November, 2002

Gimme Forty

November 20th, 2002 November 20th, 2002
Posted in Fire and Light
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Most of the do-gooders who delight in funding screw-ups like North Korea soon won’t have much money left to do their ‘good’ works, at least not in the UK. Home borrowing is at record levels and many people are taking advantage of low mortgage rates (around four percent) to buy second homes in the UK. However, UK fire fighters are walking out on strikes because they want a whopping 40 percent (yes, forty!) pay rise.

Now, I’ve no objection to fire fighters being paid enough to be able to afford to live in the over-priced property that exists around these parts. However, I’ve got to wonder at two things. Firstly, do other countries allow their emergency services to go on strike? And secondly, for one group of workers to demand 40 percent while everyone else is getting two percent seems completely outrageous. On the other hand, the two percent rises bear no relation to reality either so maybe it’s about time someone took a stand.

Even with the mooted compromise of 16 percent being suggested in some quarters, a pay-rise of that size for so many people will push local taxes up massively. Currently these taxes rise at around ten percent per year. Inflation is at four percent per year. So local councils are already spending more and more (and more). My local tax has doubled in the past ten years while my salary has stayed roughly the same.

To put this into perspective for American readers (I know you’re out there), council tax (levied on property and assessed by property value) is currently around 1,000-1,500 a year in St Albans. I know this is a lot less than similar taxes in the USA, however we generally pay far more in purchase tax than in most States. VAT [‘Value Added Tax’–paid on nearly all goods except food, books and children’s clothes] in the UK is 17.5 percent

One suggestion I heard on the radio this morning would be to pay more to fire fighters by increasing local tax on second homes (sic). These currently get a fifty percent discount on this tax if they’re unoccupied. This would be reduced to a ten percent discount. Not having a second home, this doesn’t affect me directly, but if it forces people to foreclose on their mortgages, it will drive house prices down. And driving house prices down would definitely push the UK into recession, according to the same radio report.

Of course, the other solution is to increase local council taxes massively, because fire fighters aren’t the only ones who’ll be wanting (and deserving) a giant pay increase.

Meanwhile, how am I going to continue paying for my films, festival entries and international jet-set lifestyle? Not to mention kitchen upgrades? And do all this while effectively working for the Government for half the year? Eh? Remortgage again, I guess. Hold on, I think I saw an interest-free TMF credit card application around here some place. More debt please–we’re British. Well, okay, some of us are. Is the grass any greener elsewhere, though? Really.

Kitchen Sink Drama

November 18th, 2002 November 18th, 2002
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Today I bought a cooker. This probably has some weird name in the USA, like range or hob or even hobgoblin. “Welcome to Hobwarts, Mr Potter! Would you like to see our range of goblins?” Yes, that sounds right, doesn’t it? Maybe not. Not even in the shop (or shoppe) where I went today, the Watford Cooker Emporium, although it doesn’t remind me of a joke about gobbling.

As for the not quite random cooker purchase, I blame Pete for this. He doesn’t read these boards so he’s a handy scapegoat. He sent me along to the Watford Cooker Emporium–aka. A&A Refrigerators, which makes even less sense–because they specialise in reconditioned kitchen appliances and he thought I’d get something cheap there. I bought something new for three times as much as I intended to pay. And I’m still not sure it’s what I want.

I’ve been working on the kitchen on and off for a few weeks now and have spent the past few days putting up ceramic tiles. Nice easy job, you might think, and you’d be right except for all the fiddly bits around pipes and electrical outlets and stuff which you have to cut shapes out for. I used an electrical jigsaw and made a lot of dust while spilling gobs and goblins of tile cement around the place.

Something else you might not appreciate about tiles with all these shapes to cut around is that there are no short cuts. You can’t simply whack up the ones which don’t need cutting on the wall and leave the exactly right space for the cut tiles to fit in later. Woah, no. Because when you come back, your new (cut) tiles don’t fit in those spaces. So you have to smash some off with a chisel (loud) or sandpaper tile edges for ages until a fit is possible.

Sandpapering tiles creates an odour akin to being at the dentist, by the way, which apart from being vaguely unpleasant at least confirms that both teeth and tiles are made of the same thing–ceramic. How come you don’t have to bake teeth in a kiln to harden them, though? There’s no need to answer that.

****

Okay, so the kitchen looks great and I’ve procrastinated long enough and it’s time to phone Simon to find out what’s happening with The Car. Plus there’s the whole drama of getting the print of Fate & Fortune shipped from Fort Lauderdale to Michigan for a screening tomorrow. Nothing is ever easy.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The Car. Simon is no longer working on the feature project he’d taken on which, although sad for him that he won’t be earning money for a while, means he’s now free to concentrate on my short as of this week. We yak yak for a while and he promises to take the rushes around to Pete (sound guy) tomorrow to be sync’ed up.

Tomorrow there are festivals to enter, expenses to be mailed out, bills to pay (rather a lot of them) and the stair case needs to be cleared so the nice people can haul this heavy lump of kitchen hardware up to my kitchen. It’s that cleaning part which will probably be the hardest, I suspect.

Then I’ve got to get grout into all those gaps in the tiles and I was going to lay new vinyl tiles on the floor. Hey, presto! Harry Pottery. A reasonably priced kitchen revamp. Even the cooker wasn’t particularly expensive (240, since you asked) although if I was going for broke, I’d have bought something with six burners and two ovens. “Going for broke” is the right word to use when doing a kitchen, methinks.

Still, the whole point of the exercise is to add value to the property and it should certainly do that. You can’t fool all of your bank managers much of the time, but you can certainly fool a large percentage of the house buying public most of the time. Even if you end up with a few tiles on Diagon Alley [groan]. Anyone for Quidditch?

====

Two days later…

I’ve got to get grout into all those gaps in the tiles

Top Decorating Tip #1: Never work grout into gaps with your fingertips no matter how tempting or simple this procedure may look. You will slice them up on sharp edges and then get grout in the cuts. These will sting painfully and not heal easily because grout–especially waterproof grout–sets and doesn’t wash out of cuts. This hurts to type.

I was going to lay new vinyl tiles on the floor

Top Decorating Tip #2: Measure the floor space *accurately* before buying tiles and then you’ll have enough to finish the job rather than be left with three gaps at the end.

This concludes today’s home improvement course.

– Kit ‘The Toolman’ Taylor

Armed Parasites

November 17th, 2002 November 17th, 2002
Posted in Fire and Light
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“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Now–right now, today, this minute in fact–if you were in charge of a starving population that relied on international goodwill to ship in free food, what would you make your highest priority? Let’s take it a step further and assume that your country supplies a big fat zero to the rest of the world in return for all that aid. Okay, let’s take a look at, oh, I don’t know… how about North Korea?

North Korea:
After decades of mismanagement, the North relies heavily on international food aid to feed its population, while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of about 1 million. North Korea’s long-range missile development and research into nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.
source: The CIA World Factbook

Today it’s reported that the country has officially announced it has nuclear weapons:
A commentary broadcast on state radio said North Korea had developed “powerful military counter-measures, including nuclear weapons” to cope with what it called mounting nuclear threats from the United States.
source: BBC News

Interesting use of the word ‘developed’. I’m thinking ‘bought’ would be more appropriate. Bought using money saved on buying food and power because charitable suckers sent it to them for nothing. I bet everyone just sleeps so much more soundly in their beds at night at the thought of all the good humanitarian work they’ve done. I certainly feel much fuzzier if not warmer.

Intel Inside

November 10th, 2002 November 10th, 2002
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Dear Intel Customer Support,

I bought your camera [a discontinued product line] and it does not work with my computer. It works fine with my friend’s PC but not mine. Here’s how I’ve installed it, here’s my system spec, here’s the self-help procedure I’ve followed from your website. I think it’s the Intel USB chipset because that’s what it says in your self-help guide. Your chipset is incompatible with your camera. Blah blah blah.

Keith [my bold]

=============================

Hello Keith,

Thanks for contacting us!

At this point, if you have gone through the LIVEVID.EXE file with no success, there is little more troubleshooting we can do… [blah blah blah] My suggestion would be to contact our support staff to determine if there is any additional troubleshooting we can do. [some more blah blah here]

Support can be contacted with the information at:
http://support.intel.com/support/9089.htm

Regards,

Jon S.
Intel(R) Technical Support

=============================

Duh. Duh duh duh. But you *are* the support staff. I contacted you. That weblink is the one I followed to contact you and to which you are responding. And your self-help file says that the chipset *you* make can’t communicate properly with the webcam *you* make. Durrrr.

[sound of banging head on wall]

Seeing, Touching, Tasting

November 10th, 2002 November 10th, 2002
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Several months later…
…The actress who was at the directing workshop I did with Herbie Wise writes back to me. She’s been working solidly and has finally read her emails and found the script for Strawberries and she liked it. Did I make it? I write back: no, I made The Car. Strawberries still sits there, a personal project. I’ve something to say, personally, with it. Things to explore. I think it needs more humour, more comedy, more levity and joy to function the way I want it to function. It sits. It waits.

****

Several months later…
…After my friend Jelena said I must decorate my kitchen and after my helpful buddies, Lucy and Pete, picked at the wall tiles which then fell off and after I stuck them back on with white camera tape. I bit the bullet and sucked on some lead which addled my brain. No, not really. Really I pulled off the old tiles and bought small white mosaic blocks. I replaced all the worktops (sic) and I painted the walls, pale grey. I’m repainting the gloss white woodwork, retiling the floor and putting up a splashback around all the work surfaces.

Now… the cooker which is old and falling apart looks out of place. It’s shades of brown and must be a health hazard. I need a cooker hood with an extractor so the room doesn’t get gunked with a thin layer of oil when I fry. These are good excuses to buy a new cooker and a hood, aren’t they? I think so.

****

Several months later…
…Since I had the soles of my boots replaced and they started falling off again, I went into a real cowboy boot store in the Mid West and bought a pair of good boots. Not all fancy big cowboy boots, mind, but good soft leather with some tread on the soles. The owner had pictures of him on the wall hanging out with his rodeo buddies, guys who ride bulls. He told me my size by looking at my feet and then handed me my boots. “These are what you want.” They fit, they look good, they’re hardwearing. No bull. I didn’t tell him that they were actually cheaper than my old boots.

Now… I probably can’t afford a new cooker, let alone an extractor. So it would be best if I didn’t fry stuff for a while. But I can walk around a lot with no worries so that’s okay.

****

Next… There were a whole bunch of thoughts hanging almost within grasp that I wanted to pluck out of the air and write about. Thoughts about politics and grass roots involvement and how democracy would be a whole lot better if the people involved weren’t career politicians or affiliated to a party. Thoughts about how money plays too big a role in electioneering and how some kind of random selection process, like jury service, might make a better system.

And that leads me to or flows from thoughts about how representation needs to mean what it says and how politics ends up trying to get re-involved in the minutae of people’s lives–where it has no place–because the so-called representatives weren’t really involved with the public in the first place. Or something like that.

Tomorrow. Perhaps. Or maybe that was it, just there, and tomorrow would be a good day to discuss the typographical joy of the Victor logo on mousetraps, where the inside of the red V is made to look like a small rodent’s head. Not so much fun when you’re chucking out the carcasses though. Like painting a cute name on the side of a bomb.

Who Knew?

November 7th, 2002 November 7th, 2002
Posted in Fire and Light
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Years ago when the Wright brothers were trying launch their first flying pram do you think they even dreamed of what air travel would become? To me, it’s still a miracle that a hunk of steel leaves the ground, literally sucked up into the air by simply going very very fast and thus driving air over the curved surface of a wing. I love looking out the window, marvelling at the whole process. But how many other people think that as they squeeze into their thirty centimetres of allocated leg room in baggage class, praying that, again this time, please God, don’t let me drop dead from DVT?

One of the last times I sat on a jet was Gatwick Airport, just south of London. The rain was coming down incessantly, making fast moving vertical streaks down the window and leaving trails of perfect transparent hemispheres. I found myself morbidly wondering what would happen if we took off with the wings all covered in water. Wouldn’t it all freeze up once we got above the clouds and cause the control surfaces to seize up? Did Frank Whittle think about the effect so much water would have when it went through one of his jet engines?

On reflection, he must have done because, of course, planes fly through clouds so they’re going to encounter a lot of water. But does it harm the jet to try burning water vapour like that? Okay, I wasn’t really looking for serious answers. I was simply wondering about stuff because we were sitting on the tarmac while a catering truck meandered its way over to stock up the plane and wasted half an hour of my time in the process. “The catering people were unable to get past some baggage trucks,” the captain told us. What would the Wright bros have thought of that?

Eventually, we taxied out to the runway and joined the queue waiting to take off. Our turn comes and the jets grow louder, blasting water back off the ground and turning the rain into steam. The vertical streaks on the window start moving at more of an angle as we thunder along. Forty five degrees, thirty degrees, twenty. Eventually the rain is moving horizontally across and then… it stops altogether. As we lift off the ground, water is blasted off the aircraft by the sheer force of air pressure and in a few minutes we’re up where the sun always shines. It’s minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit out there but it’s heaven.

So rain water doesn’t hang around on a jet aircraft’s control surfaces long enough to become a control hazard. The plane simply moves too fast. There’s the answer but really, who knew?

Sweet Tooth

November 6th, 2002 November 6th, 2002
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Wandering around the corridors of televisual power this morning, I found a tabloid newspaper–the Daily Mirror–from October 31st. Being mildly interested in who was allegedly giving it to whom and which drugs they were allegedly taking at the time, I picked it up. Scandal, scandal, woe, misery, fear and crime fill the first dozen pages. Speculation, pessimism, coke and sex.

Then we get to the first full colour advert in the paper–this for cheap beer–and on to more crucial matters of what the media dahlings are wearing this week (big yawn) followed by a spectacular NASA image of the plume of smoke from Mount Etna drifting 350 miles across the Mediterranean. That’s a lot of poison soot going up. Surely more devastating to the ozone layer than all the SUV’s in Italy.

Next, two pages of computer adverts tell me I could have a laptop for the price my PC originally cost me over four years ago and it will be nearly six times faster. Then there’s some more starving/sex/death/crime plus a few entrepreneurial success stories sprinkled in like a spoonful of sugar.

‘Car Crime Rises’, ‘Free DVD’ and ‘Teacher Put My Girl’s Face On A Sexy Model’ all clamour for my attention but I ignore this nonsense, turn the pages, blackening my hands in the process, skipping the partially- informed editorials and opinion pieces until I arrive at the features. Today’s topic: teeth.

Soft and dental ‘At last! A painless dental treatment that uses a whiff of ozone to beat tooth decay and banish fear of the dentist’s chair’ promises the headline. I hate getting fillings and want an everlasting mouth full of gleaming white enamel–bleam bleam–so I read. And it’s generating ozone–that stuff we’re always destroying–so it must be good.

The idea appears to be that squirting in high pressure ozone–which is actually highly toxic–can kill off bacteria. A rubber cap fits tightly around each tooth and the gas penetrates decaying tissue, killing 99 percent of bacteria. After treatment, mineral mouthwash and saliva remineralise the tooth and it repairs itself. 300 for a full mouth treatment, 35 for a single tooth. Sign me up right away!

Of course, it’s too good to be true. Never mind the fact that, of course, this won’t regenerate the Earth’s ozone layer, the process is still experimental and a caveat on the next page reads ‘But ozone gas is not without its risks’. Dr Julian Holmes, pioneer of the treatment, warns that breathing too much ozone can tear your lungs and the British Dental Association is calling for more research. Plus you can’t get into tight gaps between the teeth.

Bah. Oh, well. It will come. One day the next generation will look back on us getting dental treatment involving drillings and fillings and think we were living through some kind of dark ages. “They injected you with a needle? How positively medieval!” Until then, I guess we’ll have to wait or take part in an experimental trial.

Now, just a few pages on, the Mirror proclaims ‘Chocolate As Health Food’. Not only does it contain the same chemicals that make you feel good after sex, it can protect your heart, thin the blood, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure–oh, the list is endless… Got me again, I expect, but I’ve seen Chocolat and I’m already a convert.

Now here’s the website you didn’t know you really needed. Okay, so it’s a website operated by Mars Incorporated, a very large candy bar manufacturer, but those people who fill us up with sugar are seriously interested in our health, aren’t they? Really? Please! Too late, I hear it calling… Mmmm… Chocolate.

On to the funny pages…