Saturday, 31 January 2015


I wouldn't like to calculate the number of hours I've spent during the last few years struggling to decipher the squiggly "RECAPTCHA" riddles in order to let me comment on people's blogs.
It's sometimes virtually impossible to achieve the required answer on a mobile phone and rather like the time I visited Diss and was beaten back by high winds, I've just given up in disgust. My fellow bloggers just don't realize the amount of pith (and wind) they have missed in their comment streams. 

But wait! The good Denizens of Captcha have now come up with a far more sophisticated barrier to robot picking of blog locks and it appears to be a masterstroke. This is what they say on their blog:

But, we figured it would be easier to just directly ask our users whether or not they are robots—so, we did! We’ve begun rolling out a new API that radically simplifies the reCAPTCHA experience. We’re calling it the “No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA” and this is how it looks:

Yes! Now that artificial intelligence networked banks of computers can decipher the squiggly text, the brilliant new ruse is to ask the user to declare "I'm not a robot". Genius.

It makes commenting on blogs so much easier so let's hope the massive super-computers run by bandit Russian spamsters and that bloke in the US who doesn't like women don't catch on to the fiendish ploy and work out how to, er, tick the box.

Robots reminded me of this gem:

Monday, 26 January 2015

Social Strata of the British Aisles

At the weekend we decided to try something new in the way of grocery shopping and drive 10 miles to our nearest Waitrose. I had recently signed up for a Waitrose Card which sits alongside my Clubcard and Nectar card and needed trying out.

It has always fascinated me how supermarkets have replaced organised religion in this Country and how they have developed an image in the mind associated with their social ranking. Eg Waitrose - posh upper/middle class, Tesco - middle/working class, Aldi/Lidl -  working class etc. I realise this very British obsession with class is far more complicated than it appears and is possibly completely irrelevant in a 21st Century electronic economy where manufacturing and the use of indicators has all but died out.

However I walked into Waitrose expecting all my biased preconceptions and prejudices to be proven correct. I was prepared to be met by a melee of Teachers, Senior Administrators and land owning gentry calling things out to each other such as "Jocasta - have we got Hummus for both houses?" or "do come to supper, our Latvian au pair is presenting us with some authentic Aukstais galds and it'll be such fun". I had an Auntie Bessie crinkle cut home-style chip perfectly balanced on each shoulder.

Here are my observations:

1. Passing the tills, the "free" newspaper offer to Waitrose card holders had left large piles of Telegraphs and even larger piles of Daily Mails, whilst Guardians were long gone in a frenzy of early liberal left-leaning excitement. This was ticking my predictive boxes completely.

2. There appeared to be a long line of less-than-posh looking people queueing up for a free machine coffee near the front door. This wasn't fitting into my pre-cut mental jigsaw - where were  all the people with £900 Gaggia Machines and an obsession with grinding one's own beans?

3. The prices of everything were up to 15% higher than Tesco and a lot more than Lidl. I was able to verify this from my "Hello Lidlers" email which arrives weekly.

4. The general standard of dress of Waitrose clients was above average. The pinchy-faced teachers and glum cash-rich pensioners were all out in force.

5. Gravitating to the "reduced items" shelf, we purchase a pack of two "Charlie Bigham's Steak & Mushroom Pies" reduced from £7.00 to £5.85.  It was "Made in our kitchens at Coriander House, NW10". This is what it suggested on the side of the pack:

"Perfect for two - serve with a wink (sic)

Turn off the phone, dim the lights and crack open a bottle. Steal back some time by letting Charlie prepare you a truly delicious meal. All you hace to do is relax and enjoy each other's company"

When we got this package of marital delights home it transpired that each pie (although "pie" was surely an inadequate word for these little marvels) is in a ceramic ramekin. But surely Charlie, this is very non-green and bad for our lovely planet?

Charlie had already pre-empted our concerns and put a special card inside the box to allay our liberal sensitivities.

"Donate Your Ramekins! Don't throw your ramekins away - take them to your local charity shop instead. They'll sell them for £1 or £2 each, so you could help raise £££'s for charity!"

The pies were actually very nice and we have been truly comforted by the fact that poor people and council house dwellers will be able to benefit from our largesse by buying the empty dishes from charity shops with their state benefits.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Deal or No Deal - Open the BOX!

I love Photobox - particularly their Photobooks which are a great way of preserving digital images and far better than having loads of prints loose in envelopes or springing out of photocorners in albums. Or languishing on hard disks which will get upgraded or broken within two or three years.

A couple of years ago I signed up for their "exclusive insiders club" for access to special discounts that ordinary mortals can only dream about. This morning I received this Special Insiders Email Offer, just for me. I am a treasured and elite long standing customer and they are very anxious to look after me :

I managed to contain my excitement long enough to check my other email (yes, yes, I know) and was slightly disappointed to find what the ordinary plebs are being offered:

I'm distraught. I intend placing my special insiders club membership badge in the back of the drawer along with my Blue Peter badge and Cycling Proficiency certificate.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Shingles Party

Five things I have discovered since last week:

1. The expression "How's your belly off for spots?" is a Northern greeting equivalent to "how are you?" to someone with whom you are on familiar terms. A comprehensive answer
referring to the belly in question is not required or expected.

2. You can't catch Shingles - it is actually "The Return of The Chicken Pox Virus". It sits in your nervous system after you have chicken pox for 60 or 70 years and then suddenly decides to re-emerge as an unwelcome episode of shingles. It only affects one side of the body.

3. You can catch chicken pox from shingles if you come into direct contact with the spots (which contain the Varicella Zoster virus, named after the gravel voice sexpot radio presenter). Pregnant women have to avoid such direct contact at all costs as Chicken Pox can affect their foetus.

4. There is an effective vaccine against Shingles which is offered to anyone over 70. In the USA it is more widely offered to those aged 60 and above.  You can be vaccinated in the UK at any age privately for £100-£200. 

5. It can be relieved by the taking of prescription anti-viral drugs which were largely developed in response to the Aids epidemic of the 1980's. It's very itchy at night. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Old Ones are the Best!

A hotel in Norwich recently accommodated 25 members of a prestigeous chess team from Belgium.

One evening, after a particularly successful set of matches, the entire team were mingling by the reception desk discussing their various tournament successes and getting louder and louder.

The manager appeared and clapped his hands loudly. "I'm very sorry Gentlemen but I'm going to have to ask you to move along into the sitting room".

"But why?", enquired the club secretary.

"I can't stand Chess nuts boasting by an open foyer", he replied.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Moving On

It doesn't happen suddenly.

It's like the infinitesimal dy/dx changes in Calculus that imperceptibly move the direction of the curve. Your world of three dimensions is beautiful until that dread fourth dimension of time comes along and erodes the perfection on every level. What looked so desirable now appears faded and lacklustre. Your constant companion that you have cherished and lavished affection on for years has changed.

It's a funny thing about relationships. What used to be intuitive sympatico - just knowing what the other wanted or was thinking - has become so much more confused and complex. A synergistic relationship has turned into one which is unbalanced and unsatisfactory. The grass on the other side appears lush and promising.

So today I'm moving on.

Yes, this morning my new Google Nexus 5 arrives and my romance with iPhone is over. 

Like a lot of relationships we have partially split over money. Six Hundred and Twenty Quid for a new iPhone 6 with sufficient memory (32 Gb) is what would be described in olden days parlance as "taking the piss" (excuse my French). Plus the clarity and beauty of the iPhone concept has been gradually ground away by the proliferation of Apple's range from iPhone 4S, 5S, 6, 6Plus, iPod Touch, iPad Mini, iPad Air through to desktops and laptops. Apple have tried to make their software seamlessly integrate all these different screen sizes which has led to compromise and complexity where once was beautiful simplicity.

Why, for example, has Apple joined the clamour for larger screens and hand-held devices that are too large for the hand and pocket devices too large for the pocket?  They have gone, it seems, from focus to focus group. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 to save it from looming bankruptcy one of the first things he did was cancel about three quarters of the new product schedule and focus all resources on clear, simple but hugely demanding product goals. In 1997 he said: "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."

Anyway my Google Nexus cost less than half a new iPhone. I'll let you know whether I'm happy in my new relationship or sheepishly returning to my ex with a bunch of flowers from the garage and a list of excuses.