English Patient

June 14, 2010

I think that what I think is worth sharing. In order to share my thoughts I must express them with as much precision and as clearly as possible, which means I must care about the language I use. I must think about things like spelling and punctuation, and how to set out the words in a way that will make the ideas they express easily accessible to the person reading them. I am not a natural stylist like Anthony Burgess or Bernard Levin, but I work hard to make things easy for my readers.

William Shakespeare


Alas, it seems I am a member of a fast-disappearing minority. Almost no one cares about how they present themselves on paper (or, and this may be part of the problem, electronically). I read emails, blogs, cell phone text messages, online forums and even professionally produced writing in newspapers and online that show that the writer has scant regard for the language which is his medium of communication. Here are some of the things that annoy me most.

Capitalization. This isn’t hard to do. Just press the shift key at the same time as an alphabetic character and it comes out as a capital letter. It is conventional to start a sentence with a capital letter, because the full stop that ends the preceding sentence is very small, and is easily missed. The capital letter provides a visual marker to the beginning of a sentence; reading text that omits capitals is harder to do. If you are too lazy to use the shift key on your keyboard, I’m too lazy to bother to read what you have written—it’s far easier for me to hit the “delete” key.

Apostrophes. Whence comes the insane compulsion to put apostrophes almost anywhere where they aren’t required? A beautifully framed sign in the ablution facilities of a former employer of mine reads: “Please remember to wash you’re hands.” A sign expensively printed and presumably displayed in all News Café franchises tells of festivities in which women will be dressed in bikini’s. The Compass group have a world cup competition in which contestants can win flat screen TV’s. Could these organizations not have had their copy proofread by someone literate before going to the expense of having them printed? Plurals seem to be where these horrible apostrophes show up most. Apart from the examples above, in the last week I’ve seen trolley’s for trolleys, Tory’s for Tories, even kitchen’s for kitchens. One candidate’s C.V. informed me that she had passed matric math’s. Needless to say, she wasn’t invited for an interview. Please, please, stop it.

Punctuation. Do not use multiple punctuation marks!!! Unless you really want your readers to think you are a moron??? This is the sort of thing perpetrated by adolescent schoolgirls and should be done by no one else. My email spam filter is set up to scan for this sort of nonsense and delete any mail that transgresses without my even seeing it. (By the way, those stupid animated bunnies, pussies and smileys you put in your mail aren’t seen by me either—I automatically convert all emails to UTF-encoded text only.)

Spelling. Deliberate misspelling is one of the most irritating abuses of language, and is becoming extremely common. I boycott such businesses as SellFone Warehouse, Cameraz, Shatterprufe, Shoprite and so on just because they annoy me and I hope that by taking my business elsewhere they will disappear. Spelling mistakes should not occur where a spell checker is available. Not checking text for spelling mistakes is laziness, and should be rewarded with the “delete” key. That said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any piece of writing that contains a complaint about spelling mistakes will itself contain at least one spelling mistake. To forestall any triumphalist crowing occasioned by the mistake’s discovery, I must tell you that I have deliberately introduced a certain number of mistakes into this post. There are no prizes for finding it or them.

Fad words, jargon and clichés. A problem is never a problem down at my office, it is an “issue”. Anything large must be described as “massive”, even if it is a lighter-than-air hot air balloon or a massless strike action. All dimensions must be given in units of tennis courts or football fields. A long time ago is always “time immemorial” and there was always a “primordial soup”. I hate the ugly word “functionality” to describe what a computer program does. What’s wrong with “features”?

Abbreviations. Don’t use them if at all possible. Acronyms and biological generic names should be spelled out when they are used the first time—never assume that your readers already know what they mean. Mr, Mrs and Dr are not followed by full stops in English, Prof. is. The rule is that if the first and last letters of the abbreviation are the same as the first and last letters of the abbreviated word, then no full stop is used. Americans use a full stop always.

Plurals. Apart from the apostrophe problem mentioned above, I have noticed that often mistakes are made with words of Latin and Greek provenance. The plural of virus is viruses, not virii. Also octopuses, platypuses and so on. On technical forums a lot of people refer to the plural of box as boxen. I have no idea why except that it sounds vaguely German. I have made myself quite unpopular for pointing out that in English the plural is boxes.

Netisms. Space does not permit me to treat of this here; it can be the subject of a future post. A good rule of thumb if you are thinking of including a netism in general communication is to think of what the Bible has to say on the subject of having sex with your sister: don’t.

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


Cyber Jiggery-Pokery

May 25, 2010

Sometimes we get ripped off in subtle ways. An example of this is the thumb drive for my computer which I recently bought. It purports to have a capacity of 8GB, but it really doesn’t, for two reasons.

Because the internal architecture of computers depends on switches which can be in one of two states, computer storage comes in exponents of 2. A bit is one such switch and a byte is an array of eight, or 2 cubed. Unfortunately, when computer science was in its infancy, it was decided to hijack terminology from the decimal world to describe binary quantities. Kilo in decimal-speak means 1000 (10 to the power of 3), but in the binary world it is taken to mean 2 to the power of 10, which is 1024.

Similarly, Giga in decimal is the prefix which means 10 to the power of 9 (1,000,000,000), but in binary it means 2 to the power of 30, or 1,073,741,824. In my view it is reasonable when purchasing a computer storage device to assume that the quantity quoted is a binary quantity, not a decimal one, but this is not what actually happens. My so-called 8 Gigabyte drive, which should store 2 to the power of 33 bytes (8,589,934,592) actually only stores the decimal quantity (8,000,000,000 bytes), so I have been short-changed by nearly 600MB, enough to store a full length feature film.

To be completely fair, this is partly the fault of the computer scientists who should have come up with their own terminology from the beginning; the other (larger) part of the fault comes from the hardware marketers who cynically exploit the ambiguity to gain a competitive edge in a cut-throat market.

We also get ripped off in blatant, unsubtle ways. This same drive contains files which are allegedly essential for the correct operation of the device, and are not removable. These files are not stored in an area in addition to the 8 GB which I am supposed to have; they are part of the 8GB, so they eat further into the amount of storage I thought I was buying and would have available for my use.

These files are Windows executable files which are of no use to me whatsoever because I don’t run Windows on my computer—the files don’t do anything at all, but take up a few hundred MB of space which I thought I was buying for my own use. Because it isn’t worth the manufacturer’s while to produce different versions of their product for different operating platforms, we all have to suffer because of poor Windows design, even if we don’t use Windows.

What can we do about it? Not a lot, unfortunately. I suppose we could approach the advertising standards authority and tell them that this thing we have bought isn’t what it says on the tin, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope from that quarter, or from other related agencies or consumer protection organizations. We just have to put up with it if we want to buy these things, and be aware that we aren’t going to get what we should be getting.

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


Fuel Follies

May 13, 2010

A few times a year I receive in my email inbox idiotic chain letters sent to me by people who, I think, hit the “forward” button without bothering to read what they are sending out. Here’s one that I received yesterday:

 

RAND MERCHANT BANK:
This is about petrol prices and an invitation to join the resistance. By the end of this month petrol prices are set to soar even higher.

If we want the petrol price to come down, we all need to take some intelligent, united action.

Last year there was a “don’t buy petrol day”-but the oil companies just laughed at that because they knew that we would “hurt” ourselves by refusing to buy petrol.

It was more of an inconvenience to us than a problem to them.
But, whoever thought of the ideas, has come up with a plan that can really work.
 
READ ON AND JOIN THE ACTION!!

By now you probably thinking petrol priced at about R7.00 is cheap. It is currently at +- R8.00 for regular and unleaded.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain) have conditioned us to think that the cost of a liter is cheap at
R 7.00 ,
we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace……… not the sellers.

With the price of petrol going up each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their petrol.

And we can do that without hurting ourselves.

How?

Since we rely on our cars, we just cannot stop buying petrol.

But we can have an impact on petrol prices if we all act together to force a price war.
Here’s the idea:
For the rest of the year, don’t purchase any petrol from the two biggest overseas oil companies (which are now one), SHELL and BP…
(Local is Lekka – So buy Sasol / Engen / Excel)
If the overseas companies are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices.

If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of petrol buyers.

It is really simple to do!

Now, don’t wimp out at this point…keep reading, and all will be revealed as to how simple it is to reach millions of people.

I am sending this message to 30 people. If each in turn sends it to another 10 people (30 x 10 = 300)…and those 300 send it to at least 10 people 300 x 10 = 3000)
And so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people; we will have reached over 3 million consumers!

If those 3 million people get exited and pass this on to 10 friends each then 30 million consumers will have been reached. If it goes one level further, you guessed it three hundred million people!

Again, all you have to do is to send this to 10 people. That’s all.

How long will all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to 10 people within one day of receipt, all 300 million people could conceivably
be contacted within the next 8 days! Acting together we can make a difference.
If you’re fed up paying too much for petrol, please pass this message on.
COMMENCING  NOW  DON’T BUY BP /SHELL, go and support SA Brand SASOL,
our currency and economy will be strengthen by 65% in 18 months the capital will stay in SA.
Africa must stop feeding the world giants it must feed itself.

I cannot do justice here to the garish, primary colours and huge, teletubbies font sported by the original document, but we can try to deconstruct the meaning of the text.

The first line (and the title of the attachment) is Rand Merchant Bank. Did the author of this crap really think any reader would be stupid enough to think that this is an official communication from that organization? Why else put it in?

Then comes an invitation to join “the resistance”. Doesn’t that bring to mind an image of courageous heroes squatting in the night with sten guns at the ready, waiting to do battle with the dark forces of evil? And who are the forces of evil? Shell and BP, apparently. Why those two? Your guess is as good as mine.

We are told that oil prices are set to soar “even higher” at the end of this month. How does the author know? The oil price depends on the international spot oil price and on the relative value of the rand to the dollar. If the author of this drivel knows either of those two things with certainty, he or she could make a fortune and be able to afford as much petrol as he or she wants. The petrol price that we pay at the pump is not set by the oil companies, but is a regulated price set by the government (that presumably this moron voted for) and is a combination of the basic crude oil price, the cost of refining petrol from the crude oil, the total cost of transportation, the cost of the distribution infrastructure, profit for each company in the chain and various government taxes. And we can consider ourselves fortunate that it isn’t higher than it is—in the UK the price for unleaded petrol is £1.21 per litre, or about R17 per litre, more that double the price we pay.

The next paragraph exhorts us to take “intelligent action”. With absolutely no respect whatsoever, I must state that the author would not recognise intelligence if it bit him.

Any communication that contains multiple punctuation marks, as in “JOIN THE ACTION!!” should be treated with the contempt it deserves; it will certainly not contain anything worth knowing.

“Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain)…”. The US and Britain are not members of OPEC. This cretin’s ignorance is really starting to get to me now.

“…we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace…….not the sellers.” How is it possible to walk on your hind legs and breathe unassisted and yet be so ignorant of basic economic facts? Markets are controlled by BOTH buyers and sellers, who come to an agreement on price. That’s what a “market” is. If a buyer feels the price of a particular commodity is too high he is at liberty not to buy it; if a seller thinks the price is too low, he is at liberty not to sell it. Some oil producing nations, mindful of the fact that oil is their only source of wealth, and that once the oil runs out they will (thanks to a disfunctional education system dictated by their idiotic religion) have to revert to their previous existence as camel-herders, try to make their oil reserves last as long as possible while realising the highest possible price for their product. To this end they agree amongst themselves to cut down production thereby causing an artificial supply deficit which means they can get higher prices. This practice is of limited effect because there are oil producing countries who are not part of the cartels and who are happy to increase their output to make up for the shortfall.

We are then exhorted to hit the oil companies in the pocket by not buying their product. Here is a factoid that may shed some light on the idiocy of this point of view: South Africa accounts for less than 1% of global oil consumption. If everyone stopped buying petrol in South Africa today and went back to walking and transporting goods by donkey-cart, the oil companies would hardly notice; prices would not be affected at all.

The author of this nonsense suggests that we are to boycott Shell and BP products in favour of those from Sasol and Engen, because they are local. Well, actually, they aren’t: they are merely distributers of fuel obtained from overseas suppliers including, you guessed it, Shell and BP. Some of Sasol’s petrol comes from their oil-from-coal plants, but this is a small percentage of sales.

Then comes the usual crap about how many people can be reached if everyone is stupid enough to forward chain letters to everyone in their contact list. The truth of the matter is that the author of this bullshit is too dumb to write a computer virus, but this is the next best thing. If you receive bullshit like this in your inbox, please resist the urge to forward it—the internet is already so clogged up with crap there’s hardly any room left for honest porn.

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


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.


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.


Smoke Signals

February 18, 2010


It has been 6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days since I extinguished my last cigarette, and I feel great. I was waiting for a flight at the airport the other day and it was comical to see the smokers crowded into McGinty’s (the only place where smoking is permitted at the airport) sucking the life out of their cigarettes, knowing they would go through the pain of withdrawal before they would be able to light up again outside their destination airport several hours later. I am so happy not to be one of their number anymore. I think if you asked, and smokers gave honest answers, they would tell you that they would rather be non-smokers than smokers, especially in this social climate where smokers are treated like lepers. So how should they go about stopping?

I feel qualified to give advice on this matter having successfully stopped smoking on no fewer than three occasions (I define success as being smoke free for at least three months). The first time was when I was a university student and I became addicted to long-distance running, which is antithetical to smoking. That was very easy, but I started again a year later when I got drunk at a friend’s 21st birthday party and accepted an offered cigarette just to see what it would taste like after so long. I bought a packet on the way home, and carried on smoking for another twenty-two years.

Then the company I worked for seconded me to their Birmingham office in the yUK, and I gasped when I saw the price of smokes in that country. I’m not exactly sure where the line is, but R65 for twenty cigarettes is way over it (and this was in 2000, mind you, I shudder to think what they must be now after so many years of New Labour nannying), so when my duty frees were finished I stopped again, this time using the Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) method. Six months later my tour of duty in the cold and wet was over, I was back in the third world, and I started smoking again.

And now the Great Depression II. Our income started to fall as the squeeze began to take effect and we had to cut our budget somehow. An obvious candidate for savings was the R700 per month that I routinely set fire to and burned. This time I went “cold turkey” using the Allen Carr method. It’s quite tough but extremely effective, and I have resolved that this time I’ll make it permanent and never touch another cigarette again.

Scallywag has tried and failed to stop using hypnosis. I have an instinctive gut-feeling that hypnosis is not an altogether kosher technique and would not try it myself; Scallywag’s experience seems to bear that out. It must be said at this juncture that one of the things that endears Scallywag to me is her rebellious nature, possessors of which are notoriously difficult to hypnotise. “Your eyelids are getting heavy,” says the hypnotist. “Bollocks,” thinks Scallywag, “they’re no heavier than usual.” So nothing much happens. Even if it did work I wouldn’t want anyone rummaging about in my psyche, thank you very much. Here’s a quick overview of the various methods and their strengths and weaknesses.

Allen Carr’s Easyway. This worked for me. It is a “cold turkey” (although Allen Carr disapproves of the term) method with no crutches to ease you through the initial withdrawal phase. The method relies on the patient having a thorough insight into the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, so that there are no surprises and he can deal with the expected discomforts. This comes at the cost of a cheap paperback; you don’t have to attend expensive classes (although they are available for those who cannot read).

Aversion therapy. This involves showing the patient pictures of smoky, cancerous lungs and videos of people breathing (just) through oxygen masks. Like the useless warnings printed on cigarette packets, this does not work at all because firstly you are telling the patient what he already knows, and secondly if x% of smokers get disease y, the patient will believe that he will be in the portion of the smoking population who will not get it.

Hypnosis. Some people swear blind that this works, but I don’t believe them.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). This is based upon the premise that there are two aspects to the smoking addiction: the physical addiction to nicotine, and the psychological habit and rituals of smoking. NRT allows the patient to deal with the psychological withdrawal by taking a nicotine substitute (gum or patches) to keep the physical withdrawal symptoms to a minimum, then when the smoking habit has been broken he can more easily conquer the addiction to nicotine. This worked for me personally, but obviously your mileage may vary. If you do go this route, use the gum not the patches—it is much easier to control the doseage you are taking, and the gum tastes really foul so you have to be in quite severe withdrawal to put it into your mouth and you are much less likely to become addicted to it. By the way, most Medical Aids are happy to pay for these on the grounds that it’s cheaper to do so now than pay for your heart-lung transplant later.

Support groups. Whether in person or on the internet these whining ninnies will drive you to drink, then you’ll have your liver to worry about too. Stay away.

Then there are a bunch of proprietary stop smoking classes like SmokeEnders which I suspect are scams, and I am certain are unnecessary. You should not need to part with enormous sums of money to beat this addiction. Rather rely on your own resources which are free.

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


Witch Professor

February 17, 2010

witchcraft spells
cast a great spell that is gonna workout for you within seven days dont be fooled am here to help the power and the rich, black or white
Equality is the thing not colours and money.
call for your lover to back with you and wealthy problems.

Google, for some reason known only to their algorithm writers, displayed an ad for this page on my gmail account, so I thought I’d mosey on over and take a look.

The first thing that struck me was the old-fashioned, amateurish and annoying red-on-black text that makes your eyes bleed if you look at it for too long. But you wouldn’t spend much time looking at this site, and you don’t have to because I’ve done it for you.

According to this Proff character, his mumbled incantations can help you achieve wealth, health, love and a longer, heftier penis (all the better to piss through, my dear). Well, this sounds almost too good to be true, so I decided to drop him a line:

From: Mark Widdicombe 17 February 2010 11:02
To: proff@ssanga.co.za
Hello Proff,

I came across your website whilst researching alternative medical modalities. On your page you state:

Spell casting is becoming more and more accepted by mainstream society. And for one simple reason: it works!

Could you point me to any objective studies that indicate that spell casting works, or is that based only on your own experience?

Regards,
Mark

Quick as a flash his auto reply landed in my inbox:

i will help within seven days
From: proff ssanga 17 February 2010 11:02
To: Mark Widdicombe

thanks for your request but,remember to send me your photos and both names i will checck and see how to help you within seven days. Contact me on +27713032860. NB:send your detail andress. YOUR LOST LOVER WILL GET BACK TO YOU WITHIN SEVEN DAYS IF YOU PROVIDE ME WITH ALL YOUR DETAILS AND HER DETAILS TOO SO,FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME’I WILL GET BACK TO YOU WITHIN 10MINUTES.THANKS

Clearly the majority of his clients require their flat love relationships reinflated. Why would he need photos for that, anyway? Perhaps to see whether or not you would be pleased if your lost lover got back to you.

After a while I received an answer to my question:

Spells?
From: proff@ssanga.co.za 17 February 2010 11:56
To: Mark Widdicombe
[Quoted text hidden]

yes it does due to my experience as a professional native healer for the past 25years and i have helped many people like you and all of the have been asking the same question as you’re asking so,feel free to contact me i will explain.thanks 0713032860

Unfortunately my ‘wealthy problems’ preclude my being able to spend airtime on getting the good Proff’s explanation, but I must assume that the answer to my question regarding research is negative, otherwise surely he would have linked to it in his email. Which is a great pity, I could do with the intervention of metaphysical forces in my “Love, financial situations, Misfortunes, Court cases, Marriage and witches”, even though I’m perfectly content with the dimensions of my penis.

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


Valentine’s Day

February 10, 2010

Someone sent this to me by email a few years ago.  It makes a lot of sense to me, so I thought I would share it with you.  I have tried to find contact details for Gary Hull on the internet to ask him whether or not this is copyrighted and if he would mind my posting it.  I can’t find contact details for him (there are about a million Gary Hulls), so I’m going to go ahead and if he objects I’ll buy him a beer and take it down.  Actually, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind—it’s a win for everyone: for him because his ideas are read by at least two more people, for you because you are exposed to his wisdom, and for me because I’ve got a blog post without having to come up with a thousand words of my own.  So here it is.  Enjoy.

The Meaning of Valentine’s Day: Love is Selfish
by Gary Hull (February 14, 2005)

Every Valentine’s Day a certain philosophic crime is perpetrated. Actually, it is committed year-round, but its destructiveness is magnified on this holiday. The crime is the propagation of a widely accepted falsehood: the idea that love is selfless.

Love, we are repeatedly taught, consists of self-sacrifice. Love based on self-interest, we are admonished, is cheap and sordid. True love, we are told, is altruistic. But is it?

Imagine a Valentine’s Day card which takes this premise seriously. Imagine receiving a card with the following message: “I get no pleasure from your existence. I obtain no personal enjoyment from the way you look, dress, move, act or think. Our relationship profits me not. You satisfy no sexual, emotional or intellectual needs of mine. You’re a charity case, and I’m with you only out of pity. Love, XXX.”

Needless to say, you would be indignant to learn that you are being “loved,” not for anything positive you offer your lover, but–like any recipient of alms–for what you lack. Yet that is the perverse view of love entailed in the belief that it is self-sacrificial.

Genuine love is the exact opposite. It is the most selfish experience possible, in the true sense of the term: it benefits your life in a way that involves no sacrifice of others to yourself or of yourself to others.

To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of joy–to you. A “disinterested” love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only if they were done for a stranger–or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.

It is regularly asserted that love should be unconditional, and that we should “love everyone as a brother.” We see this view advocated by the “non-judgmental” grade-school teacher who tells his class that whoever brings a Valentine’s Day card for one student must bring cards for everyone. We see it in the appalling dictum of “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”–which would have us condemn death camps but send Hitler a box of Godiva chocolates. Most people would agree that having sex with a person one despises is debased. Yet somehow, when the same underlying idea is applied to love, people consider it noble.

Love is far too precious to be offered indiscriminately. It is above all in the area of love that egalitarianism ought to be repudiated. Love represents an exalted exchange–a spiritual exchange–between two people, for the purpose of mutual benefit.

You love someone because he or she is a value–a selfish value to you, as determined by your standards–just as you are a value to him or her.

It is the view that you ought to be given love unconditionally–the view that you do not deserve it any more than some random bum, the view that it is not a response to anything particular in you, the view that it is causeless–which exemplifies the most ignoble conception of this sublime experience.

The nature of love places certain demands on those who wish to enjoy it. You must regard yourself as worthy of being loved. Those who expect to be loved, not because they offer some positive value, but because they don’t–i.e., those who demand love as altruistic duty–are parasites. Someone who says “Love me just because I need it” seeks an unearned spiritual value–in the same way that a thief seeks unearned wealth. To quote a famous line from The Fountainhead: “To say ‘I love you,’ one must know first how to say the ‘I ‘”

Valentine’s Day–with its colorful cards, mouth-watering chocolates and silky lingerie–gives material form to this spiritual value. It is a moment for you to pause, to ignore the trivialities of life–and to celebrate the selfish pleasure of being worthy of someone’s love and of having found someone worthy of yours.