29 December 2009

You can never have too many toilets

Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith delve into the mysteries of bathroom design on Not The Nine O'Clock News.

26 December 2009

On Basingstoke

'Basingstoke: A respectable town in Hampshire whose name for some reason has come to be regarded as droll or even irresistably amusing, placing it on a par with towns such as Chipping Sodbury, Godalming, Scunthorpe, Wigan and Surbiton'

Mad Margaret: When I am lying awake at night ... strange fancies crowd upon my poor mad brain, and I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse - some word that teems with hidden meaning - like 'Basingstoke' - it might recall me to my saner self [W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore, 1887]

- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, London, 17th ed., 2005

22 December 2009

Hens in the skirting board

Victoria Wood and Julie Walters in the classic shoe shop sketch from Victoria Wood As Seen On TV in January 1985:

21 December 2009

Defying the dark lord

In the much-hyped chart battle for the UK's Christmas No. 1 single spot the campaign to defeat Simon Cowell's X Factor winner Joe McElderry's cover of Miley Cyrus' The Climb has been successful, with half a million downloading Rage Against The Machine's sweary 1992 track Killing In The Name. Charlie Brooker of the Guardian spells out which side of the fence he sits on:

For one thing, I happen to think Killing in the Name is an excellent song, so I've already got something out of it. Most importantly, it contains genuine emotion. Even if the climactic repeated howls of "F--k you, I won't do what you tell me!" put you in mind of a teenager loudly refusing to tidy his bedroom – as opposed to a masked anarchist hurling petrol bombs at the riot squad – there is at least an authentic human sentiment being expressed. Zack de la Rocha is audibly pissed off.

Compare this to the pissweak vocal doodle that is Joe McElderry's X Factor single. For a song whose lyrics ostensibly document an attempt to gather the spiritual strength to overcome adversity and thereby attain enlightenment, The Climb is about as inspiring as a Lion bar. It's a listless announcement on a service station Tannoy; an advert for buttons; a fart in a clinic; a dot on a spreadsheet. Listening to it from beginning to end is like watching a bored cleaner methodically wiping a smudge from a Formica worksurface.

But then nobody's buying The Climb in order to actually listen to it. They're buying it out of sedated confusion, pushing a button they've been told will make them feel better. It's the sound of the assisted suicide clinic, and it doesn't deserve to be No 1 this Christmas.

Of course, as Brooker points out, both tracks are ultimately owned by Sony BMG. But the thought that this might in some small way have irritated Simon Cowell makes it all worthwhile, no?

- Guardian, 21 December 2009

20 December 2009

Neville Cardus

'The chance to read one's own obituary is rare. [Cricket writer] Neville Cardus, on being told that the Buckinghamshire Examiner had described his death and published a moving tribute, paused before saying: "I have no wish to challenge the authority of the provincial press. They must have some information."'

- Jeremy Malies, The Wisden Cricketer, March 2004

19 December 2009

American football and the judicial process

'Circuit Judge Dan King announced Wednesday he would grant a delay in the civil suit Traywick v. Energen Corporation, which was scheduled for trial Jan. 4 in Bessemer, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.

The reason?

Energen’s defense attorneys want to attend the showdown between the University of Alabama and University of Texas at Austin, scheduled for Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl. If Alabama wins, it will be the first time in 17 years that they’ve claimed the Bowl Championship Series national title, considered by many to be the apogee of college football achievement.

“Such an event only comes infrequently during a person’s lifetime and is an achievement of such a magnitude that all involved in this litigation should want everyone to fully participate in this achievement,” writes Jon Terry, attorney for Energen, in his nine-point motion for a delay.

Because so many lawyers, jurors, and witnesses are planning to travel to Pasadena, Calif., for the game, it would be a hardship, he says. February would be better. Much better'

- Christian Science Monitor, 18 December 2009

17 December 2009

Morgan Freeman Chain of Command

Morgan Freeman: seemingly omnipresent for a while, and doubtless a nice fellow. Now someone's mapped out the career hierarchy of the major characters he's played, from a deity in Bruce Almighty down to Miss Daisy's driver. Warning: upon seeing this graphic you will immediately waste your precious, precious time disagreeing with the order in which the various Freemans have been placed. Inmate, Freed Slave, Driver?! A Sergeant Major outranking a judge?! I'm writing to my MP to complain.

The Morgan Freeman Chain of Command (img)

Everything's online these days

From an article on the suspension of Dr Suresh Vatsyayann from the Waikato District Health Board:

It is understood the Hamilton GP, who runs his own private practice, sent out an email to board members where he questioned the integrity of members and DHB management.

He is an elected member of the Waikato DHB board and a controversial figure who has regularly criticised the DHB and media, including posts in an online bog.

- Stuff.co.nz, 17 December 2009

10 December 2009

Sugababe overload

Sunday, April 30, 2265: the date on which it has been statistically proven that every man, woman and child in Britain will be a Sugababe.

- Popjustice

08 December 2009

Rent day

Every year, a strange and very ancient ceremony is enacted at the High Court on the Strand. Called the Horseshoe and Faggott Cutting Ceremony, it recreates the payment due for rent on two pieces of land. For the first, the City Solicitor presents two hazel rods to the Queen's Remembrancer, who replies 'Good service,', which settles the rent on the Moors at Eardington in Shropshire. Then a second payment is made in the form of six horseshoes and 61 nails, to which the Remembrancer replies 'Good number'. This is the rent for the piece of land on which Australia House now stands. It is not a public ceremony, though one can apply to watch; and no-one is entirely sure if the rent paid is the right amount, as it was all rather a long time ago.

- Jo Swinnerton, The London Companion, 2004

Homeland Security

Gavin Esler notes that US border controls are getting tougher. The [BBC] Newsnight presenter flew to Washington recently and reports in his email to viewers on a Kafkaesque experience.

'When I arrived from London two days ago I was stopped as usual by the immigration authorities,' he writes.

'I handed over my passport, my completed immigration and customs forms, was fingerprinted and photographed. "Why are you here?" the Homeland Security lady asked me. 'Because the president is scheduled to announce a big increase in US troop numbers in Afghanistan'.

"Who do you work for?" 'The BBC'. "How do you spell that?" Hmmm. A tricky one. How do you spell BBC? 'Er, B... B... C...' The lady looked at me. "Do you have any identification?"

'You are holding my passport,' I said, with a smile'

- Evening Standard, 7 December 2009

05 December 2009

Maid of (questionable) honour

Drunk bridesmaid bolts from wedding

A drunk bridesmaid disappeared from her friend's wedding early this morning, running off and getting lost in the Waitakere Ranges.

Police launched a search and rescue operation to find the 26-year-old, who ran away from the post-wedding party in West Auckland, at a property backing onto the bush-clad hills, about 1.20am.

After a search involving search and rescue volunteers and a police helicopter, the woman was found about 5.30am. She was asleep about 10 or 15 metres into the bush, Inspector Shawn Rutene told NZPA.

She was cold after her night spent sleeping rough, but otherwise fine, he said.

- NZPA, 6 December 2009

03 December 2009

The future's so bright

A 1958 Disney animation illustrating how the growth of modern highways was going to revolutionise transport and society in general. It's stylishly drawn escapism, and you don't have to wait too long before the obligatory mention of atomic cars.

[Via Jarbury]

02 December 2009

Lame album title puns

Luke Lewis of the NME jots up a quick list of some of the worst offenders:

Public Enemy, ‘Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age’. That's a pun on 'music and our message', in case you were wondering.

Salt N Pepa, 'A Salt With A Deadly Pepa'. I'm sorry, whichever way you pronounce it, pepper just doesn't rhyme with weapon.

Butthole Surfers, 'Hairway To Steven'. A pun's that's both desperate and completely meaningless: a double-whammy of lameness.

REO Speedwagon, ‘You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish’. Again, completely pointless.

Westlife, 'Allow Us To Be Frank'. Yes, this was an album of Sinatra covers.

Wet Wet Wet, 'Popped In , Souled Out'. This was the first album I ever bought. Even as a seven-year-old, I knew that was a weak pun.

- NME, 1 December 2009

[Via LHB]

A Virgin berth

'I've just been to the cinema, to see Paranormal Activity, and found the experience highly disturbing. The film was no problem, but there was an advert on beforehand for Virgin Trains with Richard Branson that must be causing people to wake up shrieking "Aayeeugh he's all jolly and fluffy and horrible," until they're given an injection.

No one should be reminded of Virgin Trains at any time, as their one outstanding achievement is attention to detail, because everything is awful. Any train company can make trains late, but Virgin put in that extra effort, so there's an announcement as you leave that there's no tea because the boiler's busted.


Perfectionist that [Branson] is, Virgin also has the worst record for answering complaints, replying to a wonderful 36 per cent within 20 days. I enjoyed some of this service last week, when I rang to reserve a seat but couldn't get through for 26 minutes.

So I said I'd like to complain, and was put on hold for another 15 minutes, then told the complaints department was very busy so could I ring back later. So later I called a customer relations department who told me, "This can happen."

"Is there an explanation?" I asked, and she said: "I've given you one." I said, "What was it?" and she said: "I TOLD you – this can happen."

Just to make sure, I said, "Are you telling me 'This can happen' is the explanation."

"Yes," she said triumphantly.

So it seems Virgin is being run by philosophers from the 13th century. When someone rings to ask why they were stuck for two hours outside Preston they must get told "Ah, 'tis God's will". The station announcements will soon say: "We apologise for the cancellation of the 2.15 to Coventry. This is due to the fact that this can happen. It's not our place to incur the wrath of our creator by asking why."'

- Mark Steel, Independent, 2 December 2009

01 December 2009

Colonial chauvinism

From a discussion of the hard-living New Zealand Fencibles, a collection of retired military personnel who arrived from 1847 to 1852 to help defend the young colony:

...[A] concomitant of the legendary Irish fondness for alcohol and fighting was the sense of humour, very often chauvinist in tone. The 'Wanted' column on a page from the Pensioners' Gazette posted on the wall of one of the rebuilt Fencible houses at Howick carried as an advertisement: 'A wife, with fine points, pretty fetlocks, small muzzle, sound in wind and warranted free from vice'. An item in the 'Marriages Births and Deaths' column mentioned that a Panmure lady 'well known for her beauty and accomplishments is rumoured to be about to be married to fourteen different gentlemen. As soon as we can find out the favoured gentlemen we will chuckle over the knowledge and keep it to ourselves'.

- Quoted in Gordon McLauchlan, The Life and Times of Auckland, Auckland, 2008, p.119-120.

30 November 2009

You'll have someone's eye out with that

The famously pain-resistant Vikings might have approved of the latest fad sweeping Sweden. Nail beds are becoming popular with health-conscious consumers convinced that lying on rubber pads embedded with sharp, plastic pins is good for them.

Hindu fakirs favour a wooden bed bristling with metal nails, but the spiky foam version does the job nicely, says Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson, a 46-year-old yoga instructor and writer who uses one every day and describes it as being “quite painful actually”.

“The back looks picked at, as if with a fork”, when a person gets up off the mat. But then “you relax and feel nice again”, she told The New York Times.

Users often claim relief from insomnia, migraines and asthma, while a more zealous group believes that the mat can cure everything from schizophrenia to dandruff.

At times these Nordic nail bed devotees seem like a cult: 3,000 of them gathered recently in a Stockholm park, placing their mats in the form of the rays of the sun. They sang mantras and fell asleep.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits, however. The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper concluded recently that there was “nothing that even approaches a scientific proof for the effects” of the nail bed.

In response, the largest manufacturer is organising medically supervised trials to monitor 30 regular users.

- The Times, 29 November 2009

29 November 2009

Chaplin on cocaine

The sale and distribution of cocaine has been illegal in America since 1914. This scene from Charlie Chaplin's classic 1936 film Modern Times illustrates the importance of avoiding hard drugs, or imprisonment, or something like that.

[See also: Never do cocaine with Woody Allen]

24 November 2009

The dog ate my cricket bat

'Never before in the history of cockamamy excuses has a player offered up anything quite as lame as Abdul Razzaq's reason for missing a match. Due to fly to Mirpur for Abahani's Premier Division Cricket League match against Gazi Tank, Razzaq got as far as the airport when his phone rang. It was, he says, an anonymous tip-off that the match had been called off because of the Eid holiday. So he cancelled his ticket, turned around and went home. The only problem being that it wasn't true.

"What we learnt is that someone from Dhaka, in the name of an Abahani official, gave him a call and told that the league matches will resume after the Eid vacation and that's why he cancelled his ticket," said a genuine club official. "He took the decision from the airport but surprisingly he didn't even check with the agent."'

- Andy Bull, 'The Spin' cricket newsletter, 24 November 2009

23 November 2009

Are you a drug-addicted newspaper reader?


Are you interested in a research study?

We are currently recruiting methamphetamine users for a research study. If you qualify, you could receive up to $1402 and a picture of your brain. Call toll free [...]

- UCLA Psychiatry Dept advert, LA Weekly, 13-19 November 2009

20 November 2009

For those who seek a slightly merrier Christmas

'Customs officials at the Los Angeles Harbor received a shipment from China listed as Christmas ornaments. But when they opened the "presents" Tuesday, they found 316,000 bongs and pipes.

“They’re very colorful and big,” said Cristina Gamez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Some of them are like 2 feet tall.”

Gamez said glass bongs and pipes, contained in nearly 860 boxes of cargo, are worth about $2.6 million [...]

Gamez said no arrests have been made, and an investigation is pending. She said that it is illegal to import, export or sell drug paraphernalia in the United States and that all the items would be destroyed'

- Los Angeles Times, 19 November 2009

17 November 2009

Modern parenting

'Anxious parents - the midnight Googlers who repeatedly seek advice from experts - learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticise, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, 'model' angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag. Increasingly, nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect. The educator Alfie Kohn, writing recently in the [New York] Times, condemns the timeout - the canonical punishment of recent decades - declaring that it is more honest to say you are 'forcibly isolating' your child. Even an approach as seemingly benign as awarding gold stars, Kohn warns, is a manipulation that 'teaches children that they are loved' only when they perform a 'good job'.

So what should you do when a child throws a tantrum? Many parents, determined not to be cruel or counterproductive, latch on to pre-approved language from books. Walk through a Manhattan playground and you'll hear parents responding to their dirt-throwing, swing-stealing offspring with a studied flatness. A toddler whirling into rage is quietly instructed, 'Use your words'. A pre-schooler who clocks his classmate is offered the vaguely Zen incantation 'Hands are not for hitting'. A kid demanding a Popsicle is given a bland demurral: 'I'm sorry, but I don't respond to whining'. (The preferred vocal inflection is that of a customer-service representative informing an irate caller that the warranty has, indeed, expired). The brusque imperative 'Say "please"!' has been supplanted by the mildest of queries: 'Is there a nicer way to say that?' The efficacy of this clinical approach has not been confirmed by science, but it certainly feels scientific, in part because the parents conduct themselves as if their child were the subject of a peer-reviewed experiment'

- Daniel Zalewski, 'The Defiant Ones', New Yorker, 19 October 2009

14 November 2009

Northern hemisphere rugby

'A week in Wales and all the drama over [the citing of All Black first five Daniel] Carter was a stark reminder of how nauseating the northern hemisphere perspective on the game can be. The Welsh media spent six days building their own side up with little balance or perspective. The reaction of [Welsh coach Warren] Gatland and his coaching team was to then blame someone else for the loss.

Meanwhile, over the border in England, there was an unrealistic sense of expectation about the clash with the Wallabies. The return of Jonny Wilkinson was not going to suddenly enable England to play fluid, enterprising football. Wilkinson gave them more direction; more confidence and more accuracy with their kicking game.

But if you don't play with the ball in hand at club level and develop passing, running and handling skills - then you can't suddenly do it at test level just because Jonny is back'

- Gregor Paul, NZ Herald, 15 November 2009

Wellington wind

'The great drawback to this place is the wind. There are grey, tearing days which perhaps explain the high suicide rate and undercurrent of neurosis'

- Author Patrick White in a letter to Fritz Krieger, 25 March 1961

06 November 2009

Generating a buzz

This German marketing stunt deploys micro banner ads attached to live flies, which is guaranteed to raise both product awareness and the likelihood of infectious insect-borne diseases.

[Via Guardian Viral Video]

05 November 2009

How not to be a secret agent

In 1985 French secret service agents planted bombs on board the Greenpeace protest vessel Rainbow Warrior, which was moored in downtown Auckland and was shortly to protest against France's nuclear test programme in French Polynesia. One crew member of the ship was killed in the blast. Some of the agents responsible for the attack were later caught by the New Zealand authorities, in part due to the number of mistakes the agents made during their mission:

- Arousing suspicions of locals by sailing Ouvea [their yacht] into the hazardous Parengarenga Harbour
- Crew of Ouvea arousing interest of customs inspector by the spotlessness of the yacht (which didn't appear to have sailed the South Pacific), by having three new, uncreased and unmarked passports, by not fitting yachting stereotypes, by having no cameras aboard despite one crew member being a photographer
- Driving on the wrong side of the road and almost causing an accident, thus alerting a bystander who noted the vehicle's registration number
- Not understanding that internal New Zealand toll calls are traceable
- Using and abandoning a Zodiac, an expensive rubber dinghy, that was noticed because of its rarity and desirability in New Zealand
- Dumping two oxygen cylinders with French markings, which were so conspicuous they were reported to police and could be traced to a Nice manufacturer of special equipment for French armed forces
- Acting so suspiciously on Tamaki Drive, Auckland, that their van registration number was noted and the police called
- Returning rental van to Auckland airport and demanding a $130 refund, instead of leaving the van in airport car park
- Inconsistencies in Turenges' stories
- Turenges both having Swiss passports issued in Paris on the same day with wildly different serial numbers
- Turenges keeping file of receipts on their 'honeymoon'
- Turenges speaking French in front of a New Zealand police officer who was French-speaking
- Being conspicuous for being rude wherever they went
- Being such bad actors
- Phoning numbers in Paris traceable to the French security services
- Getting caught

Source: Mary Trewby, Beachcomber: A New Zealand & Pacific Miscellany, Auckland, 2004

30 October 2009

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

Performing a medley of five songs sung in the round, possibly set to the music of Handel. (Yeah, like I'd know either way!) I love the oh-so-English vocals.

[Via SuperTom]

28 October 2009

The greatest vampire film ever

'Yes I saw Twilight - my granddaughter made me watch it, she said it was the greatest vampire film ever.  After the 'film' was over I wanted to ... smack her across the head with my shoe, but I do not want a book called Grannie Dearest written on me when I die, so instead I gave her a ... DVD of Murnau's 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu instead and told her, now that's a vampire film'
- Screen legend Lauren Bacall on Twitter (Quoted in Guardian, 28 October 2009)

25 October 2009

The importance of clear guidelines

From a list of trivia relating to the film The Right Stuff:

Original composer John Barry left the film because he found it impossible to understand what Philip Kaufman wanted from the score, citing a meeting where the director described his ideal score as "sounding like you're walking in the desert and you see a cactus, and you put your foot on it, but it just starts growing up through your foot."

- IMDB.com

23 October 2009

Roughing it in the South Island

'...[T]he experiences of the surveyor and explorer Thomas Brunner, scrawled in a damp journal while traversing the south-west coast of the South Island [of New Zealand] in 1847, exposed just how little British civilisation (or any other for that matter) had penetrated these vast tracts of the country's territory [...]

26th. I am getting so sick of this exploring, the walking and the diet being both so bad, that were it not for the shame of the thing, I would return to the more comfortable quarters of the Riwaka river.

27th. Worse and worse walking, the rocks being steep and rugged, and covered with underbrush and quantities of brier, the bush almost impassable for the quantity of dead timber and moss. The evening showering for rain.

26th. Heavy rain all day. Broke our fast on a species of fungus found on the rotten trees.

24th. Last night we were again visited with a deluge of rain, which completely covered the surface of the earth, so that we had to sit all night ankle deep in water.

27th. [...] our dog nearly consumed (I was compelled, though very reluctantly, to give my consent to killing my dog Rover), and we could find no other eatable: the weather too cold for eels, and birds are not seen in the black birch woods'

- Quoted in Paul Moon, The Newest Country in the World: A History of New Zealand in the Decade of the Treaty, Auckland, 2007, p176.

13 October 2009

Bedroom antics

'Turning a blind eye to [French] politicians' love lives has been traditional in a nation of strict privacy laws.  For years, the press politely left unreported the mistress and child of the socialist president, Francois Mitterand.  Jacques Chirac's sacked chauffeur wrote a book about his boss's weakness for women, inspiring the joke: "Chirac?  Three minutes.  Shower included"'
- Guardian, 12 October 2009

28 September 2009

Licensed crime in Ankh-Morpork

'Ankh-Morpork's enviable system of licensed criminals owes much to the current Patrician, Lord Vetinari. He reasoned that the only way to police a city of a million inhabitants was to recognise the various gangs and robber guilds, give them professional status, invite the leaders to large dinners, allow an acceptable level of street crime and then make the guild leaders responsible for enforcing it, on pain of being stripped of their new civic honours along with large areas of their skin. It worked. Criminals, it turned out, made a very good police force; unauthorised robbers soon found, for example, that instead of a night in the cells they could now expect an eternity at the bottom of the river.

However, there was the problem of apportioning the crime statistics, and so there arose a complex system of annual budgeting, chits and allowances to see that a) the members could make a reasonable living and b) no citizen was robbed or assaulted more than an agreed number of times. Many foresighted citizens in fact arranged to get an acceptable minimum of theft, assault, etc, over at the beginning of the financial year, often in the privacy and comfort of their own homes, and thus be able to walk the streets quite safely for the rest of the year. It all ticked over extremely peacefully and efficiently, demonstrating once again that compared to the Patrician of Ankh, Machiavelli could not have run a whelk stall'

- Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters, 1988

23 September 2009

Never trust a sailor

'[During a sea voyage] in the early 14th century, Ludolph de Sudheim was amazed to see flying fish:

There are some marvellous [fish] which lift themselves out of the water and fly for quite a long time like butterflies, but I don't know how long they can stay in the air. I asked experienced sailors about this, wanting to know where the fish came from. They replied that in England and Ireland very beautiful trees grow on the shore bearing fruit like apples. In these apples, worms are born, and when the apples are ripe and fall they break open and the worms fly away because they have wings like bees. If they touch first on land they become airborne and fly with other birds. If they touch first at sea they become sea creatures and swim like fish but from time to time they also use their natural ability to fly.

Perhaps wisely, Ludolph remarked that he wasn't sure if trees like this really existed but he recorded what he'd been told'.

- Quoted in Susan Rose, The Medieval Sea, London, 2007

22 September 2009

Space Trek And Wars

From a Mitchell & Webb live comedy performance comes this space opera pastiche. 'Captain, the little green men have made a hole in the silver wall with their laser thingy and now the space is getting in!'

21 September 2009

Dr Horrible Hijacks Emmy Awards

Neil Patrick Harris as Dr Horrible with Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer, in a sketch for yesterday's Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles:

[Courtesy of Matthew]

19 September 2009

Supermarket security obviously immune to Jedi mind trick

[British Supermarket chain] Tesco has been accused of religious discrimination after the company ordered the founder of a Jedi religion to remove his hood or leave a branch of the supermarket in north Wales.

Daniel Jones, founder of the religion inspired by the Star Wars films, says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following the incident at a Tesco store in Bangor.

The 23-year-old, who founded the International Church of Jediism, which has 500,000 followers worldwide, was told the hood flouted store rules.

But the grocery empire struck back, claiming that the three best known Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies – Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – all appeared in public without their hoods. Jones, from Holyhead, who is known by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said his religion dictated that he should wear the hood in public places and is considering legal action against the chain.

"It states in our Jedi doctrination that I can wear headwear. It just covers the back of my head," he said [...]

Tesco said: "He hasn't been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."

- Guardian, 18 September 2009

18 September 2009

Have you tried 'mind your own business'?

Eckhart Under Media Pressure To Find Love

The Dark Knight star Aaron Eckhart is feeling the pressure to find a girlfriend and settle down - because reporters always quiz him about his love life when he's promoting a new movie.

The actor is currently starring in romantic comedy Love Happens with Jennifer Aniston and he's been bombarded with questions about when he'll get married and start a family - even though he's still single.

Eckhart, who was previously engaged to actress Emily Cline, admits the constant speculation is starting to annoy him - because not even his mother pressures him as much as the media.

He says, "You know who I'm getting pressure from? The press! When you're promoting a new movie they want to know a) have you slept with your co-star, which I have not, and b) why are you so old and never been married?! And they're getting down my root (on his nerves) about it.

"I think that once you get over the age of 40 people start to ask questions. When you're younger and single, it's cool. Now it's dirty."

- IMDB.com, 18 September 2009

11 September 2009

How to be immodest

'How easily and cleverly I do write just now!  I am really pleased with myself; words come skipping to me like lambs upon Moffat Hill; and I turn my periods smoothly and imperceptibly like a skilful wheelwright turning tops in a turning-loom.  There's fancy!  There's simile!  In short, I am at present a genius: in that does my opulence consist, and not in base metal'
- From the journal of diarist James Boswell, 9 February 1763 

10 September 2009

Reasons for joining the Girl Guides

Letter to the Times, 10 September 2009:
Sir, Today's Guides are clearly very different from those of my youth (Archive, Sept 4 and letters, Sept 8). My friend and I joined the 59th Croydon because we wanted to meet the young Scouts who shared the hall. We were then somewhat disappointed to find the two groups met on different nights.

Thelma Hewitt

Stamford, Lincs

09 September 2009

The Los Angeles of Waikato

'Hamilton is fighting back over comments from the South African rugby coach, who described the city as 'boring'.  Peter de Villiers was explaining the decision to prepare for this weekend's Tri-Nations test against the All Blacks on Australia's Gold Coast.  Mr de Villiers says there's nothing in Hamilton, so players can start to suffer 'hotel fatigue' causing them to lose interest quickly and start thinking about going home.

Hamilton identities and other proud locals are describing the Springbok coach's comments as rubbish and are backing their city to the hilt.  All Black and Waikato player Stephen Donald says he'll use de Villier's comments as motivation when he lines up against the Springboks on Saturday.  He says the comments hurt him "immensely" and while the beaches on the Gold Coast are not bad, there are lots of nice spots along Hamilton's beautiful river.

Linda Topp of the Topp Twins, who grew up in Huntly, describes Hamilton as the Los Angeles of Waikato and says the South African coach couldn't be more wrong.

However not everyone is offended by the Springbok coach's comments. Local identity Graham Cairns, also known as the Laird of Hamilton, has thanked Peter De Villiers for helping keep the river city free of Aucklanders'
- Radio New Zealand, 9 September 2009

02 September 2009

I'd pay to see that

Frozen koalas may be thrown at rally cars

By CHRISTINE KELLETT - BrisbaneTimes.com.au
Last updated 11:23 02/09/2009

Police say dead koalas and other frozen road kill may be used to disrupt the Australian leg of the Repco World Rally Championship in the Tweed Valley tomorrow.

Head of the Tweed-Byron police, Superintendent Michael Kenny, told local media protest groups rallying against the racing event would be watched closely after rumours began circulating about the use of dead animals, the lighting of fires and people laying across the track.

"Some of the bizarre things are that there is road kill been put in freezers that is going to be thrown on to the road during the event," Superintendent Kenny said yesterday.

24 August 2009

Peter Jackson's cameos

A nicely-edited sampler of director Peter Jackson's cameos in his own movies and in Hot Fuzz (nasty Santa!)

22 August 2009

Sprinter and sprummer

'George Gershwin would turn in his grave, but if a Sydney botanist gets his way, Australians could find themselves humming "Sprummertime and the living is easy" come October.

Tim Entwisle, executive director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, wants the traditional four seasons to be abolished. Or rather, he wants to tinker with them and add two new seasons: sprummer and sprinter.

Dr Entwisle believes the model of four three-month seasons, which Australia inherited from Britain, is unsuited to the rhythms of a continent with vastly different weather patterns. If the seasonal calendar was adjusted, he says, people would become more attuned to their environment and better able to observe signs of climate change.

Although spring officially begins on 1 September, for instance, Australia's national flower, the wattle, always starts blooming in August, or even July. "Every year people say spring has come early, but in fact it happens every year," Dr Entwisle said yesterday.

He is advocating that spring be brought forward to August and last only two months, to be followed by a new pre-summer season, spanning October and November. Summer would start in December, as it does at present, but would last four months rather than three. There would be a short autumn in April and May, followed by a brief winter in June and July.

"Sprummer" is Dr Entwisle's light-hearted suggestion for the pre-summer season, while the early spring months, he proposes, could be "sprinter". A competition could be held to decide names, he says'

- Indepedent, 22 August 2009

16 August 2009

How to save rock 'n roll

GWYNEDD, WALES — Calling it the planet's last, best hope for saving rock music, the Guardians of the Protectorate of Rock announced Monday that they would take the extraordinary step of unleashing a never-before-heard Jimmy Page riff, hidden for decades in a mythic, impenetrable vault.

"We who believe in the immortality of rock took a vow 30 years ago that we would never release this incredibly powerful force unless we faced a Day of Reckoning—and that day has come," said Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, one of the chosen few who helped forge the Secret Vault to Save Rock and Roll, at a press conference in the Welsh highlands. "Just look at the pop charts, and you shall know I speak the truth."

The Guardians said recent developments in the music world, such as the unaccountable popularity of the Dixie Chicks and Sufjan Stevens, have created a "perfect storm of lameness" from which rock might never recover. While Iommi refused to say when the vault would be opened, hard rock sources believe it will take place just prior to next month's Fall Out Boy–Honda Civic tour, which many fear will suck the remaining lifeblood from all that still rocks.

- The Onion, 5 March 2007

When zombies attack

'In a paper published in Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, a team of mathematicians from Carleton University and the University of Ottawa have created a series of mathematical models to explore the effects of a zombie outbreak and determine the best course for human survival. For the purpose of the paper, the team limited their models to the George Romero slow-moving zombies, and created separate models for zombie infections that cause the infected to resurrect immediately after contact with a zombie and for zombie infections with a 24-hour incubation period.

The paper examines three possible methods of dealing with a zombie outbreak: quarantine of the zombies, treatment of zombies so that they once again become human, and impulsive eradication of the zombies whenever possible. The models found that quarantine could work, but the end result would be either the eradication of all zombies or the eradication of all humans; if a cure for being a zombie were found, humans would coexist with zombies, but only in low numbers; but eradication, if properly coordinated, could wipe out the entire zombie population in a mere ten days'

When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection

- via IO9.com & Gizmodo

14 August 2009

On the awfulness of Catwoman

On the 2004 movie adaptation of Catwoman:

There is school of thought that says, no good will ever come from a director who is represented by a single moniker: McG, Taz and, of course, Pitof, director of Catwoman. Arguably the most derided of all superhero adaptations, its faults are many. One of the most obvious being that it wildly deviates from its source material, managing to weave a plot that is by turns moronic, nonsensical and most astonishingly of all, took four whole writers to craft.

The one fantastical element on show is the crushingly poor acting of Halle Berry, who with all the CG in Hollywood is unable to look anything less than wooden. Her performance is so bad, that on release, one critic suggested she relinquish her Oscar as punishment.

With little else to offer, the film is heavily reliant on special effects. They come in two flavours, at best eye-strainingly awful, at worst a poorly animated shitstorm. A typical scene involves Catwoman leaping from roof to floor in a blur of CG accompanied by fitful editing and an ear popping R&B score. Upon landing Berry will say something uninspired, trite, and sometimes both: "Miaow" or perhaps "That's purrrrfect" (she is a CAT-WOMAN...do you get it?). In a flash, Berry will kick a goon in the throat, gyrate across the floor and scrabble up a wall in a CG flurry.


What grates the most, as with many films on this list, is how the makers have taken something good and turned it into a patronising, bland and soulless exercise which should have been left in the litter tray.

- Tom Fenwick, The 10 worst comic book adaptations of all time, Denofgeek.com

[Blog post number 1000! Hoopla!]

Motion pictures that suck beyond belief

'Yes, it is too long, but Funny People is nonetheless the most interesting big-budget film to come out of Hollywood this year, and it certainly deserves a wider audience. It will probably have to wait until it comes out in DVD to find that audience, when the public comes to its senses. As for the public, if it keeps turning out in droves on opening weekend for films such as GI Joe and Watchmen, it doesn't deserve to have any good films.

Obviously, one can go too far with this line of reasoning. There is a natural temptation among producers and directors of duds to console themselves with the following socratic line of reasoning:

A. The Wizard of Oz was a flop.

B. The Pink Panther 2 is a flop.

C. Some day, The Pink Panther 2 will be as beloved as The Wizard of Oz.

Alas, reality doesn't work that way. History tends to be very hard on motion pictures that suck beyond belief, which is certainly the case with The Pink Panther 2. History catches up with bad films, and repossesses their kudos, but it also catches up with good films and tries to atone for their earlier mistreatment'

- Joe Queenan, Guardian, 13 August 2009

13 August 2009

"I'd probably cry and go insane"

Teenagers have reportedly begun to suffer the condition known as 'nomophobia' - the fear of being without a mobile phone. The Timaru Herald interviewed some local girls and found the affliction is rampant in New Zealand:

Aleisha Kendrick won't sleep without her phone switched on, will check for new text messages every second, and ensures her phone is fully charged wherever she goes.

A while ago, Aleisha sent 12,000 texts in just one month. She has three phones, lots of friends, and a well-exercised thumb. She has swapped plans and changed numbers many times in order to keep texting.

"If I didn't have my phone I'd feel empty. It's my life, it's my baby. I'd feel out of the loop, like I'm missing out. I'd probably cry and go insane."

Her friends Georgia Comer and Andrea Prattley knew of other friends who had put their phones into condoms so they could text while in the shower.

Beth Comer once used a sealable plastic bag to protect her phone from water damage while showering and Andrea usually wrapped her phone in a facecloth so it wouldn't get wet while she was in the bath.

Bernice Rangirangi said her 20-minute shower was too long for her to be without her phone. What if she misses out on gossip? What if something happened and she wasn't the first to know?

Bless 'em.  Of course there are healthy doses of the usual teen hyperbole involved, but I can offer some useful advice to the frazzled teens: don't worry about your phones. You live in Timaru. How likely is it that something interesting is going to happen?

- Source: Timaru Herald, 14 August 2009

12 August 2009

Never touch a mouse inappropriately

A 60-year-old man has been convicted of groping a woman in a Minnie Mouse costume at Walt Disney World.

John William Moyer of Cressona, Pennsylvania, told the judge he is innocent.

His son said before sentencing that his father would never inappropriately touch a woman, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

He was convicted on Tuesday of misdemeanour battery and sentenced to write the victim an apology, serve 180 days probation and complete 50 hours of community service.

Moyer must also pay US$1,000 (NZ$1505) in court costs and possibly undergo a mental evaluation.

The victim says she had to do everything possible to keep Moyer's hands off her breasts.

- AP, via Stuff.co.nz, 12 August 2009

27 July 2009

A capacity for self-delusion

In the aftermath of a devastating British naval assault on an North Africa-bound Italian supply convoy on 9 November 1941, Italian commanders were desperate to put a good light on the disaster:

From North Africa, Rommel complained to Berlin that his supply line had been cut and that, of 60,000 troops promised, only 8,093 had arrived. In the aftermath of the action Mussolini was "depressed and indignant", [Admirals] Brivonesi and Bisciani lost their commands, and [Count Galeazzo] Ciano considered there would be "profound repercussions ... Under the circumstances we have no right to complain if Hitler sends Kesselring as commander in the South". The Italian high command had a capacity for self-delusion, "pulling out their usual inevitable and imaginary sinking of a British cruiser by an Italian torpedo plane; nobody believes it". Italian reconnaisance photographs taken after Force K had returned to Malta showed a cruiser moored near the dry-dock. This, insisted the Regia Aeronautica's chief of staff, Generale Pricolo, was evidence that one British cruiser had been hit. "This," commented Ciano despairingly, "is equivalent to declaring that a man is probably dead because he has gone to live near the cemetery. Clowns, tragic clowns..."

- Richard Woodman, Malta Convoys, London, 2000

24 July 2009

Howling at the moon

The comments thread on this Amazon t-shirt sale page ascend to the apex of literary criticism, while at the same time ensuring that levels of awesomeness are never neglected. A small sample of the comments on the shirt, which depicts three wolves howling at a full moon:

Look closely at the moon. It is the face of Chuck Norris. One wolf would not be enough to pay him homage. It takes three. (Katherine, California)

- Amazon.com, via Threadless.com

20 July 2009

Cultural differences

'I was filming around Bilbao and environs in Northern Spain some years ago. The cast of our film was invited to the San Sebastian Film Festival premiere of a new Polanski movie called The Ninth Gate, not one of dear Roman’s best, but perfectly enjoyable and always a pleasure to be in St. Sebastian, or ‘Donostia’ as the Basques call it. I won’t go into the plot of the film, perhaps you know it anyway: suffice to say Johnny Depp plays an art dealer who gets involved in some sort of satanic Hammer House of Horror brouhaha or other. The opening reel takes place in New York (not filmed there of course: Mr Polanski can’t go to America) and there is a scene where Johnny Depp’s character arrives at his apartment, goes to the fridge, takes a pizza box from the freezer section, removes a frozen pizza and pops it into the microwave. Cue howls of laughter from the audience. I am sitting one row behind Johnny Depp and can see that he is rather perplexed by these helpless gales of Hispanic merriment and I hear him whisper to the Festival Director next to him, “Why are they laughing?” to which the Spaniard replies, wiping tears from his own eyes, “Because they cannot believe that anyone would do that to their stomach!” Genuine perplexity on both sides. An American thinks: why would anyone find placing a frozen ready-made pizza inside a microwave amusing? – a Spaniard, especially a Basque, whose cuisine is exceptional, thinks: why would anyone, above all somebody cultured and prosperous, insult their digestion with such complete rubbish?'

- Stephen Fry, The Spectator Lecture, Royal Geographical Society, presented in London 30 April 2009

15 July 2009

A perceptive analysis

'After the round of broadly favourable reviews a backlash was inevitable, and by the time the Outside tour arrived in Britain in November [1995], members of the music press were falling over one another to rubbish an album mistakenly praised by their colleagues. The NME's Simon Williams found the English language a sadly inadequate medium in which to launch his assault: "El Bowza's latest lurch away from reality is entitled Outside, which is kind of about 'outsiders' and involves all these strange neo-futuristic characters running around El Bowza's head and it's sort of a concept album blah blah bollocks blah blah ARSE!!!!!!!" A perceptive analysis'

- Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie, 2000, summarising reviews on Bowie's 1995 album 1. Outside.

02 July 2009

Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum provides a stirring eulogy... for Jeff Goldblum, after false news reports that he had fallen to his death in New Zealand.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jeff Goldblum Will Be Missed
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

It should be noted that the NZ Police issued a clear denial of the hoax.

01 July 2009

The days of amateur rugby

'Not since 1950 has Ranfurly Shield fever reached such fervour in Wairarapa. Then the local team captured the shield with a 3-0 drop-goal win over Canterbury.


However, Wairarapa's hold on the shield was shortlived. The youngest player at the time, Hori Thompson, said most players thought the season had ended so left the region for shearing work.

"The coach turned up on a Thursday at work and said, 'You guys are playing this weekend'. Most of the lads had been drunk for two weeks since the win ... and no one had been training." Wairarapa went down 17-14 to South Canterbury in the first defence'

- Dominion Post, 2 July 2009

29 June 2009

Singing songs while wearing clothes

The Guardian's Anna Pickard, on TV coverage of the Glastonbury festival:

'We cut back and forth to see what clothes Lady Gaga had chosen to wear at least four times. And, to be fair, she was wearing increasingly ridiculous outfits every time we did. She was also singing songs, of course, while wearing clothes, but the emphasis was definitely on the clothes.

It was an ever-present pressing question with the bands who dropped by the BBC3 sofas. "So what'll you be wearing on stage, then?" - though mainly this was related to the lady-bands. Lily Allen (with her single white glove and catsuit) the Ting Tings (catsuit) and so on. Of course, we would then cut to them singing, onstage, wearing what they'd just described - so, really, we could have just waited. And then seen their clothes. With our eyes.

But it could be argued that with Lady Gaga, it was not only part of the appeal, part of the package: it was the majority interest. Undeniably she cuts a fine figure, in increasingly bizarre outfits. First up, a glass-shard covered dress with a skirt seemingly designed with displaying her pert buttocks top of the priority list. With blonde hair mostly covering her face, from the neck up, she resembled nothing so much as a cross between Karen O and a blow up doll, while from the neck down, she was a 3D paper doll with detachable outfits. Including one with a bra that spouted fire. The crowd screamed approval, but you had to wonder how much of that had to do with the music. And isn't that the point? Or am I being outdated about all of this?'

- Guardian, 27 June 2009

25 June 2009

The shouting auteur

New York Times movie reviewer Manohla Dargis gets stuck in to Michael Bay, the director of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -

[...] And make no mistake: Mr. Bay is an auteur. His signature adorns every image in his movies, as conspicuously as that of Lars von Trier, and every single one is inscribed with a specific worldview and moral sensibility. Mr. Bay’s subject — overwhelming violent conquest — is as blatant and consistent as his cluttered mise-en-scène. His images, particularly during the frequent action sequences, can be difficult to visually track, but they are also consistently disjointed. (And proudly self-referential: the only director he overtly cites is himself, with a shot of the poster for his movie “Bad Boys II.”) The French filmmaker Jacques Rivette once described an auteur as someone who speaks in the first person. Mr. Bay prefers to shout.

- New York Times, 24 June 2009

24 June 2009

Beauty is duty and duty beauty

Trademark nimble word-wrangling courtesy of Stephen Fry from 'A Bit Of Fry And Laurie':

[Via Mike Riversdale]

23 June 2009

How to be content

'Read carefully the following list that I have compiled. It is the product of a lifetime of occasional study and comprises all the ambitions anyone should ever have in life.

1) Have a place for the Sellotape and wrapping paper. Giving presents is tedious enough without having to turn the house upside down every time you want to pretend you like someone enough to have remembered their birthday.

2) Find your dressing gown cord.

3) Find a job in a book or cake shop, depending on which you'd save first from your house if there were a fire.

4) Cook only meals that dirty just one pan.

5) Don't be afraid to eat out of the pan.

6) Get a cat. Not if you're bounded on all sides by dual carriageways, motorways and a shooting range, and are out 14 hours a day, obviously, but otherwise, get a cat.

7) Buy only every fifth thing you take a fancy to when out shopping.

8) Always take an umbrella.

9) And a mini A to Z.

10) And put the phone back on its thing.

11) Buy one of those plastic eggs that you put in a pan with real eggs that tells you how hard-boiled they have become. A life of perfectly boiled eggs is a life of true contentment.

12) Maybe the cat will even come and sit in your lap. You see how it all begins to tie in?

Have a bit of a tidy up and then a cup of tea.

13) If you are a woman who alternates between two favourite handbags, buy a second set of everything you habitually take with you - make-up, hairbrush, painkillers, cosh, hip flask, facsimile of the Holy Prepuce, or whatever else it is that helps you get through the day - so you don't have to keep decanting your support system from one to the other. This is not a waste of money - it has been estimated, by me, just now, that the average woman loses 406 years of her life shifting this stuff around, so what you are actually doing is buying yourself literally hundreds more hours a day. Do it.

14) If you are a man who alternates between two favourite handbags, I suspect you may have already engineered for yourself a lifestyle that can admit of no more happiness and I applaud you unreservedly.

15) Remember, unless she's actually in the room, your mother cannot see you. And even if she can still sense that you're doing something wrong, she'll never be able to prove it.

Upon fulfilment of these goals, perfect happiness, I assure you, will ensue'

- Lucy Mangan, Guardian, 23 May 2009

22 June 2009

The ultimate Christchurch news report

On Saturday the Christchurch Press reported on the increasing use of heat pumps in New Zealand, as we seek to fight off the winter cold in our poorly-insulated houses. The article, which raised concerns about future capacity issues for the country's electricity generation network as a consequence of these energy-hungry machines, contained the ultimate Christchurch editorial device, which guaranteed its success for Cantabrian readers:

[Transpower's chief executive] told The Press heat pumps were efficient and ideal for parts of the country with colder winters, like Canterbury.

"My big worry with heat pumps is in areas like Auckland. They do drive up winter load, but initially some of the load will go down because they are more efficient than what they are replacing. But then people will use more electricity."

Aucklanders also tended to use heat pumps as air-conditioners in the summer, which could lead to a secondary summer peak in electricity use as well as the country's traditional winter peak, he said.

Anything that can shift the blame to the evil Aucklanders obviously goes down a treat in Canterbury!

- Source: The Press, 20 June 2009

In space, no-one can hear you table amendments to motions

The United Nations recently held a panel discussion at its New York headquarters to discuss how “Battlestar Galactica” might inform the international body’s approach to some problems of the day: terrorism, torture, religious conflict. No, really, it did. According to the New Yorker,

Placards at the seats, which earlier had identified delegates from France and Venezuela, now read “Caprica” and “Aquarion.” The panel included William Adama (played by Edward James Olmos), the admiral of the spaceship Galactica, and Laura Roslin (played by Mary McDonnell), the president of the Twelve Colonies, along with two producers from “B.S.G.” and a handful of earthbound U.N. dignitaries. Whoopi Goldberg, a big fan of the show, had been enlisted to moderate. The line of sci-fi buffs snaked out the door. A sign on the wall reading “Smoking Discouraged” (the U.N. is not subject to New York City regulations) enhanced the feeling that the event was taking place in another dimension. What the frak?

- New Yorker, 6 April 2009

16 June 2009

Don't ask, don't tell

From his live comedy tour visiting US troops in Iraq, Stephen Colbert conducts one of his signature Formidable Opponent debates (with himself) on the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Formidable Opponent - Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq


Yes, it's pantyhose for men. Just what the world needed. Apparently black mantyhose is 'for the serious macho'.

E.Mancipate: Pantyhose for men

11 June 2009

British and American humour

"I've been to LA and it's horrible. I don't want to live there. I think, fundamentally, the people I want to make laugh are British. I can't ever imagine living abroad. I love all elements of how British society lends itself to comedy - you know, it's own sort of pompousness and self-loathing and class system and cynicism and irony: all these sorts of things are strongest here. Something like Curb Your Enthusiasm, great though it is, it's like their first faltering steps into that world of self-loathing that we, as a post-imperial power, have been in for the best part of a century. I think the Americans will be doing some amazing comedy in 60 to 70 years' time. But for the moment I'd say we're in the right part of the curve of the decline of our civilisation in order to be funniest."

- Comedian David Mitchell, interviewed in the Guardian, 8 June 2009

08 June 2009

The colonial sense of humour

It wasn't up to much, if this example from a travel guide entry for Alexandra in New Zealand's South Island is anything to go by:

Today the antics might raise less than a smile, but in the mood of the times and even 30 years later they were regarded as hilarious. It was in the late 1890s that Ah Fook Hu, a Chinese storekeeper, won spectacularly at fantan, withdrew his savings from the bank and set off for his homeland, never to be heard of again. Relatives, suspecting that Ah might have been murdered for his money, posted a reward which attracted the attention of a Swedish miner, John Magnus, then working a claim about 10 kilometres downriver from Alexandra. Magnus had little sympathy for the Chinese and could not resist the opportunity to dress a sheep's carcass in the manner described in the reward, complete with pigtail woven from the hair of a black billygoat. Elaborate surgery was carried out on the sheep - its head was covered with inverted sheepskin, teeth were bared and a nose fashioned from a sheep's kidney before the whole "face" was stained with Condy's fluid. By the time they had finished the carcass was stinking, which doubtless aided the success of the scheme, for the "body" was placed by a river for another miner to find and rush to Alexandra in all innocence to claim the reward. The local constable, despatched to recover the corpse, was assisted by Magnus' friends to bring it to the town. Here a sergeant and a doctor made a hurried examination before they converted the stables at the Bendigo Hotel into a morgue for the purposes of a post mortem. Ah Fook Hu's brother denied that it was his relative, but others were more certain and positively identified the corpse as being that of the hapless Ah. The post mortem began. Slowly the body was undressed. Eventually, when the trousers were cut to reveal a sheep's leg, the shocked and sombre crowd erupted with mirth. Doctor, police and mayor all rapidly retreated in a state of embarrassed confusion, as Magnus and his friends repaired to the bar of the Bendigo to celebrate. A local resident was paid to bury the corpse but at dawn the next morning it was propped up against the hotel's front door. Those taking part were overcome by their hilarity and seemingly none spared a thought for Ah Fook Hu, who had disappeared without trace.

- Diana & Jeremy Pope, South Island (Mobil New Zealand Travel Guide), 6th ed., Auckland, 1993

Welcome to the future (it's not as good as the past)

Michael Tomasky, on the sad fact that train travel in the US is actually considerably slower than it used to be 30, 40 or 50 years ago, which is rather a pity given the ease of high-speed rail travel in Europe and Japan.

Tomasky talk: European rail en route to America?


'New Yorker George Pakenham is, in his own small way, doing his bit for the environment by approaching drivers who park with their car engines idling, politely passing them a small card detailing the relevant traffic codes preventing engine idling. He does this in the name of New York's air quality and the preservation of finite fossil fuels. He's distributed nearly 2000 cards over the past few years, and has recorded a 78 percent success rate in convincing strangers to turn their engines off while they wait. But he also keeps a log of the ones who refuse to cooperate:

'November 30, 2007, black male, limo, age "50+": 'He was peeing into a bottle and I disturbed him'

February 12, 2008, white female, truck, age "50+": 'I won't freeze for you'

July 11, 2008, black female, bus (Access-a-Ride), age "25-35": 'Then don't breathe'

August 8, 2008, white male, sedan, age "35-50": 'Guy was rolling a joint'.

Pakenham is unusually shy and well mannered for a curmudgeon, and his accounts of unpleasantness make several references to 'guff' and one mention of a 'MAJOR ISSUE'. Some of the most vivid rebuttals have come from what he calls 'two-time losers', or repeat offenders. (September 3, 2008: 'Get away from me. Go move to China'. September 16, 2008: 'His buddy said, "You are not human"). The idler-in-chief appears to be Tommy, a white male who works for the city and has been caught by Pakenham four times. (March 13, 2008: 'It's Tommy once again. Asleep at the wheel'). But - good news! - Tommy now drives a hybrid'.

- Ben McGrath, 'Engine Trouble', New Yorker, 18 May 2009

[Courtesy of Louise]

29 May 2009

A less than ideal royal wedding

'[Princess] Alice [the daughter of Queen Victoria, married Prince Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and] gave birth to seven children in fairly quick succession. Her first, born in 1863, married thirty-year-old Prince Louis of Battenburg, then serving in the British Navy and described by the Kaiser as the 'most handsome man in Europe'. [Battenburg was] later given the more English-sounding title of Milford Haven. Their children included Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Princess Alice of Greece, who was Prince Phillip's mother. But the marriage in 1884 very nearly did not take place, because the night before the wedding the 21-year-old Princess had eaten shellfish. An hour and a half before the wedding, which was due to start at 4.30pm, the execrable lobster had its revenge and she became violently ill. As if that were not enough, the unfortunate bride had to hobble up the aisle because she had hurt her ankle falling over a coal scuttle'

- Ann Morrow, Cousins Divided, 2006

[Princess Alice was the mother of Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia, who was brought up at Queen Victoria's court after the untimely death of her mother in 1878 when Alexandra was only six years old]

28 May 2009

Jailors & derailleurs

NANTES, France (Reuters) - Close to 200 prisoners will cycle around France next month, watched by scores of guards on bicycles, in the first penal version of the Tour de France, authorities said Monday.

The 196 prisoners will cycle in a pack and breakaway sprints will not be allowed. They will be accompanied by 124 guards and prison sports instructors. There will be no ranking, the idea being to foster values like teamwork and effort.

"It's a kind of escape for us, a chance to break away from the daily reality of prison," said Daniel, a 48-year-old prisoner in the western city of Nantes, at the official launch of the event.

- Reuters, 25 May 2009

Joey the Swampthing

From Czech TV circa 1978:

[Via Clopinettes on B3ta]

21 May 2009

Definitely too much information

Shoaib ruled out of Twenty20 with genital warts

'Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has been ruled out of the World Twenty20 tournament in England due to genital warts, a Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman said overnight.

"We have pulled him out of the World Twenty20 on the basis of a medical report given by our doctor which said that Akhtar needs 10 days to recover from groin wounds," the PCB said.

"The medical board has reported that Akhtar was suffering from genital viral warts."'

- Stuff.co.nz, 22 May 2009

PNG's new national sport

[In Papua New Guinea] '...children throw pairs of worn-out shoes up into the power cables in Goroka, capital of PNG's Eastern Highlands province. They dangle aloft as the weather rots them. The prank is designed to cause power outages so that when repairmen come they can be bribed to lay illegal lines to houses. Trapping footwear in the overhead lines has become a sport, with champions able to hurl trainers so that they spin by their laces around the lines and stick fast'

- Economist, 20 May 2009

20 May 2009

The irritability of Wellingtonians

'Party spirit has always run high in this settlement, but it is generally acknowledged that this is chiefly owing to the high winds, which render the minds of the settlers so irritable, that, were it not for the politics, which act as the safety valve of the place, there is no saying what would be the result. It has been remarked that those living in the most exposed positions suffer most, and become the bitterest politicians, whilst others who have selected more sheltered localities, are the least acted upon by these barometrical changes'

- The missionary Richard Taylor in 1855, on the character of Wellington and its climate. Quoted in Philip Temple, Presenting New Zealand, Auckland, 2008

19 May 2009

Better late than never?

'A council has admitted workers painted a warning sign outside a nursery school despite it closing 10 years ago.

The yellow zig-zag "school keep clear" sign has been painted in Aberdeen at St Peter's Nursery in The Spital.

The work - costing about £200 - was carried out despite the building being boarded up.

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: "Staff have been instructed to check orders for all outstanding works to ensure they are still required."'

- BBC News, 19 May 2009


For those early adopters who've run out of apps to trick out their iPhones, here's a new one. Ever wanted to simulate snorting cocaine from the screen of a well-known Apple multimedia device? Well now's your chance.


15 May 2009

Australians cheer demise of metrosexual man

According to leading Australian demographer Bernard Salt, 'during the [economimc] downturn the theory is that women are concerned about safety, security, food supply and so their taste in men will shift from the androgynous hairless metrosexual towards the more muscular primal hairy male'.

WA Today quotes Salt at length:

Analysing competitors in the Cleo Bachelor of the Year competition, Salt, who is also author of the book Man Drought, said he believed the type of men in favour could change next year.

"You might find a very subtle shift in the type of celebrity male or desired male body shape might shift from hairless, sleek, a bit wimpy to the more muscular," he said.

On a global stage, he said actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Zac Efron may become less popular with female fans, while Tom Selleck lookalikes would be back at the top.

And he believed tradesmen would start being very popular.

"There's a bit of brawn, muscular, a bit of honest sweat. I'm sure that's quite appealing to some women and the market for that will expand," he said.

"Many tradies are actually making an absolute fortune.

"If you look at a man as an investment after 20 years they've established their own business they can be quite successful - so I think tradies for ladies should not be underestimated."

- WAToday.com.au, 3 April 2009

Renting in Tokyo

How much will 50,000 yen (NZ$879, US$521, UK£342) per month rental get you in Tokyo? Answer: plenty of space as long as you don't have any actual possessions.

[Via FEER]

08 May 2009

A new word for terrorists

From a report in the Times, 6 May 1887:

The Dynamitards in America

The New York Times says there are many indications that the extreme Irish Nationalists in the United States are making preparations to perpetrate another series of dynamite outrages in England during the celebration of the Queen's jubilee.

Perhaps they were in some fiendish league with the Vitrioleuses and the Pistoleers. Oh, alright, I made that last one up.

- Times Archive blog, 8 May 2009

07 May 2009

A slight detour

A postcard sent from the Netherlands to Timau in Kenya accidentally ended up in Timaru, New Zealand - a small misdelivery of 13,250km. So, Miggy Looy of Kenya, if you're expecting some mail, it may be a while in arriving. (Although if you're in a hurry you could always just read the message from the newspaper's photograph - tut tut...)

- Timaru Herald, 7 May 2009

05 May 2009

Song for epileptic dogs

"C'mon, make a donation and save a shaky Dalmatian". From Flight of the Conchords, series 2, episode 6.

Economics for gun owners

Concerned that President Obama may raise taxes on ammunition, US gun owners are buying up bullets wherever they can find them... thereby creating ammo shortages, which has meant that ammunition is harder to find. A lesson in supply and demand?

"In the last two months it's gotten very, very difficult to find ammunition," says Richard Taylor, manager of The Firing Line, a gun shop and shooting range in the Denver, Colorado, suburbs.

"There are a lot of rumors floating around that the present government would like to increase taxes on ammunition. I think [there is] just a lot of panicked buying going on."

While campaigning for the White House, Obama supported re-enacting the now-expired ban on assault weapons. But there is no indication that the administration will take up that measure -- or any other gun-control initiative --anytime soon.

- CNN, 4 May 2009

[Via Fark]

04 May 2009

Dogfight 2

A simple browser game set in the skies of WW1, ideally designed to keep you occupied for a few minutes. Keep your eye out for the Hun in the sun, mind.

Dogfight 2

29 April 2009

Academics control our weather!

Lecturers begin lightning strikes

'Lecturers at an Auckland tertiary institute have staged the first of a planned series of "lightning strikes" over what they say is increasing and unrealistic workloads.

About 150 Manukau Institute of Technology staff joined a picket line during Tuesday's two-hour action, which began at 10am, Tertiary Education Union organiser Chan Dixon says'

- TVNZ, 28 April 2009

[Beware their mighty wrath, or install lightning rods on your meagre hovels, either/or]

Swine flu

The Daily Show tells you all you ever needed to know about swine flu. It's either a) A cause for concern, but disease control methodology, quarantine provisions and simple common sense will likely prevent it from causing more than a handful of deaths, or b) A zombie plague spread by infected dragon eggs laid in the hearts of unsuspecting and soon-to-be-brain-eating victims.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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27 April 2009

How to marry well

'Brown, a short, dark, bespectacled man, seemed not particularly distinguished. Early impressions deceived. He exemplified, said one fellow pioneer, the old adage that 'quiet waters run deep'. He possessed a surprising range of interests and enthusiasms; the most bizarre (to modern minds) was phrenology. (Courting couples, he believed, should not marry before the bumps of their heads had been scientifically measured to test compatibility.)'

- From R.C.J. Stone's biography of William Brown, DNZB

God Makes Surprise Visit To Local Church

FAYETTEVILLE, NC — Parishioners at the First Presbyterian Church were left stunned and in awe of His glory Sunday, when the Lord God Almighty dropped by their 11 a.m. service unannounced.

Interrupting Pastor Terry Pridgen's sermon on His unending mercy, God appeared suddenly before His flock as an intense beam of white light, instantly dispersing the earthly forms of those seated in the first two pews. Sources said the remaining congregants had to avert their eyes from their Creator, whose booming celestial voice overwhelmed their worldly senses and humbled their hearts as He politely apologized for not calling first.

"I AM the God of Abraham, the LORD MOST HIGH, who brought you forth from the bondage of Egypt," God said unto church members, many of whom cowered in reverent fear of Him. "Thought I'd just pop in and see how things were going. Please, pretend like I'm not even here."

The Supreme Being then thanked the choir for its "lovely introduction" and took a seat to the right of the altar.

According to wholly repentant witnesses, who were scarcely able to look upon the Alpha and Omega, much less conceive of the enormity of His Might, God did not speak again for the entirety of the service, but was seen nodding approvingly during the Nicene Creed.

Attendees reportedly did not ask the One Who Made Them Flesh why He had chosen to visit their small parish, though some suspected the church's new electric organ might have had something to do with it.

- The Onion, 21 April 2009

25 April 2009

Twitter in 1931

The Times has reported that the concept of Twittering was put into practice as early as 1931, when a London company trialled The Notificator, a vending machine that displayed short messages:

[The Notificator is] an automatic machine with a small desk or shelf, having a glass window in the desk and a roll of paper or thin cardboard beneath. By the insertion of two pennies the window can be slid aside and a message written, which will then be turned onward, the window being closed ready for the next user. Each time a fresh message is written the shutting of the window will move a ratchet - the only mechanism embodied in the invention - and so place the column of messages one space higher.

Messages will remain in sight for some time - the machine is sufficiently tall to leave them visible through a glass panel for at least two hours, it is calculated.

The Notificator was not a success, and the company was declared bankrupt in 1937. Anyone keen to lay odds that Twitter will still be around in six years?

- Source: Times Archive Blog, 22 April 2009

1000 FPS

This is what the world looks like at 1000 frames per second.

I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

[Via CH and Filmdrunk]

22 April 2009

Car-less days

The New Zealand car-less days scheme, designed in response to a rapid decline in the New Zealand economy, ran for less than a year from 1979 to 1980, but failed due to avoidance and concerns about its impracticality. My mother had a sticker on her old VW, and was annoyed by the efforts many people went to to get around the scheme. In any case it would have been difficult to enforce on Waiheke Island, our home at the time, because there were no police officers permanently stationed on the island!

Quoted below is the official information pamphlet for the scheme:

Information for all owners of petrol-fuelled vehicles

Car-less days stickers are printed in seven different colours, one for each day of the week, and have the day printed across them.

You must choose a day, obtain the correct sticker for that day from a Post Office by entering your selected day at the base of your motor re-licensing form, and fix it to your windscreen by 1 July 1979. It will be an offence NOT to display your car-less day sticker from this date.

Place your car-less day sticker on your windscreen alongside your motor licence sticker.

You may change your chosen car-less day only if:

1. Your sticker has been lost, stolen or destroyed.

2. You have bought a new or used car.

3. You can convince the Secretary of Energy that your chosen car-less day will cause you extreme hardship.

If you wish to change your car-less day for any of the above reasons, ask the nearest Post Office for an 'Energy 1' application form.


Traffic officers will then be making sure that your vehicle is not driven on your chosen car-less day.

- Car-less days pamphlet, Ministry of Energy, Wellington, New Zealand, 1979, quoted in Richard Wolfe, Instructions for New Zealanders, Auckland, 2006