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Friday, June 28

a fight over a toilet

Today (Friday) I found myself leaving a place before a fight kicked off that I would have been tempted to get involved in. The place? A public toilet. The cause? Queue jumping. Only in Britain could a fight kick off over such a minor issue.

Someone walked into the toilets and just barged right into a cubicle, ignoring the queue that had already formed. Normally if this happens, Brits are too reserved / polite / shy / downright cowardly to question it. In this instance, someone did point out to the offender that there was a queue. Normally if this happens, the offender would just look embarrassed, try to pretend it was all a mistake, and join the back of the queue. In this instance he not only refused, but gave some ludicrous half-justification along the lines of but I've just walked in before you so I'm in now and you can't do nothing about it. As this argument continued, I found myself tempted to play arbitrator. I then found myself feeling like Homer Simpson in one of those scenes where Homer talks to Homer's Brain and negotiates what to do next. There are some important differences - I have more than 3 strands of hair, I am not bright yellow, and I hope I'm less fat and less stupid than Mr. Simpson - but hopefully the image might mean something to you. This was the gist of the conversation:

Eldan: That guy's being a right arsehole - I should do something about it.
Eldan's brain: He's being stubborn enough that it will probably result in a fight - I could do without that, and it's not worth it for either a toilet cubicle or a minor point of principle.
Eldan: But I can't just stand by and watch while the other person, who self-righteous as he may be does have a point, gets a kicking just because he stood up for himself.
Eldan's brain: Stop trying to solve other peoples' problems. He got himself into this situation; it's his problem to get out of it.
Eldan: But he's small and stupid and arrogant and I'm big and have been practicing martial arts for 5 years and I could have him easily and he's asking for it...
Eldan's brain: Fighting = BAD. Objection overruled.
Eldan (as adrenal glands start to function): but... but... but...
Eldan's brain: But nothing. ABOUT TURN! QUICK MARCH!
Eldan's bladder: You bastard! I'm full!
Eldan's brain: I'll find a pub soon enough.
Eldan's legs: Ah cannae push it faster, Cap'n....

Anyway, in spite of having to dash in comical stylee for the nearest pub, and then annoy the bar staff by marching straight to the toilet and straight back out again, I think I did the right thing. The queue-jumper was an arrogant overgrown brat who did deserve a kicking, but it's not to me to provide it.

Oh yeah, and in case you hadn't gathered, I was feeling much better by the end of the afternoon than I did at the start of the day. I even did a little work.
posted @ 5:29 PM -
I decided not to go to work today because I woke up feeling awful. It's mostly cleared up now, but the stiff neck is still vaguely haunting me, and at first this morning I had a killer headache. If I lived near work I might be considering going in after lunch, but as it is I've been there 2 months and not taken a day off, so I may as well regard this as a day's unscheduled holiday. It's nice knowing that no-one depends on me on a day-to-day basis...

I think I needed this rest more than I was willing to admit to myself, because I keep dashing off on the weekend. I've been having fun, but one thing I haven't been doing is recharging my batteries in preparation for another week of long days. More fool me.
posted @ 4:54 AM -

Thursday, June 27

This has been a slightly surreal evening. I've needed a restful evening at home for a little while, which is possibly part of why my body contrived to feign old age earlier in the day, and it has done me good. The bike ride home was murder on the shoulder, because the most painful thing was to look around, but there's no way one can cycle in traffic without looking behind frequently, unless one wishes to die. A long soak in the bath put that one right, as well as just being very relaxing. I haven't given myself enough time over the past week because I've been determined to work hard and socialise, and I'm not quite efficient enough with my time to get away with that.

What made the evening surreal was my flatmates' approach to redecoration and musical entertainment. One of them bought a second hand LP called Tijuana Christmas, which it was insisted I play, because I have the only turntable in thouse, and it all got a bit silly. The thing is, the music seemed to fit Carry On films, so instantly my flatmates turned into Carry On actors. Then Sarah started stripping the inside of their room's door. Cue closing of the door, and a series of noises from the inside that can only be described as reminscent of the Tasmanian Devil. Somehow this was strangely disturbing when we couldn't see the source of these noises, even though we knew exactly what was going on.
posted @ 3:28 PM -
hurrah! My flatmate / landlady has just signed up with an unmetered ISP. I'm still finding the slowness of this connection annoying after having got used to broadband in my last house, but it's still much nicer not having to worry about the charges I'm running up.
posted @ 2:54 PM -
The Morning News is running a wonderful piece about how the music stars how used be dangerous have all become tame, and somewhat, erm, lame. Though saying this makes me feel twice my age, I couldn't agree more. I've heard relatively few new bands who excite me over the past 5 years or so, most of my recent extravagant record shopping spree was for things released before I finished school (if not before I was born), and it really is a long time since any musician shocked me, or any successful musician managed to convey an image of being anything but a product.

I must go to more small gigs with bands I've never heard of - even when the music's not very good there's just more soul in those things, and that evidently counts for more in my book than the average CD buyer's.

Maybe this is the real damage that MP3s and easy piracy have done. I suppose I could be stereotyping too much, but I feel like the people who listen to interesting, diverse music are also the ones who know how to find it without paying, whereas the record companies are finding that neatly packaged products still sell because people with less imagination are more likely to actually buy it. On the other hand, people who discover obscure bands tend to be the ones who also value having the actual album with sleeve / inlay card as the artist intended, so I could be completely barking up the wrong tree.
posted @ 2:15 PM -

Shakespeare action figures

One final distraction on the way out of the building:

I know there's something a bit twee about blogs circular-referencing each others' posts, but please excuse me taking part for once. Scott responded to those social theory action figures I spotted the other day by reviving an idea he had had some time ago: Shakespeare action figures. Drop by to contribute ideas for more.
posted @ 8:46 AM -
I'm about to head home because I don't feel too well. A couple of strange cramps are making me walk like a cripple, and given that one is in my shoulder I figure sitting in front of a computer for more time will only make it worse. I'm hoping that a hot bath will sort me out, or at least that I'll wake up tomorrow feeling better.

Meanwhile, a few small titbits gleaned from the wonderful world wide web:

Nathan Wright sold his soul online.

A mysterious orb has washed up on a South Carolina shoreline.

And finally a more serious one - record companies have apparently started flooding file-sharing services with dud tracks in an attempt to make them less useful for piracy and get some free advertising. Seems like a cleverer plan than going crying to the courts or trying out technological measures that inevitably either fail or make their products less valuable to legit users (like the 'copy-protected' CDs that don't play in many machines).
posted @ 8:32 AM -

Wednesday, June 26

I'm going to visit my friend in Montréal this summer. I mentioned to a few people that I might, then I dithered, then I decided I wasn't going to, but I am after all. As Orbital would have it:

it's better to regret things you have done than things you haven't
posted @ 3:56 PM -
woohoo! Anthony Giddens & Michel Foucault action figures.
posted @ 10:38 AM -
The Oxford Internet Institute is conducting an inquiry into the provision of broadband services in the UK, hopefully to advise future government policy. They have published a set of questions to scaffold discussion on this, which are interesting. Any answers? There will be an HP response to this inquiry, so while I'm not directly involved, any good comments can be passed on.
posted @ 9:19 AM -
well, at least if Turkey had to be knocked out of the World Cup, let it be at the feet of Brazil, let it be an outstanding game of counter-attack after counter-attack, and let them have the honour of being the first team to only concede one goal to Brazil.

Oh yeah, thanks: we got it all.
posted @ 6:28 AM -

The naming of days

Apparently there is a movement afoot to declare September 11th a national holiday in the US and call it God Bless America Day. I won't go into why this is such a terrible idea, because Michelle of a small victory has beaten me to it and frankly written a rather more articulate response than I would have come up with. In comments to that particular post, Miguel of feral living suggests that instead we should call it Holy Fucking Shit Day. I am seriously considering buying holyfuckingshitday.com (currently unclaimed) and donating space under that domain to anyone who wants to put sensible content up there.

Thanks to Andrea for drawing my attention to all this malarkey.
posted @ 3:46 AM -

Tuesday, June 25

Just in case anyone should ever accuse me of doing useless research, just remember: I could be making mathematical models to predict whether toast will fall buttered side down.
posted @ 4:18 PM -
I didn't actually set out to stop talking about football after England were knocked out, but I had devoted too much space to writing about it here, and too much time to reading about it. So, in brief: Saturday's games both went the way I wanted them to, and I started hoping for a Korea v Turkey final, but that's now proved impossible. Still, now that Turkey have got further than England for the first time ever, I am unreservedly a Turkey fan until this run ends. I can't help but think that will be in 14 hours' time at the feet of Brazil, but Turkey are still underestimated by most of the world, and I can still hope.

In slightly related news, Perugia have re-employed Ahn, having impulsively sacked him because he scored the goal that knocked Italy out. Sounds like the chairman saw sense once his temper cooled - this would otherwise have been perhaps the first ever sacking of a player for doing too well.
posted @ 4:15 PM -

Mental Health

When I was too young to really understand the implications, the Tory government of the time came up with the wonderful idea (I am disgusted by fewer of their money-saving initiatives than most of my friends, but this one really was absurd) of cutting the mental health budget by closing asylums. They have finally admitted that it was a mistake, but the statement misses the point and contains a not very subtle distortion aimed at concealing quite how awful the policy was.

I will deal with the distortion first, because it makes me quite angry. The statement speaks of mentally ill people who had fallen between the gaps of a system that by implication is supposed to be otherwise sound and to have served most people well. My experience tells me that this is simply not true - the system was so severely flawed that its failure to support thousands of people was built in, and must have been obvious to its architects.

When I was 16, and this policy was well under way, I did some work experience at a mental institution. On a day-to-day level it was actually quite a rewarding, pleasant job, and the people I worked with were little short of saintly, but the things I learned while I was there made it deeply depressing. In a parallel world, in which I had conducted this work experience before the Care in the Community programme came into being, I would probably have become a psychiatrist, but in this world it was clear that such a career would simply make me depressed sooner or later. Anyway, I learned two particularly important things on that job:
  1. a shocking number of people were institutionalised in the first half of the 20th Century with no mental illness (for things like having a child out of wedlock), and were made mentally ill by the institution, because these were places that fostered dependence and provided less mental stimulation than a prison

  2. while it was clearly a good thing that people were no longer being condemned to that fate, there was no way that the existing patients could be expected to fend for themselves.

The officially stated aim of Care in the Community was to institutionalise only those people who couldn't fend for themselves, couldn't be catered for by day care alone, and had no-one able or willing to look after them in their own homes. The Victorian asylums were to be closed, and the small number of people who still had to be institutionalised were to be housed in the sort of smaller and far more pleasant facilities that groups like Mencap run. While this would save the government a lot of money, it would also improve the quality of life of all but the most severly ill patients, and wouldn't leave them any worse off, so it sounded like a pretty laudable plan.

The reality was rather different.

Initially people were selected for moving out into the community, on a sound basis of picking people whose disabilities were not entirely debilitating, and who had appropriate carers to take on the burden of keeping them well. By the time I became involved, the psychiatrist on site at this particular institution (which I understand is fairly typical) had already sent every patient who could possibly leave away. However, a decision had been made from on high to shut down the ward. If this was a matter of consolidation, and the remaining patients were to be housed elsewhere, it would not have been a serious problem. Everyone knew that this was not what was going to happen. The people were simply told they had no place any more.

Of the patients who were still in the ward when I worked there, most had serious brain damage resulting from birth complications. None could speak. Perhaps half could understand very simple, slow spoken language. Perhaps a tenth could walk unaided. Some had to be restrained because they were a danger to themselves and to others. What my colleagues told me was that many people as badly ill as these had already been sent home to their families, who must have suffered terribly themselves because such people need full time skilled care, not just a mother's love. The patients who were left were the ones who had no traceable family, and when the ward finally closed they would simply be left on the streets. Most would die within weeks, a lucky few would be taken in by the already swamped mental health charities, and the most able would live miserable lives as beggars.

And Liam Fox feels he can talk about a few falling between the gaps!?!

If his party wants to claim that anything has changed since then perhaps they could start by admitting how wrong they got things that time.

As for missing the point, the statement focuses on a very small number of high profile incidents of mentally ill people who should have been in secure hospitals committing horrible crimes. In another article in the same issue of the same paper, Dr. Fox alludes to the fact that the mentally ill themselves suffer because of their poor treatment by government, and that the stigmatisation of mental illness in this country only makes things worse. The trouble is, rabbitting on about the dozen or so people who have been killed by mentally ill people in the past decade obscures the fact that it is a very small problem, compared with the vast numbers (for reasons too complex to go into right now I don't buy the '1 in 4' statistic, but it's still a large enough number that you can count on it happening to at least one person you know) of people who will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, almost all (and I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I believe it to be a fair statement of how bad we are at dealing with these problems) of whom will be cared for totally inadequately.

Meanwhile the current government is doing no better. They are still determined to revive proposals to preventatively detain people diagnosed as mentally ill (ironically bringing back the asylums in a new guise), nothing has been done to educate GPs about mental illness (many people just never get referred to psychiatrists when any psychiatrist would clearly see that treatment is needed), and the charity sector is still doing the government's work. I'll leave the last word with Lord Bragg, the president of Mind, another charity who do excellent work with the mentally ill: We can't just lock people up and forget about them.
posted @ 10:59 AM -

How stupid is Britain?

If someone approached you and said:

Right, so this is how the scam works:

We set up a PO Box abroad and print thousands of professional looking letters with the message that the lucky recipient has won a prize in a draw they never even entered, but they have to send an admin fee to us first before we can release the prize money for them. Then we send them to addresses in the UK, and the suckers will send us money, at which point we cash it all and just disappear.


Would you expect the scheme to work? I would have laughed in that person's face. I've also received a few such letters and thrown them straight out. Yet apparently so many people are falling for scams like that that the tricksters have become a hundred million pound industry. There really is no helping some people....
posted @ 7:40 AM -

Monday, June 24

Paul Ford is a wonderfully talented writer. I've just stumbled across his reaction to the WTC attack, which was rather more articulate than most, but most importantly (from my point of view at least) fairly accurately expresses how I feel when I get sucked into an argument about Israel / Palestine. I have embargoed that subject on my website (even this amounts to breaking my own rules), for a series of not very well explained reasons. The 2 paragraphs of ftrain starting from here might help explain why.
posted @ 4:48 PM -
I've had a good weekend, mostly in Brighton with some time in London too, and now an old friend is down from London, so I'm trying to leave work early today so I actually get to see him. Sorry about the lack of updates, but if I'm working a short day I really need to make it a short and productive one.
posted @ 3:55 AM -

Friday, June 21

cliché bingo

New on unmarked nuclear warheads travel these roads: Football Commentator Cliché Bingo!

New in the life of eldan: time for bed.
posted @ 7:08 PM -
so the USA are out now as well. Today the football has stopped going the way I wanted it to.... I went downstairs to watch the last 15 minutes or so, and thought the Americans looked outstanding, and by far the better team, but it's a funny old game. Speaking of which, the outstanding performance of the day has to have come from the BBC's commentator, who as I was walking out of the auditorium managed to compose a sentence entirely from clichés.

Coming up next week (hopefully in time for the semi-finals) on unmarked nuclear warheads: cliché bingo. Please contribute your favourite football commentator clichés for me to include in the game.
posted @ 7:04 AM -

USA v Germany

I never thought I'd be saying or typing the following:

U.S.A. ! U.S.A. ! U.S.A. !

Gasp as the whole of England becomes filled with USA fans for 2 hours! Cringe as this is all forgotten soon afterwards!

And anyone who thinks the US football establishment is naïve must take note: Bruce Arena clearly understands the mind-games side of football.
posted @ 4:09 AM -
OK, so I was working, but someone just sent me this and it distracted me: India's maddest football fan?
posted @ 4:08 AM -
Just a few final things before I get back to work:

The Guardian on how the footballing world has changed.

David Beckham at Lord Nelson's feet

And a really lovely article from Korea: Let's Play Together Next Time, Chairman Kim!
posted @ 3:52 AM -
Important world news courtesy of peacedividend:

Seal rescues dog, and (presumably not the same one) Seal breaches San Francisco airport security.
posted @ 3:46 AM -
OK, so I can't bring myself to say nothing about that football game. I'm not too upset, partly because how seriously I take football is very selective - unless I'm actually at a game I tend only to take it seriously when the side I support do well - and partly because there's no dishonour for the England team in exceeding expectations and then going to a Brazil who seem to have just found their form. The ref was frankly bonkers, but there's no way he can be accused of denying England the game, having been even-handed in his incomprehensibility. There was a spell of about 10 minutes when I felt like every decision went Brazil's way, but it was straight after Ronaldinho (who had been Brazil's most individually impressive player until then) was sent off for no apparent reason, so I couldn't help thinking the ref realised he'd made a mistake and was trying to cancel it out. I hope that was his last ever international match though.

All this time it's worth remembering that England had one of the youngest squads and youngest starting 11s (except for Seaman, but Martyn only needs another couple of years' experience to be as good) in the tournament. Bring on EURO 2004!

And meanwhile, I'm just hoping Turkey manage to get through to the semis and avenge Rivaldo's ridiculous stunt against them in the group stage by roundly thrashing them. Can't see it happening, but quite a few things that no-one could have seen happening have already....
posted @ 3:35 AM -
England v Brazil
the rest is silence
posted @ 1:42 AM -

Thursday, June 20

Having had that little discussion with an ignorant lady of the Daily Mail reading sort the other day about immigrants, it seems pertinent to point out an article that the Economist ran a few months ago about how immigrant labour is essential for the more dynamic of Europe's economies. This is one of the few situations when I really do wish government would let itself be led by business, but more importantly when I wish the people of this country would apply some reason. You can't accuse immigrants of taking all our jobs when we are gripped by a labour shortage. I know the usual retort - but these are unskilled people and we need computer experts - but people are not born computer experts. In 2 years of teaching IT in one of Britain's whiter towns, one thing I noticed was that a disproportionately large proportion of my students were immigrants or the children of immigrants, because these are the people who actually value education and skills and try to make something of their lives, while the white British people who complain also take their kids out of school to take them shopping, because they place that little value on education. Then they complain that they can't get jobs and these bloody foreigners can. The 'bloody foreigners' who worked their arses off in my classes to make themselves employable got no better, and often far worse (because Brighton's employment situation is rather the reverse of the country as a whole - a very well educated population competing for a small number of good jobs), than they deserve.

I look forward to a day when people start to learn to accept responsibility for their own failings, and stop blaming others.

Update at 1048: Polly Toynbee has a well-argued column in the Guardian about why we do need to tighten border controls at the same time as increasing the number of people allowed to legitimately immigrate, and handling refugees better. By the by it also mentions that 30% of refugees come to Europe with degrees - that's the same proportion as UK adults, putting paid to any idea that refugees are the great unskilled.
posted @ 4:19 PM -
There's a fascinating debate going on in the States about whether hugely obese people should be forced to pay for two seats when they fly. I particularly like the bit about passengers complaining that they were "sat upon" by people overflowing from their seat - captures the image perfectly....
posted @ 3:47 PM -

England v Brazil

Not much to say on this one, just that we can win it, but I'm still not convinced we will. Oh yes, and that there are bound to be plenty of goals - Juninho insists that Brazil will continue to play as they have done so far - with a ferocious attack and pathetic defence. I'm looking forward to it, even in spite of my lack of confidence about the result I want actually happening.
posted @ 3:35 PM -
The Sun is on form today, as is often the case when there's big football coming up. Although it does have some of the usual crap, like a report telling us that our heroes checked into their hotel with confidence, and a truly stunning announcement that the England team will party if they win tomorrow, it also has some very funny picture stories. They've turned Rio's landmark Jesus statue into a statue of, well, Rio, and trawled the web for a mock-up of what the Queen would look like with England fan face-paint.
posted @ 3:39 AM -
According to a report I heard on Radio 5 this morning, the World Cup has not only increased booze sales, as might have been expected, but also herbal tea sales have gone up by 70% and condom sales by 50%. Herbal tea?!? I can only assume that Sven must have been seen drinking some or something....
posted @ 1:19 AM -
I had the mother of all weird dreams last night.

Somehow I was working in an endangered species' park, and a joyrider broke in. He ran amok in the park, with staff (including me) trying to stop him by standing in his way and catching him (it being a dream, the difficulty of catching and holding a car wasn't relevant). Eventually after colliding with one of the giant pandas (who looked like a cross between gorillas and pandas and were dressed in suits) he spun out of control, and overturned his car. Having (somehow) assured ourselves that the car wasn't about to catch fire or explode, one of the other staff and I opened the doors, dragged out the joyrider, and proceeded to give him a good kicking, while he played innocent and said but I didn't hurt anyone.

Must be some significance to all this.... I know that there's a good reason why I've been having spiteful dreams about drivers recently - some sort of arsehole driver encounter happens to me every day or two on the commute to work and back. No idea where the rest came from though.

Every now and then I have an episode of really mundane, boring dreams, and I have to say I prefer the strange ones. It's also a very good sign that I've been programming for 2 weeks and not yet had a dream about that activity. When I used to work from home and basically sit at the computer till I dropped I would dream the continuation of what I had spent the day doing, whereas now that I leave work behind, travel for half an hour, and then do other things in the evening my dreams are free to be random.

A few years ago I thought that working at home was an ideal arrangement, but after doing it for a couple of years and now managing a change of routine, I'm convinced that not only am I unsuited to working at home (I still think it's great for someone more disciplined than me), but also that a certain length journey between work and home (my current one is probably longer than I need, but the 5 minute walk I had to where I used to teach was too short) is psychologically beneficial.
posted @ 1:19 AM -

Wednesday, June 19

Sore losers

It's bad enough that each time Italy lose they go on and on and on about the poor refereeing, but this really takes the biscuit:

Ahn Jung-Hwan, the scorer of the goal that knocked Italy out of the World Cup, has been fired by his Italian club. Not because he wasn't good enough or asked for too much money, but because he has affronted Italian pride and offended the country.

How's that for unsporting conduct?
posted @ 8:18 AM -

Time slips away

I'm about half-way through the development time available for my MSc project. I have a lot left to do. I'm beginning to see how 4 months, which I thought was way more time than I needed, might still not be enough....
posted @ 6:12 AM -

Tuesday, June 18

Poll-tastic

58% of Guardian readers expect England to beat Brazil. Meanwhile, in response to stories about Beckham's hairdresser flying out in the place of his wife, the Times are running a poll in which a slim majority suggest that Samson should keep his hair unchanged.

Oh yes, and <ahem> Graham Poll was the 4th official in the Japan v Turkey game. It's just a poll-tastic day <ducks and runs for cover>
posted @ 7:29 AM -
So Turkey are through. This is good, but I have to say I wish they could have knocked someone else out other than a co-host....
posted @ 1:39 AM -

Monday, June 17

The Date Project is well worth a read because it's well written, describes a plight that I think just about everyone can identify with to some extent, and, well, I feel rather more empathy with its author/protagonist than I probably ought to admit.
posted @ 4:02 PM -
I had a near miss today. With a pigeon. It was strutting its stuff at the side of the road, I approached at considerable speed (downhill section, no traffic, nice bike - I race the cars), and must have been pretty frightening to it (consider the relative size), so it decided to take off and escape in the air. Except that it flew into my path, and not being sure if there might be a car passing me (they tend to pass way too close, at unreasonable speed and without warning) I wasn't willing to swerve. That bird (and I) had a lucky escape....
posted @ 12:52 PM -

It's just like watching Brazil

England can beat them. But it won't be easy, and it certainly won't be a boring game.
posted @ 6:30 AM -

order of posts

A request for feeback:

Now that I've made the separation between days more visually obvious here, I've changed the settings so that within a day the posts are listed oldest-first (though the order looks slightly scrambled to me right now). I'm not actually sure that was a good move. I see the advantage as being that when looking back at past days each day reads more naturally, but there are two drawbacks: the order within days is not consistent with the order of days, and the most recent post is not necessarily visible without scrolling, which could lead people to not notice it's there.

Should I switch back?
posted @ 3:21 AM -

USA 2 - 0 Mexico

and that wasn't some freak lucky result - they were by far the better team.

Well... if there's anything that will make people in England support the USA it's a game against Germany....
posted @ 1:27 AM -

Sunday, June 16

Sorry that last post rambled so much, but I just had to get it off my chest. On to nicer things: I will be rooting for the USA in a few hours' time. Round here that's a fairly uncool thing to say, but it's also true. And now I need to get to bed because I've spent far too long writing here tonight and I'd better get some sleep before work.
posted @ 6:35 PM -

Why is it that so many people are incredibly bad at arguing?

I mean arguing rationally, as opposed to just shouting loud, which is a skill many people have honed even better than I have.

Perhaps I ought to explain why this is particularly on my mind today:

I went to London for a few hours today, to have lunch with my dad for Fathers' Day. This involved several hours on trains, but that doesn't bother me, because it's a route which I normally enjoy travelling (as opposed to the Bristol - Brighton direct line which is so awful that I will travel to Brighton via London in future). One of the reasons I enjoy it is that I normally have a seat booked, and the trains are normally empty enough anyway (I avoid rush hour by default because I have a late start and finish at work, so even on a Friday evening I find the quiet trains) for it to be a quiet, comfortable and relaxing journey. On the way to London this was perfectly true to form - I slept a bit, read a bit, gazed at the pretty hills for a bit, and arrived thoroughly relaxed. The way back didn't work out quite so well.

I wasn't on the train I was booked on, so I had no seat reservation, and for once there were no proper seats free, so I found myself sat on one of the little fold-away seats by the doors. Not a great hardship, but less comfort than I'm used to on that service, and the ends of the carriages where these seats are bounce far more than the middle, so reading was tricky. Anyway, I thought, one of the other reasons why I like travelling by train is that it's often a chance to have conversations with interesting people, and striking up a conversation is much easier when things aren't quite going right with the journey. The other fold-away seat was taken by a lady who was reading a newspaper, or rather failing to read it because of the bumpiness of the ride, so in true British style something as mundane as the state of the track started a conversation.

The conversation soon moved (I always try to take a back seat in these things, because I never want to foist my life story on others (the advantage of this narcissistic page is that I know you've chosen to read it and could stop if you wanted to) and because most talkative fellow travellers have turned out to be interesting), predictably enough, to a general rant about how this country is going down the tube and it's the government's fault. Fair enough, and familiar enough, except that this lady's theory about what the government were doing wrong was that they are apparently inviting in all the criminals from the rest of the world, who clean up off our generous social security system while the people whose families have been in England (oh yes, she kept saying England, not Britain. This is a subtle but important bad sign about where the rhetoric is going) for 500 years get nothing.

At this point I should briefly interrupt myself to explain what asylum seekers (as opposed to other sorts of immigrants, who are treated the same as British people and as far as I could tell were not who she really meant to slander) actually get in this country. They get slapped in detention (oops. Sorry. The official word is reception) centres in the middle of nowhere, to which they are essentially confined. They are given vouchers, giving them no choice of which shops to use, and a similar diet to that of the whole country during wartime rationing. They aren't allowed to work, but they are accused constantly of being work-shy. The government does nothing to help the adults learn English, while criticising immigrants for failing to learn the language. At the moment the kids get to go to local schools (which at least gives them a chance of integrating, another thing the adults are chastised for failing to do), but Blunkett is trying to change that and keep them in special confined schools, where they will meet no British kids, and the teachers will be the only native English speakers they hear. Meanwhile a dole-scrounger who has the good fortune of holding an EU passport gets their rent paid (housing benefit - a noble scheme, but extremely open to fraud), and has a fortnightly cash income. It's not much, and it's no longer easy to get, but it's still better than what asylum seekers have to put up with.

As the anti-immigrant rant became more rabid, and I found it increasingly hard to hold my temper with her (bear in mind that this isn't just an issue I care about for unselfish reasons, but also that the implication that all immigrants are criminals is a personal slur against me and my family), I decided I had to say something. Managing to hold my temper, I decided that rather than argue with her, it would be better to confront her slightly less directly with the hypocrisy of her view, so I pointed out that I was born in Turkey. The response:

But you're not Turkish

I said: I was born in Turkey, that makes me a Turk, though if you really have the patience for the whole story it's much more complicated.
I should have said: Who the fuck are you, after 10 minutes' conversation, to tell me what I am or am not?

She said: But you don't sound Turkish

I said: (beginning to lose patience now) As I already said I moved over here when I was 2. That means I learned English among local schoolkids, so I sound like one of them.
I should have said: I am beginning to suspect that I speak your mother tongue a damn sight better than you do. This is a mark of my intelligence, not my ethnicity or nationality.

She said: But you don't look Turkish

I said: Well if you have all day I could explain my ethnic background, which isn't actually Turkish, but is really quite a long story.
I should have said (but didn't want to bring up Jewishness with someone so obviously both ignorant and prejudiced): Well actually I'm a Jew, and thank goodness that Turkey accepted my ancestors when no Christian country would, because otherwise my ancestral line would have been snuffed out by the Spanish Inquisition. Oh yes, and by the way I actually know where my ancestors lived 500 years ago, whereas I highly doubt that you do, whatever you may claim about being English going back centuries.

Anyway, after a frustrating diversion I managed to get back to the point I was originally trying to drive at, which is that my family and I are immigrants, but far from sponging off the system we have worked hard, earned money and paid taxes. I should have also raised the fact that in a few years of teaching computing I noticed a disproportionate number of immigrants among my students, because they are the ones who are actually interested in making something of themselves, unlike the apathetic Brits, but I really wasn't in enough control of where the conversation went.

She responded to this in the typical way that racists justify themselves when I decide it's not too risky to point out that I am part of the group they hate: ah but you are civilised, you're not like these asylum seekers. Hmmm.... Brits judging how civilised the rest of the world is.... When did any African nation invade huge segments of another continent, try to stamp out its traditional religions and social structures, capture people in the thousands and trade them as commodities, and rape the land for natural resources? And British people feel they can judge how civilised the rest of the world are?!?

Needless to say I didn't actually make that point (though I did stress how few opportunities are actually open to asylum seekers, and she had no answer to that), and I didn't really want to argue, because I knew I'd be stuck with her for another hour so, so I steered the conversation back to Mr. Blair's many shortcomings, which wasn't exactly hard. Meanwhile the train was approaching the first stop, and a woman who looked to be about my age had come out to our section and was waiting for the doors to open, but the train stood outside the station for a few minutes. Xenophobe bitch pointed out that Blair used to be lawyer (I'm not even sure that's correct - I thought he had been a career politician - but she could be right) and that lawyers are all backbiting scum. As chance would have it our newcomer was also a lawyer, and decided that she couldn't just ignore that slur against her entire profession:

Lawyer: I'm a lawyer and I find what you just said very offensive

...repetitive stupid argument cut, but the gist was that both people became more and more agitated, and I became more and more embarrassed, and annoyed that I couldn't even get up and go to another carriage until the train reached the station and the people waiting could get out...

Stupid, blinkered, xenophobic woman who has no concept of how to argue or think rationally: But you don't look like a lawyer

Lawyer: Don't you think that's a little superficial? Just because I'm young and dressed in casual clothes (on a Sunday) doesn't make me not a lawyer. As it happens I work for the Environment Agency's legal department

Dumb bitch: How dare you call me superficial when you hardly know me?

Lawyer: I didn't call you superficial, I just said that judging me by my appearance was superficial

Dumb bitch: I suppose you think you're clever? Well I'm much cleverer than you [obviously.]

Lawyer: I never said anything about that. I just said that I was offended that you had judged me wrongly by my appearance, and wrongly again by my profession

Dumb bitch: Who asked you anyway? I was having a conversation with this chap [points to me, while I'm alternating between trying to look interested in my book and looking sympathetically at the lawyer] and you just interrupted

Lawyer: Well I'm sorry but you had just made a sweeping generalisation that was an insult to me

Dumb bitch: It's a democracy [oh how close I was at this moment to pointing out that what she meant to say was "free country" and if she thought they were one and the same thing then she really didn't have the first clue what she was talking about] and I can say what I like

Lawyer: And I wouldn't want to stop you, but I am also free to answer

Dumb bitch: No you're not. You interrupted a private conversation [with a complete stranger who was rather tired of it]

This pretty much repeated itself three times, until finally the train pulled in at the station. Then the stupid one tried to somehow win with a truly absurd parting shot:

You think you're so clever but I didn't know you were a lawyer because I've never heard of you [there are an awful lot of lawyers in this country. Are you claiming to have memorised the faces of the entire membership of the Law Society?] and besides if you were a real lawyer you'd have given me your name and told me who you worked for [never mind that she had said who she worked for] and anyway I'm much more famous than you, I am ... [sadly I forgot her name rather quickly, but she wasn't someone I had heard of]

For the next hour I was very grateful for my personal stereo, which often proves more useful as an isolation booth than an actual entertainment machine. Then as she left, at the stop before mine, I had the last word (one which I must admit I had rehearsed far too many times before I returned to my normal zen-like state of beign a passenger):

Victoria Beckham is much more famous than you. Does that mean you are less clever than her?

Of course, she had no answer.
posted @ 6:20 PM -
Now on display at Blather: the tragic end of Ronald McDonald
posted @ 5:32 PM -

new look

what do you think?

Having seen this page on many different computer set-ups lately I had come to realise that it was too wide, and took too long to download. The new look improves on both of those things, but have I done enough, or is it still too wide / too slow on your machine? And does it look good?
posted @ 4:49 PM -

Saturday, June 15

This from moorishgirl:

The Beijing Evening News (no website, or at least not in English) managed to publish a story from The Onion as fact, without acknowledging the source. Some time later they finally got around to publishing a retraction.
posted @ 3:13 PM -
Before kick-off I had a bet with some joker in the pub that if England won 6-0 he would give me a Beckham haircut. At half time I was beginning to get a little worried.

I have to admit my skepticism about England's chances has faded slightly today, though there is still the consistency problem that could undo them at any stage....
posted @ 3:06 PM -

Friday, June 14

I'm very pleased by today's World Cup results. Obviously the fact that both host nations have qualified is good, and all the more so if this is how the Japanese choose to celebrate, but I'm also glad the USA have got through, even if it did take some luck in the end. The way I see it means even less predictability to the games that follow, and 3 up-and-coming football nations getting the chance to get more people interested (though as Scott has pointed out it's going to take more than this to break down the American peoples' disinterest in the sort of football that is not [officially] played with hands), get more experience, and possibly prove themselves worthy of more respect than they are getting.

I think most of the UK would agree with respect to the host nations, but there seems to be a strong desire here not to see the USA become a strong footballing nation. I have to admit I don't understand why. I guess it's just another part of this country's very odd relationship to the US - while copying America in almost every respect, including very unhealthy trends like the obsession with out-of-town superstores, driving everywhere, and eating expensive, horrible tasting fast food, most of the population of Britain professes to detest America, American culture and the American people (based on the generalisation that they are all like the scum on Rikki Lake). I think really the British desire not to see the USA do well at football is just part of the same childish anti-Americanism that led to me being told last weekend that I should boycott ASDA because they are now owned by Americans (more justifications were given but they were all a load of ill-thought-out bullshit).

It doesn't make any sense. I didn't revel in the demise of Argentina and France because I have anything against those countries (I've never been to Argentina and I'm rather fond of France); I revelled in their demise because there was such an arrogance about the teams, and because fancied teams going out always makes a competition more interesting. Similarly the fact that I very often criticise the American government or American business ethics (to be precise, the lack thereof in certain large American companies) doesn't mean I have to hold it against American people, nor that I should wish ill on their football team. The important thing there is just that I've seen them play pretty well, contrary to my expectation that they would be a bit of a laughing stock.

Football is not war, it's a game the beauty of which is that for a while we can forget all of the awful things happening elsewhere, and I wish the English would grow up and realise this, especially when it comes to matches against Germany....

Of course there is one thing that would make me wish ill on the USA team: a USA v England tie, but if I've read the match chart right that can't happen until the final, which, let's face it, makes it pretty unlikely....
posted @ 7:29 AM -
...possibly the strangest C tutorial I've ever seen...
posted @ 3:37 AM -

Thursday, June 13

Cycling to work

If you live and work in Bristol and think it might be a good idea to try cycling to work, take a look at BikeBuddies, and if you already cycle to work and would like to help encourage more people to do so please also sign up. Here's the blurb I received via email:

BikeBuddies is a Bristol City Council sponsored service which aims to encourage people to cycle to work or college during BikeWeek. It matches people's routes and allows them to find other cyclists who match their times and journies. It is particularly aimed at encouraging experienced cyclists to get together with new cyclists and to encourage them to give cycling a try.

Please look at BikeBuddies and encourage all the Bristol cyclists you know to register - it's free. Obviously there won't be many matches for the first few ... but it would be great if we could have a core of experienced cyclists registered over the next few days. Then, when new cyclists register they stand a good chance of finding a match.


...and while I'm on the subject of alternatives to driving alone to work, if you are based anywhere in the UK and either drive to work with space in your car or would like to be driven to work in exchange for a share of the cost liftshare.com is worth a look.

Every morning I encounter lots of traffic on the way to work, even though I leave after the main rush hour, and it consists mostly of people on their own in family-sized cars. Needless to say this is enormously wasteful, and I sincerely believe that our cities would be better places if it didn't happen. Here at least are some practical suggestions of alternatives (and if you are not in the relevant area but know of a service that covers where you are please leave a comment with details - it could be useful to someone else).
posted @ 9:08 AM -
One more hurdle has been cleared on the way to Brighton & Hove Albion getting a proper stadium - the city council have voted in favour of the plan.
posted @ 7:49 AM -

what are England's World Cup chances?

Now that England have survived the GROUP OF DEATH people in England seem to be getting rather carried away with the idea that therefore we can win the World Cup. While clearly this championship has been thrown nicely open by France's & Argentina's untimely exits, I have to admit I will still be shocked if England get through to the final. People are talking like we've had a glorious campaign so far, but only the match against Argentina was actually all that impressive (admittedly it was fantastic, but that's just typical England - outstanding some of the time), we have only scored 2 goals, one of which was a penalty, our star players have been the goalkeeper and a defender and we've only won one game. Spain & Brazil are already through, they've won all 3 of their matches, and they are scoring freely. England could beat either of those teams on a good day, but they could also easily lose to Denmark or Accrington Stanley and make themselves look like part-timers in the process.

There is one piece of good news though - not that I like cheering injuries - Denmark's top striker Tomasson is unlikely to play on Saturday. That does a lot to improve England's chances of getting through to the quarter finals, but a team that were really ready to win the Cup wouldn't be relying on the misfortune of others to get through, or preparing for penalties.

Speaking of relying on the misfortune of others, Turkey have qualified, but only because Brazil whipped Costa Rica so comprehensively. It's still good to see them through to the next round though, and they aren't that many steps away from being a great team these days. If Sükür can just get his form back, and the rest of the team can hold their ludicrously short tempers to stop themselves getting booked they would be well on their way....
posted @ 5:10 AM -
what's the difference between the French and Chinese world cup campaigns?

three days
posted @ 3:17 AM -

Wednesday, June 12

Things are looking up for me with respect to two things I was moaning a bit about last week:

Having taken a while to get my teeth into programming again, I've just had 3 highly productive days, and I have a strong feeling that this will continue; it just took me a while to warm up. I'm also producing code that really I should have written a year or two ago, because everything I've done in the past week will be re-usable in future, but it's the first time I've taken enough time over writing it to actually make it good enough to be worth keeping.

I also met up with Dave (the pre-Bristol friend who I recently discovered now lives in Bristol) this evening, which was great. He's also been feeling somewhat out on a limb, so it should be good for both of us to have each other around....

Oh and one more thing: as you can probably work out from the timestamp of this post, I now have a home internet connection. This too is good.
posted @ 3:46 PM -
Scott has drawn my attention to a fantastically venomous article in the Guardian about what exactly is wrong with capitalism. I don't entirely agree with the conclusion - I am a provisional supporter of capitalism because I don't believe anyone has yet suggested a better alternative - but I think it is important to be aware that we work within a system that is severely flawed, and not just cheer on what we have because the alternatives seem even worse....
posted @ 3:29 PM -

bizarre search requests

OK, now the search requests bringing up this page have taken a turn for the ridiculous. nuclear warheads was slightly disturbing, but I had also asked for it with a title like unmarked nuclear warheads travel these roads. However, lately I've been seeing a recurring search for nuclear wallpaper. What the !)(*&%"?

If you are one of these people who searches for nuclear wallpaper, please don't take offence, but please leave a comment explaining what you are actually looking for, because I'm very curious
posted @ 3:27 PM -
Micheal Jackson has plumbed new depths: an appearance at Exeter FC
posted @ 7:26 AM -
Ever wanted to know the Spanish for midfield dynamo or how to explain handbags at six paces to a Spanish-speaker? The BBC have come to the rescue with a handy guide to football commentator clichés for their Spanish-speaking audience. I'm so glad my licence fee funded that....
posted @ 5:27 AM -
Well, it was a boring game, but a great piece of theatre. And another fancied team are going home.

I decided to watch the game at work, which meant arriving several hours earlier than usual. If anyone had been in the city centre at the time I passed through it and didn't know about the football they would be forgiven for thinking that Bristol had an insane work ethic (and a very sexist employment profile) - the streets were full of smiling men in suits, looking excited to be on their way to work at 7am....
posted @ 1:59 AM -

Tuesday, June 11

Is it just me, or is all of Europe (except one country) laughing at this?
posted @ 2:59 AM -

Monday, June 10

Vic Twenty

A new musical discovery, courtesy of someone at work: Vic Twenty writes cute electro pop songs. You can download some of them from here and here. He's playing in Bath on Thursday, so we shall be there.
posted @ 12:05 PM -

The Homecoming

Spending the weekend in Brighton was a very good move, although I think I was also right not to go any sooner. I've been in Bristol long enough now that when I got back the station, and the walk from there to my house were familiar enough to feel homely, but I've not been here long enough for it to actually feel like home or to have close friends around, which is why going back to Brighton was important. From changing trains at Fareham (which is where the slick, comfortable and efficient West Country services end and the boneshaking and depressing South Coast line takes over) onwards there was a very pleasant sense of familiarity. I even felt something positive about the awful trains, just because it felt like I was coming home.

I stayed in my old house, which in some respects is great - everyone who now lives there has lived with me before, and they are some of the people I was most eager to see, plus the house is really central and relatively nice - but also slightly odd, because I still found myself wanting to call it my house. I didn't quite manage to see everyone I wanted to see, but came reasonably close without having to rush around too much. The weather even became summery for an afternoon, so I got my sitting on the beach fix in too.

It's got me thinking about something though: I feel like Brighton is 'where I'm from', and if someone asks me where I'm from and seems to want a short answer Brighton is what I tell them (if they want a long answer I can bore them for a long time with the details, because it's neither where I was born nor where I grew up), but at the same time it's a place I may well never live in again. Bristol clearly isn't home yet, and I'm likely to leave here by the end of the summer, so it probably won't feel like home by that time, and London (which is where I grew up) hasn't felt like home for a while. It seems likely that I won't really have a home town for a couple of years now, just places where people who I want to see live (definitely London & Brighton, and probably Bristol as well). I guess the next place that will feel like home is where I end up doing a PhD, a couple of years into the course. So, anyway, what I'm wondering is what exactly it is that makes a place feel like home? And how much will I be missing out?
posted @ 12:00 PM -

Riddim: a challenge for my gentle readers

Brian, with whom I share an office at work, is developing a system to evolve synthesised music. At the moment he's in an early phase of the development, which involves codifying the 'rules of music', tightly enough that the system throws out anything really unpleasant sounding before playing it to a person, but also loosely enough that it doesn't make everything sound the same. For tone selection it's fairly easy - whether two notes are discordant or concordant can be calculated mathematically, and across a melody it's a simple matter of allowing the system to use any scale, but making sure all notes are consistent within a scale (I don't think the system can write a song with a key change in it, but that also wouldn't be too hard to organise) - but rhythm is proving more of a challenge.

Can anyone come up with a formal definition of rhythm that would class (for example) a Dave Brubeck composition as rhythmic, while still disallowing something that a human listener would consider messy?

I'm pretty convinced that this is a difficult challenge, and not a case of Brian and I both missing something obvious.
posted @ 8:15 AM -

Sunday, June 9

Is this a joke? I have a sneaking suspicion that actually it's not.

Thanks to Adnan for the link
posted @ 2:07 AM -

Friday, June 7

I'm off to Brighton very shortly, which I'm looking forward to lots. Today has been a very good day - England defied my pessimism just as brazenly as they defied my optimism on Sunday and not only won but provided one of the most exciting (not to mention nervous) games of football I've ever seen, plus I've managed to get a lot of programming done today in spite of the interruption, plus I've just discovered that one of my fellow-students from last year (who I last saw at his stag party last autumn) now lives in Bristol, which is great news because it might mean we stop being so useless and actually meet up.
posted @ 8:51 AM -
victory is so much sweeter when it's unexpected....
posted @ 6:25 AM -

national sick-leave day

According to the radio this morning 1 in 5 UK workers have booked today as a day off, and about as many again admitted in a survey that they are planning on calling in sick. The car park here certainly looks pretty empty, even compared to the last two days (a lot of people have taken the whole week off because it's also most schools' half-term), and that's in spite of the fact that both the canteen and (announced this morning) the big 'impress visitors' auditorium will be showing the game on big screens, probably amounting to better viewing than most pubs can offer.

Is it just me or has a single game got the country a whole lot more excited than the Jubilee?
posted @ 3:53 AM -

Thursday, June 6

[geeky post alert] I think today I finally got to grips with pointers. I won't go into technical details, because anyone likely to be interested is also likely to know as much as I can explain, but basically pointers are a technique in C that I've had problems with since first learning the language. They shouldn't be that hard, but until now every complex program I've written has been a class project rushed off close to a deadline, so I haven't had time to tinker with things I'm not totally confident with. This time round I'm taking advantage of having time to learn how to actually do things properly. Even if I don't end up using what I wrote today at all (which is fairly likely) it will be a useful thing to have done....

I suppose I'd better go home now. It's probably good that I put a long day in today, seeing as tomorrow will be cut short by my trip to Brighton and interrupted by two hours of very important business (which is being screened in the canteen at work, because the people in charge are sensible).
posted @ 12:53 PM -

Wednesday, June 5

The world cup has generally been an even better source of entertainment than expected, the England game notwithstanding. Seeing Turkey score first against Brazil was a beautiful moment - I don't really follow Turkey but they sort of are my second team, and with all the weight of expectation on Brazil (even at that point the commentators only just managed to compliment Turkey, focussing instead on Brazil's problems) there was certainly some satisfaction in watching Turkey force the world to pay attention. The Rivaldo incident was ludicrous, and his punishment insultingly light, but then Turkey did play a very rough game so they don't have that much right to complain about getting 2 red cards.

Elsewhere, I'm pretty stunned by the USA beating Portugal. Perhaps I'm guilty both of underestimating USA, just because they haven't traditionally been very good at football, and overestimating Portugal just because they beat England so embarassingly at Euro 2000, but I still think it's been the biggest upset so far.
posted @ 9:55 AM -
It's very odd starting the week on a Wednesday. Good though - I've had a nice relaxing holiday consisting mainly of shopping and wandering around in the countryside, and managed to do the first 5 things on the 6 item list I made last week. I bought a dozen new albums (mixture of new CDs and secondhand LPs), of which only 1 (The Joshua Tree) was actually on my wishlist, plus a pair of speaker stands which have made a lot more difference than I thought they would to the way music sounds in my room. That shopping spree could easily have been justification for spending the next 3 days in my room on my own, but the weather was reasonable (or in other words we thought it was quite nice, but visitors from more southerly latitudes would probably have been unimpressed) so I thought better of that.

Sunday morning saw football get me out of bed early, to listen to Argentina v Nigeria on the radio, and then watch England v Sweden in a pub. In spite of being an intensely frustrating game (England showed enough flashes of skill to prove that they could have won it by several goals, if only they could keep a movement going without making a stupid mistake somewhere or trying to hoof the ball all the way up the field) it was still lots of fun to watch because I found the right place. I found myself in an extremely cheesy bar on the dockside, which I would never set foot in normally, but had the best football atmosphere (and loudest crowd) I've ever seen outside of an actual stadium. The only problem (apart from the English midfield) was that I failed to hook up with anyone I knew, so afterwards found myself wandering around Bristol on my own, desperately wanting someone to talk to. I think really it's pretty normal to not have many friends in a place after only one month, but I've been spoilt in the past as a result of staying in the same town for so long that I had forgotten what this is like, and for the duration of Sunday afternoon it wasn't pleasant.

Things soon picked up though. My flatmate's sister and nephew came over to visit, and we went on a day trip to a little village on the Somerset coast, in the part of the world with particularly silly place names (such as Watchet) and very high Scrabble-scoring names (Quantoxhead). It's beautiful round there, and the nephew is lots of fun (an 8-year-old tornado seems the best way to describe him), confirming my desire to have kids around me while always having the option to give them back. I don't know how his mother finds the energy to cope...

Yesterday I decided to cycle to Bath, which is very nice and easy from here, as there's a disused railway for almost all the distance, so it's virtually flat. I've never actually visited Bath before, and it's very pretty, at the same time as feeling like the sort of place I couldn't bear to spend more than a day. Photos will go up once I have a home internet connection.

As for work, I'm not exactly programming at blistering speed just yet, but certainly today has been a far more productive day than any of last week, and the most important thing is that this reassures me that my rut of last week isn't going to drag on forever.
posted @ 8:56 AM -
how very annoying. I posted quite a lot on Friday, but it obviously hasn't published yet due to some sort of technical difficulties. Hopefully it will appear now.
posted @ 2:47 AM -
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