Leia's a perfectly good name, though…

February 22nd, 2014

I'm indebted to Stu for reminding me of this perfect epilogue to Spaced, which I believe can be found on the DVD boxset:

Awwwww.

[Via feeling listless]

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Spin, spin, spin…

February 12th, 2014

From the [pen|keyboard] of The Yorkshire Ranter: Dave from PR in the French Revolution

Being a Salmagundi from the Talking-Pointes of the late Sieur Davide du Camerone, Gentleman of the Privy and Counsellier upon the Fourth Estate to his most Catholic Majesty, the late King Louis XVI

An unexpectedly large forecast error in the Budget leads Finance Minister Necker to call an emergency Estates-General:

We’re all in this together. Only a balanced parliament reflecting the national consensus to deal with the debt can keep us from ending up like Spain. M. Colbert didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining, but His Majesty is determined to get our finances in surplus by 1792. That’s on a rolling five-year cash basis excluding interventions in North America and royal mistresses.

[…]

[FX: Applause]

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Poshest. Things. Ever!

February 7th, 2014

The 28 Poshest Things That Have Ever Happened.

Assuming that it's not a Photoshop job, they left the worst until last:

28. And this velvet-covered Porsche

Velvet-covered Porsche

Why would you do that to a poor, defenceless car? Why?!?

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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How Britain exported next-generation surveillance

January 9th, 2014

James Bridle on How Britain exported next-generation surveillance. Good, but depressing.

As is often the case when it comes to governments and surveillance technologies, the problem isn't so much the technology itself as it is a reluctance on the part of officials to explain how the data gathered is being used, beyond a bland assertion that all relevant laws and guidelines are being followed. Plus, of course, mission creep on every possible front.

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Simon Hoggart

January 6th, 2014

Today's Guardian commemorated the passing of their parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart by reprinting some of his finer moments. I always liked Hoggart best when he turned his attention to some of the less consequential figures From the back benches:

"Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address.

I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched dee

p so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.

Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.

When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister's questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always is, by a hushed and expectant silence."

- 14 September 2011

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Oh, (Little) England…

December 31st, 2013

The Daily Mail in a Nutshell:

DAILY MAIL IN A NUTSHELL: Top rated comment - refuses to read... on Twitpic

[Via Memex 1.1]

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'Our security forces have it back'?!?

August 21st, 2013

Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:

Louise Mensch on data security

She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.

Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.

[Via Charlie's Diary]

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BUGGER

August 10th, 2013

Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:

The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.

That the spies know what they are doing.

It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.

It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.

But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. [...]

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#15,678 and rising?

August 4th, 2013

Stiff Records' press release about the first week sales performance of Johnny Borrell's solo album is putting a brave face on things:

Stiff Records is proud to announce first week sales figures for its latest album – Johnny Borrell's 'Borrell 1' – of 594.

'Borrell 1' is the début solo LP from the former Razorlight vocalist and is the first new album on the highly prolific Stiff Records since 2007.

That last album was the multi million-selling two-volume set, '30 Years Of Stiff Records' (although admittedly that was a free cover-mount with 'The Independent on Sunday').

"First week sales of 594 makes 'Borrell 1' the 15,678th best selling album of the year to date," comments a Stiff spokesperson. "So far we've achieved 0.00015% sales of Adele's '21' – and 0.03% sales of this week's No. 1 album from Jahmene Douglas – so we feel like it's all to play for as we move into the all-important week two."

"We might even break the Top 100."

Or possibly taking the piss. Hard to tell.

[Via No Rock And Roll Fun]

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Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship

July 29th, 2013

One for readers in the UK: the Open Rights Group invites you to sign their petition telling David Cameron to Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.

Dear David Cameron,

Everyone agrees that we should try to protect children from harmful content. But asking everyone to sleepwalk into censorship does more harm than good.

Filters won't stop children seeing adult content and risks giving parents a false sense of security. It will stop people finding advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. This isn't just about pornography. Filters will block any site deemed unsuitable for under 18s.

Please drop these plans immediately.

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Baby Cambridge will save us all

July 13th, 2013

Marina Hyde probably isn't going to get an OBE any time soon

In the movies, all royal births, marriages, and deaths are announced from a balcony, to a sea of lowly subjects in a courtyard below. How and why these ready-to-whoop peasants are so conveniently on hand is never made clear: perhaps they have nothing better to do than wait around on the off-chance of news. Possibly they have been kettled there by the Ruritanian equivalent of the Met.

Against such fictions, Clarence House's plans for the announcement of the birth of the royal baby have the whiff of bathos. "We wanted to retain some of the theatre of the notice," a spokesman – who has obviously never seen The Princess Bride – recently revealed. Thus, when the baby is born, a piece of Buckingham Palace writing paper will be signed by those who have assisted the Duchess of Cambridge in her obstetric endeavour, and this piece of paper will be driven to Buckingham Palace, where it will be displayed on an easel in the palace forecourt, like the end credits of a By Royal Appointment episode of One Born Every Minute. One Born Every Generation, if you will. [...]

Hilary Mantel wuz right.

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Numbers don't lie

July 7th, 2013

Statistic of the day:

Parachuting for charity: is it worth the money? A 5-year audit of parachute injuries in Tayside and the cost to the NHS.

Authors Lee CT, et al.

Injury. 1999 May;30(4):283-7.

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perth Royal Infirmary, Scotland, UK.

Abstract

All parachute injuries from two local parachute centres over a 5-year period were analysed. Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists. The injury rate in charity-parachutists was 11% at an average cost of 3751 Pounds per casualty. Sixty-three percent of casualties who were charity-parachutists required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of 5781 Pounds per patient. The amount raised per person for charity was 30 Pounds. Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS 13.75 Pounds in return. Parachuting for charity costs more money than it raises, carries a high risk of serious personal injury and places a significant burden on health resources.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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Back to front

June 29th, 2013

Women use compact mirrors in packed crowd to catch sight of the queen in London, June 1966. I love the range of expressions at play across the faces of the women as they peer and squint at their mirror.

Presumably the modern equivalent would involve their hoisting a mobile phone above the crowd.1

[Via swissmiss]

  1. Of course, it's inherently less challenging to capture an image in those circumstances when using a smartphone, what with your getting to face forward while you're doing it. Not to mention getting to record the whole thing for review and editing later.

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Are we having fun yet?

June 26th, 2013

John Lanchester has written yet another piece on the ongoing banking crisis, this time on The Biggest Scandal of All. The essay is mostly about the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance and what that scandal reveals about how the big banks think of their customers, but along the way Lanchester reminds us of just how badly the banking sector has behaved recently:

[...] The first of the big British banks to be publicly busted was Standard Chartered [...] In August 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services [...] accused the bank of running a scheme to deal, illegally under US law, with the Iranian government. The regulator said that the bank had been operating the scheme/scam for a decade and had used it to hide more than $250 billion in deals. The bank's response was unequivocal: 'Standard Chartered strongly rejects the position and portrayal of facts made by the New York State Department of Financial Services.' It turned out that, once translated out of bank-speak, this meant 'we did it.' In September the bank paid $340 million to the DFS in settlement, then in December another $227 million to the DoJ and $100 million to the US Federal Reserve, and accepted a 'deferred prosecution arrangement' in which the authorities said they wouldn't prosecute the bank if it abided by the conditions made in the settlement agreements.

Standard Chartered had odd body language through all this. Rather than looking guilty, they behaved as if they were severely pissed off. 'The settlements,' they said, 'are the product of an extensive internal investigation that led the bank voluntarily to report its findings concerning past sanctions compliance to these US authorities, and nearly three years of intensive co-operation with regulators and prosecutors.' They also said that the US Treasury had found that only $133 million in deals between 2001 and 2007 were in violation of sanctions. But if they only did $133 million in deals, how come they were willing to pay $667 million, two-thirds of a billion dollars, in fines? Was there a subtext here, a notion that these were American laws, expressing an American preoccupation with the Axis of Evil, and that for a British bank to have violated them was, how to put it, not quite so serious as all that? On 5 March this year, the chairman of the bank, Sir John Peace, said the following clunky thing: 'We had no wilful act to avoid sanctions; you know, mistakes are made – clerical errors – and we talked about, last year, a number of transactions which clearly were clerical errors or mistakes that were made.' This made the regulators furious, and in Sir John's next statement on the subject, 16 days later, he said that he and the bank retracted 'the comment I made as both legally and factually incorrect. To be clear, Standard Chartered unequivocally acknowledges and accepts responsibility, on behalf of the bank and its employees, for past knowing and wilful criminal conduct in violating US economic sanctions, laws and regulations.' This was described in the FT as 'the most abject apology that City pundits can remember hearing from a banker in recent times', and their story reporting it contained a link to the Clash playing 'I fought the law.' The DoJ made it clear that without the retraction, the bank would have been prosecuted. Standard Chartered's behaviour reminded me of the defining moment from the great sitcom Arrested Development, where the family patriarch, played by Jeffrey Tambor, explains to his son why he is facing prison: 'There's a good chance that I may have committed some [pause] light [pause] treason.'

The entire essay is, as you may have gathered, well worth a read.

(A couple of generations from now historians are going to be writing books wondering why the streets of the western world weren't lined with the corpses of bank executives hanging from lamp posts. With any luck the answer will be that they were too busy serving long jail sentences. I'm not going to hold my breath.)

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#guardiancoffee

June 16th, 2013

Alex Hern reckons that #guardiancoffee is the future:

Journalism is dead. Come on, we all know it. The only problem is that it's also kinda useful.

[Via Martin Belam]

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Intensifying the contradictions

June 1st, 2013

Agent Gideon Goes Rogue:

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin's day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said "Sit".

The Colonel glared at him. "The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?" [...]

[Via The Browser]

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We Are Amused

April 30th, 2013

James Fallows caught the Times being very naughty in captioning a news photo earlier today.

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Ding and indeed Dong

April 11th, 2013

Martin Belam, QFT:

Just a thought. I reckon anybody writing a comment piece about whether the BBC should play Judy Garland and "Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead" as part of the chart run-down at the weekend should be forced to name the current #1 single before they are allowed to hit publish…

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With apologies to the Grauniad's sub… >

March 26th, 2013

The Guardian Truncation Team highlights the occasional unfortunate consequences of the paper's mobile app truncating all headlines at the two line mark:

Loyalist protestors urged to end Belfast...

[Via Martin Belam]

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Infinite loop

March 19th, 2013

A slice of prime early 1980s computing nostalgia, served up for British computer geeks of a certain age by The Register:

They would, Clive Sinclair claimed on 23 April 1982, revolutionise home computer storage. Significantly cheaper than the established 5.25-inch and emerging 3.5-inch floppy drives of the time – though not as capacious or as fast to serve up files – 'Uncle' Clive's new toy would "change the face of personal computing", Sinclair Research's advertising puffed.

Yet this "remarkable breakthrough at a remarkable price" would take more than 18 months more to come to market. In the meantime, it would become a byword for delays and disappointment – and this in an era when almost every promised product arrived late.

Sinclair's revolutionary product was the ZX Microdrive. This is its story. [...]

It was a pity that Sinclair botched the ZX Microdrive so badly: it was a tragedy that the QL relied upon Microdrives.1 I tell you, with floppy disk drives, a decent keyboard and a finished operating system, the QL could've been a contender.

  1. And an inadequate keyboard. And firmware that required more space on the built-in ROM than could fit on that ROM, leaving early users with no choice but to to plug in an external ROM card holding the remainder of their computer's operating system.

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