Archive for the ‘Musings on Life in General’ Category

Everything in Moderation

April 7, 2013 5 comments

Prompts for the Promptless by RarasaurTrue Cost is a term for the often-overlooked, comprehensive expense of something, including the time-related and emotional costs.

The Cost

Worst case scenario…

The True Cost

So drink responsibly!

Drink Aware
Alcoholics Anonymous

Picture credits (Creative Commons licence):
Vodka Sobieski” – Kamil Porembinski
“Drunk Havaneise” – “Barry from London”
“South Western Ambulance” – Graham Richardson
“Berlin Cemetery” – Maximilian Schönherr

Eat up

January 24, 2013 10 comments

Yesterday’s Daily Prompt:

Shipwrecked! Read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?

I know, it’s yesterday’s Daily Prompt again. In my defence, by the time it arrives in my feed it’s already lunchtime here in the UK.


So, the basic story is that these four guys are stuck in a lifeboat with no food or water. One of them (Mr. Parker) is ill, probably from drinking sea water. One of the others decides he’d make a good meal, so the next day he cuts his throat and the three survivors chow down.

Would I have done the same thing?

Would I run back into a burning building to save the child screaming out the window? In my dreams I would. In my thoughts I would. In reality? I hope I would, though I doubt it.

Would I rush into the road and shove someone out of the way, knowing the car would hit me instead? Again, in my dreams I would. In my thoughts I would. In reality, would I bollocks.

Raw meat

Anyone for another slice of Mr Parker? (Photo courtesy of Michael C. Berch, Wikimedia Commons licence.)

The truth is that none of us know what we’d do unless we were unlucky enough to actually be in that situation. We know what we hope we’d do. What we’d actually do in a sudden emergency or if real desperation set in – we can’t predict that while sitting on a comfy sofa in front of the TV.

So, to summarise, in case there’s any confusion, I would like to state categorically and for the record  that there is no way that I would EVER kill and eat someone just to save my own life.

Unless I would.

That time of the year

January 6, 2013 2 comments

It’s “that time of the year”. Christmas has come and gone, and a new year has begun. They’re calling this one “2013”. It’s as good a name as any I suppose, and it’s handily one higher than last year, which makes it easy to remember.

I once wrote that I hate Thursdays. Well, I hate January as well. So you can imagine how I feel about Thursdays in January.

Anyhoo, January always seems like a bit of a let-down. All the anticipation, decorations and what-not have gone and we’re left with nothing but yet another whole new year to get through. There’s nothing at all between now and Easter, unless you count Valentine’s Day, which is just depressing if you’re on your own.

The problem with the year these days is that the whole thing is exactly the same. Once upon a time you could at least see the seasons change. A few years ago that stopped, and now we get:


Spring in the UK. And Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Picture by Tony Atkin (, Creative Commons licence) taken near St. Austell, Cornwall.

  • Spring – raining
  • Summer – raining and warm
  • Autumn – raining and windy
  • Winter – raining and cold

To be fair, it snowed a couple of winters ago, but that was quite unusual. Many years ago summers could get quite hot for long periods (in Cornwall that means temperatures in the mid to high twenties) and you could go outside in a T-shirt and shorts (well I couldn’t on account of my big fat legs), but last year all it did was rain.

Well, I guess too much rain all year is far better than no rain for years.

So let’s lift a glass to 2013 and see what it has in store!

(Could it be exactly the same as 2012…?)


December 23, 2012 2 comments
Picture courtesy of Federal Government of the United States

Picture courtesy of Federal Government of the United States

Once again, the end of the world has failed to happen. It’s now after 21/12/2012 so I guess we’re safe – for now. These predictions are starting to get a bit old. Any number of raptures have failed to materialise (although the chap in charge of that prediction has gone quiet so maybe he went on his own).

There was even a film made specially for this occasion (“2012”), which was released early enough to ensure ample profits before the world blew up, and the end of the world still didn’t happen. Stupid lying film.

This latest prediction was based on the end of the Mayan calendar – actually the end of a 5125 year cycle. Did anyone not think that maybe the Mayans couldn’t count past 5125? Or that maybe the “end of the cycle” didn’t necessarily mean the “end of the world”?

What about all these people who devised ingenious means to stay alive? Do they really want to live all alone in a dead and ravaged world? It’ll be quieter and a lot less complicated, I suppose.

Merry Christmas!

Stick to your guns

December 9, 2012 2 comments

Recently a friend posted the following on Facebook:

“Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you, “Do you want to pick door #2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?”

This is known as the Monty Hall problem, and the correct answer is to switch, though it’s all based on probabilities and sounds like bollocks to me (though I admit I’m mathematically challenged).

That’s a question most of us have had to ask ourselves, I’m sure. Not that exact question, of course. Most of us have never been on a game show. I’m sure most of us have no wish to be on a game show (or is that just me?). How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “Oh no, I was going to say that!”? Why didn’t you then?

The question posed here, in more general terms without goats and cars and a single chance to switch, is this:

“I’m faced with a choice. I’ve had a little think. I’ve made my choice based on any information I might have at the current time. Do I now change my mind?”

Many years ago, I was paying a particularly intense game of draughts (I believe that “across the pond” the game is called “checkers”). I don’t usually play chess or draughts or games of that ilk – I’m intellectually lazy and don’t like to think too hard about things when I’m supposed to be “having fun”. Anyway, this game had been going for about an hour and it finally came down to a choice.  I couldn’t win, but I could force a stalemate. I had only one piece I could move, and I could only move it one of two directions. I stared at it for five minutes, and was feeling the pressure. I was convinced I knew the correct move and I went the other way. I lost.

This isn’t the same as the original question, of course. This wasn’t random chance – the answer was there on the board but I couldn’t see it. I made a choice and then for whatever reason I changed my mind at the last moment. That’s bugged me for the past ten years.

So, in answer to the original question, I would not change my choice to door #2. If my choice is wrong, I’ll always know that it was my choice. I can live with that. If I change my mind and my original choice was the correct one, I’ll beat myself up about it because I’ll always know that my first instinct was correct.

So my advice (for what it’s worth), is this: when faced with a choice, have a good think about all the available information, make a choice and stick to your guns!

A Cure For What Ails You

December 2, 2012 2 comments
Lydia Pinkham

Cure upon which the song “Lily the Pink”was based (image from Wikipedia, Commons licence)

There have been many instances of “miracle cures” throughout the ages. So-called “Medicine Men” in the 19th and early 20th centuries (this is a guess but it sounds about right) would peddle “snake oil”, purporting to be some form of cure-all medicine. According to sixties pop group Scaffold, a young lady by the name of “Lily the Pink” invented a medicinal compound capable of curing all forms of ills. The Simpsons episode “The Front” saw Bart writing the words “I will not sell miracle cures” on the blackboard at the beginning of the show.

I’ve discovered a new cure! It’s a cure for “feeling a bit down”.

Note the words “a bit down”. This isn’t a cure for actual (clinical) depression. If you think you’re suffering from that, go see your doctor without delay, as it’s a nasty thing to suffer from and it’s usually treatable to some extent.

No, this is a cure for when you’re getting a case of the “why me’s”. Maybe one big thing has gone wrong in your life, or lots of little things at once.

A necessary digression is called for at this point. Soap Operas. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re everywhere. I’ve not seen many soaps outside of the UK, but from the ones I’ve seen, US soaps seem to involve rich glitzy people living amazing lives. Australian soaps feature real people, ups and downs, some dangerous situations and a hell of a lot of barbecues. UK soaps feature real-life gritty people living really depressing lives.

OK, now we’ve got that sorted, back to the cure. My cure works a bit like the jabs you get when you’re little, where they give you a tiny amount of a disease and that prompts your body to produce antibodies, ready for the real thing (I think that’s how it works but I’m waaaaaay too lazy to look it up).

So are you ready for my cure for “feeling a bit down”? Here it comes…

Watch a British soap opera!

Every bad thing that could ever happen, happens in quick succession to these people. They’re the unluckiest people in the world. Here’s an example.

Eastenders Ian Beale

Ian Beale (Eastenders) – before and after (identical images available on multiple sites, copyright probably BBC)

One chappie considers himself a successful businessman. He’s been married several times. One of his ex-wives hired a contract killer to knock him off. He went bankrupt, but pulled himself back up. Now for his recent history – he meets an old flame. They decide to get married. She’s in love with money, so he spends and spends until he’s on the verge of bankruptcy again. His relationship with his daughter suffers because of this. His fiancée runs off just before the wedding. He finds out that his little brother accidentally murdered the neighbour by whacking her over the head with a picture frame. He has a breakdown and is last seen wandering down the middle of the road in his jimmi-jams. He’s later found living under a bridge sporting a huge beard and holding up his trousers with a piece of rope.

Blimey. I mean, that’s pretty bad. It kind of puts my slightly leaky car and lack of life direction into perspective. I feel so much better already! No matter what’s happening in my life, it’s nothing compared to the goings-on in my favourite soaps. I’m cured of my “feeling a bit down” situation. Hooray! I’ve been exposed to so many depressing episodes of soap operas, I’ve become immune!

Disclaimer: this cure may not work

English – UK or US?

September 30, 2012 5 comments

I read a great article a couple of days ago on the BBC News website – “Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English“. For many years “Americanisms” have been sneaking into the British language, but it appears that, to a lesser extent, the reverse is also true!

Popular culture seems to be the main reason for much of this exchange of language. Many of the biggest films and TV programmes hail from the US and so, of course, the British are usually able to understand US English as we’re constantly exposed to it. For example, most British people understand words such as “hood” (bonnet), “trunk” (boot), “gas” (petrol), “sidewalk” (pavement) and “shopping mall” (shopping centre).

There are also spelling differences to consider. I think the general rules for converting from UK English to US English are:

  • If there’s an “s” pronounced like a “z”, replace the “s” with “z”
  • If there’s an “ou”, remove the “u”
  • If a word ends “re”, change it to “er”

These spelling differences can be tricky – as a computer programmer I’m getting very used to typing the word “colour” as “color” (otherwise it won’t work!). A colleague at work said something funny about the “ou” situation – “Right, we’ve gotten rid of the damn British, now let’s get rid of all those damn u’s!”.

Using slang is where we have to be careful. Because the languages are so similar, it’s easy to forget that what we say may be misunderstood. Back when I worked in Germany, there was an American woman working in the lab. One day she said to me “Hi, nice pants!”. I immediately panicked – was there a split in the fabric? Was my zip undone? It took me a while to realise that she was talking about my trousers!

The same colleague who had the “ou” theory also mentioned another slang word which could lead to misunderstandings. Is it safe to enter a corner shop in America and ask for “twenty fags, please”? Or to call out “I’ll be there in a minute, I’m just having a fag”? Possibly this particular slang word has two distinct meanings in both languages. If not, it would sound very odd. A “fag” in Britain being a cigarette, of course.

So, embrace both languages but think before you speak!

Things I’d like to know

August 12, 2012 7 comments

There are many things I’d like to know.

Is there life out there in the big wide universe? Where did the energy come from to create the Big Bang? What ever happened to Cuddly Bear, my constant childhood companion?

Here are some more – maybe someone out there in Interweb Land can help me.

  • Why is it that, no matter the size of the bag you’re carrying and how much is in it, the thing you want is the last thing you drag out of it? A small and potentially embarrassing pile of personal items forms as you delve into the entrance of what appears to be a gateway to another, infinitely large dimension, in which somewhere is the item you seek.
  • At what stage in the process to produce instant coffee do they remove all the flavour, and how do they achieve this? And more to the point, why? You pay a huge amount of money and all you get is hot brown water.
  • What’s the point of Thursdays? Thursday is a nothing day. Let’s break it down.
    • Monday: the weekend is over, we’re recharged, let’s get some work done!
    • Tuesday: doesn’t have a lot going for it, but at least it’s not Monday. The week has properly started.
    • Wednesday: we’re halfway through the week!
    • Thursday: we’re pretty worn out now. The weekend seems miles away. Tomorrow is still not the weekend, nor is it nearly the weekend. The promise of “halfway through the week” Wednesday seems so long ago.
    • Friday: it’s the weekend tomorrow! One last push and we’re there!
    • Saturday: party time!
    • Sunday: and… relax.

    Nope, Thursdays are no good to anyone, neither man nor beast.

  • Why do I get really tired when I shouldn’t (at work, driving) but when I get home and try to sleep, I lie there for hours and nothing happens.
  • How do they get away with these lying deodorant adverts where the bloke sprays it on and women come running for miles to throw themselves at him? I’ve been using the same brand for years. Nothing.
  • What’s with these cosmetics adverts with all the mad science? Is the brand new anti-aging cream really so good because it contains the breakthrough “nourishplumpigeninoxTM” formula, or did someone make that up?

There’s no prize on offer, but if anyone can help me with these questions, you will have earned my heart-felt thanks. More precious than gold.

Taste tests, calories and statistics

July 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Taste tests – seen regularly on TV adverts, “randomly” selected “members of the public” choose between two or three unmarked brands and decide which they prefer.

I imagine that the various manufacturers perform their taste tests and if they find that their brand is not the preferred one, they keep it quiet. Otherwise they hire some actors and make an advert. Which is fine.

However, from my own personal experience in switching brands, I’m not at all sure we can actually infer any usual information about which brand is best from a taste test. I see things falling into three main categories:

  1. Brand A really does taste better than Brand B (a statistically significant sample is required!)
  2. The taste tester has been buying Brand A for years and it tastes “normal” – and Brand B just tastes a bit “off” – these people don’t like change in their food
  3. The taste tester has been buying Brand A for years and is ready for a change and so chooses Brand B

I recently changed my brand of “spreadable butter” – those are the ones which taste butter-like but aren’t really butter. I bought a new brand but had some of the old left, so I tried them both side by side and decided the new one tasted more butter-like. To my taste buds, that constituted a proper, successful taste test.

By the way – spreadable butter? Butter and margarine both have pluses and minuses – butter is natural but high in fat, margarine is lower in fat but full of chemicals (to make it spreadable). Is spreadable butter not the worst of both worlds?

But I digress.

Here’s a personal example of case (2) above. I used to drink regular cola. I didn’t like the taste of diet. Then I looked at the calories in regular cola and how much I drank a day, and discovered I was absorbing several hundred calories just through what I was drinking. People tend to discount drinks as being “mainly water” but try adding all the calories up and you might be surprised. So I switched to diet. Ugh! After a couple of weeks it tasted fine and now I hate regular drinks instead – far too sweet!

If I’d taste-tested regular versus diet a few years ago I would have preferred regular, now I would prefer diet – because I’ve become used to diet, not because it actually tastes any better.

It’s all very well getting a statistically significant sample for a taste test, but if more people already use Brand A, will they tend to prefer Brand A because they’re used to it?

And that’s statistics in a nutshell. Useful at face value, but think about what they’re not telling you and take them with a pinch of salt. Now, is that a pinch of Brand A – table salt, Brand B – rock salt, or Brand C – low-salt salt…?

Take me to your leader

July 3, 2012 Leave a comment

An alien, like the ones who could be visiting our resource-rich planet in the near future – or have they been here ALREADY?

“Independence Day”, “War of the Worlds”, “Battle: Los Angeles” – Hollywood is chock full of alien invasion stories and it’s safe to say that generally, it doesn’t go well for the human race.

I was reading a post on the origin of UFOs on The Matrix Times blog recently, and that got me thinking – what would happen if a bunch of extra-terrestrials actually landed here?

First of all, I’m hoping that they’ll be friendly. Okay, our planet has vast amounts of (moderately polluted) water – a resource which is undoubtedly scarce on the aliens’ home world (according to many Sci-Fi stories). They may wish to take this by force! But more than likely anyone with the technical skills to reach another planet will be willing to at least talk before crushing us like bugs.

My hypothetical aliens might bring a variety of special skills with them – technical know-how, telepathy, may even the ability to alter the very nature of matter, effortlessly changing one substance into another (like turning lead into gold, for example)!

Don’t even get me started on the popular alchemical pursuit of attempting to change a common metal into a rarer metal, thus making the rarer lovely shiny metal so common that the world’s economy collapses (again).

We humans have our own special skill – fearing and hating anything different. So, what would happen when these happy friendly aliens land, eager to be our friends and share their enlightened views of the universe? I’m assuming at this point that the aliens

  1. Contact us first and over a number of years build up a relationship with us so that our fear is somewhat decreased prior to face-to-face contact, or
  2. Have the necessary technology to protect them against the best missiles money can buy during their approach and entry into our atmosphere

Here’s my breakdown on what I think will happen.

  • 10% of the population won’t notice
  • 10% of the population will believe it to be a government conspiracy
  • 50% of the population will panic
  • 5% of the population won’t care
  • 5% of the population will embrace the newcomers, eager for cultural exchange
  • 10% of the population will attempt to exploit the aliens for personal gain
  • 10% of the population will immediately form the “Children of the Sky” cult, worshipping them as gods

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit down on the human race, but somehow those numbers look about right to me. Probably more than 50% of the population will panic but they fall into the other groups too.

And the funniest thing of all? After all this panic and cult-forming has taken place, it turns out that our new alien friends are actually just a group of student aliens from the Sirius Major College of Fine Arts, backpacking around the galaxy during their summer holidays.