Monday, February 12, 2007

Huh. I didn't see that coming.

In the ultimate TV coup, Sky are now showing both 24 and Lost on Sunday evenings. Last night was the first such showing, and I was of the opinion that they had them in the wrong order: Lost should be the warm-up act followed by the marvellous 24.

Little did I realise that 24 would pretty much suck, while Lost was really really good.

The problem with 24 this week was that they telegraphed all the plot twists. I saw every one of them coming a mile off, and that's not a good thing.

The problem with 24 generally this season is threefold:

1) The real-time format is gone in all but name. This is a huge mistake - there was a lot of tension in the first season that came from characters getting stuck in traffic at vital times... which you don't get when Jack can drive across LA in fifteen minutes.

2) Before the season started, Jack spent many months in jail being tortured for information. Immediately before the first episode, he was on a plane from China to LA. I don't care how mentally tough you are, you can't go from that to being a superhero. It was bad enough in the first couple of seasons, when Jack neither ate nor visited the bathroom (and barely slept); here it's just ridiculous.

3) I'm getting really sick of Jack's refrain "don't make me do this." Torturing suspects is wrong, regardless of the circumstances. It might occasionally be necessary, but not with the regularity with which Jack uses it. It's about time someone stepped up and said to Jack that he's now so far off the rails that he can't even see the track now.

In completely unrelated news: never visit Friends Reunited. It will always appear that everyone you know is doing much better than you are, no matter who you are. This may well be because the people who aren't don't post there, but that's small consolation.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

From nobody to over-exposed in one easy show

I don;t know about anyone else, but I am getting really sick and tired of hearing about Shilpa. While she was in that house, she was obviously being victimised, and there genuinely was a story there, albeit a very unpleasant one. And, in fact, it was a story that needed to be told - the racism in much of our society is hidden far too often.

But ever since she's left the house, she has done... nothing of note. And yet, we've had an endless stream of tabloid news stories, endless pictures and articles in magazines, and an endless stream of adverts for the same, all desperately telling us the story of "What Shilpa Did Next". And none of which have any merit.

In short, she's become over-exposed, and she's done that very very quickly. (And the irony is that it's so completely unnecessary. She's allegedly a skilled actress, so she could very easily do something worthwhile. My advice? Go make a movie, or a TV show of some depth, or something, before it's too late, and you become just another vapid celebrity, famous for being famous.)

For me, the point where it all got ridiculous was when she was invited to the House of Commons, and met with the Prime Minister. Presumably, for her insight into racism and how to tackle it. Which leads me to the question: when am I going to get my invitation? After all, I not only have a perspective on racism, and advice on how to eradicate it from our culture (in short, you can't; don't even try), but I'm also a British tax-payer and a voter. So, where's my opportunity to speak with the powers that be in this country?

Of course, it would be utterly inappropriate for me to suggest that all this attention is being paid to her simply because she's a good looking young woman. I'm sure if it was an average-looking, middle aged man the coverage would be exactly the same.

Just as I'm sure our MPs were in no way influenced by the media circus surrounding Shilpa when they invited her to the Commons. I bet every child of Indian extraction who suffers racial bullying in school will one day receive a similar invitation...

Yeah, right.

Ah, tact

Sometimes, I wonder if anyone else really exists. I sometimes think the universe would make more sense if I actually was plugged into some sort of Matrix-esque machine that projects an illusion of the 'real world' into my mind. And it would really make more sense if I was in some sort of "Better Than Life" game controlled by my subconscious, given that my subconscious actively hates me (honestly, did it really need to wake me up every 90 minutes last night?).

In addition, there are those individuals I have met, and those that I have not met. These include the people who I've met online, the people I interact with on message boards, and almost everyone you see on TV. I have an even harder time believing in the existence of these people - as far as I know, these could very well be creations of the supercomputer trying to drive me mad, rogue AI running around, or whatever.

So, anyway... my 'cactus blog' post was meant to be funny, because who wouldn't find the reflections of a plant amusing? The stuff about people keeping blogs for their pets was supposed to be a bit of funny context. (And, I don't recall actually writing anything bad about such people, I just commented that it was strange there were so many of them.)

But, it appears Welsherella was upset by that post, as she is amongst those who blogs for a pet. Therefore, despite having never met her, and therefore not really believing that she exists, I would like to take this opportunity to appologise for any hurt I may have caused.

(Apparently, some people are a bit touchy about being told they might not exist. Just in case, therefore, I'll just point out the title of the post, and my comment about 'funny context'. It may be possible that I don't really think that, after all.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Treading the Paths of my Youth...

I've just suffered the most profoundly painful experience. At the weekend, I got a letter addressed to me, but really intended for the band I ran before I moved to Yeovil. Which necessitated my going there tonight to give them the letter.

The week thus far has therefore been dominated by one question: what would I find there? When I left the band, it was in reasonably good health, but as often happens when a strong leader leaves, the band then suffered a bit of a tough time, with a number of prominent people leaving. And then I lost touch completely. So, what would be there?

Well, I was pleased to find the band in good health, probably slightly stronger than when I left. Many of the students I taught are still there, and they've improved noticably (a good thing, really - it's been almost two years!). There are also a number of new people, who seem keen to take the band forward, with an ambition of competing in two years. And the core remains strong. Celia is still there, but she seems to have essentially delegated all the tasks of actually running the band, and teaching the drums - which is a good thing, since at 84 she isn't really fit to be dealing with snotty kids.

So why was it so painful?

Being back at that band served as a strong reminder that, once upon a time, I was young, and Good, and if not happy then at least content. I achieved more there every week than I've managed in the last two years, and I actually mattered there, where now the world would miss me not at all if I simply ceased to be. It hurts to think of how far I've fallen.

Compounding the problem, Celia and the new pipe major made a point of asking me if I wanted to come back. The pipe major even offered to step aside in my favour, as if that would be what I wanted. It was horrible seeing that hope in Celia's eyes, as I knew I had to refuse, and the reasons I gave sounded really hollow in my own ears even as I gave them.

But how do you explain? There are three real reasons I can't go back. The first is that it wouldn't work - unless I were pipe major I could only be poison for the band, and as we know, when a manager goes back for a second stint it's never as good as the first time. The second is that shortly after I left, there was a problem between the band and my brothers, where the band made the mistake of demanding money from them for the right to come and help the band out at their engagements in the year. And, although all the people in the band who made this mistake are now gone, there's still unresolved hurt there that would make any return difficult to justify.

But the real reason is that I'm just not that person any more. Before I left, I was not only running that band, but was instrumental in the running of another band, and was basically running the top section at the local BB company. I was out every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And getting even a week off was extremely problematic. People were reliant on me; I had to be there. Naturally, that left no time for relationships; it didn't even leave time for me to look.

But that was okay. I had a promise that things would work out ("if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."). That held firm even when I lost out on a chance with a girl I really liked, simply because I just could not make the time. Had I known that it would be three years before I next went on a date, my priorities would have been different, and to Hell with the whole world, but never mind that. I was reasonably sure I was where God wanted me, doing what God wanted me to do, and He would be faithful in time.

But the man who went to Yeovil was not the same man who returned. I simply do not have that faith any longer. ("Which of you, if his son asks for... a fish, will give him a snake?") She exposed how alienated I was, how isolated I had allowed myself to become, and how wretchedly lonely my life is. She offered me just a glimpse of happiness... and then took it away.

The thing is, even that I could have dealt with. But for the last year, every time I have met a girl who is even interesting, that very moment she has moved jobs, become a missionary to Outer Mongolia, or been abducted by aliens. Every single time. (Except one - there was one girl I met the day I had handed in my resignation down south. Somehow, that doesn't help.) Once or twice, and it would have been funny, but not every time for a year.

So, my faith in the promises of God is essentially gone. (Alas, my faith in the existence of God remains, so I can't just become a total hedonist.) And, without that faith, I cannot commit my time and effort to anyone. I won't leave others in the lurch by breaking commitments - but if given the choice now, I choose myself over the world. And so, there's no way back.

Blogging for my Cactus

A strangely large number of people seem to keep blogs for their pets. In many cases, I suspect these don't get updated, as many people thought "I know, I'll keep a humerous blog for Tiddles!", and then lost interest.

Anyway, I have no pets, which denies me the opportunity to create a blog for said pet. I did briefly consider starting a blog for an imaginary pet, but decided that that would just be going so far. But, how to get in on the fun?

Well, the only other living thing in my appartment (apart from the creepy-crawlies) is my cactus. It doesn't have a name, on account of being a cactus, although it does have a rather spiffy plant pot. So, I did contemplate starting a blog for said cactus, feeling it might be quite amusing trying to capture the particular prickly sense of humour of such a thing.

Then I realised that every single entry would be the same thing:

"Once again, I find myself atop the shelves, keeping silent vigil. The tense standoff between Optimus Prime and Sorcerer on Black Dragon continues without respite. My attempts to lighten the tone by whistling some Western 'standoff' music were thwarted once again by not having a mouth. I am, however, making significant progress in my mastery of mime. I rather wish Stephen would open the blinds before he leaves in the morning, so I could enjoy the view out the window, but no such luck. Crikey, it's cold in here. I'm so bored."

Some people might think that that would be rather more entertaining than my own blog. You are invited not to comment to that effect.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Then again...

I ran out of things to do about 3 o'clock on Friday. Yesterday, the only reason I got out of bed was that I needed the toilet, and once I was up I was up.

It's really not much fun when your weekend seems to mostly consist of waiting for Monday. (Although, I do have a tale to tell about Next which I might share in a quiet moment next week.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Always nice when the week ends on a win...

This post was going to be called "How can that be the highlight of the week?" and was going to be extremely depressing. But things have turned around since I got home. It's also been a while since I ranted about a company messing me about... so that's what you should expect.

On Monday, I ran into a traffic jam on the M9 that turned my leisurely 34 minute commute into a near 3-hour epic. This really set the tone for the week, and would have been counted the highlight but for recent events. That should show how truly woeful the week has been.

Work has been a matter of fixing all the bugs we found in testing last week. These were annoying things like, "why does it crash once the test is finished?" and "why does it not work properly?" Trivial little things like that. It's generally been a pain, since I really wanted to put that bit of work behind me. Still, it had to be done. I also learned this week that the project that has been cancelled twice appears now to be truly gone, which is no bad thing, except that it means leaving it unfinished, which bugs me on a metaphysical level.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. There's some background info you need before the next part of my story makes sense. I got paid on Friday. I therefore took the opportunity over the weekend to pay off the balance on my credit card, which was artificially high because of the money I spent in France (which I will get back at some future time from the company). As is always the case with these things, the bank immediately deducted the money from my current account, but didn't apply it to my credit card until first thing on Thursday morning. This is intensely annoying, but can't actually be helped, and is irrelevant to the story anyway - all that matters is that that money was in 'limbo'.

On Monday, my gas bill finally arrived. Id' been waiting for this for some time, and fully expected it to be pretty high - eight months of gas won't be cheap. But, on reading the amount, I was absolutely horrified, and began the inquest as to why.

Well, it wasn't much of an inquest. As I'd been told, they had estimated my initial reading from May. However, having used the reading taken in October and the reading taken in January, they'd come up with an intial figure of 00000. Never mind that everyone uses more gas in winter than summer, and never mind that that figure was obviously wrong.

So, I called them. It was an obvious misake, I thought, and surely they'd correct it? What an idiot I was! Of course the figure must be right - a computer had calculated it! In fact, the girl even took the precise value at that moment from me, and stated that this was totally in-line with the calculations. My objection that "January is still winter" apparently didn't count for much.

You'd think that was bad enough, but the situation is actually worse. I am lucky enough to have to hand the last bill from the previous tenant. According to which, the estimated meter reading from July last year is 01095 units. So, in fact, I wasn't merely defending my position with logic, but also had real evidence. Of course, that doesn't matter when dealing with a company who are in the process of charging you for not using more than 1,000 units of gas. They absolutely could not discuss the previous account holder's bill in any way, shape or form. Nope, the computer was obviously right.

Well, I was stuck. They weren't going to budge, and since I couldn't actually prove my wild claim, I would have to pay. And, I would have to pay before the 8th of February, because that's when the money was due. (The option theoretically existed to refuse payment, and fight them in court. Unfortunately, that would tie me to this appartment until the case was concluded, which might be years. Not an acceptable option when I'm planning on moving as soon as possible.)

So, how to pay? Well, it would need to be by credit card - I don't keep enough money in my current account for that sort of an emergency (one business day earlier, and it would have been fine, but as it was...). So, she transferred me to the appropriate person...

whereupon I suffered the embarrasment of habing my credit card declined, because the funds hadn't cleared. Still, no matter, I arranged for them to call me back on Wednesday, when that would be sorted out. (Can you see where this is going?)

I then proceeded to write a nasty letter of complaint to the company's complaints department, informing them that I would cease doing business with them as soon as I was empowered to do so (not in this flat, alas), and would never return to them.

Tuesday was a bad day, because I was still extremely angry about the events of the night before. Plus, I was having to miss Richard's birthday celebration for the second successive year because my game was on, and I couldn't cancel two weeks in a row. I drove the hour and a half to the game, only to find that it was cancelled because three of the people had had things crop up at the last minute. Naturally, it's too much to ask that they actually phone me to let me know not to waste my time!

Wednesday saw the repeated embarrasment of not being able to pay my bill again, because the funds were not yet transferred. When I explained this to the girl at the gas company, she accepted that it was a problem, but said that if I didn't pay they would start sending debt letters, and a late payment fee would apply! It's a good thing I wasn't already annoyed at them, else I might have shouted a stream of invective once I'd hung up the phone. Oh, wait...

Anyway, first thing on Thursday morning, I checked my bank, and found that the money had cleared that morning, precisely one business second too late to actually help me the night before. Brilliant.

I phoned back that night, and tried to use the automated systems to pay the bill, only to find that their automated systems only accept debit cards. Apparently, it's too difficult for the computers to understand sixteen whole digits from the front of a credit card. (The sixteen digits on the debit card are inherently easier to understand.) I tried going through the menu system to speak to an actual person, but was put on hold for too long, so had to hang up.

But today, things turn around. I phoned again, intent on just asking to be put through to pay the bill and have done with this disaster. But, I thought "what the hell?" So, when the phone was answered, I explained the situation again, explaining how there had been a mistake in May that led to me not calling them, explaining that the estimated value was wrong, and explaining that I had the previous bill, and the estimates therefrom. I suggested that, just perhaps, there might be a mistake?

Well, apparently, it was just about possible that the estimate might be wrong. After all, people do tend to use more gas in winter than in summer. So, the girl said she would have the values corrected, and a new bill issued. The likelihood is that I'll save something like £300.


Better still, I don't have to pay until the revised bill is issued, which may take up to 28 days... placing it just after payday. Now, what's the betting it doesn't work out like that?

Tick tock

I get to leave work for the weekend in ten minutes. Unfortunately, I ran out of things to do just after 11, and couldn't start on next week's tasks because they're dependent on other people. And I can't leave early because my timecard says I'm here until 13:18.

Tick, tock...