Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Omid Djalili Show .

I am enjoying the current series on BBC1 of The Omid Djalili Show. I find Omid very funny to watch and I really enjoy his style of humour. His range of voices is wonderful, they are fresh and very entertaining. The one sketch that really rang a bell with me last night was the one about the mini-cabs. The sketch starts with Omid being an ethnic minority migrant worker driving a mini-cab. His female white passenger gets into the back of his taxi and he casually gives her a greeting. You hear her speak casually and you make the same assumption as Omid that she is replying to his greeting. But no, she is not talking to Omid, she is being very rude. She does that awful thing that a lot of people are doing nowadays. People speak directly to them but they totally ignore you and talk into a mobile telephone. This is disgusting and it is happening a lot. These rude mobile telephone talkers are very rude and they view everyone else as unimportant and treat them as dirt on their shoe.

It annoys me when people do this when I am loading my coach or giving a safety announcement, so I identify with Omid's sketch. This misuse of mobile telephones that makes us into a two class society is awful. It is also rather sad that the phone users life is so cheap that they are ruled by their mobile telephones and can't live like normal functioning human beings. Those people who walk around with Bluetooth earpieces still make me giggle. Beam me up Scotty! - Wow! they must be really important that they must remain in contact with base at all times!

Friday, April 24, 2009

fractured by Karin Slaughter .

When Atlanta housewife Abigail Campano comes home unexpectedly one afternoon, she walks into a nightmare. A broken window, a bloody footprint on the stairs and, most devastating of all, the horrifying sight of her teenage daughter lying dead on the landing, a man standing over her with a bloody knife. The struggle which follows changes Abigail's life forever.

This is a 388 page crime thriller novel that follows the usual police and forensic procedures in a regular police investigation. It is a good book that is written in the style of a wise old grandmother. The reader is drawn into this story because of all the other issues and details that are thrown into this tale, so that you feel as though you are living within this book. To illustrate this, look at page 112...

Abigail often wondered what it would have been like to have a son. Granted, she was an outsider, but mothers and sons seemed to have such uncomplicated relationships. Boys were easy to read. With one glance, you could tell whether they were angry or sad or happy. They appreciated simple things, like pizza and video games, and when they fought with their friends, it was never for blood, or worse, for sport. You never heard about boys writing slam notes or spreading rumors about each other at school. A boy never came home crying because someone called him fat. Well, maybe he did, but his mother could make everything better by stroking his head, baking some cookies. He would not sulk for weeks over the slightest perceived insult.

...There are lots of other issues that are integral to this story. Karin weaves into this novel the problems of loneliness, children who are orphans who never become part of a family, failure and getting things wrong. Again her wise old grandmother writing style comes out on page 195...

Will gave her one of Amanda's more solid pieces of advice. "You can only make decisions with the information you have at the time."

...There are 4 characters in this story who suffer from Dyslexia. This book will raise the reader's disability awareness of Dyslexia. It is rather strange enjoying reading this book when suddenly you are plunged into the problems encountered every day by Dsylexics. Until reading this novel I had taken my reading for granted. I enjoy reading books, newspapers and internet content. My working life involves reading lots of tickets and signs. I take in a terrific amount of signage and advertising copy. I simply scan the text and read the message, there is no thought in this, it just seems as natural as scratching your nose.

The Dyslexia suffered by these 4 characters is integral to the plot of this story. You will read how these 4 characters cope with their Dyslexia and how they employ many work-arounds to get on with their lives. I simply take words as a collection of text and read the message. Dyslexics are very aware of colours and shapes as their way of navigating their way through life.

Everything works out in the end and the reader can bring closure to the 3 deaths that happen along the way. It is a good story and what I bring away from this book is a policy to NEVER ask somebody "can't you read!". There is a big problem in our country with adult literacy, a problem that is generally ignored because the adults who are illiterate are very good at disguising their disability. The adults who have had a poor education experience can be helped and they can learn to read just like you and me. However, the problem for Dyslexics is very different as their brains are wired very different to ours. Dyslexics have to develop fully their other mental skills to navigate through our information rich society. It is no longer a mystery for me why so many passengers on my coach press the button marked "Alarm" in the toilet when they want to wash their hands or flush the toilet. The signage is good but to a Dyslexic they are just coloured buttons, press any button and see what happens!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't believe the spin with chip and pin .

Not so long ago we had to sign on the dotted line when paying for shopping on a debit or credit card. Now, of course, it’s all chip and pin. Just slot your card into a handheld device, tap out your four-digit pin (personal information number) and you’re done. It’s fast, easy, and, according to the banks, far more secure than the old way. Unfortunately, the system hasn’t lived up to its promise. According to recent figures from banking industry body Apacs, card fraud hit a record high of £609.9m in 2008, 14 per cent up on 2007. Even more alarming, the figure has shot up by £182.8m – 43 per cent – since chip and pin became universal on Valentine’s Day 2006. What went wrong? Rather than acting as a deterrent, the introduction of chip and pin cards vastly opened up the opportunities for fraudsters. Previously, pins were used in the 50,000 or so bank cash machines around the country. Now they’re used on more than 900,000 tills everywhere from high street shops and supermarkets to restaurants and petrol stations.

Scammers simply had to work out a way to crack the system... and they did. Last October, Dr Joel Brenner of the US National Counter-Intelligence Executive warned that hundreds of chip and pin machines in stores and supermarkets across Europe had been tampered with, allowing details of shoppers’ bank and credit card accounts to be sent overseas to fraudsters. The details were used to take money from cardholders’ accounts. An organised crime syndicate was thought to have been behind the scam. It must have been an inside job as the machines were doctored, either when they were being built in China, or before they left the production line. Investigators call this “supply chain attack”. It needs slick engineers, too. Dr Brenner says the devices had been perfectly resealed after being taken apart and customised. “It was impossible to tell, even for somebody working at the factory, that they had been tampered with.”

From China, the doctored devices were shipped as normal to Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, and were installed in many different outlets – typically with the help of an insider, such as a member of staff. Investigators from Mastercard International reportedly found doctored machines at branches of Asda and Sainsbury’s. Before the scam first came to light in early 2008, hundreds of devices in Britain and other affected countries were copying account and pin numbers from thousands of credit and debit cards. The data was transmitted via mobile phone networks to underworld boffins in Lahore, Pakistan. “White” or cloned cards were then made, which criminals used to withdraw cash and to make “card not present” payments by phone or online. The illicit transactions were always made two months or so after the original card details had been lifted, which effectively obscured the fraudsters’ “cyber-trail”.

...So there you have it, don't believe the spin with chip and pin. For the full newspaper article just click the link above. I thought the system was secure and all the chip and pin machines in use look legitimate. There is no way a customer can avoid these scams unless they go back to cold cash. I do not think that there will ever be a secure method of debit and credit card payments. All this fraud is paid for in the end by you, the customer. When a fraud is paid for by the banks, it is their account holders who take the hit. When a fraud is paid by a company, then the company's other customers pay for it in increased prices. These criminals are not robbing faceless banks and companies, they are robbing you through the knock-on cost of increased charges. But we, the law-abiding consumers, can do nothing about this fraud. Of course the banks and companies give it a lot of spin about secure payment and leave the public in the dark. They do not want you to know just how much money is lost through fraud. These banks and companies will talk about operating costs rather than money lost through fraud. It seems that business accepts a certain level of fraud that it is prepared to sweep under the carpet. It is a surprise just how large an amount they are prepared to write off each year. Of course some companies make it easier than others, like the one where you can print out your own coach travel ticket!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The gimmick is back!

Ask.com has shelved its three year re-branding drive and will today re-launch as AskJeeves.com. The group is bringing back the fictional butler – created by PG Wodehouse in his series of Jeeves and Wooster novels – who fronted the search engine when it was first launched in 1997.

Well, I have looked at this re-branded search engine which is now called Ask Jeeves Web Search and it does nothing for me. I have looked at all the features and in my opinion it does not deliver the quality web search results I am after. The results it offers are poor and I view this re-branding as a silly cosmetic make-over of a poor search engine. Web users want good quality search results not a gimmick like a fictional butler. I will stay with Yahoo! Search because it offers the power and results that I am looking for. No other search engine comes close to the results I am getting from Yahoo! Search.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Traffic Cops and Afghan Star .

Last night I watched Traffic Cops on BBC1. This episode featured Traffic cops in South Wales uncover drug stashes and an amorous couple in a bush. The programme was filmed in and around Cardiff and Swansea. Living in Cardiff I was able to identify the locations and the whole programme seemed local to me. I have nothing to do with drugs or crime but because of the locations and accents everything seemed familiar to me. This programme seemed to portray everyday life in South Wales and everything seemed normal to me.

So why have I titled this post "Traffic Cops and Afghan Star"? I am a white Atheist Englishman living in Wales. Earlier this week I watched the Cutting Edge documentary Afghan Star. The third series of Afghan Star was watched by a third of the population of Afghanistan. This documentary follows them, and two of the men, in detail. Rafi Nabzaada, 19, a Tajik, is the cockiest, and Hameed Sakhizada, 20, is Hazara and the most musical of the four. Lema Sahar, 25, is a Pashtun singer from Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold, while Setara Hussainzada, 22, is risking the most, coming from the ultra-conservative city of Herat. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Afghan Star, it was a brilliant programme. Then I had a thought, this programme did not appear foreign to me. You would think that a programme filmed miles away in the Middle East would look, feel and sound foreign to a British viewer. I have never been to Afghanistan, I have only read about Afghanistan from books. I have watched the odd television programme about Afghanistan, read and seen things on the internet and in newspapers but I have never set foot in Afghanistan. So why did this programme not appear foreign to me? Yes, I have had holidays in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey - all Muslim countries. I have read various books, surfed the internet and watched television. My day job brings me into contact with Muslims here in the UK. Yet this programme did not in any way seem foreign to me, it felt as though it could have been filmed anywhere in Britain. When I go on holiday to Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey I am used to seeing with my own eyes street scenes and cultures similar to Afghanistan. When the programme featured a scene where a contestant was with his Iman and when they prayed they raised both hands to their chin, I knew instantly that they were Sunni Muslims because Shia Muslims only raise one hand to their chin.

So I think that Afghan Star did not appear foreign to me because of my exposure to Muslim culture through books, holidays, the internet and television. What saddens me though is the large number of people today in Britain who are frightened by Islam. Like most fear, people can be frightened by what they do not understand. I have an understanding of Muslim culture and as an Atheist I am not worried about it one little bit. The Muslim culture is not foreign to me and I was able to enjoy Afghan Star just as much as Britain's Got Talent. Lema Sahar and Setara Hussainzada did not dance like Fabia Cerra though!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Moonraker from J.W. Lees of Manchester.

I saw a bottle of beer on special offer in the supermarket the other day. Moonraker, which is brewed by J.W. Lees of Manchester, is a strong ale with an ABV of 7.5%! I enjoy my real ale and I had not drank Moonraker before but I have enjoyed J.W. Lees beers in one of their pubs. Generally over-strong beers are not very nice and most beers over 5%ABV tend to be a little rough. Still, the price was right so I gave it a go!

Boy, this beer is gorgeous! Forget the labeling of 7.5% ABV, this beer is lush. It does not taste strong and giving a guess you would think it was around 5% ABV as it tastes similar to Green King Abbot Ale. You sip this beer and you marvel at it's quality. Moonraker is such a lovely beer that you appreciate the true craftmanship of the brewer. Moonraker is a classic and a sheer joy to drink. It is dark and very full of flavour. What a lovely surprise this was from the weekly shopping basket.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spector faces life sentence for actress's murder

Phil Spector, the legendary record producer who invented the "Wall of Sound" recording technique, is likely to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars after being found guilty of murdering a struggling actress at his hilltop castle in Los Angeles. A famous eccentric with a track record of abusive behaviour towards women and a fatal fascination with firearms, the characteristically dishevelled-looking Spector did not react when the verdict was read out by the foreman of the jury yesterday afternoon, following 30 hours of deliberations. In reaching its decision, the jury of six men and six women chose not to convict Spector on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which would have carried a sentence of between two and four years.

I do not wish to comment on this court case but on what I watched live on Sky News television after the trial. Sky News interrupted it's normal news broadcast to bring it's viewers live coverage of the press conferences after the trial. I found myself glued to my television as the defence team answered questions from the press about the trial. This was good television as it showed the viewer how the defense team had tried their level best to achieve a not-guilty verdict. But the best was to come when the chairperson of the jury, a woman, took the stand to answer the press questions. This woman jury member said her bit and then started to answer the questions. The press did not hold back and their questions were sharp. She explained how the jury had followed the instructions from the judge and over 30 hours had discussed everything. The press continued their sharp questions to the woman who was reduced to tears when she claimed that no-one knows how much pressure the jury was under to reach a verdict. This woman had clearly found her jury service very stressful and she was clearly relived it had come to an end.

I found this television footage very gripping. What I liked about it was the sense of justice it portrayed. It showed a transparent justice system, a justice system that worked with human beings who showed how hard they had worked for a fair trial. In a lot of court cases you wonder just how a jury has reached it's verdict. In this trial you were left in no doubt how this jury had reached it's verdict and that this trial was fair. I like this transparency and viewers were told that we would never see a jury press conference like this here in the UK. Which is a shame and I feel this would be a good move for us to copy from America. It is good for a jury to explain to the public their verdict and gives the viewer a better feeling that justice has been done. It also makes great television because the person answering the press has little time to prepare for the conference. Also it is a fresh opinion being made by a jury member and this is not that person's day job, so the chance of media-spin is reduced.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Raids on 'bomb plotters' fail to unearth explosives.

Raids to foil an alleged al-Qa'ida bomb plot, hurriedly brought forward after a blunder by a senior police officer, are yet to uncover any explosives or firearms, according to senior security sources. For some, the action verged on the cinematic. Leonard Mottram, 39, had watched as officers smashed through the bay windows of two houses in Cedar Grove, Toxteth, to arrest three suspects. He said: "It was like something out of an action movie. Everything was deadly silent for a few seconds. I honestly thought they were filming. I looked out of the front window and was expecting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger or Russell Crowe come bursting out of one of the police vans."

...So, was it all a big mistake by our security services? Where our Police thinking that buying a Pakistani newspaper featuring the headline: "Taliban blamed for sectarian suicide attack on mosque." and leaving it in on a dashboard of a grey MG Rover car where the actions of terrorists planning an attack here in the UK? Oh yeah, professional terrorists leave clues everywhere to advertise their planning. Leave a poster in a car to draw attention to your cause, why not advertise bomb making classes with a contact telephone number! I think that our security services have a lot of imagination and can create dodgy terrorist links out of the normal everyday life of law-abiding citizens. This will lead the public to suspect that all males who look like Pakistanis are potential terrorists and a close eye should be kept on these dodgy looking people. I think the BNP must be rubbing their hands at the news on these anti-terrorist raids. Wrongful arrest and fruitless raids for explosives and firearms spreads fear among narrow-minded bigots. Bob Quick had the right surname, Quick, quick to accuse those dodgy looking Pakistanis.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Railway by Hamid Ismailov .

This novel was written in Russian in 1997 and was translated into English by Robert Chandler in 2006. Hamid Ismailov is employed as the Head of the BBC Central Asian Services and he chose Russian as the language of this novel set in Uzbekistan. The back cover of this books reads...

Set mainly in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1980, The Railway introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas on the ancient Silk Route, Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody- Jurisprudence, the town's alcoholic intellectual; Father Ioann, a Russian priest; Kara-Musayev the Younger, the chief of police; and Umarali-Moneybags, the old moneylender. Their colourful lives offer a unique and comic picture of a little-known land populated by outgoing Mullahs, incoming Bolsheviks, and a plethora of Uzbeks, Russians, Persians, Jews, Koreans, Tatars and Gypsies.

...You may wonder where Uzbekistan is, no need to worry as a handy little map is printed at the start of this 275 page novel. There is a preface written by the translator Robert Chandler where he describes the difficulties he faced translating this novel from Russian into English. This explanation plus the scenario depicted by the back cover really draws the reader in. So what do you get for your £7.99?

Ah, there is the rub, this book clearly does not live up to it's promise. I vote this book a MISS, I think it is very poor and it does not deliver it's promise of a cultural adventure. There is no real story to this book, it is like being on a holiday coach trip where the guide waffles on about people who have lived in the buildings you are passing by. At the end of this book you feel as though you have been on a day trip to Gilas, bought the T shirt and have forgotten everything the guide has told you. All the characters are shallow and they all tell rather dull anecdotes. One character does not have a name and is simply called The Boy. Whenever a chapter involves The Boy, that whole chapter is written in Italics which is a distracting nuisance. There is no central plot to this novel and Hamid clearly has not got the skill of storytelling. There is no structure to this book and Hamid's writing style is amateur. I think it was a waste of time translating this novel from Russian into English as the reader will take nothing away from reading this book. I shall not be buying another of Hamid's books and I suggest other bloggers do not waste their time with this novel. Do not think that there may be something of value written about railways or trains in this novel because the railway is only a feature of Gilas that all the characters can walk past and nothing more. Akmolin drives a diesel shunter and that is all that any transport enthusiast would learn from this novel!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hold on tight, everyone, 48, 49, 50 miles an hour!

On yes, hold on tight everyone because our government believes that 50 miles an hour is fast. It believes that to drive at more than 50 miles an hour could be dangerous so they have introduced from today a new 50 mph speed limit. This is not on a single carriageway road over a steep mountain with hair-pin bends, this is along the M4 motorway between junctions 24 (Coldra) and 28 (Tredegar Park) around Newport. The Welsh Assembly Government wishes to emphasise that the 50 mph speed limit is essential for the safety of motorists and thanks them in advance for their co-operation.

Well, blown me down, what on earth can be dangerous about driving along a quiet motorway in the early hours of the morning at speeds of between 50 and 70mph? This is a motorway for goodness sake and all motorways are built and designed with a 70 mph speed limit. There is no need to reduce the speed limit on any motorway to 50 mph when the national motorway speed limit agreed through central (Westminster) government is 70 mph. The national speed limit for a single carriageway road is 60 mph and reducing a section of motorway to an even lower speed limit of 50 mph makes a mockery of all speed limits.

This section of motorway around Newport has 2 downhill sections in each direction. With a 50 mph speed limit all coaches and lorries will have to use their exhaust brake, gearbox brake retarder or foot brakes to check their speed otherwise it would over-run well above 50 mph. Whenever a coach or lorry is dragging a brake the brake lights at the rear of these vehicles come on. Of course your amateur car driver has no idea whether the coach or lorry is checking it's speed or is braking. Therefore the car driver hits their brakes and bunching of traffic occurs.

As a rough rule of thumb whenever you see brake lights being used on a motorway it signals the actions of a bad driver. There is no need for brakes to be applied in normal driving on a motorway but forcing coaches and lorries to drag a brake downhill is bad practice. If this stupid idea of a 50 mph motorway speed limit catches on, think how much longer journey times would be increased by if this limit was applied throughout the UK motorway network. Of course this would increase costs to everyone and I do not believe that there would be any increase in safety or a reduction in accidents.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Personal web data to be stored for a year.

The mobile calls, emails and website visits of every person in Britain will be stored for a year under sweeping new powers which come into force on Monday. Privacy campaigners warned that the information would be used by the Government to create a giant "Big Brother" super-database containing a map of everyone's private life. The new powers will, for the first time, place a legal duty on internet companies to store private information, including email traffic and website browsing histories. Although the new retention powers will not permit the storage of the content of emails or phone calls it will show details such as IP addresses, date, time and user telephone numbers. A spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association confirmed that the leading ISPs had received written orders from the Home Office setting out their obligations under the new rules.

...Well, this simply stinks. Where has the trust gone? We are being monitored everywhere and our freedoms have been reduced yet again. There are loads of CCTV cameras everywhere, demands to show ID to every Tom, Dick and Harry. From tomorrow records of your internet use will be stored for 12 months so that our government can monitor what websites it's citizens are browsing. We have become a surveillance society where we are constantly monitored, not just when we walk out of our front doors but also within our homes. This really saddens me, not because I want to do something naughty but because our government do not trust the electorate to have a private life. With this new legislation we have truly become a Police state. Trouble is we voted into Parliament these representatives who have drawn up this legislation that restricts the freedoms and privacy of the voters. Of course they will claim that this legislation is necessary to combat the domestic terrorist threat but do not fall for this claim. The really dangerous terrorists are professionals and they have really good work-arounds for any security measures that are in place. What this legislation is really about is the controlling of the average citizen who pays their taxes. The database can then monitor and Police the nation against anything that is out of favour. What is Okay this month may be out of favour next month and with these powerful databases you could become a suspect overnight for a website you browsed 12 months ago. You could innocently become a criminal from your previous website browsing history.

Sweet dreams everyone, for it is Big Brother that is watching you and not the bogey-man.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Fools' Day spoof advert.

Looking at the newspaper this morning I was very amused at a spoof advert in celebration of April Fools' Day. Thanks to BMW for producing such a funny advert...

BMW Magnetic Tow Technology.
For once, we're happy to be behind the competition.
Why burn fuel, when you can burn someone else's? BMW Magnetic Tow Technology is the ultimate in BMW EfficientDynamics, designed and engineered by BMW's Head of Innovation, Herr Noitt All. This ingenious new system locks on to the car in front via an enhanced magnetic beam. Once your BMW is attached, you are free to release your foot from the accelerator and turn off your engine. The vehicle in front will then 'do the pulling' without noticing any change in manoeuvrability. When turning of MTT, we suggest a courteous flick of the headlights to let the obliging driver in front know you are leaving them. It is important to note that MTT does not work without another vehicle. Please email Uve.Vollenvorit@bmw.co.uk or call 0800 777 119 for more product information.

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