Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Flashblog #1

Right, then. Because of my enforced mini-break over the last couple of weeks, Flashblogging Month has not really got off the ground, yet. That is about to change, however. Flashblog #1 has been put back a week and will now take place on 8th October, with more to follow during the rest of the month.

Flashblogging has been inspired by two things. The first, obviously enough, is the flashmob craze that has been happening in London recently. Blogs have played quite a large part in this and I wondered if I could organise something similar online. I'm also very aware that many bloggers (including myself) read a fairly static list of other blogs and consequently must miss out on a huge amount of quality writing elsewhere so I was also wondering how to introduce people to new blogs.

Putting these two ideas together in my head I came up with Flashblogging. The idea is that the participants will all visit a blog that I specify at a particular time and perform some sort of task while you are there. This also gives you an excuse to read a blog that you may never have seen before.

As for the tasks, they will almost certainly have something to do with comments at some point (what else can you do at most blogs?). They will start off nice and simple but will get more complicated later in the month.

I will send an email to everyone who is taking part the day before with the details of when and where to go and what to do when you get there.

So, are you interested? Do you have any questions? If so, leave a comment (make sure you get your email address right ;-) ) or send me an email. Also, please spread the word and give your readers the chance to take part, too.

Hopefully, we can make this a success.

Opportunity Knocks?

"Dear Friend,
My name is LOI C.ESTRADA,The wife of Mr. JOSEPH ESTRADA, the former
President of Philippines located in the South East Asia. My husband was recently impeached from office by a backed uprising of mass demonstrators and the Senate. My husband is presently in jail and facing trial on charges of corruption, embezzlement, and the mysterious charge of plunder which might lead to death sentence. The present government is forcing my husband out of Manila to avoid demonstration by his supporter. During my husband's regime as president of Philippine, I realized some reasonable amount of money from various deals that I successfully executed. I have plans to invest this money for my children's future on real estate and industrial production. My husband is not aware of this because I wish to do it secretly for now. Before my husband was impeached,I secretly siphoned the sum of $38,000,000 million USD (Thirty Eight million United states dollars) out of Philippines and deposited the money with a Finance firm that transports valuable goods and consignments through diplomatic means.
I am contacting you because I want you to represent me as the
beneficiary at the finance firm and claim the money on my behalf since I have declared that the consignment belong to my foreign business partner. You shall also be required to assist me in investment my share in your country.
I hope to trust you as a God fearing person who will not sit on this money when you claim it, rather assist me properly, I expect you to declare what percentage of the total money you
will take for your assistance, When I receive your positive response I will let you know where the Finanace company is and the payment pin code to claim the money which is very important. For now, let all our communication be by e-mail because my lines are
right now connected to the Philippines Telecommunication Network services.
Please also send me your telephone and fax number. I will ask my son to contact you to give you more details on the transaction and speedy the completion as soon as I received a positive response from you.
Thank you and God bless you and family.
Mrs. Loi C. Estrada "

So, the con artists are getting a little bit more clever are they? Everyone knows about the scams emanating from Nigeria that ask you to send them some money in order to unlock a huge amount more so they have to try some new tactics.

Firstly, you'll notice that it's from the Phillipines instead of Nigeria. As if changing the country is going to fool anyone who knows about the scam already. Then there is the blatant name dropping. Do they really expect me to reply to them just because they mention Joseph Estrada and God? I'm sure that Mr Estrada's wife is called Loi but anyone can claim to be someone else when they're online.

More subtle, though is the lack of any request for money. Instead they want you to give them contact details so they can let you know what to do next. No doubt they are more persuasive over the phone. They also dangle in front of you the intriguing prospect of being able to decide how much of the money you will keep for yourself.

Unfortunately, I can see some people falling for this as they have done for previous incarnations of this con. Me, though, I think I'll pass.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Back to Normal

The minor personal crisis has now all but passed. Thank you for the comments of support, they really do mean a lot. I may have some time this evening to post something but otherwise normal service will be resumed tomorrow with posts on Flashblogging (which I think will happen next week sometime) and an interesting financial offer I've received...

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Best Laid Plans

I'm afraid things around here are going to be even more quiet than I thought they would be over the next few days. There's some personal stuff that I need to devote my energy to. I don't want to say any more than that but suffice it to say blogging will not be uppermost in my mind.

Don't worry, it's nothing too serious (I hope) and all will be back to normal soon. However, this does mean that Flashblog #1 will be postponed by a week or so.

If I do have some spare time then I'll pop in to see you all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


As you probably guessed, Sunday's posts were all about my wedding to the lovely L on Sept 21st 2002. Our first anniversary. Hence the reason for going away.

The hotel was lovely, situated just on the edge of Brockenhurst in the middle of the New Forest. The front of it looked over what must be the most bumpy, molehill-ridden cricket pitch in the country. Impossible to play on unless you get extra points for losing the ball down a hole.

We went to Southampton on Saturday and wandered around the docks for a while before heading back to the hotel pool. We had dinner in a very good Italian restaurant in the village.

Sunday was meant to be a very lazy, relaxing day. We went to an antiques fair in the morning and walked around the village, laughing when half a dozen cows held up the traffic as they slowly went down the middle of one of the main roads. We had a cream tea in the bar in the afternoon and ate in the hotel's restaurant that evening. The food was excellent:

Velvet Cream of Asparagus Soup
Pan Roasted Lamb with Potato and Wilted Greens
Apricot and Stem Ginger Mousse

We took a bottle of champagne up to our room and later went back to the bar for a few more drinks.

We came back to London on Monday and yesterday went house-hunting, which is why I didn't post anything. I'm off work for the rest of the week, with just an expensive dial-up service from home so I won't be doing more than on or two posts a day until next week.

However, I will be posting more details about Flashblogging Month so if you want to take part, leave a comment.

Monday, September 22, 2003


After building your hopes up on Friday of an exciting weekend to come I must apologise for disappointing. The posts below that look like they come from Saturday and Sunday were all written last week and I made use of Blogger's lovely date-changing facility to make them appear then. However, what I didn't realise at the time was that they would not appear on the site unless it was republished after each was due to go up and since I was without internet access for the weekend...

It's a shame really, since yesterday's posts would have had a better impact if they had appeared one by one. Oh well. Just remember to start at the bottom and read up.

More on the weekend later or tomorrow.

12.00 a.m.

It is time for us to say our goodbyes and leave the party. We are bundled into the middle of the dancefloor and the DJ turns on a bubble machine and puts on 'New York, New York'. The remaining 50 or so guests surround us in a circle and dance. Occasional high kicks come close to our heads but we just smile at the sight of everyone we love dancing around us.

The song finishes and we say a few more individual goodnights and head off to our room. There is a trolley stacked high with presents and, since neither of us are sleepy, despite the long day, we start to open them. We are soon surrounded by towels and vases and champagne flutes and all sorts of other gifts. The floor becomes littered with shiny wrapping paper as we try to keep track of who gave us what. Eventually, we open the last one and go to bed.

The happiest day of my life finally draws to a close and I drift off to sleep with a smile on my face.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

8.00 p.m.

The evening passes in a whirl of images. There is music and dancing. More friends arrive to share in the festivities. I am outside for a while smoking a cigar and letting all the noise wash over me. Those guests with long journeys home start to drift away as it gets later. I begin to lose energy though L is still zipping around, dancing and talking.

Towards the end of the evening we take a break and go up to our room for a while. We get there to discover that some of our friends have been and decorated it for us. There are balloons everywhere; tied to the table and chairs, in the minibar, even down the toilet. There are flower petals leading from the door, up the spiral staircase to the bedroom and more are scattered all over the bed. Messages of congratulation are written in shaving gel across the bathroom mirror. It's all a lovely, unexpected touch. We go back down to the party.

6.00 p.m.

L's father gets up to speak. He weaves a half-hour tale that spans twenty-three years, cracking jokes along the way and eliciting more than a few aahs. When he sits down I get up to say my thanks and then it's Chris's turn to crack jokes, though he manages it in considerably less time than the previous speaker. There are champagne toasts and we cut the cake.

4.00 p.m.

The sun is shining as we stand in the hotel gardens, near the bowling green. It's a beautiful day, brighter and warmer than you would expect for late September. We have a few minutes to breathe before our friends and family surround us once again. Photographs are taken and everyone is smiling, especially at us.

Back inside, everyone picks up a drink and we mingle, talking to whoever we see. We sit down for the meal, L and me the centre of attention in the middle of top table. Between courses we wander around the tables, stopping to laugh and smile with people.

2.00 p.m.

This is it. The moment the day really starts. I'm stood waiting for L to arrive, friends and family all behind me. My one regret is that I don't turn to see her approaching, will never have that image of her to look back on. She reaches my side and we smile at each other. My hand finds hers and I squeeze lightly. The next half hour seems to be over almost before it began and I remember only fragments of it; gazing into her eyes as I give myself to her and she herself to me, listening to someone I have known all my life talk about unconditional love, singing.

After, there are refreshments and a whirlwind tour of the room, trying to say hello to the couple of hundred people who are there before we are whisked away. We don't manage it and soon we are being driven back to the hotel in a luxury car.

12.30 p.m.

Our first stop is a pub where we meet up with more friends. I have a pint of Guinness as we chat and then a second as the clock hands crawl past one. After finishing that drink I take a deep breath and we walk a couple of hundred yards down the road.

10.30 a.m.

I can't really leave it any longer so I start to get ready. I put the radio on and a shave and a shower later I'm starting to feel good. Everyone begins to congregate in my room, my mate Chris with a bottle of rum. For courage, he says. As if I need any. I take a measure anyway, knock it back in one. Awful stuff. Then it's time to go.

8.00 a.m.

I leave my room and go down for breakfast. Cereal, full english, toast, the works. It's going to be a very long day. After I'm finished I go out and buy a paper, determined to spend an hour or two relaxing, reading and doing the crossword. The town centre is eerily quiet at that time of day.

Saturday, September 20, 2003


Inspired by the current craze of Flashmobbing, October on Clear Blue Skies will be Flashblogging Month.

Have you fancied taking part in a Flashmob event but can't because you live too far away or you are too self-conscious? Then Flashblog may be the answer you're looking for. It's like Flashmob, but (obviously) set in the blogsphere.

There will be four or five Flashblog events during the course of the month, starting on Wednesday 1st. In keeping with the real thing, details of where and when to gather and what to do when you are there will be sent to you via email shortly before the event so if you would like to take part, email me or leave a comment below (leaving your email address, obviously).

I want to get as many people involved as possible so, if you have a blog of your own and are interested, please mention it and point your readers in this direction. It won't amount to much if there are only half a dozen of us.

More information and updates next week.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Weekend Stuff

I'm away again for the weekend, this time a nice, relaxing three night stay in the New Forest at this hotel. I'm leaving in a couple of hours and I can hardly wait.

I'll be back home on Monday so I'll blog something about the weekend then, probably. However, due to the lovely people at Blogger giving us blog-standard users all those great new features, Clear Blue Skies will not be a barren wasteland for three days. Tomorrow there will be an announcement of a special event coming up in October and on Sunday you can expect to see eight posts spread throughout the day. I won't tell you anything about them now but everything should become clear as you read them. One thing, though; if you are reading them on Monday morning you will need to start at the earliest one and read upwards.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Stormy Weather

Last year, L and I were in Jamaica as Hurricane Lili passed through the Caribbean and made landfall in Louisiana. It had been temporarily downgraded to a tropical storm when it passed us by about twenty-five miles out to sea. Despite this, the winds were strong enough for the hotel to shutdown the pool area and keep everyone inside for two days. We were perfectly safe so we didn't fear the storm. Instead we watched in awe of the sheer power of it. We have some amazing pictures of palm trees being battered by 45mph winds, a marked contrast to identical photos taken when the sun was shining.

After it had gone on its merry way to wreak havoc in Cuba we wandered around outside surveying the damage. Stacks of metal sunloungers had been blown around a bit, despite being chained down. The artificial beach had been half washed away exposing the sandbags used to build it up. Plant debris lay everywhere and the place was generally a mess.

That was just a tropical storm and not a strong one at that. Isabel is due to hit the U.S. later today with winds 2½ - 3 times as fast, maybe more. I'm glad I'm not going to be anywhere near it when it does.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

London Bus Rules

1. Whatever time you aim to get to the bus stop, the bus will sail past you when you are just too far from the stop to get there in time.

2. If you run to catch it the driver will wait until you are almost at the doors before closing them and driving off pretending he hasn't seen you.

3. Once you are waiting at the stop, everyone who comes along afterwards will ask you when the bus is due and will glare at you when it hasn't turned up by the time you said.

4. The bus will only come once you have waited for twice the scheduled interval between buses or until you are going to be ten minutes late for your meeting or doctor's appointment, whichever is later.

5. When it does turn up, the bus will proceed to sit there until the little old lady with the walking stick who waved at him four hundred yards down the road makes her way to the stop and gets on.

6. When the bus finally leaves the stop you look out of the back window and see another two buses coming down the road, both of which will leapfrog yours and get to your destination long before you do.

7. Halfway to where you want to go a big group of lads will get on the bus. Some of them will try to evade paying the fare and the bus driver will refuse to move until they do. The lads will then sit all around you and all start playing the ringtones on their mobile phones very loudly to see whose is best.

8. By the time you reach your stop so many people have got onto the bus that you need to clamber over mountains of shopping bags, pushchairs and small children just to reach the door. The driver will have long since decided that you don't want to get off there and will already be moving on to the next stop.

9. When you finally get off the bus you look at your watch and work out that if you'd walked the whole way you'd have been there ten minutes ago.

10. If you take all of this into account and leave early enough to get to your appointment just in time then your journey will be so perfect that you arrive hours early instead.


In the process of serving up dinner last night I picked up a plate, forgetting that not two minutes before it had been in the warming draw at the bottom of the oven.


It's odd how long it sometimes takes you to register pain, especially with something like a burn. I had had enough time to pick up the plate and half carry it to the worktop (a couple of feet away) before I realised it was hot. Of course, at that point I should have dropped it; they are very cheap plates, Kitchen Rejects sort of thing. But I didn't. Instead I moved it back and put it down again, allbeit less carefully than I normally would have. This was accompanied by some choice language and a rather loud ouch.

The next two and a half hours were spent with my fingertips pressed against an ice cube-stuffed teatowel and I now have nice blisters on the pads of my thumb and first two fingers. Thankfully, the ice did it's job and they do not hurt very much but I won't be doing it again in a hurry.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

What's in a name?

Via Eloon who got it from somewhere else; Kabalarian Name Analysis.

The name of Dave creates a quick, analytical, and clever mind; you are creative, versatile, original, and independent. You have large ambitions, and it is difficult for you to be tolerant and understanding of those who desire less in life or who are more slow and methodical by nature. Patience is not your forte. You do, however, have leadership ability and would never be happy in a subservient position. You are ambitious and aggressive by nature. You would be happiest in positions where you are free to express individually and creatively and where opportunities are not restricted; you desire freedom, and do not tolerate being possessed by others. You appreciate change and travel, and the opportunity to meet and mix with others, and to influence them with your creative ideas. You are very self-confident and feel you can accomplish anything you set out to do, and you can, although, this name does not allow proper completion of undertakings, and forced changes cause financial losses and bitter experiences. This name also creates caustic expression and moods which prevent harmony and happiness in close association.

That's actually not too bad. I'm not as creative as it suggests and I don't have many aggressive tendencies. But apart from that and the last sentence, which is complete rubbish, it's pretty much spot on.

All Done

Right then, that's the last in the drawn out series of 'On ...' pieces. I may do it again in a few months if anyone has any suggestions as to what I should write about.

On Fears

I was going to call this 'On Phobias' but I changed my mind for two reasons. 1) I don't think that I actually have any phobias and 2) I'm not sure if phobias is the correct plural form of phobia. So I'm not going to write phobias at all.

I do, however, have a few fears. Things that make my throat constrict, cause me to break out in a nervous sweat and give me a sense of rising panic. These are not normal, mundane things, either. Spiders don't scare me, I've chased mice around rooms and caught them in my bare hands and I'll walk quite happily alone, at night, down dark alleys.

Having said that, they're not as wierd as you are probably now thinking. The first is more common than most people believe.

I am scared of using the phone. I don't have a problem talking to people I know or about subjects I have complete knowledge of but if I don't know the other person or have some doubts about what I'm saying, I will put off talking on the phone for as long as I can. When I do make the call I often get tongue-tied and then start to panic. Thankfully, I have to use the phone quite a lot at work and L refuses to do all the phoning round to set up insurance, book hotels etc. so I am not as bad as I used to be. I still don't like doing it and have to psych myself up to it but I am starting to master the fear.

The second one gets worse as time goes on. I am scared of driving. I passed my driving test just over nine years ago. I had had just 10 lessons plus a few hours out with my parents. Everything was looking good until, the following day, my parents second car died. They couldn't afford to get another car and, since they both lead very busy lives, I subsequently had very little chance to drive anywhere. When I went off to university the following summer, I had driven maybe half a dozen times since my test. I drove a couple of times in my first two years but haven't driven at all since then. That's 6 1/2 years ago now.

The thing that scares me is that, legally, I am completely fine to drive but, because I never had the chance to get any useful experience after my test, I know I am not. If I sit behind the wheel of a car with the intention of driving my mind just freezes up and my heart starts thumping. And this just gets worse the longer it goes on. The solution is plain enough but at the moment L and I can't afford to buy a car and, living in London, we don't need one anyway so it just goes on. There are times (admittedly few and far between) that I feel it's gone on so long that I may never be able drive again.

The last one is the simplest and the least rational. I am scared of my throat being touched. I panic and feel sick even at the lightest of touches. Even if I do it myself, I feel very uncomfortable. That's it. I don't know why I react like that and I haven't the faintest idea how to get past it. It's just there.

What are you afraid of?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Neue Leute

"Lust auf ein Date oder willst du neue Leute treffen? Dann antworte einfach mit "Ja" und mach mit beim SMS-Chat von Mobile Chat (8,452 User online)"

I just received the above text message, which has intrigued me. Firstly, how did they know I could speak German? Secondly, how did they get my number? I've only had the phone a few months, said no to having the number in the Orange directory and haven't put my mobile number on any forms that I can remember.

Also, how can you meet new people by text message? I mean, how can you get to know anyone by what they write? Ridiculous concept. :-)

Tempting Fate

I was right to suspect Saturday's journey would not be as good as Friday's. The train got as far as Clapham Junction (not far at all) and then sat there for half an hour because of a trespasser on the line. When we finally got going and passed through Earlsfield, there was a half-naked man sat on a bench surrounded by police officers.

That was the trespasser, then. The odd thing about him was that he had a whole load of electrodes across his chest. He had either just escaped from the local mental hospital or the police were getting ready to give him electric shock therapy. Not sure which, though.

Saturday, September 13, 2003


I had thought yesterday's trip up to Leeds and back would provide plenty of material for a rant about trains. But no. Not only do I not really have anything to complain about, I even have some positive things to say about it!

I got the 8.05 GNER 'White Rose' service from Kings Cross, a new, white, sleek, comfortable train. The sort of train a long-distance journey should be made on. Because I'd got a full fare standard ticket (the company's paying so what did I care?), I was able to sit in the Standard Plus carriage and was plied with free tea and biscuits all the way. There was a free newspaper and a table service for breakfast (sadly not free) if I wanted it. The ride itself was extremely smooth; we hardly seemed to be moving at all but whenever I looked up between Kings Cross and Stevenage (a journey I did commuting for over a year) we were a lot further on than I thought we would be. The only other time I've ever been on a train like that was between Cologne and Berlin about six years ago. It's just not the sort of standard I've come to expect in this country.

Even when there was some disruption to our journey (making a couple of additional stops to pick up passengers stranded by a broken-down train) the train manager gave us loads of detail and plenty of (obviously genuine) apologies. It's hard to grumble when you're sitting in such comfort and kept well-informed. The worst part of it all was that the carriage filled up a lot more than it had been.

I was going to get another White Rose service back to London again in the evening but, unfortunately, the train had broken-down earlier in the day so we got an ordinary GNER train. But again, the apologies were heartfelt and plentiful and I had a seat so there wasn't much to complain about. And even those few moans were forgotten after I discovered that the buffet car stocked a reasonable bottled ale alongside the cans of bog-standard creamflow bitter. A couple of those and I was more than happy enough. :-)

I think what stands out the most from the two journeys is the attitude of the staff on the trains. They were frank and apologetic when things went wrong, generally helpful and happy to be doing their jobs. It's that sort of thing that ensures passengers reach their destinations feeling satisfied and happy rather than angry. Well done GNER.

For some reason, I'm not expecting the same level of service on South-West Trains this afternoon. Oh well.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Away on Business

I'm off to Leeds tomorrow on business so I probably won't be able to post anything until I get back, assuming I'll even want to then. I'm also way on Saturday night so it's going to be a quiet few days around here.

On This Day

I thought about writing something about the attacks on the WTC but couldn't decide what I wanted to say (it threatened to turn into a rant about Bush and the War on Terror) so instead I've decided to write about other things that have happened on September 11th.

1814 - America victorious on Lake Champlain

1885 - D.H.Lawrence born

1895 - FA Cup stolen from a football fitters in Birmingham

1922 - British Mandate in Palestine began

1971 - Nikita Krushchev died

1973 - President Allende of Chile died in revolt by army leaders

1976 - Abba's Dancing Queen reached number 1 in UK charts

1980 - Marlborough Diamond stolen

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

On the Supernatural

Fantasy is my favourite genre of fiction. I love reading books filled with characters that have magical powers, be it mind-reading, casting spells or whatever. In real life, however, my reaction is somewhat different. (Unless it's to do with a certain witchy blogger)

When somebody claims to have some kind of psychic or supernatural ability, I become a little disturbed and try to steer the conversation in another direction. Thinking about it now, I realise this is not because I don't believe in such things (how could it disturb me if that were true?), rather that I don't want to believe in them. Not without proof, anyway.

I'm a very rational person. I like to have explanations of things I don't understand or proof that something is solid and real. Which is why I get disturbed at talk about people seeing ghosts and talking to the dead. The only evidence for it, very often, is the belief of the person making the claim, which doesn't make a very convincing, rational case.

For example, my wife, L, says she can sometimes feel the presence of her grandfather, who died several years ago, watching her. When she does mention this (very infrequently now), I shift in my seat uncomfortably and probably look quite uneasy. I know she's not making it up but I don't know how to take it because it's not something I can see or feel. If I could then I'm sure I would feel fine with it.

Like I do with deja vu. The feeling that something has happened before can be unnerving in and of itself but it doesn't disturb me in the same way as everything else because I have the proof of my own senses which say it's true. When I was a teenager I used to get deja vu a lot, even as much as three or four times a week. I have even had deja vu about getting deja vu! Now I only get it every few weeks but it's still a familiar feeling to me. It's not just the sense that a sequence of events has happened before; wrapped around that is a feeling that quite a lot of time has elapsed since you last experienced it. This is an immeasurable quantity of time but it's certainly enough to put the point at which it last occurred well and truly in the past.

But, just because I know it exists, that doesn't mean I can explain it. There may be a rational, down-to-earth explanation but I'm at a complete loss as to what it could be. Just as I am with any other sort of paranormal occurrences. What I am convinced of, though, is that the human brain is capable of things that we just do not know about or understand. There may well be all sorts of odd talents hidden away in the mind that most of us do not have access to. What might happen if science illuminated these dark areas of the brain and suddenly we could all talk to the dead if we wanted?


Search me

One thing I haven't got used to yet is seeing Clear Blue Skies in Google search results. Especially when it's the first in the list. Intellectually (a big word for this time of the morning) I know how Google works and I know I'll be in the results for lots of searchs before long but there's a voice in my head that's saying "Yes, I know all that but, I mean, this is just little old me."

Not that anyone has come to CBS via any search terms that were, shall we say, 'interesting'. Yet. But then I haven't been peppering many posts with 'interesting' words. That's not intentional, by the way, I just haven't written anything about sex or incest or having an orange in the mouth and a bin bag over the head.



I love deadlines.

I especially love the whooshing noise they make as they go flying past.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


You just couldn't make this stuff up.

"Monkey forced me out of marital bed"

Ecuadorian President promises to be punctual

Security Alert

Because of all the viruses flying around at the moment we have been issued with a security alert from HQ in the States. Most of it is the normal warnings about opening email attachments blah, blah, blah. But there is a small section about internet usage, saying that we should only visit "known, reputable sites".

That's all you bloggers out for a start, then. ;-)

The Games

I didn't fancy watching Matt Damon impersonating Jude Law last night (good film but I wasn't really in the mood) so instead I turned onto Channel 4 for The Games. At first glance this looks like just another reality TV show for celebrities whose careers need a boost (e.g. Gail Porter, Lee Latchford Evans) but it actually has more to it than most other 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me On The TV' formats. Firstly, they are there to raise money for charity, which can never be a bad thing in my book. More importantly, though is how seriously they are taking it. The show is only on for a week but they have been in training for it for two months, which is a pretty long time to be devoted to something like this.

In case you haven't seen anything about it the idea is something like this: Five male and five female celebrities compete in six different sporting events. Points are awarded for how well you do and at the end of the week there will be a winning man and a winning woman. The men compete in diving, weightlifting, curling, vaulting, long jump and 100m while the women have to get through 50m freestyle, hurdles, speed skating, judo, hammer and 100m.

Last night the pool events took place. Given that Gail Porter and Josie D'Arby couldn't swim before they started the training, so it was pretty impressive to see them both manage to swim a 50m race, even if they came 4th and 5th. Similarly with the men, three of them are petrified of heights and yet they all dived from at least the 5m board. James Hewitt (yes, that James Hewitt) performed very well but it was Bobby Davro who stole the show when he hit the water practically horizontal. Ooh that must have stung.

If you're interested, it's the weightlifting and hurdles tonight. 9p.m. Channel 4.

Monday, September 08, 2003


Okay then, here's the solution to the puzzle I set on Friday:

For the purposes of the solution there are n prisoners in total, X is the prisoner who can set them all free and Y is the group of all the other prisoners.

Statistically, the longer prisoner X waits before making his pronouncement, the more likely he is to be correct but he cannot be absolutely certain about getting it right by relying on the time elapsed alone; it's possible that one of the prisoners has been very unlucky and not been exercised. So, how can he be sure about what he's saying?

Because the prisoners are all transported on the same bus and are aware of what will happen while they are in the prison, they collectively decide to do the following:

Y prisoners are only allowed to move the lever from A to B and they are each only allowed to move it once. Prisoner X only moves the lever from B to A and can move it as often as he likes.

1. Whenever a Y prisoner is exercised he checks the lever. If it is in position A and he has not moved the lever before then he moves it to B. Otherwise he leaves it alone.
2. Whenever X is exercised he checks the lever and if it is in position B he moves the lever back to A. Otherwise he does nothing.

If X keeps a tally of how many times he has moved the lever, once he has moved it n-1 times he can say with absolute confidence that everyone has been out in the exercise yard at least once.

For large numbers of n, this process could take a very long time, with most of the prisoners having been exercised many times, but it is the best way for X to be completely certain in his timing. After all, if he gets it wrong, they'll be incarcerated forever.

It's a Conspiracy!

Who needs to make up conspiract theories about 9/11 (oh, how I hate calling it that) and the Iraq War when former government ministers will do it for you.

While I can't say I believe everything he wrote, there are many interesting questions raised that I hadn't been aware of before. Like the amount of intelligence passed on to American agencies in the run up to the WTC attacks that was seemingly not acted upon. Or the lack of fighter planes alongside the hijacked planes when normal procedure is to scramble and accompany if an airliner veers to far from it's published course. If all this is just a ploy to ensure an adequate supply of oil for the US and its allies then I wonder how much of it can be achieved b Bush in the next five years (assuming he is re-elected next year) and whether his successor would carry it on.

Also, this bit, about the document produced by the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) in September 2000, raised an eyebrow:

"The document also calls for the creation of "US space forces" to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent "enemies" using the internet against the US."

Ignoring, for now, the question of how they would gain "total control of cyberspace", what would that mean to us bloggers who are not averse to speaking out against America's actions, especially those of us who use US hosting services?

Note: I'm not trying to scaremonger; I don't believe this new form of imperialism will happen but I am interested in what it would mean if it did.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Change of Plan

I was going to write about my feelings on religion but as I tried to write it earlier today I realised that there are some things that are too personal to post so I won't be doing that one. I'm not even entirely sure I want to know my thoughts on the subject. However, I'm still planning to do the supernatural and phobias and if there is anything else you want me to do, leave a comment.

On Love

Love must be one of the most thoroughly explored topics there is. One of the most mysterious things about it is that it can remain mysterious after so much has been said about it. Love has been the subject of countless books, songs, plays and films and yet, if you ask ten different people what love is you’ll likely get ten different answers. At least. One could describe it as a feeling of great joy while another would think of it as a deep sense of contentment and security. A third might talk in terms of completeness and a fourth about tenderness and care. Somebody else could well feel all of those things at different times, or none of them.

So are they all feeling the same thing? Can love be different things to different people or do we need as many words for love as the Inuits have for snow. If you’re looking for answers to those questions you ought to look elsewhere because I don’t have any better idea than anyone else.

Instead, what I want to write about is a side of love that you don’t see discussed very often, the duty of care that the person on the receiving end of love has.

Love is a very strong emotion, one that can withstand all sorts of pressures and still flourish but, because of this strength, it often means that the one who is in love develops a fragility, a weakness that is hidden by their love. If their feelings are betrayed, the sudden loss of the protection that love gave them can expose the frailty and do all sorts of psychological damage.

If somebody loves you, they give you the power to inflict serious harm on them and they trust that you will not do so. It is this responsibility toward their emotional state that I call the ‘duty of care’. It makes no difference whether you return the feelings in kind, you still have the power to hurt someone and therefore the responsibility not to.

So, next time somebody tells you they love you, give a thought to your duty to them and ask yourself whether their love is safe in your hands.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Logic Puzzle

A number of prisoners are sent to a special prison. In this prison, they are all kept in solitary confinement and never have any contact with any other prisoner. There is an exercise yard where each day one prisoner, selected at random, is taken for one hour. In the exercise yard is a lever that has two positions, A and B.

Before they enter, one of the prisoners is selected at random and told that if he can say for certain that all the prisoners have been exercised at least once then they can all go free. He is only allowed to say this once and if he is wrong they will all stay there for life.

How does this prisoner know when to free himself and his fellow inmates?

Friday Links

Going Loco Rail Awards 2003

The whole of The Brains Trust, a fortnightly satirical online paper, is very funny but I struggled not to laugh out loud at this article.

'Ancient' carvings are just 8 years old.

And, for the maths geeks out there, an extract from the diary of a mathematician. The maths he talks about there is so far beyond me it's almost as if he's talking a different language.

4 billion squid

I've been wondering all morning about what will happen to the £4bn of US Treasury Bonds seized during drug raids in the last couple of months, if they turn out to be genuine. Will it be used to build schools and hospitals? Or improve the failing rail system? Or fight poverty?

Or will it sink into the black hole that is the occupation of Iraq? I have my suspicions.

Autumn Cometh

I was a little surprised this morning to find I couldn't see out of the window. At least, I couldn't see any further than the end of the garden. The house beyond the fence was just a looming shadow in the fog. Walking up my road in the direction of the tube station was wonderful; the drone of noise some people call the north circular was muted and everywhere you looked there were spiders webs hanging with dew. When it's not cold and wet, autumn can be really beautiful.

Of course, the sun has come out now and it's just another bland, late summers day. But for a while this morning there was just a hint of what's to come.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Cry for help

I've got a few days off later this month and want to spend some time putting together a template for the site that I'm really happy with. To that end I need to learn a bit about html. Can any of you recommend any useful resources (either in print or online) that would help me in my quest?

Underneath The Overhead?

I was originally going to add this to the comments on this post of Eloon's but then it got too large for that so I've made it a post of my own instead:

"David Blaine - Above The Below" is surely one reality TV show too far. The guy's going to be in a box. Up in the air. With no food. What's to watch?

*slips into really deep geordie accent a la Marcus Whatsisname*

Daee Wun. Eight Forty-Five P.M.
David Blaine climbs into a perspex box in front of an audience of three men and a dog. He gives the crowd a GMTV stare until the lid is closed and he is lifted off the ground.

Eight Fifty p.m.
The crowd wanders off looking for something better to do. David Blaine settles down for his first night Above The Below...


Daee Twelve. Naan Fifteen A.M.
As the thousands of commuters heading for work pass underneath him, David Blaine desperately tries to catch someone's eye. Suddenly, one of the commuters looks upwards and sees The Box. He stares for at least half a second before shaking his head sadly and hurrying off to his office.....


Daee Twenty-Tooo. Wun P.M.
David Blaine has not drunk any water now for over ten hours. I asked several passersby why they thought that was.

Passerby 1 - "Well it's obvious innit? He's, like, protestin', right, that nobody's watchin' 'im, innit?"
Passerby 2 - "Maybe he's just not very thirsty?"
Passerby 3 - "Sorry, David who?"...


Daee Thirty-Seven. Tooth-Hurty A.M.
David Blaine has not moved for more than forty-eight hours and has not drunk anything in over tooo weeks. There is absolutely no speculation as to why because nobody else has noticed yet...


Daee Forty-Four. Seven-Thirty P.M.
After six and a half weeks in The Box, David Blaine is just half an hour from freedom. The crowd is even bigger than when he went in because of a couple of drunks who have taken up residence on a bench nearby. David Blaine has not moved at all since ten P.M. on Daee Thirty-Four.

Eight P.M.
The Box is lowered to the ground and the lid is removed. Just as a doctor is about to check for a pulse, David Blaine leaps up.

"Haha! Fooled you all!", he says. "You all thought I was dead, didn't you!?!"


*gets rid of accent*

Thought? No, David, we haven't thought of you at all.
Via Eloon:

What Is Your Battle Cry?

Sprinting over the plains, swinging an oversized scalpel, cometh Dave! And he gives a gutteral bellow:

"For the love of beatings, I come like a storm and lay waste like a hurricane!"

Find out!
Enter username:
Are you a girl, or a guy ?

created by beatings : powered by monkeys


Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Short post

Right, I'm done with writing long, involved posts for a couple of days now. I'll carry on with the "On..." series at the weekend.

On Bullying

I was going to write my piece on religion today but watching Breakfast this morning I saw that the government is launching a new initiative to tackle bullying so I thought it would be a good time to talk about that instead.

I was bullied while I was in junior school and for the first three years of secondary school as well. It was never anything too serious; verbal, mostly name-calling, rather than physical, which is a lot less than some kids I knew got.

At junior school I was called 'Posho', primarily because my parents had had the gall to teach me to speak properly (i.e. without dropping my t's and h's), which just wasn't the done thing in Stevenage even twenty years ago. I don't think the bullying there lasted through the whole four years I was there but I don't remember when it stopped. I do remember getting upset about it when I was at home but I kept fairly tight-lipped about it even there. I'm sure my parents knew something was up but exactly what they knew, I can't say.

The reasons behind the bullying at secondary school were different, largely because the school was on the other side of town and only one other kid from my primary school went there too. There the reasons were that I was one of the most intelligent boys in the year and at the same time utterly unable to deal with being bullied, probably because of what had gone on before. The kids looking for some reason to feel superior to me therefore turned to bullying. Again, it was mainly name-calling and in time I developed rudimentary ways to cope with it. I began to bottle all my feelings up inside until I could contain them no longer and they all came out in a mass of rage. Often that happened at home.

Obviously, this didn't really work too well. I was still unhappy, at times mildly depressed, and on top of that I was getting angry on a regular basis. Then, one day in my third year, I noticed that the reason I was being bullied had changed. Or at least had evolved into something else. No longer was it just because I was smart. Now it was more because they enjoyed seeing me bottle it all up and then explode.

It was a revelation to me. I finally had a way out. All I had to do was stop reacting and it would all go away. That may sound easier said than done but I did do it. Initially I was still bottling it up but my new-found knowledge stopped me from losing my head, at least at school but as the bullies lost interest in me it got easier and easier until finally it went away altogether.

Since then I've found out that I don't need to bottle anything up. If someone says something about me that I don't like I just ignore it. Let them say it. What harm can it do me?

In general, bullying is a tough nut to crack. It's done for all sorts of reasons, by different types of people and to various kinds of victims. The fear and shame of the victim often keeps it secret and even if someone is told it can't always be proven and dealt with. It's also an issue with a lot of grey areas. How do you define bullying accurately? Is it when the actions of the bully are intentionally malicious, even if the victim doesn't see it that way, or is it when someone feels victimised, even if the 'bully' didn't mean it like that. Or is it something else entirely? At what point does a fun nickname become the tool of a bully? When does friendly play-fighting become physical abuse?

And that doesn't even begin to address the problem itself. How do you get a victim of bullying to open up and admit it? How do you then stop the bully from doing it? I rarely admitted it to anyone at the time and found my own way of dealing with it but then I wasn't bullied in any serious way. What do you do if the victim is seriously depressed, even suicidal? What if it’s physical as well as mental abuse? What if they are an adult rather than a child?

There are so many questions and, it seems, too few answers. I just hope that if my children are ever bullied, I will notice that something is wrong and be able to take steps to put it right.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

On Numbers

As I’ve mentioned once or twice already, numbers are my game, what I’m good at. They’ve always fascinated me. When I was very young I refused to learn to read until I went to school and nothing my parents did got me to change my mind. I can be a stubborn little git when I want. :-) Numbers, though, were a completely different matter. By the time I was four I could count to any number a four-year old could conceivably come across and found basic arithmetic easy. If someone had told my parents then that fifteen years later I’d be at university studying for a degree in maths, they would not have been very surprised.

Numbers are all around us and in everything we do. The computer I used to write this post runs on numbers, for example. Try as you might, there are very few things in this world that you could explain without using some sort of number that would not be explained more simply with it. Numbers are part of nature.

We use many different numbering systems without even thinking about it, such as the bizarre system we use to split time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years or those that describe height or weight. These systems seem over-complicated when compared to one of the simplest of all, the decimal system, yet we resist any efforts to change from imperial measurements to metric. Why is that? It’s certainly not because the new system is too difficult to use. Is it, then, because we think it’s too difficult to learn?

The thing that fascinates me most about numbers is that, despite them working in clear, predictable ways, they can throw up the most surprising results. Like the fact that you can never predict which numbers are prime (other than that they must be odd if they are larger than 2), or that if you pick out 23 random people the chances are better than even that at least two of them will share the same birthday. That second one goes against what most would consider logical argument but it is true.

Take the Fibonacci series, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…, where each number is the sum of the previous two. You may think that arithmetic is a creation of the human mind and that this series, made by adding its own elements together, is therefore unnatural. If that’s the case, why do they crop up again and again in nature? The number of leaf points on a fern frond and the number of petals on a flower are usually Fibonacci numbers; anything else is the exception, not the rule. How, then can the series be a man-made invention?

The Fibonacci series has other odd properties. For example, if you take any four consecutive numbers in the series, multiply the second and third together and subtract it from the product of the first and third then the answer is either 1 or –1. In fact, if you take the first four numbers the answer is 1 but if you take the fours numbers starting on the second 1 (i.e. 1, 2, 3 & 5) the answer is –1 and it keeps on alternating every time you take the next starting number. And that’s not something I’ve seen in a book, I have proven it myself.

That’s another of the things I love about numbers (and mathematics in general). These surprising results are accessible to us if we know how to get them; we don’t always have to rely on books to know that something is true. And there is a great deal of satisfaction in proving to yourself that something is or isn’t true.

I could go at even greater length about this subject (believe me, it’s been a struggle to keep it this short) but I don’t think I’ll bore you any longer. I think you’ll know by now that I’m more than a little passionate about it.

A couple of Grauniad links

What do get for the friend that has everything? How about a pack of Iraq's Most Wanted playing cards? Or some Saddam Hussein toilet roll? These and more can be found here.

A good article on the future of blogging by the author of plasticbag.org. If the numbers of blogs explode as many people expect it too (and who am I to argue, I'm one of the many new bloggers) then how do we go about finding the content that we want amongst all the irrelevant information? Could blog search engines be created to search for specific posts? Would a central library of blogs, with descriptions of content, style etc., help you to find the ones you want to read? Do you have any better ideas?


I've got tons of work to do. Most of it was needed yesterday or last week, the rest by the end of the month and I'm probably going to be out of the office for two weeks before then. The last thing I need is to have to fix a problem in a system designed by a guy who works in a different subsidiary of the company, is generally unhelpful because it's nothing to do with him any more and is on holiday for two weeks. There's no documentation on how it all works and I have very little working knowledge. If he'd told me on Thursday when I last talked to him that he was going away then I would have moved heaven and earth to get it sorted by the end of last week, but no. Now I've got to flounder around and see if I can fix it without any real idea of what I'm doing. While the rest of my work just piles up beside me.

And I'm developing a major headache. It is not a good day.

Public Service Announcement

Do you have trouble parking? Do you wish someone or something else could do it for you? Well, look no further because I have the answer to your prayers.

Clear Blue Skies presents to you, the amazing Self-Parking Car.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Yesterday was a very poor TV day so, since L and I couldn't be bothered to go out anywhere, we decided to spend the day watching films. Though we started with the one of the best films ever made, things unfortunately went downhill from there.

First up was the Shawshank Redemption. I'd not seen it before and was quite literally blown away. A thoroughly excellent film from beginning to end and one I wish I'd made the effort to watch earlier. Excellent perfomances from all the cast and a storyline that keeps you interested until the end. It now rates as one of my favourites of all time.

Next came This Year's Love, another I hadn't seen before. A comedy of relationships going sour in Camden with a great cast. It has a few inspired moments and overall is a good, fun film with depressing undertones.

Lastly, and most definitely least, we stopped watching videos and turned onto Channel Five for The Avengers. I decided soon after the beginning to read my book while this was on and still saw enough to know that it has to be one of the worst films ever made. What made people like Sean Connery and Eddie Izzard even consider acting in it I'll never know. Poor even by Five's standards. :-)

Bonus viewing: Rosemary and Thyme, ITV's latest feel-good detective series. I feared this would be the usual sort of Sunday night fare from ITV, syrupy sweet and rose-tinted but I was pleasantly surprised. Pam Ferris and Felicity Kendal were both good and the show, though it could never be called gritty, did at least have some substance. Unless Channel Four decide to put the West Wing back on Sunday nights, I may well watch it again.

Normal Service (2)

Announcement heard at Bank station on the way home this evening: (in posh, recorded message type voice)

"The Northern Line is running normally this evening."

What does it say about the state of the tube if they have to announce that there aren't any problems on it, hmm?

Normal Service (1)

The bloody internet access at work was up the spout almost all day and was there any hint of an explanation? You've got to be joking. Don't they realise people have serious blogging to do? Oh, and work, of course.

On Optimism

I think the inspiration behind the name of this blog would be a good place to start this series of "On ..." articles. I went through many names in my head and, as I mentioned in a comment sometime last week, I almost settled on 'Obscured by Clouds'. However, I decided that wasn't really me because it has a slightly negative, pessimistic vibe to it and I'm a optimistic sort of guy. That lead, quite naturally, to Clear Blue Skies, which I knew immediately fitted perfectly and which grows on me more and more each day.

I haven't always been an optimist. When I was younger, and bullied at school (more on that another day), I had a fairly bleak outlook on life. I was unhappy, even on the edge of depression once or twice, and unable to see it getting any better. The very model of pessimism. That gradually changed as I grew up. Life had already started to go my way but I got a big boost when I went to University. There I was able to start all over, make new friends who accepted me for who I was rather than who I had been years before and I found out that I actually liked myself.

My outlook changed dramatically during the four years I was in Manchester and Mainz. First of all it was 'que sera sera', an acceptance of what was heading my way without any thought to whether it was good or bad. That slowly became the belief that whatever else happened, there would always be good times, a thought to keep my spirits up when times were bad. Falling in love twice while I was there, falling into job after job (each one better than the last) since I left, moving into London and getting engaged and married has since moulded me into the optimist I now am. Life is going to keep on getting better. I just know it.

I know all the reasons for having a pessimistic view of life, "I'll never be disappointed" etc., but I don't think much of them any more. How can you ever truly enjoy the happy moments if you believe worse is round the corner? How can you pick yourself up when you're low if you don't think sunny days are ahead? No, pessimism isn't for me any longer, it's optimism all the way, now.