Give me this at least

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This.

If I could make a bargain with the universe over what I was allowed to eat without causing an eczema flare-up, I wouldn’t ask for much.

It turns out, if I don’t eat butter I eat a lot less bread, and if I eat a lot less bread I eat a lot less cheese. I miss it, but most of it isn’t a deal breaker. The vast quantities of mature cheddar I used to get through were just gluttony.

It also turns out that the only thing I really miss about milk is the tiny amount I put in a morning cup of tea. I like to drink. Just one. Cup. Of. Tea. Per day. I’m not your typical British person (or teacher) in that respect. I don’t even like it in the afternoon, unless there’s a Fortnum and Mason Dundee cake in the vicinity.

So I will set wheat bread* aside. And I will forego butter. And I will put oat or almond milk on my cereal and peanut butter on my glutard toast.

But if I could have the following, please, universe:

  • Mozzarella (*on pizza, yes, made with wheat flour), no more than once a week;
  • Parmesan (with glutard pasta or in soup);
  • A tiny drizzle of milk in a single mug of tea, once per day.

That’s it. I’ll stir oat cream into my soups and try not to think about cheese on toast, and I’ll drive to Woburn Sands for glutard fish and chips, if I could just have a carbonara occasionally, and a Saturday pizza made with my own hands, and a mug of Yorkshire tea.

Is that too much to ask?

(Eczema is substantially reduced – currently getting by with aloe vera gel and a nightly Benadril.)

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The Great Flickr Shitr

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The first picture I uploaded to Flickr, taken in July 2004

Flickr was one of the earliest social networks, starting in February 2004, and, among other things, pioneered the use of the hashtag, which later became a key part of the Twitter experience. It was a place where you could upload photos/descriptions, connect with other users, join groups, make comments, and create themed collections of your own photos.

I joined in July 2004, and it really felt like a small and friendly community in those days. Of course, it was hard to see how they would ever make money.

They were acquired by Yahoo in 2005, and the long downhill descent began. There are three things that Yahoo did that are variously upsetting and annoying.

The first was that they neglected it, allowing its performance to get worse, and were particularly slow to respond to the smartphone revolution. Even as the iPhone became the most ubiquitous camera used by Flickr photographers, the Flickr app experience was kludgy. As Instagram demonstrated how simple a photo sharing social network could be, Flickr’s was complicated and slow. Even today, if someone shares a photo from Flickr to Twitter, it loads extremely slowly, making for a poor user experience.

The second thing was that they tried to drive Flickr users towards Yahoo as a web portal at a time when the very idea of a web portal was becoming ridiculous. But Yahoo are an advertising company, and that’s what they wanted to do. So they loaded an ugly, clashing Yahoo menu bar at the top of the Flickr site, and they forced everyone to use a Yahoo log-in rather than their old Flickr log-in.

Which is when the problems began for me.

The third thing was that Yahoo did what all these tech companies do: they tried to avoid their user support responsibilities by pushing people towards forums, where the same questions get posted over and over again, with similar answers, and nobody ever gets helped, and the secret portal into actual technical support is hard to find and opaque. All of which is the inevitable result of a free service that clearly doesn’t stand a chance of making money through advertising and which becomes a white elephant, or a millstone hanging around the neck of a slowly dying corporation.

Yahoo is acquired by Verizon, Flickr slips further down the list of priorities, and more and more people find themselves in the same situation as me: unable to resolve the log-in, or successfully recover lost passwords. In 2013, Yahoo was hacked, and 3 billion user accounts were compromised.

Around the same time, my Flickr log-in and password corrupted in some bizarre way and went from being a recognisable email/password to being long strings of random characters.

Like this: 0753036973656d61dc27j2gs1s29h4g8

That’s not my own corrupted log-in, but mine was very similar, and so was the password. I mean, it’s not even an email address. In time, I was unable to get in at all, and after a fruitless run-in with Yahoo support, I ended up creating a new Flickr account so I could continue to upload pictures.

But it was never the same, and I was never happy, and I eventually stopped using the service.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 20.54.00The screen grab left shows a sample of the many Flickr users who are having issues accessing their accounts.

My own problems were exacerbated by the way my Yahoo identities seemed to burgeon. When Yahoo acquired Flickr, I already had a hidden Yahoo identity, because my then-internet provider, BT, used Yahoo as the backbone for its “brinternet.com” email service. But somehow, I ended up with yahoo.com and yahoo.co.uk identities. Over time, and attempts to log into Flickr, these have expanded, and I now appear to have four distinct ways of logging into Yahoo. Four!

But here’s the thing. Every single one of them connects to the new/replacement Flickr account, and none of them will connect to my 2004 vintage Flickr account. So I have four Yahoo log-ins, and no way to get into my old Flickr. In my mind, at least one of the log-ins should resolve to the old 2004 account, but no longer does. So it’s an orphaned account, is what it is. There’s a case here for keeping hold of all of your old computers, phones, and other devices, because account details might be cached/stored. O for the iMac that used to be in the garage.

And it has been five years.

I’ve tried on a couple of occasions to get help from Yahoo. When I saw the news that Flickr is being sold to Smugmug, I thought it was time to try again.

Yahoo’s response is basically robotic. You give them the details of your account(s) and you still get a response along the lines of “I cannot find the account with the details you have given. Please give…”

I got exactly the same automated response as last time. Replying to their emails rarely elicits a human response. They send through a link to “security questions”, which ask you things you could only know if you had access to the account. It’s enraging, and obscure:

  1. Name five private groups or private albums on the account
  2. Give the date of the last charge in the format dd/mm/yyyy
  3. Name the 3rd party services that are linked to the account (apart from Facebook/Tumblr)

My response to (1) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

My response to (2) is, I don’t even know what this question is asking.

My response to (3) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

We went through this three times.

Each time, I replied to their email saying I didn’t understand and couldn’t possibly answer their questions. Each time, I didn’t get a response until I filled in something on the security page. Each time, I was then told that my responses were inadequate.

In the end, they refused to give me access to my account—but they did offer to delete it on my behalf. Consider the warped logic of that: no, we can’t verify your identity, but yes, we will delete all these photos that might not belong to you, because why not.

Meanwhile, I still have four different Yahoo log-ins that all give access to the wrong Flickr account. Meanwhile, I continue to receive communications to my secondary email address which are aimed at my original identity.

The only solution appears to be for me to click through 3,600 photos and manually download them, then add them to the other account, and try to live with the knowledge that the kudos attached to being a 2004 early adopter of this pioneering service is no longer mine.

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And this is probably my most popular Flickr photo, taken in 1998 but scanned in 2005

Loaded

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A pile of steaming bullshit, yesterday

It’s time for one of those periodic I’m-not-one-to-blog-about-work-but… posts.

Teacher workload has been in the news, and I was just momentarily nonplussed by the reporting of a speech given by some empty suit to a head teacher’s conference. The reporting of this speech is along the lines of, this bloke promises not to introduce any major new reforms of examinations so that teachers can catch a breath.

Here’s a quote from the Graun’s coverage of the speech (which, to be fair to them, takes a different angle than the BBC’s straight parroting of whatever they were briefed to say):

Hinds had earlier earned applause when he said there would be no new tests imposed on primary schools and no overhauls of the national curriculum, GCSE or A-levels for the remainder of the current parliament, beyond those already announced.

So let’s unpack this. He said, no overhauls of the national curriculum, GCSE or A-levels for the remainder of the current parliament. Ha ha! So how long’s that? Does he mean current parliamentary session? In other words, no new reforms until, oh, at least until after the next summer holidays? So We have a whole seven months of respite? Or does he mean until there’s a general election? Which, given the state of this government, might be sooner than he thinks.

The sting in the tail of the Graun’s coverage of course was that phrase beyond those already announced. Because the inconvenient truth is that, with the exception of English and Maths, most subjects are only just starting to deal with the new back-to-the-50s specifications forced upon us by Gove. So teacher workload caused by new specifications isn’t going away for the remainder of the current parliament. It’s only just begun.

The other thing that bothered me about all this is that the audience, while they seemed fairly hostile to this particular Tory suit, were the people largely responsible for teacher workload: head teachers. They can pretend all they like that it’s the government who force all the shit upon teachers, but the truth is that the biggest problem in schools is school leaders who are susceptible to gimmicky ideas, don’t understand their own job, and cover up their ignorance with wave after wave of accountability nonsense as part of a target-drven culture of fear and conformity.

The worst thing they do is not acknowledge that each new initiative comes on top of the last new initiative. And because they would never admit that anything they introduced was a waste of time and effort, everything remains in place, festering away under the big pile of Things That Must Be Done. This pile of steaming bullshit, more than anything, is the source of workload pressure, and this is what’s driving teachers out of the profession. Every new school year begins with a long list of Things That Teachers Have To Do, and, from then on, new shit is piled on top of that on an almost weekly basis. These head teachers, let’s not forget, are all careerist bastard shitbirds.

Anyway, as Refusenik in Chief, I take pride in ignoring most of it. What you can’t get away with not doing, you learn to game. This has always been the main issue of Accountability Culture: everybody just games the fucking system to survive, so what’s the point?

If you switch your focus to self-preservation, you can survive teaching. Don’t be tricked into going the extra mile or bullshit about how to create inspiring lessons. Don’t take work home, don’t work more than 40 hours a week (stick to 35 unless there’s a parents’ evening) and never, ever volunteer for anything. And print this on a t-shirt: if their parents (and grandparents) cared, they wouldn’t vote Tory.

Prenez-le à la limite

 

My wife drew my attention to this news, which I missed when the Guardian covered it a month ago. In short: from 1 July 2018, the speed limit on a two-lane French N- or D- road is being lowered from 90kph to 80. This is a reaction to an increase in road deaths in 2016, and a steady rise since the historic low of 2013.

90kph is 55 mph, which (if you stick to it) already feels slow compared to the British equivalent of 60mph. On the other hand, I’ve always admired the rationality of French speed limits, which rise in 20kph increments, from the town-centre pedestrian friendly 30kph (which most people ignore) to the standard 50, then 70 for built up areas on open roads and 90 for two-laners in the open country side. Hit a dual carriageway, and you get 110kph or 130kph on a motorway in fine weather.

Throwing in a new 80kph limit feels wrong, for a lot of reasons. I think that most of the avoidable accidents come down to the bizarre habits of French motorists.

Statistics show that 32% of the 3500 road deaths in 2016 were caused by excessive speed. That’s the way the Guardian article reads, anyway, although it’s ambiguous enough to suggest that we’re talking about a smaller subset of 32% of the 55% of deaths that occur on N- and D- roads. Which is more like 18% of the total. And the French government says that the lower limit could save up to 400 deaths per year, which is an even smaller percentage.

I’m no defender of speeding: it’s irrational and anti-social, and generally the marker of an ignorant or nasty person who feels no empathy. If you’ve ever lived anywhere where motorists regularly pass your windows doing inappropriate speeds, you ought to be mindful when passing other people’s windows. Think of the children, and the pets, and the grown ups, too. Speeding not only destroys lives, it damages infrastructure. You get more potholes in heavy breaking and acceleration zones, and on bends, where the mechanical grip of tyres tears at the road surface.

We’re talking here not about speeding through villages or towns but open road speeding, which is another matter. I’ve been driving in France for long enough and regularly enough to know a number of bad habits of French motorists, including but not restricted to speed. While speed is always a factor in a road traffic accident (how could it not be?), the insanely bad judgement of many motorists is to blame for most of them. These bad judgements include:

  1. Following too closely (tailgating)
  2. Driving in the middle of the road
  3. Dangerous overtaking – usually from a position of (1)
  4. Drink-driving
  5. Mobile phone use
  6. Speeding
  7. Not knowing how to signal at roundabouts

(1) is a habit I’ve been observing for nearly 25 years. They do it to intimidate, often, especially on motorways, especially on those mad “black weekends” when everybody in France is driving to the South (or back to the North). But they also do it thoughtlessly, or because they don’t understand that thing about dropping back from the slow lorry in order to see past it in order to overtake it safely and give yourself more room to accelerate. To achieve (3), your typical French driver will follow excessively closely, then swing blindly out into the opposite carriageway and hit the gas.

I’ve observed (2) with puzzlement for the same period of time. Because I’m driving a right-hand-drive car, I can of course judge my position relative to the verge/shoulder more easily. But French drivers seem to have a phobia about being close to the verge and instead drive everywhere in the middle of the road, with two wheels on the white line or even in the opposite carriageway. Points (1), (2), and (3) together are why huge stretches of road heading towards the Dordogne have been fitted with fixed bollards down the middle of the road (many of which, of course, have been mown down). They will even remain on the wrong side of the road when taking a blind bend at speed. I have long adopted a passive approach, where I am prepared to take evasive action at all times. It’s a wonderful life.

It’s also astonishing, in 2018, how blasé French people still are about drink driving. This is the country, of course, where it’s compulsory to have two self-test breathalysers in your vehicle, but that doesn’t stop people. They still act surprised when I refuse a drink because I’m driving. And the fact that so many French people still take two hours for lunch means that two o’clock in the afternoon is prime time for being shitfaced on the road.

But speed, (6), the disease of motorists everywhere, is as big a problem in France as it is in the UK. Frankly, until all of us deal with our attitude to speed, our righteous outrage over the American gun problem is pure hypocrisy. People are so affronted if you slow down to the speed limit when you hit the village. I had one lorry driver, a couple of trips ago, try to overtake me – in a village – on a hill, just because I was still doing 50kph and he wanted to prove something (I guess?). You end up being tailgated by a possibly drunk truck driver who really wants to make a point, like being in Duel.

So will slowing the already-ignored 90 limit to 80 make a difference? Who knows. There are already many stretches of 70kph limit for zig-zag sections or junctions, and unless there’s a camera, they’re generally ignored. There’s a bridge near our place in France where an Argentinian general died in the river on a bend in the road, and in spite of the enormous marble memorial that marks the spot, people still end up in the river there, including a truck driver recently, which prompted the introduction of a 50kph limit (which was subsequently raised to 70 when people ignored it – logical).

Me? I’m busy calculating the impact on our journey time. The truth is, that over an 11-hour, 600-mile drive this new limit won’t make much difference. It’s in the day-to-day shorter journeys that it will have an impact, and even then, you’re talking about one or two minutes on a 20-minute drive, aren’t you? Maybe it will make cycling more pleasant, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

It’s the irrationality of speeding that gets me in the end. The insistence on doing it as if you have a right to do it, and wilfully ignoring the reality of what happens when you do it. We’ve all been there: you overtake the slow lorry and go screaming up the road, only to encounter another slow lorry a few km ahead. And then the slow lorry you overtook is behind you, in your rear-view mirror, reminding you of the futility of your manoeuvre. You can do that three or four times, and you don’t really get anywhere any faster, but you do stress yourself out.

But when you’re looking for your freedom, nobody seems to care, do they?

Tappety tap tap – How The X-Files disappointed us all and how it’s all somehow Elon Musk’s fault

It’s no surprise to anyone that the 2018 season (11 of that parish) of The X Files started badly. What the producers should have done, if they really wanted to make more, was to throw away the unresolved story arc from the 2016 edition (Season 10), write it off as a bad job, and just give us a few monster-of-the-week episodes of a similar quality to Mulder and Scully Meet the Were Monster, which was the only decent one to come out of the revival.

Instead, they gave us Scully in a hospital repeating, ‘We have to find my son,’ and Mulder being irrational and Cigarette Smoking Man saying, ‘Mind if I smoke?’ And a lot of monologuing and frowny faces. Oh, and either an alien pathogen that will wipe us all out or a secret space programme: those are your choices. Important to remember that.

Anyway, it’s all bollocks, and its a shame to see that pioneering beacon of the Platinum Age of TV – the TV series that led some of us in the 90s to argue that, “TV is now better than the movies,” and to really mean it – reduced to the level of a bedroom farce. And please: turn the bloody lights on.

Nowadays, I even wonder why Netflix bothers to put movies on its channel. They dropped The Cloverfield Experiment this week without much fanfare. Judging from the reviews, it’s about as good as The X-Files, and I’ve no interest in watching it or the hundreds of other Netflix Original movies on the service. I took up an offer of a year of Sky Movies on NowTV, and I can barely find anything worth watching on it that was made after 1975.

Which brings me to Elon Musk and why this is all, probably, his fault. Musk, lest we forget, gave us PayPal, which is literally the worst way to exchange goods and services for money. He’s also working both sides of the extinction/space programme equation with his claim to be saving the world with electric vehicles/batteries and also ensuring humanity’s survival when that fails by enabling a Mars colony.

But both of those things, like a bad X-Files episode, are dangerous fiction. The idea that you can save the planet by (a) building and selling big, ugly luxury cars to rich people and (b) increasing the use of current battery tech is a joke. The cheapest Model X in the UK is over £86,000, for which money you could buy, oh, three or four second-hand Priuses. And lithium-ion batteries require the extraction of finite resources from the earth: not just lithium, but cobalt and nickel too. The price of cobalt has increased from just over $20 per tonne in 2015 to around $60 per tonne in 2017. As the dollar signs spin in the eyes of mining company executives, there is certain to be a rush to extract these minerals cheaply. Last time I looked, the mining industry did not have the best environmental record. They’re not averse to blowing up mountains and pumping filth into the water supply. Increased demand for Lithium means that a smaller proportion is extracted from brine using solar energy and more is extracted from hard rock.

Which is before you get to the dead animal skin seats and farting occupant. If Elon Musk was building buses and mag-lev trains, I might view him more positively (I’m aware of the Boring Company, but private cars are the problem, not the solution).

Which brings us to Space-X and its rocket programme. I’m not one to argue that this is a waste of resources which could be used to alleviate human suffering. We can do both, just as we could have done both in the 1960s. Governments can always do more, and human suffering results from ideology, not scarcity.

No, my problem with Space-X is that it is both a pointless project with no chance of success and an elitist scheme for the rich to indulge their Ayn Rand fantasies about building a citadel to ride out the apocalypse. The notion that there can be an offworld human outpost to survive a catastrophe here on earth is as insidious as the idea of an afterlife. Both give believers permission to let this world, here and now, go to shit. Space-X is going to be used to launch spy satellites, woop de do.

Furthermore, I am sick to the back teeth of how our culture makes heroes out of billionaires. The worship of ‘successful’ people is another fiction, ignoring the factors that really enable them to get where they are. They’d be nothing without the society that supports them. The infrastructure, the education system, the facilities that their companies depend on to exist. I mean, did Musk build the internet? No, that was built with taxpayers’ money. The billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies from which Musk’s companies benefit are rarely spoken of. It’s the welfare state, same as it ever was, for billionaires.

And as for the David Bowie music and the “Don’t Panic” cuteness, I’m not buying it. I was reminded of a Baudrillard quote last night, watching the launch: Behind these smiling eyes, there lurks a cold ferocious beast that’s fearfully stalking us.

Finally, yes, I did watch the launch, and the two-booster touchdown, but as the Space X presenter said everything was, “Awesome,” I couldn’t help thinking we were a long way from James Burke and the Apollo landings.

Tyresome

s-l300Following the Catastrophic Pothole Incident, I have been paranoid about the car and the tyres and the wheels and the suspension. The Touran vibrates at speed. I was especially aware of this on the continued motorway journey home, but wasn’t sure if the vibration was being caused by the roofbox and the high winds. You never know.

I don’t use the car much in the UK, but when I went out shopping in it, I was still convinced that it was vibrating, so I took it to the tyre place in MK to be checked out. Two of the alloy wheels, they told me, were borked, both beyond repair, one of them, “Like a 50p piece.”

“Yeah, he said it had been vibrating.”

“Well, it would.”

I happen to have a set of VW 16″ alloys that I took off the Polo, because driving a car with low profile tyres on these roads is a mug’s game. But they were just the wrong size. So.

I wanted a benchmark for replacements. Ebay has sets of 4 – used – for around £200, but caveat emptor and all that: I could be replacing damaged wheels with damaged wheels, and that’s if I found the right size. I phoned the local VW garage. Volkswagen’s price for replacement OEM rims? £480.

For a set of 4? you ask.

No.

For just two replacements, then? you ask.

No. That’s the price for each wheel. So to replace the two damaged wheels, the best part of £1000. VW do offer after-sales rims, starting at £130 each. Or steel wheels, starting at £80 — plus, they would want to gouge you for £40 for a branded wheel trim. Or hubcap, as we used to call them. You know, those things you see lying in the grass at the side of the road.

£40 for a set of four wheel trims? you ask.

No. That’s the price for each one. Making a steel wheel plus trim cost more or less the same as an alloy.

Anyway, I was just benchmarking. A quick internet search turned up a set of steel rims for £133, so that’s what I’m getting.

£133 for each wheel? you ask.

No. That’s for a set of four.

I’ve never understood the fetish for alloy rims. You can’t see them when you’re sitting in the car. Sure, they’re probably not as precisely engineered as alloys, but I don’t think it’s really much of an issue. But it’s the last days of the Roman empire, isn’t it? They continue to sell pups and we continue to buy. Have you seen the state of Teslas? They look like they’ve been bolted together by blindfolded chimps wearing mittens. Their stark interiors look as inviting as a building site portaloo, and the giant touch displays look like someone threw a cheap television at a Model T’s dashboard. As for the leather seats: have you heard about the DFS Sale?

Volkswagen’s price gouging is no worse than any other manufacturer, I suppose, though I’m still bitter about the extortionate amount they want for replacing the old 30-pin iPhone adapter with the Lightning equivalent. I read last week that BMW are trying to charge people £80 a year for Apple Carplay, which Apple supply to manufacturers free of any fees, so good luck with that. And in the days of Google Maps, the fact that built-in sat nav can cost up to £2000 is a joke. The latest hilarity is the premium they charge for fitting a £5 Qi charging mat to a modern vehicle.

So, the increasingly shitting looking Touran will look a tiny bit shittier, and my unalloyed disdain for motor manufacturers endures.

Travelers and Manhunt: Unabomber – reviews

Travelers Season 2 (Netflix)

travelers-netflix-eric-mccormack-castI really enjoyed this “mid-price Canadian science fiction” series when I watched its first season on Netflix. You start out with low expectations, thinking it’s going to be just another one of those high concept shows that starts out okay, goes downhill, and/or gets cancelled quite quickly. But it turned out to be much stronger than I thought.

The basic (low budget) premise is that the future is fucked, so that ‘travelers’ from there are being sent back (in teams of five) to try to fix things. They transfer their consciousnesses* into the bodies of people who are about to die, take over their lives, connect with the rest of their team, and carry out missions. So far so ordinary. Where this show shines is with its cast (including Eric McCormack and MacKenzie Porter), and its emotionally intelligent writing, which is not afraid to spend time on the consequences that ensue when a different personality takes over a body. An old man in the body of an athletic teenager, for example. Or a highly intelligent medic in the body of a mentally disabled woman.

Where a lesser show might simply want to focus on the mission-of-the-week and forget the messy personal stuff, this show knows that in the end, that’s where the best stories are going to be. Like breaking Protocol Four, for example, which is don’t change the future by making a baby using your new host body.

So to Season 2, which picks up the conflict with things going wrong, the future changing, and the team’s Historian becoming less and less able to predict the present. This season takes time to build up relationships between some of the travelers and their host families, leading to some powerful episodes that have a real emotional impact — and a huge payoff at the season’s end.

I binged it over a few days: so good.

Manhunt: Unabomber (Netflix)

1998_unabomber_01Not to be confused with Netflix’s Mindhunter, this show is a dramatisation of another true FBI story involving profiling: the hunt for Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber. Kaczynski carried out a decades long bombing campaign, targeting academics and others involved in modern technology, which he considered to be the root cause of all of society’s problems.

Kaczynski was caught thanks to what came to be known as forensic linguistics, which is to say, he had a very distinctive and somewhat archaic writing style, which his own brother recognised when the Unabomber’s manifesto was published in The Washington Post.

This is a fascinating TV dramatisation, which uses a multi-threaded narrative to take us through events before and after Kaczynski’s capture, and a number of flashbacks to the bomber’s childhood and the years leading up to his retreat from modern life. The show manages to find sympathy for the man, who was one of those child prodigies who never quite fulfilled his potential. In fact, I’d say he’s the poster child for the dangers of pushing kids out of their peer group. He skipped a grade in school (jumping from 6th to 8th), thus leaving behind his age mates and becoming a freak who ended up isolated and angry. There’s a fanciful scene in which he delivers a boobytrapped classroom note to someone who had hurt his feelings. Then he went to Harvard at 16, where he got pulled into a brutal programme of psychological experiments that led to him being personally abused and belittled on a weekly basis.

The upshot was a man who failed to fulfil his early promise, still got his PhD, but then gave up teaching after two years and went to live in the wilds of Montana in a mathematically perfect log cabin. His bombing campaign ensued.

Meanwhile, modern technology has brought us the 45th President of the United States.

Great series, well worth a watch.

*That’s a lot of esses

Melting Down is Good for Business

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Toxic masculinity, as embodied by Rupert Murdoch’s melting face

It’s been a week of meltdowns in the news, sure enough. Meltdown was the name of one of the CPU bugs that were revealed in the New Year. While people were still shitting their pants over the Great Apple Battery Scam (not a scam), Intel revealed something they’d been sitting on for a while, which was that the way their CPU chips works (by speculatively anticipating what they’re going to be asked to do next) leaves them vulnerable to exploits. This was trumpeted widely as a precursor to the End of All Things, Millennium Bug style, since just about anything with an Intel or ARM processor was affected, but (as of Saturday) we’re still alive. Still, you can smell the lawsuits from here, can’t you?

It was last May that all British Airways flights from two airports were cancelled because of an IT problem, and this is the kind of meltdown that pundits fear might ensue when a system vulnerability like this is revealed. More seriously, that same month saw “cyber chaos” in the NHS, as computer systems that hadn’t been updated from Windows XP were attacked over a weekend.

This is what I think of whenever people express concerns about Trump and his obsession with weapons and nuclear buttons. This past week of Whitehouse Meltdowns following the “revelations” in Michael Wolff’s book have been entertaining, and you can’t help but hope it takes us one step closer to the Hollywood Ending of this Presidency, which is when the American people collectively point their fingers in Trump’s direction and pause dramatically before saying, “You’re fired.”

While it’s clear that millions of people are going to suffer as a result of Trump’s “welfare for the rich” tax legislation and his “welfare for the rich” healthcare changes, I have less fear that he’s ever going to launch a nuclear strike. This seems like a cartoon fear of a cartoon president, a childlike clown who has no real power, and is simply going to end up being managed when the grownups take over. Trump is not Putin: he has no real power. Like the rest of the Republican Party, he’ll do the bidding of his corporate and media masters, the Ronald McDonald birthday clown of politics.

As well as being good for lawyers in class action or cease and desist lawsuits, these various meltdowns are good for the news business, as people addictively click on stories to read about how Apple or Intel are ruining their lives or how Trump’s hair is combed and lacquered. And I’ve noticed as an adjunct to all this that the papers are full of chin-stroking columns about the perils of social networking and screens. It’s all New Year New Me and Think Of The Children and, very helpfully, Black Mirror season 4. Same as it ever was, if you ask me. Ten years ago, I would chortle with my students about all the Facebook negging that the Daily Mail went in for, but like lawyers smelling Class Action, the newspapers are all smelling New Year’s Resolutions, as people try to detox from Trump and Bannon and Trolls and whatever that episode of Black Mirror was about.

Should we be worried about tech meltdowns? Probably. As rail commuters weep about paying nearly £8000 a year just to get to work, and our cars hit pot holes and have their own personal meltdowns, and the NHS suffers through yet another Winter Crisis, it’s clear that our infrastructure is fucked. And when it comes to IT, which is increasingly getting involved in every part of our lives, the infrastructure is all in the hands of corporations. So whether it’s your light bulbs, your front door, your fridge, or your TV, these CPU vulnerabilities are likely to strike anywhere. And the only way to hold these corporations to account is via the blunt instrument of the class action lawsuit. Because the politicians do not have their minds on infrastructure, do they?

In the UK, we’re distracted, permanently, by Brexit meltdown. In the US, they’re distracted by Trump meltdown. And even if they weren’t, absolutely no politician ever is interested in building infrastructure projects that won’t come to fruition until long after they’ve left office in disgrace after putting their hand up someone’s skirt. So, in a sense, we can blame toxic masculinity for all of these meltdowns. Men are really too emotional for high office.

Lens me your ears

comaprison imageInternational lens crafters Hoya now offer a special type of glass for night driving called EnRoute. Gimmick, I hear you cry, and yet you will have noticed, as have I, how much harder driving at night is in the era of LED and halogen headlights. Talk about your law of unintended consequences. The big selling point of LEDs and halogens has always been that brighter, stronger pool of light in front of your car at night, which is bound to make night driving easier, right?

I find it hard to believe that anybody now finds it easier to drive at night. You could accuse me of getting older, sure, but my difficulties with night vision probably stabilised about 20 years ago. What causes me to utter the words Jesus Christ  or Jesus Fucking Christ multiple times when driving at night are the eye-searingly bright headlamps coming the other way. Doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest £1000 option Christmas tree lights on your car, you too are being blinded regularly – especially on dark, undulating, winding country roads.

I’ve often complained about the absence of cats’ eyes from French roads. Driving at night over there in wet conditions often involves moments where the white lines disappear completely, and you have no idea where the road is. I had a couple of truly hairy motorway moments this summer in thunderstorms, one of which was in broad daylight, and my problem with disappearing roads dates back at least 20 years.

But the journey we completed yesterday, 21 hours after we set out (on what is normally a 9–10 hour drive), may have been the worst yet.

I’m kicking myself for a series of poor decisions to start with. Poor decision number one was that I booked a 9 a.m. crossing — because getting through passport control (my greatest stressor) is dead easy at that time, but it meant leaving home around midnight. ‘Around midnight’, when my wife is involved, always ends up being ‘Around 11 p.m.’, which is when we set out. As usual, I checked Google Maps for the best route, and what I think of as ‘the Northern route’ was marked as one minute faster.

In other words, nothing in it, but on the basis of that single minute I chose to take the Northern route. A key advantage of this route is that more of the first two hours of the journey are on dual carriageways, whereas both of the two Southern routes involve two hour stretches on N or D roads, passing through multiple villages. Another advantage of the Northern Route is that it is mainly on N roads, so there are fewer motorway tolls to pay, which in these financially straitened times, might be important to me.

The N57 follows the Moselle valley, and winds and undulates considerably more than a motorway, and is not as well marked or lit, and the road surface is more variable than a motorway. I only ever seem to drive on it in the worst weather, so I don’t have good memories. What I was thankful for, given that we were setting out at the arse end of a bank holiday (it was still New Year’s Day when we set out), there were no lorries, and therefore much less spray than there would otherwise have been.

So the journey North was okay. By the time we turned westwards on the N4, lorries were starting to appear again. Still, I felt like we were going to reach Reims within about 4 hours, which is making pretty decent time. And we were within an hour of Reims, approaching Saint Dizier, when disaster struck.

A decision not made was to continue a little further than Nancy to Metz, where I could have joined the A4 autoroute, and travelled across to Reims that way instead. How much time would have been in that? Google wasn’t saying. Anyway, compared to the A4, the N4 is a piece of shit: a patchy, badly lit dual carriageway with invisible white lines, and — it turns out — massive (and notorious) pot holes.

The pot hole we hit at 70 mph — and it was that, around 110 kph, the speed limit, on cruise control — was so deep and so wide that it felt like driving into a brick wall. I had literally just been thinking, as I so often do, about how bad it would be to get a flat tyre in our shitty VW Touran diesel with its shitty — and expensive — “tyre repair kit”, which is what you get instead of a proper spare wheel. I had been thinking about the inconvenience and inevitable difficulties of a flat tyre at two o’clock in the morning in the middle of nowhere, France, when we hit the pot hole. There was a brief moment of almost hope that no damage had been done before the rear tyres — both of them — completely deflated.

So even if we’d had a spare, we were fucked.

Luckily, I pay over £200 a year for international driving cover through the AA, so we were covered.

But it was dark, and windy, and cold, and we were on an N road, not a motorway. There was no hard shoulder, so we were pulled into the side on a dual carriageway, and the lorries kept thundering past, some of them so close they weren’t even all the way into the outside lane. I made everyone, including the cat, step over the barrier and away from the car, and we stood there wrapped in blankets for an hour while we waited for the tow truck and a taxi.

What great service. I mean, after the one-hour wait, it was terrific. We were taken to an Ibis hotel (basic, but modern and clean) and the car was towed to a garage, where two new tyres were fitted by noon the following day. We weren’t covered for the tyres (which aren’t included under “parts”, apparently), but the tow, the labour, and the taxi journey(s) and the hotel rooms were covered. As much as I’ve resented shelling out for this cover that we’ve never before needed, I was so glad to have it. And if it hadn’t been for the cat freaking out all night long, I’d have had a good night’s sleep on a comfortable bed in the Ibis.

The pothole was locally famous. The tow truck guy had picked up someone with exactly the same problem at the same spot two days before. And both taxi drivers were aware of it, too. I expect it’s that pothole that keeps the Saint Dizier local economy afloat.

Anyway, here’s my message to car manufacturers. Your LED headlights are a fucking blight on society, and your absent spare wheels are an absurd swindle to match your lies about ‘clean diesel’.

 

Instant Pharma

Winter_road_treatment_using_salt_brine
Yep, it can be done

The schools were closed, so I had a look online last night at the Kafkaesque appointment booking system and changed my doctor’s appointment from the 18th to this morning at 8:30. Latest symptom of my gradual falling apart: constantly watering eyes.

Which was ironic because walking down to the doctors in the snow this morning was even more treacherous than it might have been because, with my eyes filled with tears, I couldn’t see where I was placing my feet. You might be asking yourself, why was your original appointment (made two weeks ago) so far ahead in time? And the answer is, because the Kafkaesque system seems to release random tranches of appointments, so there’s a kind of lottery system: depending on when you log in, you might get lucky.

Which, I’m sure we all agree, is exactly how a local care health system should work.

I also tried this morning to phone and make a nurse’s appointment, as required, for my hypertension review. You can’t make those online, so you have to go through the hellish telephone tree instead. Now, I dialled on the E of Eight o’clock, when the system opens, and after pushing the virtual buttons on the telephone tree, found myself at position number THIRTY FOUR in the queue.

By the time I was walking carefully down the hill into town at around 8:15, I was at number 21, so I hung up – chancing that they would let me make an actual appointment at the actual reception.

I managed to do this – for January, wahey – and then sat waiting for my name to appear on the Screen of Shame in the waiting room. I’d arrived ten minutes early, and the delay (20 minutes after the surgery had opened) was given at 20 minutes. In the event, it was more like half an hour, which is pretty good work, if you think about it, to be half an hour behind after 20 minutes.

The waiting room was like a scene from the toddler version of Mad Max, with snot-covered, ear-infected kids squirming around and spreading their germs while their mothers conversed with unnaturally loud voices. Prescription obtained, the next step was to slide and slip to the pharmacy, which was closed because the pharmacist hadn’t arrived at work. Which meant slip-sliding away to the next pharmacy (Boots, as ever, being a last resort). I say slip-sliding because, of course, the pavements were treacherous with compacted, slushy snow and ice.

Should this be the case? Is this normal? The main road through town was actually relatively clear of snow. The gritter lorry only just came up our road a minute ago (and didn’t come as far as our house), but they appear to have cleared the main road yesterday. So cars were fine. Most of the cars I saw were huge 4x4s, naturally, so it’s nice for them that the road was cleared, isn’t it?

AllTractors-web
Yep, pavements snowploughs (and blowers) are a thing – just not where I live

Meanwhile, pedestrians, of which there were many, were left to fend for themselves. And you might shrug your shoulders and accept this as just the way of things, but it is most emphatically not. There are many reasons why the UK (England in particular) has never really felt like a European country. As a stark expression of our national values, the fact that pavements aren’t cleared while roads are is a clear indication that we don’t belong in Europe.

There are such things as pavement snowploughs and gritters. There are probably even some in this country – somewhere. But in a Tory-run area that has cut public services to the bone? In 4×4 country? I’ve even seen salt being applied by hand at pedestrian crossings in France.

Meanwhile, I’ll be off to the physiotherapist this afternoon, hoping I don’t slip and fall on my bruised tailbone – again.