Perfect location casting

A couple of years ago, TLW & I had cause to go on a bit of a mission to the darkest North West of England for a family do. The accommodation was arranged for us; we just got given an address to turn up to and check in. We did so, and then (as tradition demands) we headed to the bar of the accommodation for a pint.

The place was very strange; a motel in the arsehole of nowhere, with strange acts on and a strange clientele. We all felt that it was kind of phoenix nights meets grab-a-granny, but without any of the charm. In short, it was very depressing.

Last week, I started watching Utopia, a new and strange show on Channel 4. Early on in the first show, they needed to have a location where a man on the edge would go, where they could contemplate ending their life as bits of it threatened to fall down around them.


They seem to have found the perfect motel in the arsehole of nowhere, wouldn’t you agree?

And there’s more

Some time ago (is it really almost a year?) I posted about my geek love for Flight Radar 24. Because it mixed several of the things that I like in one geeky package: mobility, flight, statistics and general awesomeness. The fact that it was pretty efficient at bring out an augmented-reality interface also worked.

Unfortunately, that last feature only works on the mobile app. The desktop site didn’t do it, and suffered in comparison. Today, it clearly decided to come out fighting.

Can’t bring in a touch-screen, AR interface to the site? Fair enough. Instead bring in a facility to add the flight’s parameters to a Google Maps view and trace a representation of it across the screen.

very copyright all the people listed at the bottom, google, and FR24

Funnily enough, I can nearly see my house from here. Or at least the park where we walk the hound.

Yes, it’s entirely silly. Yes, it doesn’t actually better the world in any meaningful fashion. But it makes me smile, and it’s geeky. So it is clearly excellent.

Doing my bit

My job is not one that lends itself to working from home; a large part of it is based on speaking to people as they come in and firefighting little problems as they arise, neither of which is particularly easy to do over the phone. Also, there are many difficulties in working out how to actually get onto our network from home and inefficiencies in the work-arounds that we’ve had to put in place.

That said, looking at the massive problems that both of my usual train journeys would have during the DOG, and today especially, have forced me to try and work out some alternatives. My options are limited; one train journey goes through ground zero for train disruption, the other goes through St Pancras which is hardly an easier option. Driving isn’t an option, what with my only route options involving roads liberally painted with the Five Rings o’Doom. So: on some days, I’ve had to decide to work at home.

I’ve not done that in quite some time, since moving over here really. I’ve got plenty to do (for a couple of days at least), and will hope to arrive back at work with a new accounts package, a few HR things and generally a better idea about several projects that I need to do. So it should be good.

It’s difficult, however, to get on with doing work when there’s a staffie-type dog in the house. Because you can be happily typing away without a care in the world, when suddenly your elbow feels damp…

Lovely animal, Roxy is. But why she’s obsessed with licking my damn elbow, I’ll never know.

Oh dear

If you’ve been out and about on the tube during rush hour recently, you’ll likely have heard the dulcet tones of Boris Johnson. It’s unnerving hearing a voice doing anything other than give station and service updates, even more when it tries to be enthusiastic. Like this:

Yes, Bozza, we know, the entire system is going to be gridlock. Yes, it’s going to be unpleasant. Yes, it’s worth researching GAOTG and their station disruption maps. But stop trying to pretend that it’s going to be fun to live through this disruption.

Of course, it could easily be worse. Imagine, if you will, that the voice making these announcements was significantly more adenoid-y. “Comrades! It’s the General Secretary Mayor Livingstone here, instructing you to all find some other way to get to work, because I need these trains to get people to and from my vanity project the Glorious Olympiad!”


Err, I don’t think that’s me

According to this professional looking personality test, I’m not quite cool.

You have your cool moments (you tend to look pretty cool, for starters) but you’re not someone others look up to as confident, individualistic and at times brilliant. But don’t worry too much about it. You have other traits that more than make up for it, from your love of friends and family to having a great team spirit and being trustworthy and dependable. You’re also quite modest and self-effacing, which might not be cool but is certainly appealing.

Well, that’s clearly not the case at all. I mean, I’m still slightly tangerine, and I can’t think of anything less cool than that…

Life in the zoo of London

Roxy has always been possessive of the back garden, to the point of chasing everything out of it.

Next door have made this more interesting for her, by bringing a new variable: a cat that Roxy can see, but not reach. And this cat is clearly finding allies among the animals that our lovable pooch has chased out.


Cat and fox, united in their desire to annoy our dog. Bastards that they are.

Admissions of defeat

While I thoroughly enjoy the company of Roxy in the house, it has to be said, there are disadvantages to having her about. Chief amongst them is this: she likes to get a bit muddy, and run about indoors. This isn’t too big a problem downstairs where there are no carpets; that’s why the good Lord invented mops. But upstairs we have carpets and beds which don’t react too well to muddy paw-prints and dogs shaking off moisture.

Also, I’ve discovered that there are better ways to end a lie-in than having 50lb of mongrel hitting you at the end of a flying leap.

So we’ve tried a great many things to stop her going upstairs. We’ve done discipline, and it worked for a while until she was allowed up to stay in our room when she was sick. We’ve tried blocking by jamming the door at the top of the stairs, and it worked until she figured out how to open the door with her damn nose. We’ve tried rewarding her to stay downstairs, but she prefers to find out what’s going on upstairs to the treats we offer.

So, we admit defeat. We headed to Argos and made a special purchase:

Yes; we’ve admitted that the hound is going to force us to change the way that we use the house. And so, I put myself at risk of death attacking me on the staircase just so that I don’t get a muddy carpet.

If that isn’t a sign of middle-age hitting me on the back of the head, I don’t know what is.

A quiet revolution

While the papers are distracted by Scots nationalists and politicians going up against their wives in court, something very interesting has occurred back in Norn Iron.

Sinn Fein members on Belfast City Council are set to support plans to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the city.

This has amazed me; I generally have a pretty low opinion of politicians, especially Norn Iron ones, but it is a sign of (a) growing maturity and (b) stunning real-politic that the most staunchly republican party to get an MP elected is happily funding a celebration of the monarch’s long reign.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? I honestly don’t know any more…

International diplomacy

Two stunning examples of international figures being statesmanlike:

  1. Cameron saying “It’s my ball and I’m taking it and going home”; not immediately successful, but I think that it’s important that someone finally says no to the EU. If he sticks with it, it’ll be a bit impressive – after all, the EU doesn’t like to hear the word “no”, and tends to just keep asking the same question until it gets the answer it wants. We shall see.
  2. Obama saying “It’s my ball and I’d quite like it back, please”. I don’t imagine that Iran will respond favourably, given that they didn’t a few years ago when it was actual Royal Navy people they had (or even longer ago, when it was an entire embassy). Now that it’s a bunch of wires and stealth materials, I’d wager that they’ll tell the US to bugger off…

Is either actually being a statesman? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell in the first case, but I think that we know the answer in the second case.

The times, they are a’changing

In 2006, I was a low rank nerd, with a score of 68. I was single, lived on my own, and spent many hours of every day on blogs and the like. Computer games were played often.

In 2011, how have things changed?

I am nerdier than 70% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get geeky images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

Hang on; I spend much less time on t’internet than I used to. I spend less time playing computer games. I’m married, fer crying out loud. How can my nerd score have gone up?

It gets worse: by some metrics I’m actually nerdier. says I'm a Slightly Dorky High Nerd.  Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

How the hell did that happen?

Not subtle?

Back in Belshaft, I was rarely bothered by political canvassers. Most of the political parties were content to rely on tribal ties to get their vote out, and the ones that made the effort to pound the pavement tended to be the ones that I’d never vote for.

Over here, it seems to be a little bit different. For example, only this weekend I had a knock on the door from my local MP, who had a little team with them and seemed to be knocking on each of the three hundred doors on my road.

“So,” said she, “Mr Hillan, I’m sure that you’re aware that the London mayoral elections are coming up next year, Ken v Boris… Do you happen to know who you’ll vote for?”

“Yes, I do. And I’m sorry, but it’s not your guy.”

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that, do you mind if I ask why?”

“Because he’s a mentalist and he scares me.”

Three things that I think, following this encounter:

  1. My self restraint is better than I thought, I managed to avoid pointing out that her seat could have been won by a donkey with her colour of rosette; I managed to avoid mentioning the word ‘demagogue’, I didn’t mention anything about election stealing, Marxism or individual and non-mandated foreign policy decisions. My, I must be growing as a person.
  2. Fair play to her, wandering the streets of an afternoon when there could be any number of people who’ll answer the door and point out some of the things mentioned above.
  3. I’m not entirely sure that TLW will ever let me answer the door again…

The circle is almost complete

Back when the trend for driver feedback started, there was probably a point to it. The sticker on the back of the vehicle gave you a simple phone number and a simple reference for the vehicle, so you could remember it and call if something stupid was done by the driver. Now, when every fleet vehicle in the land seems to have one, I doubt it’s the same. You need to remember to phone 084546786899543987508162098642, options 1-8-6-1 and the registration number, and then make your feedback. Not a sequence off letters and numbers that is likely to stick in your head when you’ve just been cut up by a dick in a white van.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a spate of vehicles with a … simpler message. As seen below.

See? Nice and easy to remember. And indicative of the intent behind the stickers in the first place: to pretend that you care what other people think, while making it as difficult as possible for them to tell you what you think.

Childish terror

There was a period, at the tail end of Primary 6 and the start of Primary 7, when certain of the teachers at my school would be looking a tad more tired at the end of the week. Not because they were being too stressed at work, but because they were out doing tuition after school to get kids through the 11+.

I never had such tuition; instead we had old practice books in the house and by God we were to practice. But it shows how seriously people worked to prepare for that simple two-paper test, and how much rested on it. (‘course, it’s now disappearing from Norn Iron without any idea what follows, but that’s not the point.)

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the BBC sample test, which puts 11+ style questions to people who should really be able to walk through it.

Managed a respectable score (90+%) and a decent time (5 minutes), but the fact that I still got something wrong on it tells me that I ain’t as smart as I think I am…

Unexpected ‘benefits’ of dog ownership

ScaryDuck, who keeps a log of people looking angry in local newspapers, alerted me to this article: Faversham mum told to put dead fox in her wheelie bin, which has answered a little question of mine.

Where, in a city, do you dispose of dead animals that arrive in your garden?

Back when I were a country lad, it was simple; dead birds got put in a hole (if very young witnesses were about) or left somewhere for the local feral cats to get rid of. Larger corpses were usually dragged off by animals quickly, or a nice friendly farmer could get rid of really big things. Simples.

Here, if (for example) a dog kills a small bird and drags it into the house, you can safely hide it in the wheelie bin. But we have feral foxes here, and our dog trainer1 told me a while back that one of her clients’ pack of dogs had eviscerated a fox that had wandered into the house. How do you get rid of that without the bloody bin police noticing it?

The above article answers: you don’t worry about the bin police, and just throw it in the bin as per normal. Which is nice to know.

1 – yes, it’s gotten to the point where we have a dog trainer. Very odd.

Geekery of the highest order

I know, I’ve mentioned it many times, but there may be some who are unaware: I am a geek about planes. I don’t even limit it to the fast, exciting, military ones; boring ol’ civilian airliners interest me.

Which is why I’m quite pleased with one of the small unexpected benefits of the house that TLW & I got last year: it’s just about twenty miles due east of the threshold of Runway 27L at Heathrow Airport. So most days, there are hundreds of flights heading from the Biggin Hill and Lambourne stacks and making their final turns just overhead. At any given time you’ll probably be able to see three aircraft turning final from the kitchen window.

This pleases me; what pleases me more is that the planes are low and slow enough that you can make out some details. BA and their innumerable 747s are easily distinguished by their blue underbellies. Quantas are hugely distinctive because of their tailfin, plus a lot of their flights are A380s – hardly the world’s least distinctive shape.

However, there are a great many of the flights aren’t immediately identifiable. Too many planes, shallow viewing angles and so many airlines that just paint their fleet plain white with a small logo. So help was needed.

This is where the geekery gets out of hand: I went mobile. A website exists ( that tracks hundreds and thousands of flights in real time, and displays this over a Google Maps map. So I can look now, and I’ll see that the plane that’s just turned overhead is BD552, a BMI flight from Bergen to Heathrow; the operating aircraft is G-MEDG and it is currently doing 127kts on a heading of 270 at 4025ft. It’s followed by a BA A321 from Amsterdam and an Aegean A320 from Athens. Amazing information, and all on the desktop.

More geekery is available, though. For that website has a mobile app that is really very reasonably priced. And it does all the above, but with a little added bonus: augmented reality, wherein it will overlay the flight information onto the mobile phone screen as you point the camera at a bit of sky. So, for example, if I was to be walking the dog in the local park and spotted a plane that confused me, I could point my phone at it and get all the information I’d ever need.

Lifted from:

This is the iPhone version; the Android version is pretty similar

This is both awesome and insane. Whereas the guy who got that screen grab says he used binoculars to see if the planes matched up, I get to use the Mk1 Eyeball. And look like a loon in the park, but considering that I always have Roxy with me I’m still not the craziest looking creature there…

Stats as they apply in the real world

According to t’internet, in March, April and May Londoners would expect to see 13.4, 12.7 and 12.5 rainy days. A total of 38-ish wet days in the three month period.

That’s the science.

By coincidence, we got us a little dog at the end of February, and it’s now the end of June. Which means that we have a reference for that three month period: it’s we’ve had the dog out twice a day since then. And here’s the thing: today was only the fourth time that I’ve had her out in the rain. So we’ve only really had four wet days, or just about 10% of what there should have been.

It would appear that all that news coverage about it being a bloody dry spring wasn’t too far off the mark. I suspect, given the downpours that have occurred in the last twenty four hours, that the farmers in the south east will be bloody happy today.

It’s stupid, I know

Out of all the big events that have happened recently – the Queen and Obama visiting Dublin, people getting all het up about super-injunctions, another unpronounceable Icelandic volcano trying to stop the modern world – nothing has made me laugh quite like the following:

Yes, it’s stupid. I don’t care. Joining the song from Team America to an act of stupidity that probably caused fifteen Secret Service folks to shit bricks is sheer genius. More of that, please.

I think Riggs had that idea first

This tale, of a passer-by doing his bestest to speed up a developing traffic problem and taking the opportunity to fulfil one of his quirky fantasies (the whole “throw a stranger off a bridge” one), managed to reinvent that which Martin Riggs did some twenty years ago.

Is there nothing original left in the world, eh?

Of course, this guy got arrested for his little intervention. Riggs just went back to work…

Where’s the problem?

Another day, another little inter-coalition spat.

Yesterday’s was about universities. Again.

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions the government is considering allowing wealthy students to pay for extra university places.

“There is no question of people being able to buy their way into university,” Mr Cameron told the BBC.

Universities Minister David Willetts said extra places could be funded by businesses or charities and not wealthy individuals.

Universities have always made money from getting wealthy students to pay their way through – in recent years it’s been foreign students that have been milked to subsidise the home students. Why not expand that, providing that the student paying can keep up with the course and that the number of state funded places aren’t lowered to make room. I see it as all-round winning, especially if you set the fees just high enough that it could help towards a bursary.

But because it involves people paying for something that others get for free, thereby giving the appearance of getting an advantage (as opposed to being shafted). And that won’t wash with some people at all…

Well, isn’t that just … awful

New York, New York… A name that conjures up a lot of images. Skyscrapers, long straight roads full of angry people in iconic yellow taxis, pavements full of angry people shouting into cell phones.

Except, in future, some of that will be different.

Japan’s Nissan Motor has won a contract to provide the next generation of New York’s famous yellow taxis.

The deal, which is estimated to be worth $1bn (£607m) was announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The design will be based on Nissan’s NV200 minivan model.

Oh dear. Why would you replace the iconic saloon cars with bloody minivans? Why?

Yes, you’ll likely get more MPG out of the new cars. And you’ll get more folk into them. And they’ll probably be better and safer in most respects. But why not just steal the traditional London cab and paint it yellow? At least it’d be better looking than this:

found at the BBC, tagged by Reuters

Bleugh. That just ugly…