Archive for November, 2006

Unusual food in Scandinavia

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

(Tasteless). According Svenska Dagbladet there is a row going on in Finland over pictures taken on the Russian front during the war (in which Finland was for a while, unwillingly, an ally of Germany). These have been kept secret ever since, because they are not conducive to good relations with Russia. The paper reproduced one of them: a spy with his hand in the air, about to be shot with an automatic pistol, but it says the real problems are the ones showing Russian soldiers reduced to cannibalism: in particular there is meant to be a corpse who has in his mess tin one of a comrade’s ribs.

Naturally, I went over the the Finnish papers to try to learn more. But the only one in Swedish has some kind of subscription deal going, which I could not be bothered to sign up for, though it does look very slick. Helsingin Sanomat has a little English-language edition, which made no mention of this story. On the other hand, it did have news of a fracas on one of the Silja line ferries, when the board of directors held their annual general meeting there. It was on one of these boats that I sat up till five in the morning once, drinking wth Vladimir Bukowski and a woman from Toronto whose father owned a Volkswagen dealership. But nowadays they seem to shut the bars more promptly. Predictable trouble ensued, and one of the Estonian directors punched a barman who refused to accept a bribe to keep open. The story continues:

“discussions continued in the ship’s office, where Mehtonen [the Finnish CEO] made it clear that because of poor service and lack of professional skill among the personnel, the ship’s whole crew would soon be changed for a new one, and above all, a cheaper one.”
In the morning the members of the group arrived at breakfast bringing their own beer and strong spirits with them.
They were so noisy that the other passengers complained.
“In addition, the group tried to prepare toasted fish for themselves from the buffet table, at which point the toaster that they used caught fire. Thanks to quick action by the personnel, the situation was brought under control.”

What kind of a hangover makes you want to put herrings in the toaster?

Sunday Sillies

Sunday, November 26th, 2006
  • Is that the way the girls are in Texas? According the Houston Press, via Wonkette, a Republican woman running for Tom deLay’s old seat had to do so through a write-in campaign. Unfortunate, since her name was the less than memorable “Shelley Sekula-Gibbs”, many voters mis-spelled it and the Fort Bend County election office had to decide which of these was valid. You get a flavour, I think, of Texas politics when you learn that one of the votes counted in her favour was actually spelled “Shelly DraculaCunt Gibs”.
  • The Swedish edition of Wikipaedia claims that there used to be a law forbidding men to be stay alone with cows and goats, lest they be tempted to bestiality, a crime which was until 1864 punishable by death.
  • this reference to an experiment by Scott Eric Kaufman should screw up his results by offering evidence of transmisison backwards in time.

This is how it ends

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

You know that impulse to have a quick game of freecell now and then? Well, here is a man who yields to it. To be precise, he claims to have played the first 32,000 games in sequence four times over, which suggests four fifty week American years of his life have been spent at this. I know that there are people who lose their lives to World of Warcraft and similar MMORPGs but to lose it to Microsoft Freecell?

More fragments

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
  • Anyone who knows me will be astonished that I managed to score 83.6% on this test — it’s worth ten minutes of your time if you are interested in musical perception. Not safe for work, unless you have headphones or no one near you who is trying to concentrate.
  • Happy thanksgivings, all you lot over there.
  • I have discovered two excellent piece of free or cheap PC software for photo editing and printing. Raw Shooter Essentials was recently bought by Adobe and will vanish from the market soon. But for the moment, it is free, legitimate, and excellent. Anyone who owns a PC and a camera that will save in RAW format should grab a copy while they they can. Qimage is $50.00 and worth it. It does the editing that RSE doesn’t; in particular level balancing and cropping, and it makes a startling, visible difference to the quality of large prints by using its own interpolation routines. The interface is idiosyncratic, and the help very obviously written by a programmer. But he’s an excellent programmer and there is a helpful tutorial. If you want to print your photographs beautifully, you need this. You probably also need special colour calibration on both printer and monitor. But I am not yet prepared to spend another hundred pounds on that.
  • The fundies haven’t got the memo yet: a local church pushed through my letterbox a newsletter with a story about an Iraqi called George Sada who is currently working the evangelical circuit in Washington: “Religious freedom has finally arrived in the strife-torn nation of Iraq and an unprecedented number of Iraqi Muslims are becoming followers of Jesus Christ, says retired Iraqi general George Sada. Sada recently made this announcement at a private dinner just outside of Washington DC … A Sada associate said: Sada told me some 5,000 Iraqis have publicly identified themselves as new followers of Christ since Iraq was liberated, and that an estimated eight out of ten Iraqi believers say they converted because Jesus appeared to them in dreams or visions. Other reports suggest Saddam Hussein’s throne room in his main palace in Baghdad had been turned into an evangelical church after the war.” It’s worth remembering that there are (a) millions of people who actually believe this kind of thing and (b) others who are funding its dissemination in England. The amount that we respectable religious correspondents don’t know about the loonies is really rather frightening.


Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has a wonderful piece in the Guardian today on Lord and Lady Black. He is funny both about their social pretensions, which were indeed comic and life-enhancing, and their fanatical American nationalism, which was distinctly less life-enhancing. As he points out, they brought some other strange Canadians into London life as well:

For some reason, Steyn no longer writes for the Telegraphs and Spectator as he used to, pronouncing from New Hampshire with enviable self-confidence on the affairs of Iraq or anywhere else.
Apart from predicting that George Bush would win the 2000 presidential election in a landslide, Steyn said at regular intervals that Osama bin Laden “will remain dead”. Weeks after the invasion of Iraq he assured his readers that there would be “no widespread resentment at or resistance of the western military presence”; in December 2003 he wrote that “another six weeks of insurgency sounds about right, after which it will peter out”; and the following March he insisted that: “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone who looks at Iraq honestly to see it as anything other than a success story.” I miss him, too.

Hit and Run

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

The Saturday Financial Times is an unfailing pleasure. It offers all the pleasures of journalism: enlightenment, entertainment, and the occasional tingle of outrage all over. This normally comes from the How to Spend It section, apparently edited by the last Marxists in Europe, determined to sharpen the contradictions of the class struggle. How else to explain the feature on Page 95 this week?

“Chartering a jet for shopping in Paris, Milan, or even New York is not as extravagant as you think, says Avril Groom.
As recently as the turn of the millennium, the idea of taking a private plane to go shopping seemed nothing more than an outlandish indulgence of the super-rich.
Now such as trip would barely raise an eyebrow among the well heeled and busy.
Small groups of friends, who might previously have treated themselves to first- or business-class travel for a luxurious city break, are now doing the maths and discovering that for not much more they can fly in their own time, avoiding lengthy security check and, in these unpredictable days, the stress of travelling with a planeload of strangers.”

Stress, my dear. Such a scourge of modern life.

The Guardian fund for rent boys

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Readers with a long memory for embarrassment will flinch at the words “Clark Cook County” — the Guardian’s attempt to swing the 2004 presidential election by organising a letter-writing campaign to a the voters of a marginal district of Ohio. It was a very interesting example of the way in which the British, even those who might have felt themselves anti-American, felt they had a stake in, or a — what was that phrase — “special relationship” — with the country. It was also a complete disaster, and an education in the capacity for abuse of American right-wingers.

So, should I write a piece urging our readers to another intervention in American politics? The prostitute who brought down Ted Haggard has found his business collapsed as a result. He is appealing for funds on Paypal. Should we not draw this to the attention of a philanthropic readership?

Shutting down scammers

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Does anyone know where one can complain to get entirely fraudulent phone numbers shut down? A friend of my wife’s, a genuine hero, the Russian dissident Mikhail Kukobaka, has been hit by a transparent scam letter telling him he has won the “BBC Lottery”, based in Harrogate. At least, it is transparently a scam to any native speaker of English — the BBC, apparently, uses a Spanish Yahoo email address involving the spelling “lottory” — but he wasn’t certain of this and asked for advice.

I don’t think any lasting harm has been done, but the letter also contains a couple of contact phone numbers. One is a mobile a VOIP and the other an 0870 number. These should be shut down, of course, but I can’t work out from the Ofcom website where to start. I suppose the other obvious step is the police cybercrime unit.

It is remarkable, though, that a man who survived 17 years in the Gulag, two years in Chicago, and now lives in Moscow as a pensioner, should be gullible about something merely because it comes in his email, in a foreign language.

UPDATE: I attempted to ring the Essex Police high tech crime unit. It is unavailable because of a switchboard malfunction. No one I spoke to had an email address. Nor is one listed on their web site.

UPDATE 2: I did eventually managed to check the numbers through ICSTIS. they are both operated by Magrathea Telecommunications, which provides invisible VOIP services, amongst other things, so that there is no obvious way of knowing where they will pop out. Next stop, to ring the company. But first, finish something else.

What I missed out on in art lessons

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Despite going to schools where there were very good art teachers, I had, and have, no talent at all. Or so I thought until I saw This video. Now I understand that my problem, all along, was that I had the wrong brushes.

Browser truce

Friday, November 10th, 2006
I have been using Opera for nearly ten years now, and for most of that time it has been the quickest and best-thought out browser on any platform. It had tabbed browsing, keyboard control, bespoke ad blocking, and full indexed searching of email and bookmarks before anyone else. You can get all these things with addons in Firefox, but it is a tedious and disorganised process.

But it still has irritating quirks. The email client sorts and searches wonderfully, but it doesn’t do anything else. In particular, it doesn’t do MAPI and it has a pretty horrible editor. There are always sites that don’t work at all with Opera, and some, like Flickr, that don’t work well. So it is a bad habit of mine to run beta versions of Opera, in the hope that these problems will be fixed, and the latest weekly builds have had a couple of bad regressions. First came a bug in the regular release which wiped out the multimedia keys on the keyboard. Since the volume control on my amplifier is tucked way under the desk, this was a major pain. It was fixed after about six weeks, but the new build has a problem which stops it displaying compressed pages from the cache, which is even worse. Since almost all high-traffic websites routinely compress their pages, this means you can’t navigate back to them.

So I decided to give Firefox and Thunderbird a try. I can’t see any real advantages, except that they more or less work. Thunderbird has much better handling of addresses and so on than Opera, and, I suppose, better text editing, though what I would really like is a way to use a proper external editor. But I can’t get used to having to wait for search results to come up. I have been so spoiled by Opera’s instant, incremental search.

Firefox works with more sites than Opera, which is always an advantage, and one reason why I already used it. The Adblock extension is a little better than Opera’s version once you are used to it. It deals more efficiently with Flash ads.

On the other hand, the process of looking for extensions is confusing and when you get them they are badly documented; there is nothing which seems to work the way that Opera’s note-taking system does. The skins are mostly ugly and sometimes jump alarmingly about. I really miss one-finger keyboard navigation. Opera has a wonderful system for pasting text snippets into forms. Its search bar is easier to customise and in some ways better integrated.

I think Opera is probably doomed, on the PC at least, if it can’t get its AJAXy shit together. Everyone seems to be writing that for Firefox and possibly Safari. On mobile phones, of course, it is marvellous. Still, I will probably switch back when a version is released where both the back button and the volume control work properly.

But, really, we have reached the enviable stage where browsers are about as interesting as washing machines, and easier and quicker to replace when they go wrong.

It’s like Ubuntu: there’s no really compelling reason not to use it. Who would have thought that software could make so much progress?

The official OpenOffice blogger extension, on the other hand, is just horrible, at least with MT. Back to my home-rolled posting device.