Week 44: it’s Patrick, he took out life insurance

What happened this week?

I went to look at some flats. Doing these sorts of things at the start of a new year feels a bit naff, but they take long enough to sort out that, before you know it, it’s no longer the start of the year.

One of the flats, which I didn’t really fancy, was in a former Norwich Union office building. It was quite something to imagine all the insurance claims that must have been assessed in there. Amazing.

Canadians of a certain age, apparently, will be familiar with Norwich Union from a long-running, maybe even iconic, television ad, “it’s Patrick, he took out life insurance”. It depicts an unrealistic telephone conversation, but was, one assumes, cheap and effective without any CGI mongooses or talking geckos. Incidentally, this week a nice man sold me some income protection insurance, and I hope I wasn’t fleeced.

Now, flats – there’s a mild undercurrent of angst about the process of referencing and stuff. But I was listening to the Fake Heiress documentary series (which features some slightly dodgy acting – but I was disappointed when it ended), about how Anna Sorokin larcened grandly by writing cheques to herself, pretending to be her bank, etc. I’m actually not a fraudster, and intend to pay for things with my own money that I have, so it ought to go fabulously smoothly.

Back to gathering empty cans from the sides of some roads – an unusual amount of Special Brew ones recently, as if the Royal Danish Court have been been al fresco drinking here. Cycled past some folks doing the same sort of thing (gathering, not drinking), and felt like high-fiving them.

Week 43: hostel goose

After seeing Jon Ronson, who had an entertaining column in the Guardian Weekend magazine when I was younger, question the feasibility of the construction of a big acrylic box (“The slot for the sandwiches alone would cost a fortune”), I started to watch You. The first weird points for me were a bookshopkeeper wearing an apron and wrapping a book in a paper bag like a prescription, but maybe those things are normal in America, which is a foreign country. Also, I was confused by the phrase “hostel goose”, but it turned out to be “hostile goose”, which made much more sense.

It’s a bit preposterous, but I intend to watch it to the end. Didn’t feel any admiration, or anything like that, for the murderer/stalker character’s deft murdering, stalking, body disposal, or acrylic box fabrication. I actually made a laser-cut acrylic bookshelf once (GCSE woodwork/metalwork), but no plans to dust of my skills and make a slot for sandwiches.

The Trashfuture podcast (I’m not sure which episode) mentioned OYO, the largest hotel chain you’ve never heard of. Their innovative business model consists of being quite impressively cheap, to such an extent that they, and the independent hotels they daub their logo onto, lose money hand over fist. Also:

For instance, we found that portraits of Marilyn Monroe increased revPAR [revenue per available room] of a property by 10% to 11% on average. Consumers classify hotels like this as “boutique.” It began when one of our hotels in Wichita Falls, Texas, saw revPAR improve by 25% after we put Marilyn Monroe portraits on the walls. Then we started copy-pasting this.

Which is wild, and redolent of Google’s “41 shades of blue”. Which, by the way, has given way to “Act completely randomly, then commission a large, expensive research study at a later date, after the damage of your irresponsible but influential design practices has already taken effect.”

As an occasional hotel user, and never one to look a gift dockless bike in the mouth (for example), I’m a bit tempted to sample their offer, but would I be complicit in the downfall of salt-of-the-earth independent hotel owners and workers? And, like with Airbnb, there are some concerns about safety and quality control and things – yes, maybe hostels infested with hostile hostel geese.

I went to the seaside, and made a decision, which are both fun things to make and do. Have a good week.

Weeks 41 & 42

A fortnight is a long while.

We ate some pheasant and some potatoes and things, and we hosted a good doggo. Super.

More recently, I spent an afternoon feeling like how I imagine a chicken feels after greedily eating a frog. Then I was a bit disappointed that, upon feeling normal again, I didn’t feel tremendously uplifted by the recovery.

I clicked on an toenail fungus related programmatic advert on Andrew Collings’s blog. This might justify a content warning, but the phrase “toenail fungus” is the worst of the content, so how would that help? – like lots of the content warnings I see on Twitter where a fast reader has read the rest of the tweet or seen the picture almost as soon as they’ve read the warning.

It led to an engrossing video – just a disembodied voice speaking over some stark typography. The disembodied voice tells their story, of which there are a few different versions – My Wife’s Nail Fungus Almost Killed Her, My Father’s Nail Fungus Nearly Killed Him – culminating in a plea to buy some expensive and dodgy pills, ideally six bottles full. I reckon they do multivariate testing with different videos and different pill names (Clear Nails Plus, Pure Nails Pro) and so on, which is probably more rigorous than the science behind the pills themselves.

Anyway, I quite admire the plucky entrepreneurialism. I do have a benign fungus, like Cousin Greg from Succession, but “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease” is quite a disclaimer.

Of course I dislike Jere-May Hammond’s The Grand Tour and everything it stands for, but it’s sometimes entertaining, especially if you think the characters – characters, not presenters – are parodies of offensive dickheads. And you can enjoy the high production values, and learn about all different parts of the world.

There’s a bit in the fourteenth episode of the third serie where a character recounts a scene from his childhood, seeing his father’s new Ford Cortina for the first time, which is illustrated by him standing on a street where some relevant cars are parked. And in the background a double-decker bus drives past – I’m quite sure it’s First South Yorkshire’s 37231/YN08 LCL, a Wright bodied Volvo B9TL painted in Rotherham Corporation “heritage” livery (part of the odd trend of private companies drumming up nostalgia for their state owned forebears), and I’ve added a picture to the Internet Movie Cars Database (content warning: Clarkson’s face). But did the programme’s producers go to the trouble of getting a bus in a historically accurate livery to drive past, or is it happy accident? I wonder.

Also, there’s a chilling bit where the characters say how great police brutality – specifically, the practice of pigs using their motor cars to maim motorcycling motorcyclists, in case they are mobile phone thieves – is, and the studio audience cheer along with the sentiment.

Week 40

Another week!

Some work:

And some other stuff too. Big week.

Happy winter solstice, fellow northern hemisphersons. I went to the nearest city, and stood in some queues to buy some last-minute general merchandise I didn’t need to travel all that way to buy. I also passed some time with a jolly Christmastime ride on a preserved Bristol RE – apart from the grand roar of the engine, and curious looks from pedestrians, a highlight was the comfort of the seats, compared to what I’d sat on on the modern bus to get there. Anyway, it’s much recommended – good to feel nostalgic for an era years before one’s time.

I’m afraid Giles Coren (and Mark Dolan)’s programme on the dreadful Talk Radio has become a Sunday evening favourite. Actually, a Monday morning one – one can download past broadcasts in half hourly chunks, e.g. this is the URL for 19:00–19:30 on the 22nd of December:


Heston Blumenthal was a recent guest, promoting his and Coren’s weak new television programme Hestons Marvellous Menu: Back to the Noughties. I watched a bit:

But pfft.

Week 39: flange grease

One of the things I forgot to mention last week was Fawlty at Large, about an episode of 1971’s Doctor at Large written by John Cleese and involving a hotel. I suppose it’s the sort of thing that could have been an asinine “buckle up” Twitter thread, but I’m so glad it isn’t – instead, it’s four posts on a beautifully typeset blog. Blogging isn’t dead.

Some super new trains have been being introduced here in East Anglia this year. Super though they are, such an introduction inevitably features some whooshing sounds as deadlines fly by – that trains have computers in them tells you all you need to know – although in this case, they weren’t introduced that late. But all is not well. The Eastern Daily Press reports:

Greater Anglia brought in the new Stadler trains, called Class 755s, earlier this year, but they have been hit with a barrage of problems and are nicknamed “Basils” by staff because they have so many faults.

Which is an amusingly poor misexplanation of the nickname.

The details of the latest problems are actually quite interesting, and it’s unfairly simplistic to say the trains are faulty. Maybe the new trains’ flange greasers are guilty of depositing grease on some track equipment, causing “signalling problems”. Maybe the trains’ unusually small wheels are a factor. Maybe the winter weather is too, which could explain why the problems weren’t detected during the extensive testing earlier.

I see Network Rail Kent & Sussex have been tweeting some terrific explanations of different problems in their neck of the woods. Somehow, having a good, unpatronising explanation makes the inconvenience of delays and cancellations more bearable.

The LONAP traffic graphs, which indicate the amount of internet traffic in the London area over time, can be interesting. I wondered if the democratic process on Thursday would have any visible effect – the answer is no. (I watched some of a Novara Media stream. Part of their studio has a shelf lined with tins of Tyskie and bottles of Club-Mate – cool.) However, a definite Premier League football on Amazon Prime Video spike on the evening of Wednesday last week.

Watched The Death of Stalin, which is worthwhile if only for the spectacle of the impressive cast of big beasts.

Finished watching Flowers, which has been described as deeply imaginative, and which is really something – I agree with Pete Sinclair.

Now Succession – one episode in, the highlight so far is the phrase “protein spill”, which I can believe really is a term of art in the the amusement park industry.

Week 38

What happened this week?

Some work. Needing a break from other kinds of work, I did some of my tax return, which was just the break I needed.

Retrospective review of the year (and decade) type things have started to appear, which makes me angrier than the Hulk as there’s still most of this month left. Still, I found my Spotify “Decade Wrapped” mildly diverting, and Kicks Condor’s list of hyperlinks of the decade, and the latest 52 things Tom Whitwell has learned (in fewer than 52 weeks).

A spontaneous trip to our nation’s capital, where I saw some sort of intergalactic jazz.

In the process of trying to obtain some disposable cutlery with which to eat a cupful of hot gravy, mashed potatoes and sausages, I bought a sachet of descaler, with which I later descaled the kettle. And now the inside of the kettle is wonderfully shiny – highly recommended.

One of my cultural highlights of the week was Limmy pointing out the strange on-stage antics of Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands. Actually, the whole band look preternaturally unstylish, which is rather admirable.

Week 37

We rejoin the action in Scotland. A a day of unnecessary travel. Travel broadens the mind. Then back southwards on the Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train run by Serco, who do such a good job of running prisons and maintaining military bases. I’d read BusAndTrainUser’s posts about the introduction of sumptuous new carriages earlier this year, which has been beset by problems. Curious to see how things were going a few months later, I’d booked a fancy club room for an OK price.

Alas, there was one problem: the service had to start from Motherwell, not Glasgow, so we all boarded two hours later than we might have otherwise. Thanks to the wonderful boffins of the RailUK Forums, I learn that it’s all because the manoeuvring the carriages to start at Glasgow uses two locomotives, and the new sleeper carriages use recherché couplers so you can’t just use any spare loco if some of the locos are poorly (as they were this time).

Apart from that, it was fine. I had a cold shower – I’m sure there’s supposed to be hot water, but I didn’t want to harass the overworked crew, and don’t cold showers have all the health benefits? Like whisky, it’s the sort of thing you hear of nonagenarians attributing their long lives to – and some high quality sleep, and a tasty breakfast, and we arrived in London half an hour early. There were some coathangers in my little room, and while breakfasting I was generously offered a refill of tea, so at least two of BusAndTrainUser’s suggestions have been addressed.

Some work. The website was being slow again, and I realised I hadn’t set Gunicorn’s threads setting to anything, so I set it to something (2 × the machine’s number of cores), which seems to have helped, but it’s made me realise I’ve not been measuring stuff in such a way that I could tell. Cool story.

Put the winter front tyre on the bicycle – a bloody palaver, and the ice had melted by the time I’d finished. Winter!

Hearing reports that the Queen has died, which is huge if true. The banter quotient strikes again.

Week 36

I’ve been enjoying the back catalogue of the Off Menu podcast while bicycle riding. One thing about it is that the adverts, most of which are performed by hosts Gamble and Acaster, are almost not annoying – I only have to fast-forward when I’ve heard a particular one several times. (The dynamically inserted nature of them means that if I’d started listening earlier, I’d have enjoyed a wider variety of them, not just the few currently in the inventory.) But I noticed that an advert paid for by the Lamb Marketing Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board appeared alongside a podcast guest effusing about some cooked lamb meat, while I was looking at a field of sheep – too creepy to be a mere coincidence‽

I finished the week inexplicably in Glasgow for a few days, after a jolly multimodal journey involving a few hours in Peterborough, where I took the opportunity to buy some ajvar, which is my favourite Balkan condiment.

Glasgow. I can report that a CitizenM hotel is OK:

One of the things I did was watch a pair of live RHLSTPs, which was jolly enough. I had foolishly chosen a seat very high in the room, such that the faraway stage looked very small, but after the fright of seeing Johnson’s blotchy cheeks on the television earlier perhaps it was for the best. Herring didn’t wear his usual stripy jumper during the first week’s podcast, but I shouldn’t have worried as he was wearing it for the second.

It’s wild that the manufacturer of the Scottish soft drink (like “the Scottish play”), Irn Bru, is called AG Barr, and the US Attorney General William Barr is frequently called AG Barr in headlines and things (“AG Barr orders reinstatement of the federal death penalty”).

Since when has the beleaguered restaurant chain PizzaExpress been PizzaExpress, not Pizza Express‽ Since forever, apparently, which shook me and I think is an example of the Mandela effect.

Week 35

What happened this week?

I did some work. Made some stuff faster – the latency graphs of Datadog continue to be satisfying. Had another outage, which was caused entirely by my ignoring the database server disk running out of space.

I cut my hair – almost almost cut my hair, like David Crosby or something, but then actually cut my hair – which I mention only because it’s somehow useful for me to be able to check back to see how long I’ve gone between haircuts.

Am I a liberal? Actually, some of my views are really quite extreme. Nationalising part of BT seems fair enough – I’ve mentioned here before the van-driving technicians, with their little folding stools, who spraypaint interrobangs on the road. As there were no topical satire programmes programmes broadcast on TV this Friday, maybe there’s still time to be the first to pretend to wonder what this means for the actors from off of the television adverts, ha ha ha – Kris Marshall stopped appearing in them in 2011, but I suppose that’s still a sort of joke they could say on the Now Show.

It’s nice that there’s now a good Apple laptop again. I’ve only listened to one (1) podcast about it, because come on.

I have one of the last good ones. It went through a phase of getting unaccountably warm and kernel panicking, and of course there was last week’s MagSafe realated injury, but my position has long remained that you’ll have to prise it from my cold dead hands. It hasn’t badly disgraced itself for a while – as if it’s conscious of the now credible threat of being replaced – so that remains my position. If circumstances change and I have to start using Slack (the famously computationally intensive messaging product) again, I expect that to change.

I received another free pair of socks. (Identical to, and from the same source as one of the pairs from last month.) Extraordinary.

Week 34

What happened this week?

Barefooted, I started to step on a MagSafe connector, which is not as bad as a Lego brick or a three-pin plug but still not very nice to step on, so I sacrificially fell over, arse about tit (“fell down”, “ate shit” for North American readers) to avoid hurting my foot. I was quite sweaty for a bit – an adrenaline rush – who needs skydiving? – and now I have a bruised knee like some kind of small child.

I also have a bit of a cold. Woe unto me.

I did some work. Made some graphs using D3.js, which passed the time, before deciding that I didn’t need the graphs, but maybe the real graphs were the friends we made along the way.

The general election campaign is happening. Hoping to find out about the local candidates, I found myself looking at a local newspaper website, where mainly I learned that Phil off EastEnders (Steve off Coldwar Steve) had been to a local seaside chip shop, and was reminded about the trope of seemingly deliberately vague headlines, e.g. “Bin bags of cannabis fly-tipped in village” – of course you click to find out which village it is, and are disappointed when it’s one in a faraway part of the region, but I suppose it all helps to add pence to the advertising revenue and delay the struggling media organisations’ descent into financial ruin. Never mind – one of the candidates got cancelled for something terrible he said in the past, which made the national news.

Next week, I’d like to make more things happen to me.