October 5th 2011
So, I got a text message from Orange today, advising me that I've been chosen to try their free new messaging service! It's called 'Bright Stuff' and it's free! Yes, I can receive spam at no additional cost to my already exciting pay as you go plan! News, competitions and exclusive offers from brands that they think I'll love (although it's not entirely clear how they've reached this conclusion. Even if they are reading my texts, they'll only discover that I'm going to the cinema this week and have a habit of writing nonsense to my brother. Anyways, despite the freeness of the service, I decided against continuing with it and availed myself of the 'text STOP to 200000' option instead. Whereupon I received a new text asking me to confirm this but texting STOP to 200000. I did so. I received a text asking me to confirm my decision by texting STOP to 200000. I did not do so. Is this some kind of scam? Have I been taken for all I've got? Only time will tell. In other news, it's probably time to admit that I was wrong about the Big Bang Theory. I've never really seen the appeal of the programme, and have said as much several times to my colleagues who are devotees, but in the last few weeks I've been watching it a lot. I would still say that it's nowhere near the league of Friends, Scrubs or How I Met Your Mother, but it's definitely a cut above the likes of Two and a Half Men. There is an over-reliance on some basic tropes (most obviously the saying-something-normal-in-a-clever-way thing) and too often the jokes are sign-posted in advance, but the characters are endearing and the dynamic works well. Jim Parsons - who plays Sheldon on the show - recently won an Emmy for best actor in a comedy series, and unusually it doesn't seem to have been awarded long after the series was at its peak (cf Friends, Red Dwarf etc). So, Matt, you were right and I was wrong. Nice work.
On this day in 2004... Well, I've learnt something today: Pot Curries are absolutely awful.
October 8th 2011
It is unbecoming to be rude about someone who has recently deceased, and so I don't feel good about this, but I've never hidden my distaste for Apple so I won't try to do so now. Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple, died this week after battling pancreatic cancer for some years, and it's deeply sad to lose a man who was only 56 and who had achieved so much. But this doesn't stop the fact that I can't stand Apple and, by extension, I'm no fan of Jobs. Jobs has been hailed as a visionary and a genius, and that was even before his death (when it is customary and highly forgivable to exaggerate a person's abilities) - it was a while ago that Stephen Fry said "There are few more important people on this planet". Seriously? Seriously? It's true that Apple, headed by Jobs, led the way in touch-screen phones and sped up the advance of mp3 players - but even within the field of technology that's not all that exciting. Certainly not as exciting as, say, the actual introduction of mobile phones or mp3 players. Prettification sells, but making a product that's shiny and white is hardly the work of a technological genius, and Fry's "few more important people" comment becomes risible when you consider world leaders, medical scientists, Wolves strikers etc. I'm not suggesting that Apple hasn't achieved a lot compared to its competitors in the telecommunications industry; while I have absolutely no desire to own an iPhone, I can recognise that it was something of a leap forward. But Andrex make damn good toilet paper, and no one's calling their CEO a visionary; success, even great success, does not make you a genius. If you look at the history of the computer in the 20th and 21st centuries, Steve Jobs warrants little more than a footnote in the Bill Gates story. Apple may make pretty computers, and they may even be more reliable than Microsoft's software (although I've heard enough stories of iPods dying that I have to wonder) but Windows is more or less ubiquitous. I haven't done the research, but I'm pretty sure that any office that doesn't use Windows and Microsoft Office is an office where people wear berets and drink cappucinos. Bill Gates may not be as prepossessing as Jobs was, but his influence is deservedly greater. The reason I don't like Apple is not, though, that its merits have been exaggerated. Not really. The reason I don't like it is that it is set up like a deity, with its adherents all too often blindly worshipping at the Apple logo, buying overpriced and pointless updates of products that they already have: a guy at work told me that he was definitely going to buy the iPhone 5, even though he knew absolutely nothing about it and already had an iPhone 4. The iPad, a product I still regard as an unnecessary halfway house between laptop and mobile phone, was barely out of its box before a new version was on its way, slightly lighter and in a choice of colours. There are 22 different types of iPod. Twenty two! How many different ways can there be to listen to Joni Mitchell? And Apple always make sure their products weren't compatible with anything else. If Apple made cars, they would only be able to use iFuel and would only be driveable on iRoads, but still people would buy two new iCars a year and extol their virtues. I've said above that Steve Jobs wasn't a genius, but I'm going to have to retract that, because I think he was a genius in the field of marketing. I mean that as no insult at all; he was truly remarkable at it, creating a brand loyalty that's only matched by sports fans and an aura of palpable coolness that any salesman would kill for. Whatever the faults of Apple or Jobs (and I can't avoid mentioning the fact that, whereas Bill Gates and his wife have given over $28 billion to charity, one of the things Jobs first did when returning to Apple in 1997 was eliminate all corporate philanthropy programs) he was certainly one of the best in the world at what he did. I just don't like it.
On this day in 2007... Am I getting stupider? It's just that I'm losing almost all the games of Scrabble I'm currently playing over Facebook (thanks for ensuring it's not a clean sweep, Ant).
October 29th 2011
When he was still Prime Minister of this fine nation, Gordon Brown was frequently accused of being a bully. The head of the National Bullying Helpline even said that several people from within Brown's office had phoned the charity (and she was rightly removed from her job shortly afterwards, for saying so). But I've never seen anything that makes me think Gordon was really a bully: yes, he had a dreadful temper and threw tantrums. Yes, he was a megolamaniac and phenomenally difficult to work alongside. Yes, he was the worst Prime Minister in living memory. But there's a hell of a lot of a difference between being angry and being a bully. Bullying is abhorrent. Bullying is sadistic. Bullying is the act of making someone else miserable, purely for one's enjoyment. I was never bullied at school (or afterwards); I was unpopular, sure, but I did not suffer the untold misery of being hounded for kicks by the cruel. So, as I say, Gordon Brown was not a bully. But I think Ricky Gervais is. This might feel a bit like jumping on a bandwagon, because Gervais has been getting into trouble recently for his frequent use of the word 'mong' (an abbreviation of 'mongoloid', a taboo term referring to people with Downs Syndrome), but it's been on my mind for a while. This latest episode is fairly excusable (although Gervais's refusal to apologise for a very long time was rather silly, and symptomatic of an arrogant contempt for the views of others) but it is the latest in a history of unpleasant behaviour. I was first disconcerted by Gervais some years ago when watching an extra on one of his DVDs, which showed him messing with one of the people from behind-the-cameras. Gervais said that the guy looked like a lesbian, he drew cartoons of him and he taped him to his chair. All the while, Gervais was laughing to camera, and I remember thinking that humour should only attack upwards; making someone less powerful than you the butt of the joke is, simply, bullying. But that is the way Gervais operates; he has even built a whole sideline of bullying in the form of Karl Pilkington, a 'friend' who only appears onscreen (or in podcast) so that Gervais and Merchant can laugh at him. In fact, the picture accompanying this entry shows you the general idea; Gervais points and laughs at Pilkington, while enlisting Merchant in his mockery. Maybe I'm being unfair in using a cartoon to make my point, but I believe it is representative of the trio and is certainly backed up by the TV series An Idiot Abroad, in which Pilkington travels round the world having a miserable time, expressly for the amusement of Gervais. OK, it's almost certainly a set-up for the most part, but Gervais (& Merchant) has created a format in which one man's pain is supposed to be funny. That's the very definition of bullying. To be honest, it shouldn't have come as a surprise. The Office is, of course, Gervais's most famous work, and a very funny sitcom it is too, but even so it betrayed some of Gervais's bullying traits. Making David Brent the butt of the joke was fine, but I have a real problem with the character of Tim, a long-standing employee who was supposed to be the everyman of the show. Tim was supposed to be the good guy, the one we were rooting for, the voice of reason. But he was a prat. He effectively tortured his co-worker, Gareth, because he didn't like him; a moment that particularly stood out to me was when Tim put Gareth's stapler in a jelly. That's bullying. Making someone the butt of a joke that they don't appreciate and can't avoid is bullying. Gervais's nadir, though, came with the Golden Globes earlier this year, a ceremony he was hosting and during which he made a series of mean-spirited jokes about the actors present (and the elderly president of the Hollywood Foreign Press). A sample gag involved introducing Robert Downey Jr by referring to his previous problems with drugs and crime (Gervais also forgot a punchline for that one, but criticising him for being unfunny is missing the point here). Some people - maybe including Gervais himself - thought that this stream of unpleasantness was 'sticking it to the man', but attacking people who can't answer back is not brave nor clever; it is (guess what) bullying. I think that Ricky Gervais can be a very funny man. The Office was very good, as was Extras, and his cameo in Stardust was excellent (far more so than his other film efforts, which have been disappointing). But he needs to stop pointing and laughing, and the fact that his next project is a sitcom about a dwarf (Warwick Davis) is not promising; Gervais will no doubt claim that the joke is on those who are made uncomfortable by Davis rather than on Davis himself. But it's terribly difficult to tell the difference.
On this day in 2004... Richard and I further pushed back the barriers of what can be achieved, by leaving for Tesco at 2.30am yesterday, the new record. Woo-hoo!
what was I listening to?
Hotel California - Eagles
what was I reading?
Private Eye: The First 50 Years - Adam MacQueen