Flying Sheep

March 31, 2010

People do weird things. This is especially noticeable when they are doing something outside their normal routine, like traveling.

I was at Cape Town airport on Sunday to catch a flight to John’s Beg. The new terminal is well-appointed with bars, bookshops, restaurants, tea rooms and even has free Wi-Fi on offer. It also has enormous, giant, huge plate-glass windows through which it was hard not to notice the oil-stained, empty tarmac where our aeroplane was supposed to be parked. When boarding time came, however, that did not stop people from forming a long queue at the gate, like cows waiting to be milked.

Why? Surely the most dim-witted traveler knows that it is not possible to board an absent aircraft. Even if it arrives right now, the arriving passengers have to be disembarked and the cleaners go through the plane on their chicken parade before you will be allowed to board. And it may not come right now; in fact, it may never come at all. So why stand for an indeterminate length of time in a queue when you could be enjoying a glass of wine at the bar, or browsing in the bookshop, or tucking into some delicacy in a restaurant, or look! there are comfortable armchairs and sofas in which you are permitted to sit and chat or just daydream.

Once in the air the idiocy continued. As soon as the seatbelt signs were extinguished a whole bunch of passengers stood up to form another queue at the plane’s toilet. People, there are plenty of toilets at the airport, and they let you use them free of charge. So why wait until you’re on the plane where you are going to clog up the aisles with your horrible carcasses and prevent the flight attendants from doing their duty, which is serving me drinks. It’s only a two hour flight and I require prompt service if I’m not to have to rush the last of my three dinkies of wine and give myself heartburn.

I’m a bit deaf so when the entire passenger complement stood the instant the plane came to a stop at the terminal I thought perhaps the national anthem was being played. But no, it was just another manifestation of weirdness. It’s quite comical to see a hundred-odd people leaping to their feet and standing bent over beneath the overhead lockers like a mass audition for the part of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, when they could be sitting down comfortably for the few minutes until the door is opened and they can disembark.

___________________________________________________________

Whilst waiting for the delayed plane to arrive I did a quick informal survey of the laptops that came within eyeshot of my barstool. There were: 5 Macbooks, 4 PC notebooks (3 Windows and 1 Linux).

Out of 9 machines only 3 were Windows? Granted, this isn’t a very big sample, but could it be that people are starting to recognise Windows for the steaming, malodorous, maggot-heaving pile of crap it is? Or were the Windows users the ones standing in the queue waiting to board the non-existent plane?

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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Grave Doubts

March 10, 2010

How should an atheist go to his grave? Since I don’t believe in any afterlife, it really doesn’t matter to me one way or another, but I would like to make some sort of statement that would make an impression on those left behind.

Seeing as I don’t believe in any sort of immortal soul, I figured survival of the body (though dead) was my best chance of making a lasting posthumous statement. To further this end, I wrote thus to the South African Museum:-

from Mark Widdicombe Sent at 09:42 (GMT+02:00). ✆
to
date 8 March 2010 09:42
subject Specimen donation

Dear Dr Stynder,

Since I have entered my 6th decade on this planet, I have been thinking more and more about questions of mortality. One question that has been excercising me is what to do about the final disposition of my mortal remains. I am not a religious person, so there is no requirement to follow any specific ritual as regards burial; I am entirely free to have done with my remains whatever I wish.

After long thought I have decided that I would like to donate my corpse to the South African Museum. I reached this decision for two reasons: firstly, many informed persons have passed comment to the effect that I am a particularly fine specimen of humanity (I attach a photograph to prove that they were not exaggerating), and that it would be a shame were my inspiring physique to disappear upon my death; and secondly, because of my age, there is little value to be had from harvesting my organs for medical purposes.

So what better solution than to have my body stuffed and placed on display in your museum where it may inspire the constant stream of slack-jawed, tik-addled juvenile delinquents who pass daily through your doors? It would probably be best if I were placed in a macho yet tasteful pose (with a spear, perhaps?) somewhere near the main entrance where I would be most visible and thus most inspirational. But I leave such details to you.

I do need to know, however, whether you would like my body delivered fresh or packed in dry ice, and should it come to the museum or be delivered direct to your taxidermists. Please let me know as soon as possible so that I may instruct my executors accordingly and incorporate your instructions in my will.

Kind regards,
Mark Widdicombe

I honestly didn’t expect wholehearted agreement to my proposal, but I was still pleasantly surprised by the sensitive response I received:-

from Hamish Robertson
sender time Sent at 18:02 (GMT+02:00). Current time there: 20:37. ✆
to markwiddicombe
cc Lalou Meltzer ,
Deano Stynder
date 8 March 2010 18:02
subject RE: Specimen donation

Dear Mark

My colleague passed your e-mail on to me and I tried passing it on to someone else to answer but it got deflected back to me, so I guess the buck has stopped with me. It is unlikely that I am going to get this right because if I take you completely seriously my answer will sound a big joke if you were joking and if I take your letter as a joke and you were actually deadly serious, you would, quite rightly, be offended by my flippant answer.

Let’s put it this way. It is beyond dispute that you have a very impressive body and I have no doubt that it would be an immensely popular attraction if we were to mount it for display in the museum (holding the strategically placed piece of firewood would be more interesting than the spear and perhaps you could be holding a piece of boerewors in the other hand). HOWEVER,

1. I am pretty sure it is illegal for us to accept human bodies – we are not registered for this sort of thing.

2. You still strike me as being still young and strong and you could still be alive and well 40 years or so hence, by which time our circumstances could have changed substantially – we can’t take on a commitment of this importance so far in advance.

3. While the idea of getting stuffed after you have died might appeal to you, you need to be much more hairy for this type of mounting procedure to look good. Humans are generally portrayed in museums through casting of individuals from moulds that are taken while alive although this in itself is controversial and rarely done these days.

So, while I am grateful to you for considering the generous donation of your body to the museum, we cannot possibly accept and I am afraid you will probably need to consider some of the more conventional options for the disposal of your body that are not nearly so interesting.

Regards
Hamish

Hamish G. Robertson
Director Natural History Collections
Iziko Museums of Cape Town
25 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town
P O Box 61, Cape Town, 8000 South Africa
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 4813849
Facsimile: +27 (0) 21 4813993
Mobile: 083 4629561
Email:
Website: http://www.iziko.org.za
http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org

So, with hopes dashed, I could only bravely hide my disappointment:-

sender time Sent at 13:08 (GMT+02:00). Current time there: 20:58. ✆
to Hamish Robertson
cc Lalou Meltzer ,
Deano Stynder
date 9 March 2010 13:08
subject Re: Specimen donation
mailed-by gmail.com

hide details 9 Mar (1 day ago)

Dear Hamish,

Thank you for your response. I do understand your concerns regarding the legality of accepting bodies; I thought you might have special dispensation because of your research on bodies, albeit ones not recently deceased.

We shall have to fall back on plan B, which entails dropping the corpse from an aeroplane or helicopter into a region of the Kruger Park bountifully furnished with scavengers like hyenas and vultures. In this way I can make a posthumous contribution to the natural economy.

Kind regards,

Mark Widdicombe

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Wishful Thinking

March 9, 2010

Would you cater a huge party for all your friends and acquaintances, buy a flash new car and poke your boss in the eye and tell him what to do with his crappy job all on the grounds that you may win the lottery next Saturday? No, of course not. That would be insane. But something similar was done by a company recently. Let me tell you about it.

Software is a strange commodity. The first copy of it is incredibly expensive: in order to produce it you have to pay designers, developers and testers, pay rent on offices for them to work in, pay for all the support serices they require and so on. But once they have done their work, each additional copy of the software is essentially free to produce, which is why piracy is a problem. As a software business, you can either charge a fee to licence each copy of your software which you hope will pay your development costs and leave something over for profit (a la Microsoft) or, and this is quite a recent business model, you can give the software away for free and sell services related to the software. This is the model adopted by Red Hat and Canonical, for example.

One of the advantages of this business model is that since you are giving the software away free of charge, you can also make the source code public. This has the effect of dramatically reducing development costs because a community comes into being which does a lot of development and testing for you without you having to pay any of their costs. Open source software is continually evolving as it is modified by the community, which arguably results in higher quality overall than the proprietary model. The open source software company acts as a gatekeeper, making the decisions as to what changes made by the community to include in their distribution.

This is what Canonical does. It distributes Ubuntu (and its derivatives Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Medibuntu) which is an open source, Linux based operating system for PCs and servers. It is an alternative to Microsoft Windows. Now imagine that Canonical is an eighteen-wheeler pantechnicon barrelling down a deserted country road. Imagine that the Ubuntu community has discovered a giant, gaping abyss where the road has been washed away. They know the Ubuntu pantechnicon is on its way, so they stand in the middle of the road waving their arms and shouting.

What does the driver do? The sensible thing to do would be to think, “Gosh, what’s that lunatic doing in the middle of the road? He’s jumping up and down, waving his arms and shouting something. Perhaps he’s trying to warn me about a giant, gaping abyss where the road used to be. I’d better stop.”

What did the Canonical driver actually do? He thought, “Gosh, what’s that lunatic doing in the middle of the road? He’s jumping up and down, waving his arms and shouting something. Perhaps he’s trying to warn me about a giant, gaping abyss where the road used to be. Ah well, I’m sure the council will have filled it in by the time I get there. Might as well keep on truckin’.”

The huge, gaping abyss was a critical regression in the new version of the software called Karmic Koala, released in October 2009 as Ubuntu 9.10, the lunatic in the middle of the road was the Ubuntu community, and the driver of the truck was Canonical’s management team. (For those interested the bug meant that a lot of 3G modems stopped working on the new version of the software, which turned a lot of people’s computers into very expensive typewriters.) The community warned Canonical that there was a critical flaw in the new software long before it was released, but Canonical management decided to go ahead with the release anyway, hoping that their developers would be able to come up with a patch for the bug sooner rather than later.

They didn’t. Four months after release the bug remains unfixed and there are thousands (millions?) of former Ubuntu users who have switched to other operating systems. Not only has this reduced Canonical’s revenue stream (fewer users equals lower demand for support services), but because Ubuntu’s reputation has been badly damaged, future revenue streams are also adversely affected.
Canonical is not a public company, so there will be no shareholder revolt at the next AGM, but I sincerely hope for Ubuntu’s sake that the incompetents that let wishful thinking guide their actions are thrown out and Canonical and the Ubuntu community can move on without any repetition of this sort of debacle.

Wishful thinking? Probably.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Football Folly

March 2, 2010


I don’t like soccer. There, I said it. There are 100 days to go before the start of the World Cup, and already the hysteria is mounting to stratospheric heights. Why is this game so popular? I just don’t get it. “The beautiful game” consists of twenty grown men running after a ball (the other two just stand around and loaf in the goalmouths); if anyone dressed in a uniform of a different hue comes within five yards they lie down and squeal for their Mummies. People actually pay to witness this? Sometimes the entire game goes by without anyone scoring a goal, then they decide the outcome by a “penalty shootout” which is really a sort of lottery. Why don’t they just save everyone the trouble of having to put up with ninety minutes of tosh and just flip a coin in the beginning?

Anyway, a bunch of men in dresses, a.k.a. the Catholic Bishops of South Africa, are so excited they have taken time off from buggering choirboys to come up with this gem:

Almighty God,

creator of all, as people from every nation gather with excitement and enthusiasm for the 2010 World Soccer Cup may South Africans be good hosts, our visitors welcomed guests and the players from every team be blessed with good sportsmanship and health.

May your Spirit of fairness, justice and peace prevail amongst players and all involved. May each contribute in his own positive ways to prevent, control and fight crime and corruption, hooliganism of any kind and exploitation and abuse, especially of those most vulnerable. May those far away from home and those in their families find much joy in this occasion to celebrate the beautiful game of soccer and the beautiful game of life according to Your plan for the common good of all.

Amen

I have to state that my gast is well and truly flabbered. This nonsense is almost as bad as the game itself although, mercifully, it doesn’t take an hour and a half to read. Its sentiment is so banal, its language so saccharine that it is almost impossible to suspend disbelief long enough to parse its meaning.

What is the point of it? Do they believe that if they don’t burble this rubbish God will cause an outbreak of hooliganism? God has a “Spirit of fairness, justice and peace”, does he? Where do you get that from? Kindly quote chapter and verse. The players are supposed to “prevent, control and fight crime and corruption, hooliganism of any kind and exploitation and abuse”? I thought that’s what the fuzz are for.

“The beautiful game of life.” Just wait while I wipe the vomit off my chin. There, that’s better. They can’t possibly be dim enough to really believe that God has “a plan for the common good of all”? Sorry, all you dead Haitians and Chilians, earthquakes are just part of God’s plan for the common good of all.

Bah! And humbug! Perhaps I can go somewhere between June 11 and July 11 where they have never heard of bloody soccer. Or bishops.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Quack Link

March 1, 2010

“No more stress-headaches, insomnia, hangovers or mood swings.” So read the headline of one of the latest pieces of spam to hit my inbox. Well, spammer, I’m interested. I suffer from chronic insomnia and the occasional hangover . What could this miracle drug be? I read on.

Oh. It’s not a drug at all. It’s a little McGufty you hang around your neck like a piece of jewelery. How is this supposed to relieve my hangover? Well, according to the marketers of the Q-link pendant (which is what this spam is flogging), my hangovers are caused by “…being blasted with radiation from work monitors, cell phones and giant electricity pylons, we’re being zapped at home by televisions, mp3 players and game consoles.” And all this time I’ve thought hangovers were caused by drinking too much. Silly me.

So how does it work? It is alleged to contain a “resonating cell, (nature’s microchip)” which neutralizes all these pernicious “rays” we are constantly bombarded by. Oh wait, this is wonderful! I can “go on using my cellphone, watching TV and working on my computer”. I’m so relieved.

And it must really work because Tiger Woods wears one. Perhaps it should come with a warning: Do not drive or operate heavy machinery whilst wearing this thing. But they still haven’t really explained how it’s supposed to work.

OK, we’ve got there. Here comes the science:

Tuning YOUR body to the perfect frequency

It works like this. The Q-Link contains a resonating cell (also known as ‘nature’s microchip’) which works to counteract the effects the tools of modern life have on your body.

Put simply, it ensures your body is operating at its perfect frequency – a bit like the human equivalent of a tuning fork.

Your body is made up of trillions of cells. Now, each and every one of these cells has a frequency. Unfortunately every time your body experiences any stress, all these frequencies go out of synch…

This is where we come in. Q-Link’s proprietary technology ensures that all these frequencies are resonating harmonically.

Wow. Just wow. I’m overawed, flabbergasted at the scholarly erudition of this. How can I argue against what you say when you haven’t actually said anything?

But all this is quibbling. Priced at a mere R1,599 I’d have to be mad not to try it. Who knows, perhaps I’d be able to drink as much as I liked without suffering the morning after consequences. I wonder how much that would cost.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.