Do not ask

And ye shall receive.

Much to my surprise, when I started Skype last night, the blue and yellow shield appeared on my task bar indicating that there was an update to be installed. I was doubly surprised because two nights ago when I checked to see whether it might be possible to update Skype, that menu option was low-lighted and it seemed that I’d never be able to get a newer version of Skype again and would run the version I had until one day I might get some message informing me that it was no longer usable and that I should update it etc.

Why should I suddenly be able to get the new version of Skype after being barred from doing so for so long? It could be that now the Party boys have had their little celebration, they’re not being such complete dicks for the moment. I don’t know. I don’t think that’s a plausible theory. Somehow I got force fed the new version of Skype and, well, that’s sufficient.

Princess Anne: why Scots love her, says the headline of a story in the Guardian. I presume it’s because they like horses and she looks like one.

In motoring news, I saw a story that Katie Price (aka Jordan) has bought a Bugatti Veyron and is threatening to turn it pink. There is (was; I’m unable to say) a Facebook [Dude, you can’t say “Facebook” in the Empire. –ed.] page dedicated to creating the ugliest Veyron using the config tool on the Bugatti website.

The Veyron might be a technological feat, but it looks like a fat VW (which it is, of course) and will look even worse for being made pink. And where the hell does some D-list celeb get the money for a £1 million supercar?

Actually, I’ve just seen the episode of Top Gear in which Captain Slow took the Veyron Super Sport out for a spin on the VW test track before the VW test driver then had a go himself and took the world record for the fastest production car.

Anyway, I’m off to have a little fun trying to create some hideous colour combinations for my Veyron.

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Let’s go to the cinema

Source Code.

Source Code is a little like Groundhog Day with dead people. A mostly dead army pilot has been wired up to a machine which allows his consciousness to jump into someone else’s body. His mission is to unmask the terrorist who managed to bomb a Chicago-bound train as a prelude to setting off a crude nuclear device. On each occasion, he only has eight minutes to find out who’s responsible before he gets pulled back into some sort of reality and after many trips, it turns out to be Professor Plum with the candlestick in the library.

In the end, our hero wants to be unplugged from the machine so that he can die properly, but not before he’s managed to save the day on the train and snog the girl. There’s a bit of a twist because the creator of Source Code, Professor Branestawm, claims that the visions are a separate reality, yet Captain Arse Backwards-Name manages to send Captain Goodwin, who was directing him, a text message.

I’m wondering what the hidden message is here. The American government will even resort to using mostly dead people to fight terrorists? Don’t go to Chicago by train? The ones who look like Republicans are most likely to build home-made nuclear weapons?


X-Men First Class

This is the long, long prequel to the other X-Men films, filling in the background about how Charles and Erich met, fought the bad guy, and then went their separate ways. The story is ultimately based around the Cuban Missile Crisis, the conceit being that Kevin Bacon tried to trigger a nuclear war so that the mutants would become the dominant species of humanity on the planet.

Magneto agrees, but Kevvy killed his mum during World War II, and Magneto helps to save the day for his own ends. That also results in Charles being paralysed by a stray bullet at the beach party afterwards. Magneto also appropriates the Helmet of Brain Dampening and decorates it so that instead of merely looking a little stupid when he busts January Jones out of the clink, he looks a lot stupid (having added a cloak) and messes up his chance of scoring with her.

Did I mention the film was long?

Angry of Admiralty

I’m foaming at the mouth and so’s my wife.

In an opening aside, I see that yesterday’s post didn’t get posted at all. Perhaps I didn’t click on the Publish button firmly enough; it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

When Linda and I got to Hong Kong, I bought the South China Morning Post as I like to do. One of the letters to the editor was complaining about declining results in English exams and how NETs are paid such vast salaries. The implication was that if the teachers are paid well, students’ results should be better. Au contraire, Angry of Admiralty. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Students have to be responsible for their achievement and listen to the guidance of their teacher. They also have to find the subject relevant, which is largely why teaching on my previous programme sucked balls. We had no meaningful exams and the little darlings treated us and our classes with a singular lack of respect as a result. As I know, it’s possible to end up teaching English at a school in Hong Kong where the students have little or no chance of getting into university, which makes the subject irrelevant to them.

I’m guessing there’s also been a change since the Territory was returned to the inGlorious Motherland. I don’t know whether there’s been a sharp rise in the study of Mandarin or whether Hongkongers are no more interested in it than they are in English. Perhaps they’re in search of an identity. There’s still some connection with the UK (but that’s changed, of course), but the place is still too different from the rest of the Empire. In fact, I notice the difference the moment I enter Hong Kong whether it’s at the airport or Lowu, but I can’t really say what it is. Perhaps it’s a sense of relief to have left the Empire behind. People in Hong Kong probably tend to think they’re Hongkongers rather than 中国人 (with all that simplified characters imply).

Another article in the SCMP revealed that in Hong Kong terms I earn just enough to be middle class. Wah! I don’t want to be lower middle class! They’re such awful people.

While we were in HK, the imperial government was busy celebrating the anniversary of the re-occupation of Tйβέт although they kept pronouncing “re-occupation” as “liberation”. I must’ve missed the part where they explained how the conquest of one mob of peasants by another constituted the liberation of the former. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not all misty-eyed about the Tιбэtαns, who aren’t really that cuddly, but here we seem to have a very filthy pot calling an exceptionally dirty kettle black.

As people do in Hong Kong, we also encountered the imperial regime’s favourite nut-jobs, Fάлuν Гόnγ, over near the Toyo Mall. Actually, they were just outside Japanhome, but I suspect that their reason for being located where they were was because there was a Duty Free shop round the corner which was the destination for tour groups from the Mainland. I doubt whether the tourists are all saying, “Фalυn Gонg? Sign me up!”, but I’d laugh if they were thinking that this small group of people poses a serious threat to the imperial government. Linda did get a free newspaper out of them.

The return of Mr Bamboo (again)

You could at least pretend to miss me.

I’ve been off on my hols, if you must know, and I’ve been off on them whether you want to know or not. I kept a holiday diary, but I’ll spare both you and me a word-for-word transcription.

It all starts with Shenzhen and the only time that my plane was roughly on time. I arrived at the airport a little ahead of Linda, and met her just as she was leaving the baggage claim area in Terminal A. We got the bus into town and then took a taxi to out hotel, which was nice and quiet, being away from the main road. Actually, it wasn’t that quiet because on the first night we were subject to the most prolonged torrential downpour I’ve ever experienced in my life. There was a little thunder and lightning to go with it, but far less than the following evening.

The next day we went to the dance contest at the stadium and watched the semi-finals of the international section. There were four or five different groups of dancers who would go through each type of dance for about a minute and a half while the judges, somehow, managed to score them. There was a very vociferous section of the audience up behind up to our left, but I wasn’t sure who they were cheering for.

After that, Linda wanted to go looking for dancing kit, but the first group of shops were more like the costume shops on 陕西街 in Chengdu than proper outfitters for serious dancers. We found our way to a dance school near the hotel, which had a few things on sale, and we then got sent to another place, which turned out to be a party venue where they also sold skirts and tops, but again, it wasn’t serious kit. This place was also tucked away at the end of a grubby passage in the Lucking Building, which was accessible via the tradesman’s entrance.

It wasn’t until the next day, when Linda and I went to Hong Kong that she found where the proper shops were – at the railway station just near the Lowu border crossing. Unfortunately, we were there at the wrong time. The shops in the railway station dance school didn’t open until 1pm and the shop in the bus station didn’t open till 11am; but at least Linda will know where to go in future.

Anyway, Hong Kong. I needed to buy books, but all Page One seemed to have was chick lit, ’tec fic’ set in New York or the Middle Ages, and Boy’s Own stuff featuring Steel Thrust or “Dirty” Peters. I was utterly uninspired, but did make a start by buying a couple of books by Stephen Clarke, and I eventually ended up with a few more volumes, but mostly fantasy. Page One is all right, but there are better bookshops in the world and it looks like I might have to put up with the excessive expense of postage from Amazon.

We went to Repulse Bay through a short-lived monsoon as we went over the hills to the other side of the island. There were some other people from Chengdu there as well, who eventually emerged from various sheltered spots when the rain mostly died away.

Linda went shopping for cosmetics and various other things, thus making the proprietors of Bonjour, Sasa, and Watsons very happy.

Actually, we were happy because the exchange rate is now HK1.20 to ¥1.00. Back in the old days the exchange rate was just slightly in favour of the Hong Kong dollar, but it meant that I paid a bit less for the new pair of shoes that I bought. I wasn’t planning to buy new shoes, but I did need a new pair and I think I would’ve spent the next six months wishing I’d bought them while I had the chance.

I also bought a new pair of pyjamas because the cyan(ish) pair I’ve had for, er, some time now, is kind of due for retirement. I’ve replaced them with a nice dark blue pair which I got from the M&S in Time Square when the range of options at the shop in Central turned out to be a little thin.

Speaking of M&S, I didn’t know that there was now a branch in Tsim Sha Tsui. I also didn’t know that HMV seems to have entirely vanished from Hong Kong. In that case, where does anyone go for CDs and DVDs or reputable provenance outside of those usually noisy shops just off Nathan Road?

We went back to Shenzhen Airport on the world’s worst signposted bus. We knew about the 330, but there was a sign pointing to an(other) airport bus (K568, if I remember correctly), which seemed to be in the bus station at Lowu. We went right through the bus station and out the other side, rounded the corner, and found it hiding in a building next to, but separate from, the bus station itself. The only sign which indicated that this was an airport bus was right next to it. So full marks for clarity for the Shenzhen Transport Board.

We hadn’t been able to get on the same plane back to Chengdu, and I should’ve been going sooner, but my flight was delayed and instead of arriving in Chengdu an hour ahead of Linda, I arrived about three-quarters of an hour behind her, and she arrived roughly on time. I did something similar today with the plane departing almost two hours behind schedule after a half hour delay and lunch on the runway.

Chengdu was very wet on Monday, and then hot and humid, the latter having me doing my Wicked Witch of the West impression. Ikea was at least pleasant inside although it’s always tempting to go and nod off on the sofas. Linda and I found a range of chairs called Poäng which we quite liked. They have high backs and a cushion just at the right height. However, we were more modest in our purchases with rubber gloves, a soy sauce/vinegar dispenser and a mirror for shaving (or at least cleaning up the aftermath of shaving).

I also went to the bike shops to have a look at bikes. Chengdu has a much better range than Wuxi, which seems to be limited to Giant (mostly) or Merida. Probably I will buy the Hunter 3.0 (only available in Chengdu if you order it), but I quite liked the Eurobike Leap 700 and the Gogobike Pioneer, both of which are cheaper than the Giant bike and possibly lighter. Their shortcomings for me were that they didn’t seem to be designed for practical city use (no real facility for a carrier or a basket) and I know that Giant has a service centre here. Even if these two models are available (probably somewhere in the New District [= bloody long way from anywhere]), I don’t want to have to be travelling 15kms just to get them seen to.

I also went DVD shopping. Like Wuxi, Chengdu’s supply of DVD seems to be being strangled at the moment, and I only picked up a few items. The DVD shop in the cinema building has gone, but while that was a disappointment, it wasn’t a surprise. I always went there expecting to find it gone.

And that is a fairly rough overview of this year’s summer holiday.

A few days later…

And it’s still raining.

That is the dull and dreary news. We may have had a brief burst of sunshine yesterday afternoon, but it continues to rain or to have been on the verge of raining since forever ago, which is the last time we saw any prolonged sunshine. I know this is the wet season in the Empire, but this year, this summer has been the especially wet season as if it’s making up for nine years of not being as wet as it might’ve been.

The only compensation we’ve had is that the air has been quite clear now and then. I only wish that it could be clear with blue sky and a little light cloud.

In international news, Rupert Murdoch has had to give up on his bid for BSkyB. The Italians are now on the edge of the same loo bowl into which Greece, Portugal and Ireland have already fallen, and the eurozone is on the verge of sliding in as well, it seems. I remember, when the economies of Europe were supposed to have converged for the introduction of the euro, that the papers raised the issue of the fudging of the economic criteria, and knowing that economies are chaotic, dynamic systems, I wondered how such convergence was realistically possible.

The weather was dry enough for an aimless ambling adventure a couple of days ago, and when I got home, I went onto Baidu maps because I wanted to know how far things are from home. The town maps which you can buy in shops here are all conspicuously devoid of scales. My theory is that this is to prevent some imaginary enemy using touring maps if they didn’t bring their own maps. It’s annoying. Anyway, Baidu maps has a handy measuring tool which has allowed me to determine that 中山路 is about 1km away, that end-to-end, the 春申路 bridge is about the same distance, and that Baoli is 1.5km from here.

That information enabled me to estimate that my average speed back from Trust Mart was about 24kmh, but that is over a bridge. I’ve been wondering whether there’s a clear, flat stretch of road, which is one uninterrupted kilometre in length where the traffic is fairly light. There might be on the other side of the canal where there’s a long cycle lane; it might be possible there’s a stretch of 太湖大道. I’ll have to investigate once the weather has improved.

I see it’s stopped raining, but it’s not quite time to venture out and buy lunch.

Great achievements of our age

The wall painting.

I haven’t ventured down 青石路 in a very long time. I have glanced down there as I’ve headed into Trust Mart, and I’ve noticed that things have changed (the colour scheme), but I haven’t gone to see how they’ve changed.

It’s not really the weather for going on an adventure. At lunchtime there was an almighty great downpour which was comprised of industrial-sized raindrops, but that was short-lived, and the heat and humidity returned with little delay. However, I decided it was time I got off my big, fat middle-aged arse and went out on my bike to do more than just go to Carrefour, Trust Mart, or, er…

I headed down 青石路 to find that the only real change down there was the painting of some murals on the block walls which are sitting outside the shops at the east end of the street. As far as I can tell, there have been almost no other changes along there. There shops behind the walls, which I had thought were going to be demolished, are all busy trading away, but in the past year (or however long it is since I’ve been down there), nothing seems to have happened.

I carried on past Walmart, where nothing was happening, not even a car display, and did a circuit before heading back into town past the railway station, and just as I decided to follow the road round past Carrefour, the rear cog of my bike started making a terrible grinding noise. I’d already been thinking about getting the front brakes replaced again. Anyway, so long as I pedalled fairly fast, there were no problems, but the moment I started coasting, my bike started sounding like a concrete mixer.

Fortunately, the Giant bike shop wasn’t far away and I got them to have a look. I thought it’d just be a matter of tightening up the chain, which was loose, but the rear cog really was in a bad way and had to be replaced. I think the problem was, in part, due to the wet weather washing all the grit and dust about, which then gets into the workings of my biking. I also got them to fit some better brake blocks, which are longer than the usual ones although I wait to see whether they’re longer lasting.

I think, though, my intention to replace my current machine with something a little more upmarket has had another boost because I have spent quite a bit of money getting my bike repaired, especially in the last six months or so. Let me think. Whole new drive train; two or three new drum brakes; several sets of front brakes; new rear tyre; new pedals; a new set of brake handles; numerous minor repairs. I don’t think I’ve ever had to replace the rims, but the front rim probably needs replacing not just because there are grooves etched into it, but the lower part of the rim and the upper are at slightly different angles probably because of the pressure of the brake blocks.

Anyway, unless things change in the next three months, I’ll probably buy myself a Hunter 3.0. However, if it was a little less racing bike and little more city bike, I’d opt for a Giant FCR3100, which is the first men’s bike I’ve seen here with sensible width tyres (700x32c). It’s a bit like a low-end sports car, which isn’t really convenient for the business of daily life, whereas I need the sports saloon: something I can get a decent turn of speed out of, but which still has a basket and a carrier for things like shopping.

I still can’t understand why anyone would want to ride a mountain bike with big, fat, cloddish, bumpkin tyres in town. I suppose it’s like the cycling equivalent of the SUV, which never gets driven off road because, basically, it’s a fat estate car.

I’ve just seen the episode of Top Gear in which the boys raced across London to see who could traverse the capital the fastest. As it turned out, it was Richard Hammond on the bike, but it couldn’t be a normal city bike. This had carbon fibre everything and cost £1700, which is about twice the price of the one I’ve seen in the Giant shop here. Hammond didn’t appear to be much of a cyclist, either.

Between a marsh and a damp place

Active humidity.

The summer of greyness continues with another dull, hazy day and the imminent threat of rain at any moment. It’s probably raining right now, but just lightly enough to be invisible against such a leaden canvas. The cicadas don’t seem to mind as they all enjoy a singalong in the trees, and when it really starts raining at night, the frogs have their own rasping chorus.

The News of the World is about to pass out and the country of South Sudan is passing in. I can understand why the NoW hacks might be a bit peeved that they’re being punished for events for which they’re not responsible. Would they, though, have shown more scruples than the real culprits did? Paint me sceptical.

Will the newspaper landscape be better or worse off with the departure of the News of the World? I didn’t know that it’d been around for 168 salacious years in the first place and I’m sure something will replace it whether it’s the Sun on Sunday (or whatever it’s meant to be called) or something else. Or has the Internet overtaken such a need?

Let’s leave the News of the Screws behind and turn our attention to some car news. The next gen Porsche 911 will be out shortly. Over on the Top Speed site was a story about one of the new models catching fire during some testing. The part which interested me was

The vehicle testing was a special prototype developed for the Chinese market, but will be finding its way back to the Porsche center in Weissach for further examination. (My italics; if you can see them.)

Is this another instance of American passivophobia (fear of the passive voice)? I would’ve said “The vehicle being tested…” myself. The phrase is not really grammatical in my English because the verb test requires a dO. It could be that this is an instance of the middle voice in American English, which seems to be more widespread in that variety than it is in British English.

Here’s the question, though. Is the middle widespread in American English because it’s an instance of independent language change? Is it widespread because the passive is a bit of English grammar which generations of non-English speaking immigrants to the States preferred to skip? (To what extent might the Romance languages, Spanish in particular, which aren’t exactly keen on the passive, be responsible?) Is it widespread because of those ridiculous injunctions against using the passive from people like Strunk and White are reinforcing an inherent tendency in the language?

What about that business about a special prototype being developed for the Chinese market? That probably means that when the driver crashes into someone, the car says, “My dad’s a corrupt official”. That, or the engine will be specced to produce higher levels of pollution, or it’s been limited to a 0-100kph time of 18 seconds to match the sluggish nature of road users here.

The ex-emperor’s dead?

And how can you tell?

I was reading a Guardian article last night about the launch of the UK edition of the Huffington Post and followed the link to the site, expecting that it would be blocked as, I believed, the American site was. I did manage to access the site, but there was a lot of white space, suggesting that things which ought to have been appearing weren’t, and I wondered whether stories linked from the main site were being blocked.

The links all ended in .co.uk and I clicked on the link to the World news section which, as it turned out, was on the American Huffington Post site. The state of the place suggested that certain things were not getting through to me because there was also too much white space, but I could read the stories.

In one case, I did not go beyond the headline, but the story was about someone’s death being censored and the only person I could think of, whose death might be censored, was that appalling old waxwork, Jιάнg Zэμиn. I thought this might be some ridiculous story of the sort which is to be found in the National Inquirer, but this morning I see there’s a story about this on the BBC.

If the old zombie really has croaked, is much pomp and circumstance going to be made about it? Jиаνg was the first “elected” emperor, unlike his two predecessors who continued the usual tradition of being Emperor Dalek for life.

My suspicion is that this is just some rumour and nothing else, but the embalming fluid is probably sitting on the bedside table. The sensible and mature thing would be to announce that the old boy is live and twitching to counter such rumours rather than to censor such stories, which, in my mind, merely fuels the rumour mill.

I was wondering the other day if Confucius based his philosophy on the misinterpretation of the behaviour of chickens. As I’ve said before, the Empire is like a big chicken coop. Whereas I would see that as a tyranny, each bird bullying the ones inferior to it, Confucius interpreted the behaviour of the chickens in the wrong direction by concluding that the inferior birds were showing respect to their superiors. (Yes, I’m just making it up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that really was the genesis of Confucianism.)

Holinshed’s Chronicles

State-authorised history.

I’ve been aware of something called Holinshed’s Chronicles most of my life, but I’ve never known anything more about it than the name. I was having a glance at Francis Bacon’s Essays last night, which had various references to Holinshed, and decided to do a search online for more information. That led me to the Holinshed Project.

Like the Phil Soc, the site is based at Oxford, but unlike the Phil Soc, it’s not blocked (as it appeared to be at the time –JH.). It includes the texts of the two different editions, and they’re publicly available. Often with projects like these, you suddenly hit a paywall or have to be a member of Oxford University or the EETS (and a member of some university) or etc. The site includes some background about the writing of the Chronicles, an extensive bibliography, and various matters of related interest to professional historians.

The text itself is actually on the English Department website and attempts to be a faithful rendering of the original, right down to the old-fashioned long-s (ſ).

The first three books are about the history, geography, food, customs and divers other topics, including ‘Whether it be likely there were euer any Gyaunts inhabiting in this iſle or not’, which no doubt kept the pub philosophers of Tudor England quite busy. Our man says, “For this cauſe therefore I haue nowe taken vpon me to make thys briefe diſcourſe inſuing, therby to prooue, that the opiniõ of Gyaunts is not altogether grounded vpon vayne & fa|bulous narrations”, but he does seem to try hedging his bets a little.

In the section on language I learn

The thirde language apparauntly knowen is the Scythian or highe Dutche, brought in at the firſt by the Saxons, an hard and rough kinde of ſpeach god wotte, when our nation was brought firſt into acquaintance withall, but now chaunged with vs into a farre more fine and eaſie kind of vtteraunce, and ſo poli|ſhed and helped with new and milder wordes that it is to be aduouched howe there is no one ſpeache vnder the ſonne ſpoken in our time, that hath or can haue more varietie of words, copie of phraſes, or figures or floures of eloquence, thẽ hath our Engliſhe tongue, although ſome haue affirmed vs rather to barke as dogs, then talke like men, becauſe the moſt of our wordes (as they doe in déede) incline vnto one ſyllable.

Well, another amateur telling us all about language. 500 years and nothing has changed. I love the bit about barking like dogs and that old clarion cry from the 16th century that English was nothing but monosyllables.

In the section on the measurement of time is a version of the old rhyme I learnt long ago about how many days there are in the month (Thirty days hath Nouember, this one begins). The writer also laments the confusion between the calendar year beginning in January and the business year beginning on the 25th of March.

The Chronicles are like an old chest which has been lying half-forgotten until someone stumbles across it one day and finds curiosities rather than treasures inside, which are the diverting and amusing relics of a long-lost age.

Websites that deserve to be blocked

The Philological Society.

Hurrah for imperial paranoia. The Phil Soc website is inaccessible and good show, too, because just think of all that linguistics upsetting the feelings of the government and undermining their authority.

That’s right, dear reader. The Phil Soc website has been blocked as far as I can tell. Do I have a theory? Well, the best I can come up with at the moment is that the URL contains a word which could mean something in Tйбэтаn or the abbreviated form of the Society’s name happens to coincide with that of some other organisation which has Nanny reaching for her turd-brown knickers. But I have no idea why the site should be blocked, and it seems unlikely that it has anything to do with technical difficulties at the other end of the line. There’s a lot of wheel spin and then nothing.

iGoogle did come back to normal, but it appears that any image coming via Google is blocked so that when you try to browse the themes, you have to rely on the names and hope that what you choose isn’t a big mistake.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Bing is snuggling up to Baidu to offer English language search results via Baidu. Stick in any of those bothersome T-words, and you’ll get pictures of puppies and kittens frolicking beneath the iron jackboot of oppression. Search for pictures of anything and you’ll get Hello Kitty and Doraemon. Well, you know you really wanted pictures of them and not something else.

Time for some Top Gear, I think.

Nearly two years later. At some stage the Phil Soc website was un­blocked, but I don’t know when. The only problem is that I can no longer access the journal on line even although I thought I knew what my user­name and password were.