Friday, 31 October 2014

The Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living

At the turn of this century, the Dalai Lama issued the following eighteen rules for living.

Rule 1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

Rule 2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

Rule 3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.

Rule 4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

Rule 5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

Rule 6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

Rule 7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

Rule 8. Spend some time alone every day.

Rule 9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

Rule 10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Rule 11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

Rule 12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

Rule 13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

Rule 14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

Rule 15. Be gentle with the earth.

Rule 16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Rule 17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

Rule 18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

Wouldn't life be so much better if people stopped being so self-serving and followed these rules?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Got the blues

This year the Nobel prize for physics was awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their invention of the blue light emitting diode.
This paved the way for a whole new generation of energy-saving lamps that we now see in our everyday lives; domestic lighting, TVs, car headlamps, and even the humble flashlight has benefited from their work.
Unfortunately, it's still the same old story of inventions made for good but also used for evil. In the same way that nuclear fission provided a way to generate massive amounts of energy to fuel our increasing demand for electricity but also led to the most horrific and devastating weapons in history, the blue LED which was intended to make our lives better has also proved to have a more sinister side. Allow me to explain.

Take a look around any electrical retail store and you'll see the problem immediately. The blue LED has found its way into anything and everything that consumes electricity.
My microwave has a blue display that sears your retinas when you're trying to set the time, the numbers on my blu-ray player are distracting, and my toaster lights up my face blue whenever I fancy Marmite on toast.
Nearly every PC and monitor at work now has power buttons and even fans illuminated with the damn things, and if you've tried to buy a new car stereo in the last few years you'll have been confronted by a literally dazzling array of what appear to be blue disco lights.

As soon as the blue LED arrived on the consumer market it became 'cool', so it was inevitable that the world's tat merchants would fall to their knees in reverence for this new-found tool for flogging their unnecessary shite to an unsuspecting public.
Remember when the roads were suddenly full of youths with blue LED windscreen washers on their cars? These were just the start, but at least you knew if the person behind you at night was a nob-head.
There's no part of car culture that hasn't been abused with the blue LED, and I still don't understand why. When all we had was red or green LEDs we didn't see all the crap that we have with the blue ones. With the exception of the Aston Martin Lagonda and KITT from Knight Rider I'm struggling to think of any car that put non-blue LEDs to great use. Certainly not in the way that the Barry-Boys do with the blue ones.

There will be no escaping this phenomenon shortly as the shops go for the big pre-xmas push, filling the aisles with all kinds of tasteless crap of which at least 80 percent will be illuminated by blue LEDs. Now as I've said many times, I hate Christmas, but even I can't help but think blue lights are about as unfestive as it's possible to get. Blue light is cold and clinical and does nothing to give a sense seasonal warmth and togetherness that so many consider to only be important for a couple of weeks of the year, so why do they do it? If it's not bad enough to produce a two foot shiny silver xmas tree that sings and dances when you walk past it, they go and cover it in flashing blue LEDs. Talk about the final nail in the coffin......

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Devil's Work

There are definitely some inventions that the world would be a better place without. Things that are a constant source of irritation; whose only purpose seems to be to make our lives awkward, stressful or simply downright unpleasant.
Some of these things surround us in our everyday lives, and some we even bring into our own homes in the mistaken belief that our lives will be somehow enriched. We only need to flick through the Betterware catalogue for evidence of this.

Now I'm not going to go on here about the annoyances caused by other people's actions - that would take an eternity to write, resulting in a series of books that would occupy more bookshelf space than the whole Harry Potter collection.
Instead I want to point an accusatory finger at inanimate objects that were probably intended to either make life easier or entertain us, but instead serve only to make our lives a misery.
In my previous post 'Supporting Role' I mentioned the padded bra, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Let's take answerphones as an example. Someone probably phoned a work colleague and had to leave a message for his secretary to pass on rather than keep calling back, and thought it would be wonderful if everyone who didn't have the benefit of a secretary could have a similar service. As a result we have a device that gets you all flustered when you're connected to it so you either end up leaving an unintelligible message littered with 'erms' and 'ums', or doing as I always do and just hang up. If you're silly enough to own such a thing, all you do is rack up a huge phone bill calling back the people that left bizarre messages full of 'erms' and 'ums'.

This brings me nicely to the mobile phone (or cellphone if you're American), which has become an almost essential part of modern life, giving people the opportunity to keep in touch, and with the advent of the smartphone to have the world at their fingertips wherever they may be. The downside of this is always being contactable (unless you switch it off), patchy reception, mystical abbreviations in text messages (the younger the sender the weirder the message), unwanted texts and cold-callers, and the emergence of a new breed of idiot who wants to deliberately bend a new iPhone.
 Indeed, much of the technology we use every day has a down side. Our computers, smartphones, tablets etc have gradually changed the way many of us live our lives. We don't go out shopping so much because we can buy everything we need from the comfort of our sofa. Social media has made us less sociable than ever, and when you do meet up with people they still spend half their time with their phone in their hand checking for Facebook updates.

There's Dyson vacuum cleaners that cost a fortune but are about as reliable as a secondhand Lada, and blu-ray players that take so long to start up that you could have chucked a tape in an old VHS machine and watched the film before the blu-ray has got beyond the menus.
Anything involving Bluetooth is a waste of time because even if you do ever get it to communicate with another device the transfer rate is so slow it would be quicker to write the pages of ones and zeros by hand and send them by second class mail.

The kitchen is always a target for gizmos that promise to take the hard work out of your culinary endeavours, and we've all been sucked into buying these things at some time or other.
I've lost track of all the garlic presses that have made it take ten times longer to deal with the garlic than just chopping it finely with a sharp knife.
And what about the poorly designed mug trees that fall over if you dare to remove a mug and upset the balance?
Then we have microwave ovens that heat the bowl to roughly the same temperature as the core of a nuclear reactor while your soup remains stubbornly tepid, toasters that are impossible to clean properly, and food processors that claim to do twenty jobs but only do two of them effectively and the additional washing up takes longer than it would have taken to do the job without it.

Our cars are not exempt from this problem either. If I want to start the engine before putting on my seat belt I do not want the car to make horrible beeping noises at me until I comply with its desires, and if I wish to put my bag on the passenger seat I don't want the car to have a hissy fit because it thinks there's an unbelted passenger sitting there. I got so pissed off with this I went under the seats and disconnected all the sensors to make it shut up.
I don't want a car to decide when I need to switch on the lights or the wipers, I don't want my seat heated so that I think I've wet myself, and I don't want a big red light telling me I'm two weeks overdue an oil change. Yet the car manufacturers seem to think we need all these things because we're obviously too stupid to work it out for ourselves, so unless you go for one of the few bargain basement grot-boxes you get saddled with all this unwanted crap by default. In many cases it's just technology for the sake of it.
Personally all I want is a throttle pedal connected to a carburettor by a mechanical cable, a bunch of switches for the essential electrical stuff, a decent stereo and a comfy seat. An old Jaguar XJ12 would do very nicely thank-you, not a modern sensory deprivation chamber sponsored by Microsoft.

I'm going on a bit here, but I still feel I've barely scratched the surface. I'm sure other people have their own list of items from Satan's workshop that they feel they'd be happier without, and I'd enjoy hearing about them.
In the meantime, I still need to find a way to effectively clean my julienne peeler without shredding either the dishcloth or my hand.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Supporting role

Oh well, there goes the diet. I managed about ten days of enforced denial, counting the calories in everything and limiting myself to about 1200 calories a day. The result? Misery. There's only so much water you can drink to flush away the stomach acid that's queuing up to set to work on the usual pile of biscuits and sausage rolls that normally descends in the evening. I did manage to shed 3 or 4 pounds, but the resolve failed completely tonight when we had a curry delivered. Sometimes you just can't help yourself.
So I'm sitting here full of lamb bhuna, mushroom pilau rice, onion bhajee and peshwari nan, contemplating swapping my jeans for a pair of elasticated tracky bottoms; something with a bit of give to accommodate both the food and the inevitable build-up of noxious gasses that will ensure the duvet will be floating six inches above the bed tonight. Worth it though.
The diet isn't my only failure recently. Apparently it was national 'No Bra' day yesterday, and I was completely unaware of it until it was too late. I think most people missed the memo on that one, because I suspect that of all people I would have noticed such behaviour. The idea was that women everywhere would go braless for a day to raise awareness of breast cancer, but clearly the concept of publicity had passed the organisers by.
As appealing as this idea is to a boob fan such as myself, I wonder what would really be accomplished by it. Everyone is aware of the existence of breasts and breast cancer, so what else is there to say? Any woman who doesn't know about self-examination etc is either stupid or living under a rock cut off from the rest of the world.
Obviously I applaud anything that might coerce women out of those awful padded bras which are the scourge of the modern world, spoiling the fun for men everywhere, but on the other hand there are some who would be advised to make more use of such things. I know one woman who never wears a bra, which combined with her being of mature years means she appears to have something resembling a pair of spaniel's ears under her shirt.
If 'No Bra' day did actually make a difference, you can be sure it would expand to cover other aspects of personal health. In the same way that having started off with 'mother's day', we're now surrounded by 'father's day', 'grandparent's day' and all manner of other opportunities to crow-bar a few more quid out of all the country's gullible inhabitants in return for a silly bit of printed card that will be in the bin the following day.
Perhaps we should have 'No Underpants' day to raise awareness of testicular cancer? Or maybe 'No Shoes' day to bring verrucas to people's attention?
With a bit of ingenuity there's room here for us to have a special awareness day every week of the year, but hopefully the subject of hemorrhoids can be avoided because I dread to think what such a campaign would involve.

I... errr.... sorry, what was I supposed to be more aware of?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Global warnings and mental pollution

 With the deluge of tree-hugging catch phrases such as 'global warming', 'climate change' and 'eco-friendly', there's no doubt that the whole environment issue is a real hot potato.
The amount of research that has and still is being done is generating such enormous amounts of conflicting data that it's hard to know which side of the fence to sit on.
To me the most persuasive argument says that the planet has been through periods of climate change many times in it's history (lots of geological evidence) and the current shift is just part of this natural process. The influence of mankind with all it's industry, cars, planes and vast herds of flatulent cows is so trivial it's like having a sly wee whilst swimming. In the Atlantic.
Everyone is saying we all need to do our bit to save the planet and stop consuming so much of the planet's resources. They've stopped selling tungsten light bulbs, forcing us to buy either fluorescent ones, most of which have only reached optimum brightness just as you switch them off because you've done what you needed to, or prohibitively expensive LED ones.
We run economical (and therefore dull) cars because the government want to squeeze us for as much tax as possible on fuel, and we recycle as much of our waste as we can otherwise we get hippies wagging their fingers at us while giving us a disapproving glare.
Interestingly there is a flip side to this. We are no longer encouraged to fix anything when it goes wrong - just chuck it away and buy a new one. Indeed many things appear to be specifically designed to not come apart and are covered with 'No user serviceable parts inside' labels.
We're encouraged to ditch our old 'dirty' cars and buy a nice environmentally sound new model, without any mention of the carbon emissions associated with the production of a new car being enormous compared with keeping an old one going.
This is especially true of electric cars which have the added issues surrounding the manufacture of all the lithium batteries. I'm not knocking electric cars - I'd love to have a Tesla Model S - just pointing out the downsides, like the battery leasing costing just as much as I spend on petrol demonstrating that the whole money saving idea is utter bollocks. Not to mention that unless you have a small solar farm in your back garden, the 'cheap' electricity you're using to charge your car is just shifting the pollution from your tailpipe to the power station which in all likelihood is powered by burning fossil fuels.
Spending too much time worrying about this stuff is a waste of time, and it's not really the sort of pollution that gives cause for such concern.
It's my belief that the biggest source of pollution in our lives (apart from my bottom after consuming too many onions) is advertising.
You can't escape it, no matter how much you hide away. OK, if you decided to live under a rock in the middle of Australia's Great Victoria Desert you might escape it, but you'd get very bored and thirsty for a while before you got bitten by something poisonous and died a slow and agonising death, which a bit of an extreme solution to avoid someone who's trying to sell you dodgy household gadgets you never knew you needed via a catalogue shoved through your letterbox.
We're assaulted on all sides with advertising. TV is obviously the big one, and I've noticed that on the rare occasion I try to watch something on one of the commercial channels, they all show adverts at the same time. In the middle of a documentary about sharks or something, the ads come on so I do a bit of channel-surfing to find something more interesting while the rest of the world is trying to sell me a holiday in Dubai. No hope. All the channels do it at the same time so no matter where you go, you'll inevitably come face-to-face with the 'Compare The Market' meerkats.
I've always found TV adverts annoying since we had the 'Shake & Vac' woman back in the 80's, and when that diabolical opera-singing fatso started telling us to 'Go Compare' I lost the will to live. Seriously, what fuckwit committee came up with that one, eh? And as for the habit of showing ads just five minutes after the programme has begun and five minutes before the end, just don't get me started...
This is why I only watch BBC channels where possible, because the only thing they ever advertise is themselves.
The radio has the same problem. In these days of DAB radio there are plenty of stations to suit whatever musical taste you may have. But every couple of songs you're assaulted by commercials for companies you've never heard of trying to convince you to buy double-glazing. The other day one came on advertising a new housing development with "...affordable housing from only £349,000 pounds...". I couldn't believe what I was hearing - in whose world can 350K be considered affordable?
Both of these media are experts at making the most of any marketing opportunity, especially on the run-up to Christmas. This is just one reason why I hate Christmas, or 'The Annual Commercial Festival Of Greed And Gluttony' as I like to call it. Every time you turn on the TV there's some prick telling you to buy a new sofa for Christmas. What the hell does a sofa have to do with a religious festival? According to the Bible Jesus was laid in the donkey's food basket, not a DFS leather recliner.
My biggest pet hate when it comes to advertising though, has to be the cold-calling on the phone - especially the recorded messages about PPI and anything that begins with some American woman with a southern drawl saying "Congratulations!". I know they can't hear me, but shouting "Fuck off!" down the phone and hanging up does at least make me feel a little bit better. It's getting so bad I'm considering changing my number.
When I want or need something, I'll go and find it. I really don't need to be brainwashed and force-fed adverts for stuff, and the more they try and the more irritating the advert is, the less likely I am to buy the product.
As a firm believer in karma, it's my opinion that along with all the murderers and rapists, the last circle of hell is populated by advertising executives. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.
And here endeth today's rant.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

On The Buses

Last week was my personal experiment on the viability of using public transport for work. The hope was that I would be able to cope happily with this method of commuting and be able to get rid of one of the cars and it's associated running costs; not to mention my hope of finding a way to enjoy driving again by not doing the same boring route every day for work. On the face of it, it makes good economic sense. Although a weekly bus ticket costs just a couple of quid more than I usually spend on petrol, eliminating one insurance premium, MOT, tax, and servicing would put me up on the deal.
The one stumbling block I could foresee was my issues with walking any real distance. After the bike crash last year and the major knee surgery that followed, my favourite passtime of long walks in the countryside came to a sudden halt. So although the three quarters of a mile each way from the bus station to work and the third of a mile from home to the bus stop doesn't add up to much for most people, for me it necessitates the use of a walking stick, ibuprofen and on a bad day some codeine as well.
However, with my usual level of determination to beat anything that's trying to stop me doing something I want to do, I thought I'd give the bus a go for one week to see if I could make it work for me.
The straightforward conclusion is that it would. The exercise from the walking is a good thing, and not having to drive in rush hour traffic (especially when it involves Cambridge) has proved to be a fabulous way of reducing my stress levels. These are positive points, but until I've had my next surgery to remove all the bits of metalwork from my knee to stop the tendons and muscles grating across them, the pain outweighs these things.
Bus travel is sort of interesting though, particularly as it's a great way of playing my favourite sport - people watching. It really is fascinating, the spectrum of individuals you see both on the bus and at the bus station. There are the regulars who have their own little club and always sit together and chat. Invariably these groups consist only of women, because men are too concerned that any attempt to converse with another passenger might be misconstrued as sexual harassment or assault. I'm certainly not immune to this and prefer to retreat into my iPod or book and hope that nobody sits next to me especially as the seats are so damn narrow, forcing you to violate each others personal space. If you had to get any closer you'd need a condom.
This wouldn't be so bad if it was a cute 30 year old brunette with a liberal attitude to clothing, but with my luck it's usually some bloke with earphones so loud I can hear them above both the bus noise and my own music, who squashes me against the window making it hard to breathe, or a pensioner with many bags and the distinctive whiff of Murray Mints.
It doesn't need the other person to sit right beside you to make life unpleasant though. On one occasion the offending article in the form of a bloke with a heavily worn complexion and hair that seemed to have been styled with lard, sat in the seat in front of me. He was accompanied by an overwhelming odour that seemed to be a mixture of grease, sweat, and possibly decomposing flesh.
When he reached up to close the window, closing off any hope of fresh air, I had no choice but to move. Unfortunately the only seat left with any space around it was the horrible one in the middle of the back seat, but anything would be preferable to spending the next hour sitting near Mr Whiffy.
On the whole I think the benefits of bus travel over driving make it a good proposition, and I suspect that by this time next year it will be my commuting method of choice. But until the surgeon has made my knee fully operational and pain-free I guess I'll have to stick to dealing with the frustration of driving myself in the horrible dark wet winter weather with Audi man two inches from my back bumper as usual.