped. As an example, there's a vaguely interesting but badly written article on mental illness in children there.

Christopher Hitchens sites

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If you happen to like Christopher Hitchens, here are some excellent sites:

They're all worth having a read of and I urge you in their direction immediately.

As regular readers may know, I'm working my way slowly through Teach Yourself Instant Spanish. I'm on week five now (flash cards will be going up on the site soon, once they've had a thorough testing) so that's only a week to go and then some revision to consolidate.

The big question is: does it work? Is this all for nothing? Now, I had good results with Teach Yourself Instant Greek, so I was willing to assume the same of Instant Spanish. And I've been having relatively good results with the occasional bits of Spanish I've heard on the tele: I even managed to cope without the subtitles during Lost's Ana-Lucia flashback last week.

So I decided to do a written test today and I was pleasantly surprised.

Mr Yousaff: your time is nigh!

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Remember Mr Yous(a|o)ff? Seems someone with similar thoughts to mine also lives in Lewisham and has referred him to the Advertising Standards Authority! Excellent organisation that they are, they do clamp down on offenders.

First off, my congratulations to Mr Richard Sanderson for having the foresight and the community spirit to do such a generous thing.

Secondly, I'm now feeling a bit rubbish for not having done the same. Do you think the fact that I recycle all the paper people leave by the mailbox, turn off the lights in the bin room when no one's using them and generally channel my efforts into "green" things compensates? I hope so.

Still with Year of the Volunteer under way and the RSPCA in urgent needs of people to stroke cats and rabbits (according to Radio 1), maybe I should find other ways to boost my karma as well?

Perk up journalists everywhere. No longer do you have to worry that your next article is going to suck: the bar has just been lowered.

The worst story ever written has seen the light of day.

It's over here on the Christian Examiner. Bookmark it now. In the future, whenever you face self-doubt, just return to that story and feel all your worries fall away. Whatever you're writing will never be as bad.

Why has what doubled?

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Just spotted this headline on the BBC:

A headline from the BBC news site: 'Men and prostitutes: Why has it doubled in 10 years?'

What exactly has doubled here? Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

That's right: I'm thinking they really do need some good subs at the Beeb.

Need an article template?

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Working on an article for the IT trade press, but stuck for an article plan? Look no farther, for I have one here. Use it sparingly or else people will begin to notice.

Ebola reservoir might be found

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The BBC is reporting that fruit bats might finally have been confirmed as the reservoir for Ebola. It's been a suspicion for a long time among many virologists that bats were carriers of Ebola (and potentially other filoviruses), so it's good news all round if it's true: we can now work on ways to contain the disease. If we don't, there a good chance that most of the great apes of Africa are going to get wiped out very soon as Ebola makes its way westwards.

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