Wednesday, May 20, 2009

JP talks expenses

I find myself this afternoon sitting very comfortably on a train as I
speed across the country. We all know what this means-I am finally in
a position to break the recent silence in this corner of the
blogosphere.

The topic of the moment is the expenses scandal which is currently
gripping Parliament, and it would be rude for me not to pass comment.
Like most people, it would seem, I am not impressed with the way MPs
appear to have abused the system. Sorry if that disappoints you,
Alasdair.

As many have already pointed out, all this 'within the rules' malarky
is actually missing the point. As public servants, MPs have a duty to
behave morally and fairly and it is questionable as to whether or not
some of the MPs embroiled in this scandal have done that. There must
be many examples of people in government who have been openly critical
about those who have sought to use loopholes in the law to their
advantage; shouldn't MPs be leading by example?

Of course, there is also the question of who made the rules in the
first place. To defend one's behaviour on the basis of it being
within a set of rules influenced by one's self seems highly dubious to
me. This is why I think that the expenses reforms being debated at the
moment should possibly have a delayed introduction. That way, the
thoughts of how it might impact the individuals concerned today might
be of a little less concern and we might be able to hold out more hope
for an unbiased and transparent system in the future.

We've also had the bizarre revelations this week that at least one
Labour MP continued to claim on a mortgage because "he'd forgotten
he'd paid it off." Such people should be removed from their positions
of responsibility immediately. If those of us who are cynical about
the excuse this gentleman made are right to be so, then we're talking
about someone who hasn't got the balls to admit they got it wrong, and
who thinks he can bend the truth and pull the wool over our eyes. The
title of 'honourable' is certainly undeserved, and I would prefer not
to have such a slimy, gutless, cheating person making decisions about
the way this country is run.

On the other hand, let us assume that his wife was right when she
insisted rather emotionally to the press that it was all a genuine
mistake. Let us assume that he did genuinely forget he had paid off
his mortgage. I'm not sure I'd even employ someone this incompetent to
make my tea, and it would be very foolish indeed to trust him to vote
wisely in parliamentary debate.

Amongst the furore though, I can't help wondering how many of those
expressing outrage are more than a little hypocritcal. How many of
those who have written self-righteouss letters in to newspapers have
themselves ordered the most expensive item on the menu just because
their company was paying? How many of these evidently perfect citizens
would actually resist the temptations placed before MPs at the moment?
Everyone is capable of conjecturing from the comfort of an armchair,
but until they've proven that they would do better in the same
situation, those who criticise loudly are only spouting hot air like
their representatives in government.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The God Hypothesis?

I have been lent a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion?”, and in this last few days I have finally found a few moments to start reading it.

It will be interesting to see how strong his arguments are; Dawkins actually states in his preface to the book that if it works as he intends, “then religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”  He alludes to the fact that there will be some who warn against reading the book, but I reason that if my faith is true then I should have nothing to be scared of.  For the record, although my bookshelf now contains a copy of “The Dawkins Delusion?” by Alister McGrath I intend to refrain from reading it until after I have finished Dawkins’ book.  That way, I will minimise any accusation that my thoughts and response to Dawkins may have been indoctrinated or contaminated.

Well, so far, I have opened the book and put it down several times, and I am still not an atheist.  On some of those occasions I have actually read some of the text therein, but despite now being some way through the second chapter I haven’t even had so much as a mini crisis of faith.

To be fair, it is obviously still early days, but I may as well pen a few initial observations for those who are interested.

I have to say that I like Dawkins’ style, and have so far found the book to be eminently readable.  He makes some good points, and although he makes no bones about the fact that he is “attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural,” there are some things which I agree with.  The notion that “there is no such thing as a Christian/Muslim child”  because a child is too young to have made a decision about faith for themselves, for example.

However, I have noticed that the first two chapters do contain a lot which seems to be designed to subtly belittle the idea of believing in God or being ‘religious.’  

A lot is made of the fact that Einstein claimed to be “a deeply religious non-believer” and did not believe in a personal God.  It is a fair point, then, to say that Einstein’s famous “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” might need quoting in context and religious people should not claim him to have been one of their own.  But does the fact that Einstein may have been an atheist mean that I should reconsider my faith?  Of course not.  The insinuation that lots of prominent scientists used the “religion” and “God” in ways meaning something different from what is conventionally meant may or may not have any truth behind it.  But I already know of several great minds who are or were atheists.  Adding a few more to that list is going to make no difference unless someone offers me proof that atheism is the only conclusion an educated person could ever reach.  We’ve been here before, of course, but the fact is, those famous adverts only say there is  *probably* no God…

Which brings me on to the famous Spagehetti Monster or Celestial Teapot idea.  Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell’s idea that if he were to say that there was a teapot orbiting the sun, but which was too small to be seen by anyone, then no-one could prove otherwise.   That’s very true – if you were to tell me that you believed in an invisible Spaghetti Monster then I couldn’t 100% prove you wrong.

It means, of course, that I can’t tell you that there must be a God purely because you can’t prove otherwise.  The subtlety here is that Dawkins has lumped believers in God in with those who believe in celestial teapots and invisible spaghetti monsters.  The implication is that as a Christian I am on a par with someone we might generally think to be a lunatic. 

You might think that my faith in God is madness, but the difference between that and the celestial teapot claim is that I didn’t just pluck the idea of God out of thin air for no reason.  There may or may not be a teapot in orbit around the sun, but either way it has little bearing on anything.  On the other hand, the idea of God can be used to answer some questions (e.g. why are we here?) and there is a lot about my life and the world around me which fits in with the notion that there is a God.

Dawkins asks why such questions as “why are we here?” can’t be tackled by science.  Personally, I don’t think that science can’t attempt to tackle such questions; it’s just that I’ve yet to see any meaningful scientific answers.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that Dawkins has little time for theologians.  There are frequent quips, such as “I’ve yet to see any good reason that theology (as opposed to biblical history etc.) is a subject at all.”  However, he seems to be embroiled in something of a circular argument.  It seems as though he belittles them because they believe in God, and then belittles the idea that they might have anything useful to say about God because he’s already discredited them.  So the wheel goes around…

Right.  That’s enough for one day.  I have lots to do, including some more reading, some sleeping and a bit of catching up with last week’s Apprentice.  So, without further ado, in the words of Bugs Bunny, “That’s all folks!”

 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Jesus Christ Is Risen!

Halleluiah!

And for the Anglicans…

He Is Risen Indeed!  Halleluiah!

 

So what does this mean for you?

 

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on Hospital Chaplains

Following on from my earlier post, I have decided to write a more serious post about the funding of hospital chaplaincy.  I have already had a couple of comments on my views, and I’d like to justify my take on the matter.

I’ll start by making it clear that my reasoning for NHS funded chaplains stems from more than the fact that I am a Christian, and a churchgoer myself.  Judging by some of the comments I have picked up on (see, for example, the BBC Have Your Say), there are a lot of ignorant people out there and that, perhaps more than anything else, is what has annoyed me.

One of the arguments for cutting NHS funded chaplaincies is that ordinary vicars (and presumably leaders of other faiths) could go in to hospitals and visit members of their own communities and congregations instead.  I can’t give a definite viewpoint about other faith groups, but let me assure you that vicars already do that.  The majority of churchgoers will already have their own Christian pastoral support if they want it.

On that basis, I suppose you could argue that the chaplaincy role is completely superfluous.  Interestingly, however, I know a couple of people who have worked as hospital chaplains, and the impression I get is that the role is a far cry from having a tea and a chat with the odd religious patient.  The job of chaplain is very clearly a demanding and draining one, and the majority of people who go for pastoral support are not strongly religious, if indeed they are at all.

Some people evidently think that the NHS is paying for chaplains purely for the benefit of religious patients, or that where people without faith ask for support the role of chaplain is all about Bible Bashing.  What utter rubbish.

The role of chaplain might not have any bearing on the actual medical care offered by the NHS, but I firmly believe that it is an important role nonetheless.  Pastoral care is very important, and doctors and nurses themselves can only offer so much support in that area – perhaps even less these days than they used to be able to.   You might well be sitting here thinking that you wouldn’t need pastoral support in hospital, and I suspect that that’s the default position for many of us who’ve not had to suffer needing any sort of care from the NHS.  However, having known people who’ve struggled with time in hospital, and hearing what those who have worked as chaplains have to say, it can seemingly be a lot tougher when you’re actually there.  There are times when a listening ear is invaluable, and chaplains not only offer support to those dying from cancer or struggling in the middle of the night with a loss of a baby, but also to friends and family.

That’s not to say that if you do have to go through such an experience you will definitely need the support of a chaplain, but please understand that for many people such support is a vital part of the care offered by the NHS.  I have to say that I’m appalled by the selfish “I’m alright, Jack” attitude adopted by some people about this issue.

If you do believe that pastoral care is an important facet of the NHS then the Church of England, amongst other religious groups, is actually doing the NHS a favour.  Even though they may not pay for the job of chaplain itself, they do provide and pay for the basic training for clergy.  For many religious leadership roles, being good at listening and offering impartial pastoral care is part of the job – which is why they can be suited to the role of hospital chaplain.

Even if chaplains were provided purely for those of a particular religious persuasion, the argument about it not being fair to pay for other people’s “lifestyle choices” sets a dangerous precedent, as I parodied in my earlier post.  If you only want to pay for the treatment you need, then you may as well start a campaign to abolish the NHS.

The day after this issue hit the headlines, my local radio station ran a news item about a new scheme to give a grant of £190 to expectant mums – meant for “equipment, and staying fit and healthy.”   This scheme will doubtless be expensive, and ultimately will not help save lives either.   If you were that concerned about not wasting NHS money on ‘non essential care’ you should surely also be kicking up a fuss about this.   And let’s not get started on all the wastage in recent years resulting from headline grabbing gimmicks, bloated management and so on.

If you ask me, I don’t think that the National Secular Society’s motivation for complaining is a genuine concern about the NHS.  It’s just another attempt of theirs to malign religion – or, more specifically, Christianity.  I noticed that the main focus was on “the church” paying for chaplaincy posts, rather than religious groups in general. 

I’m not entirely sure why they get so riled about it, to be honest.  We live in an intelligent age, and if there is no God then they have got nothing to worry about.  Fair enough, street preachers enforcing hellfire and damnation are annoying, but remember that no-one is perfect, and don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush.  Of course, some atheists these days are also quite militant, which is a bit hypocritical.

Most of the reasons for people being sceptical and wary about Christianity stem from ignorance and misconceptions.  Ignorance and misconceptions which are only further fuelled by such NSS campaigns, ironically.

 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

JP goes Lite

As is often the case, I have just found myself with some time to kill
on a station platform. Not because the train was late (for once) but
because I was. Gutted.

Thankfully, the sun was shining (the weather was sweet, yeah) and
although there was no londonpaper to be found I did find a London
Lite. I never read the Lite, but every rule has the odd exception.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found on the whole. I liked
reading Apprentice Candidate Maj's claim that Sir Alan fired him
because 'he had a better beard.' The text column made me smile, and I
am tempted to visit Sweden again after learning that Stockholm has a
hostel made from an old 747.

I did question one piece of journalism though. I found a headline which read

'G20 victim's cop clash hour BEFORE he died.'

Why the random emphasis on 'before?' In fact, why is the word 'before'
necessary at all in this case? Surely it would have been much more
newsworthy if the clash had occurred after his death...

--
Sent from my mobile device

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Should the NHS pay for hospital chaplains?

Personally, I don't think that the NHS should fund treatment for lung
cancer. It should be funded by smokers. After all, they are the ones
who will probably need it more than anyone else. If they choose to
smoke that's their choice, but why should I have to pay more in taxes
because of their lifestyle choices?

--
Sent from my mobile device

Saturday, March 21, 2009

JP’s mind is left to boggle

I have just been perusing the BBC News Page, and there is a headline which reads “Outrage leads to bikini wax ban being ditched.”

Obviously I am intrigued, but the link is apparently broken, and I am none the wiser.

Do you think that someone at the BBC is having a laugh, or is there really bikini wax related outrage somewhere in the world at this point in time?

Monday, March 09, 2009

TGIWTP: Planting the Sarracenia seeds…

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As everybody knows, if you are going to grow something, it is a good idea to plant some seeds.

There didn’t seem to be that many seeds in the packet, and extracting them from the sides of the plastic bag they came in was easier said than done.  No wonder the packet says that this is a ‘More Care’ plant.

The seeds were also very small (with woodchip on the wall), but I’m fairly optimistic that at least two were planted.  The final step in the beginning of the project was placing the pot in a clear plastic bag and putting it in the fridge.  The photographic evidence hopefully shows that I managed this.

According to the instructions, the pot should remain here for approximately four weeks, but it could be six to eight weeks before seedlings appear.  Presumably the wait will be a bit longer if I didn’t actually plant anything, but we live in hope.

Do come back again soon for more shots of the compost filled pot in the fridge.

 

TGIWTP: In the beginning…

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As you might have gathered from the previous post, the first step to growing your own Insect Watertrap is to place a tablet of compost in to a cup of water and wait for it to swell up.  The lack of drama was disappointing, but after a short while there was some evidence of swelling – as you can see in the first photograph.

With hindsight I possibly should have had a bit more patience and waited a bit longer, but me being me I moved on to the next instruction:

“when [the tablet] is fully saturated, crumble it into the pot until full.”

This was more challenging than you might have reasonably thought, as demonstrated by the second photograph.  The tablet did not crumble easily at first.  It appeared to have an outer layer much like a teabag, the remains of which can be seen on the table between the cup and the pot.  If you look closely, you will see that I had to hurriedly place the pot on a saucer, and there was a great deal of what one might call saturation.  I’m not entirely sure how things worked out like this, but I think I began to crumble the tablet above the water and had to deal with the floating compost.

Anyway, all’s well that end’s well.  I cleared up the mess and had a full pot of compost.

 

TGIWTP: The journey begins

Peering in from the edge of the Blogosphere, there is much to be excited about as I finally embark on my Great Insect WaterTrap Project.  The first post has a new acronym and a video.

Unfortunately, if you view the video, you might be inclined to say that it’s all downhill from here.  The instructions on the back of the packet begin with

Put the tablet of compressed compost in a cup filled one-third with water.  The tablet will swell up…”

As the video shows, I did I was told (although my one-third might have been a bit approximate).  Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed by the lack of drama and swelling of the tablet.  If you found the video to be a bit of a let down you will know what I mean.

 

Sunday, March 08, 2009

pension related banter

In true JP style, I’m at least a week late wading in to the fray, but I can’t resist passing comment on the recent saga about Fred Goodwin and his pension.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that £700,000 is a lot of money and can well understand the resentment felt by many; especially at a time when it contrasts markedly with the financial situation many find themselves in.  However, I am not going to put my flag in the camp which is there asking for him to give it up.

I have several reasons for this, and I am going to start with considering how the pension fund is built up.  Most company pension schemes – and I would imagine this includes RBS – work on the principle that an agreed amount is paid in to a fund whilst the employee is contracted to work for the company.  When the employee retires or leaves the company, the pension fund will have accumulated a value accordingly.  The amount paid in to the pension fund is not performance related.  If an employee screws things up the company is not able to say “we know you’ve been putting money aside, but actually we’re going to take some of it away from you”.  So Fred might have earned the nickname “the shred”, but I think it would be wrong to try and alter any prior contractual agreement.

Secondly, we need to consider the reasons behind the outrage and the media coverage.  At the end of the day, large though the pension is, it’s a drop in the ocean compared with the overall losses felt by RBS.  The economic situation at the moment has landed the government in a bit of hot water, and by vilifying Fred Goodwin and working the nation in to a frenzy about his pension it conveniently moves the spotlight away from them.  Not only that, but it even makes the government appear caring and compassionate as they vow to act “in the public interest” and claw the pension back.  Doubtless the legal fees involved will almost nullify any (comparatively small) saving, but then I guess you can’t put a price on popularity with the voters.

I have to say, Harriet Harman’s comment that things could be overturned because the pension “wouldn’t be acceptable in a court of public opinion” is deeply, deeply worrying.  What sort of state is this in which rules can be changed on a whim?  The precedent which would be set if she were able to pursue that idea is very dangerous indeed.

What worries me as well is that there appears to be a complete lack of leadership amongst the opposition.  Where are the Conservatives (or anyone else for that matter) ripping this immoral government to shreds and giving them the kicking they well and truly deserve?  Why are Labour getting any score at all in the opinion polls?  Why are there so many people in this country who are obviously stupid or ignorant enough to even consider voting for them?

Finally, I enjoyed a lot of the banter in thelondonpaper about this issue, and I couldn’t have put it better than the person who wrote in and said that Gordon Brown will presumably also give up his massive pension, after the mess he has made.  It would, of course, only be fair.  Leadership by example and all that.

 

Saturday, March 07, 2009

JP’s Great Insect Watertrap Project

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A while back now, (on a very cold January day, I recall) I went to a zoo.  In fact, in recent years I’ve been to several zoos, but in the shop at this particular zoo (somewhere near Cambridge) I found a package marked “Grow Your Own Insect Watertrap”.  Attracted by the prospect of a new horticultural challenge, and the cool ‘EATS INSECTS’ label, I made a purchase.

 

As it turns out, I needn’t have gone all the way to the cold zoo somewhere near Cambridge because the address on the back of the packet tells me that the supplying company is just 2 miles from my house.  You live and learn.

 

Anyway, for various reasons I’ve not yet got around to embarking on the project.  I think possibly I was subconsciously scared by the fact that on the scale of things this Insect Watertrap has ‘More Care’ label, but my excuses include a lack of time, and “not being the right time of year”.

 

But now it is the right time of year, and I am going to postpone the challenge no longer.  Do check back regularly and journey with me as I undertake this exciting project.

Observation Number Four

As I mentioned in a previous post, I very much enjoyed going to church in Shanghai.

 

Predictably, I didn’t allow enough time to cross the city and was a bit late.  When I got there I was initially turned away because the room was packed out.  I explained that I was unable to attend either of the afternoon services and managed to wangle my way in – where I had to squeeze up against the back wall because the room was so full.  Almost every bit of floor space and wall space was occupied.  The service I went to, at the hotel in Hong Qiao, has only been running for a few months and yet is already so popular that plans are afoot to start a second morning service to cater for demand.  This growth – despite some of the restrictions which seem to be in place – is certainly something to be thankful for.

Observation Number Three

Happy Christmas 2 Happy Christmas Banner 1

I was in Shanghai for Chinese New Year, and noticed that in the more Westernised areas the “Happy New Year” decorations often included references to Christmas.  Indeed, on at least one occasion my lunch was accompanied by a rendition of “Silent Night” and other such carols.

 

I would imagine that this is because there is little concept of what Christmas actually is.  Perhaps we take it for granted in the UK that most people have at least a basic understanding of the significance behind some of the celebrations.  In China, however,  I get the impression that “Christmas” is just viewed as part of our New Year celebrations. 

 

There are evidently many, many people who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and who know nothing about the hope which faith in him brings.  One presumes that Observations One and Two are to some extent responsible for this.

Observation Number Two

I found an English speaking church in Shanghai, and I very much enjoyed it (more on that later). 

 

However, I’m not sure that the local regulations, which dictate that the  “international English Service is open to foreign passport holders only” reflect the idea of religious freedom that the Chinese authorities might claim exists.

Observation Number One

Before I went to Shanghai, I was quite intrigued to know what life would be like behind the Great fireWall of China.  Were there really restrictions on Freedom of Speech?  Would I be able to blog? Would I be able to get the BBC News Page?  The limited amount of research I did suggested that although things had at one time been quite restrictive things were now opening up. 

 

At first glance, my experience tied in with this idea.  I can’t compare it with life before the Beijing Olympics, but it is said that things have improved since then.  One of the restrictions I read about was about not being able to comment on blogs, but as I surfed from Shanghai I encountered no such limitations.  I could blog and comment.  I could get my fix of the BBC News Page.  Steve Zodiac could get his fix of Facebook (before he got his comeuppance, of course).

 

Interestingly, however, www.biblegateway.com was apparently suffering problems and I couldn’t access it at all, from work or the hotel, whilst I was away.  It looks as though it took them some time to fix it, but I was pleased to see that by the time I landed back in the UK I could access it again.

Friday, February 27, 2009

*yawn*

It's perhaps inevitable that life immediately after a period of travelling is going to seem comparatively dull. But a couple of instances this week have made me wonder if things are worse than I realised.

 

Firstly, I was in the canteen on Monday lunchtime having the usual "how was your weekend?" banter with my colleagues. On this occasion, come to think of it, banter is probably the wrong word, because the initial conversation consisted of little more than the odd mediocre "meh". I then chipped in with "I bought some new cycling shoes on Saturday!"

This wasn't a word of a lie; I am the proud owner of some new cycling shoes*. However, the reaction I got implied that if that was all I had to say about my weekend** then my life must be monumentally dull. Incidentally, as a bloke I am well aware that getting excited about shoes (even those with a purpose) is Not The Done Thing, but everyone makes mistakes.

 

Then yesterday, I was chatting to someone on Facebook about their recent visit to Bath. I was quite excited about this because I really loved living in Bath, and being reminded about my time there bought back some good memories. But then, for some reason, the thing I chose to reminisce about as I typed away was the revision breaks I used to take, when I strolled down the hill to the delightful local shops. I padded it out a bit, recalling the sunshine, and the fact that I used to buy a lot of doughnuts, but even so, on reflection, it doesn't bode well. Bath was awesome, and I'm sure I could think about lots of things which I enjoyed - yet here I am going "I used to love going shopping!"

 

>>

*I have bought some shoes of the type which attach me to my bike as I speed along.  If you see me in a ditch or fall off at traffic lights, you know why.

 

**Of course, this isn't all I had to say about my weekend.  There is quite a lot I could have waved my hands excitedly about had I put my mind to it.  Church, for example, has been really good.  The Gospel is being preached, and things are happening.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Steve Zodiac is back in the game

Did anyone actually miss me?

JP is annoyed with Vodafone

I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that I'm unhappy with
the fact my last two bills have been very spurious and very wrong and
that all the Customer Services have managed so far is a set of stock
emails explaining that paper billing has been activated on my account.
I don't care whether I see the bill online or on A4 paper-excessive
money has still been disappearing from my account.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Billie Jean is not my lover

Given the continuing absence from Facebook, I'm experimenting with
blog post titles as a way of sharing my status with the world. If
you've missed it when I pop up on your mini-feed with the odd
observation or cryptic take on the way I feel then you may now rejoice
that all has not been lost.

Friday, February 20, 2009

JP disappears from the face of the book

Last Thursday, I updated my Facebook status.  It was something about visiting the Hang Yan Fu Wu Bu for an ice-cream break.  For those people who stalk me on Facebook but otherwise have little contact with me these days, that was the last they will have heard.  Later that evening, I attempted to log in again, and received a message explaining that my account had been disabled by an administrator.


"Shurely there'sh been a mishtake" I thought to myself, before sending an appropriate email to the appeal address I was given. But then later on, as I lay in my window ledge bath and gazed out over the Shanghai skyline it dawned on me. Some time back, and for no really good reason that I can now think of, I may just have updated my details to include "Steve Zodiac" as a former name.


Oh dear.


So, over a week later, and I'm still Facebook Disabled - with all sorts of mixed feelings as a result.


Part of me is very disappointed.  I've evidently completely vanished from Facebook without a trace.  My last known location was Shanghai, with all the mystery that that might entail.  Yet, despite all this, my phone has remained fairly quiet.  My email inbox contains the usual tumbleweed and not a lot else. I was secretly hoping for some small consolation in the form of a worried message or two, but it wasn't to be. No-one seems to have noticed that I've gone, or if they have they don't seem bothered about what might have happened.


Another part of me is embarrassed.  If I have to add my friends as friends again (as it were), that could be embarrassing. If I end up explaining that I once said that I was formally known as Steve Zodiac, that could be embarrassing.  Finally, in the space of a week, my mum is now on Facebook, and I'm not.  That's embarrassing.


I've also found being unable to use Facebook quite frustrating, and I've found that I rely on it more than I'd ever want to admit.  Not being able to read my Mini Feed or stalk people from my mobile phone means that if I finish the Metro and am unable to procure thelondonpaper, the inevitable standing about on a platform or travelling on a train becomes very boring indeed.  I've also found that I use Facebook as a communications tool more than I thought I did.  To rely purely on text messaging for this sort of casual communication seems so turn of the Millenium.  I've not even got mobile numbers for some people I otherwise see and communicate with regularly.


If I'm honest though, I am also slightly proud of my 'achievement'.  Being accidentally thrown off Facebook is the sort of thing one might expect to find in a mediocre book of 101 things to do before you die.


Finally, in light of a couple of news items this week I'm also feeling quite smug.  Whilst many of you are getting your knickers in a twist about who owns data on Facebook I'm kicking back with the realisation that I appear to have no data on Facebook to be worried about any more.  I'm also avoiding some health risks, according to the BBC News Page today.  A point proven by the fact that it's Friday night, and I'm just about to go out and see some friends in person.  This is likely to involve clogging up my system with all sorts of pizza-related goodness and poisoning my liver with a moderate amount of beer.

Friday, February 06, 2009

there's no snow on the line here

Picking up on Starkey's comment about "China Rail" I thought I would post this video of the Shanghai Maglev, which I took on my way to work last week.

This isn't one of these "London to Brighton in 5 minutes" high speed videos, it's real-time footage.  Believe it or not, however, I covered 30km.

Compare this to Southern Railway, where my 21km commute takes over half an hour.  Even off-peak, the Shanghai Maglev is cheaper and I'm pretty sure that if it did snow here it wouldn't come grinding to a halt.

It makes you wonder where it all goes wrong in the UK, though on the plus side I do get a free paper and time in which to read it.  You've got to love the Metro.*

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*and thelondonpaper, of course.  No commute home should normally be complete without random photographs of the lovely Kelly Brook.

Scottish Idiocy?

You might be pleased to know that the BBC News page hasn't entirely slipped from my radar, and I picked up on this saga earlier from my Oriental vantage point.

I was particularly intruiged by this comment:

"Most people here are proud that the prime minister is a Scot and believe him to be the right person to get the UK through this global economic crisis."

Most people where, exactly?  Not anywhere in my vicinity, that's for sure.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

where have all the cowboys gone?

So go the lyrics of a rather catchy song.  I had spent a week in Shanghai wondering something similar actually, though in my head I was thinking of people in general and not just cowboys.  The part of town in which I am resident has been remarkably quiet for somewhere which is apparently home to 20million people. I know that it's been a bit of a holiday season out here, but even so it did feel a bit empty.

At the weekend, however, I went downtown, and my questions were answered.  This is where everyone has been hiding.  All 20million of them.  Really.

the other side to life

So we've seen the view from my lofty vantage point, and I've talked about feeling sophisticated as I indulge myself over breakfast.  I even alluded to the fact that on some scale I might be "posh".

Before I get too carried away with my delusions of grandeur, however, let's bring things back down to the ground floor and remind you what I've been eating for dinner on a fairly regular basis.

All things considered, however, they have been surprisingly satisfying.

Eye on Shanghai


Murky though it can be, I do love the view I get when I open the curtains in the morning.  It's not got classic natural beauty,  but it is certainly quite impressive.  

There's that bottle-opener building again, look.

Knowing me, JP, knowing you Miss Yu.

(A-ha!)

I'm becoming well settled here now, to the extent that I am on first name terms with the girl who serves breakfast in the lounge. It's got to the stage where my fresh orange juice is on my favourite table by the window almost as soon as I walk in through the door.

I was kicking back contentedly this morning however when a slightly disturbing thought occurred to me.  Here I am lapping up the lifestyle and feeling quite sophisticated, but am I actually completely deluded?  Have I become little more than a posh version of a certain Radio Norfolk presenter?


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

better than running for the train

The last photo of the day is this slightly poor quality one which I took whilst having breakfast this morning.  It was all rather leisurely and certainly much more pleasant than running along in the rain in hope of catching a train.  Of course, the downside is that I had to go without a copy of the Metro, but you can't have everything.

It's a long way to fall from these dizzy heights, and by contrast dinner this evening consisted of a Pot Noodle in a make-shift office.  Very nice it was too.

Gong He Xin Xi!

If you're going to arrive in China for the first time, New Year's Eve is a good time to do so.  Last time I was abroad I missed out on the fireworks, but this more than made up for it.  The attitude to health and safety here is quite refreshing, and there were fireworks being let off everywhere - on pavements, from balconies... I very much enjoyed the display outside the hotel at midnight, and was pleased to have been pelted slightly by shrapnel.  It very much added to the whole experience.

Pu Dong

The number of people who've stood in the same spot and photographed the same skyline must be huge, and you're probably wondering why you wasted your time coming to this part of the Blogosphere when you could have found the same view on Google.  Still, as cityscapes go it's quite striking and an interesting thing to encounter whilst on a sort of jetlag-relieving outing.  Apparently the building which looks like a bottle opener is the second tallest building in the world.  Not that I'm name dropping, or anything.

High Table

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Can you hear me, when there is no sound?

One of the well known disadvantages of text based instant messaging is that some things just don't get conveyed.  Body language is a classic example.

 

Admittedly, if I am typing on a keyboard I am unlikely to be performing the legendary "swim" but you will still be none the wiser about whether I am waving my hands around animatedly or being a bit more reserved.

 

Interestingly, however, I discovered in a recent conversation that it is quite possible to convey sound in an entirely text based dialogue.   Things proceeded thus:

 

>
- I need to make that "eeeeh" noise that you apparently make


- what eeee noise?!
- ooo
- eeeeh
- i geddit!


- yes, that one!


- the noise i don't actually make


- yes

>

 

You may be relieved to know that the context was not in the slightest bit risque, but it is difficult to explain if you don't already know what sound I am talking about.  It would seem that such sound transmission is a bit like encryption using a pre-shared key.

 

Nonetheless, in theory at least, we can conclude that the answer to the question in the title of this post (as posed by Delirious in their 1999 classic 'Follow') is a resounding yes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tesco sink to new low

It's been well documented in this Corner of the Blogosphere that I'm not a massive fan of Tesco.  I've had quite a few poor experiences, and as a result, my expectations - especially of their staff - were already quite low.

Today, however, they excelled themselves and if there was a category below Rock Bottom, my expectations of their "customer service" would drop firmly in to it.  I popped in this afternoon and they demonstrated such incompetence that it defies belief.

I was on my way home and thought that I would swing by for a USB charger for my new telephone.  I knew that Tesco sell them and went straight ot the appropriate aisle.  Unfortunately, there were in-car chargers and AC adaptors galore, but no USB chargers.  Undeterred by this I went to the nearby service desk and asked the lady behind the counter if they had any in stock.

"Universal USB phone chargers?" she said, before staring at the computer screen in front of her.  After a while she followed this up with "I'm not sure what to search for."

I told you that this sorry tale defied belief...and what's more worrying is that she was stood behind a sign promoting "friendly advice on all things technical".

Anyway, continuing to get this experience off my chest, I suggested "USB Phone Charger" and she duly tapped away at the keyboard.  I was becoming aware that I had a train to catch and didn't have all day to stand around, but eventually she told me that they had 35 in stock, at £4.97 each.

"...but it says 'Location Unknown'"  she said seconds later.

Brilliant.

So I waited whilst she went off to find someone who might be able to help.  Once she'd found someone, she started looking randomly amongst Car Cleaning Products, whilst her colleague went back to the more relevant aisle which I'd already searched myself.  Neither of them had any success, and the new guy wanted clarification on what I wanted.

"I don't think you can charge your phone from a USB port," he tried to tell me, and mumbled something about too much current.  I assured him that you could, and so whilst the first lady continued to look at the products on the shelves he started to quiz me on how much current I thought it drew.

I think that this was his attempt to make it look as though it was me and not him who was clueless.  I feel that if I'd given some sort of figure he'd have taken great pleasure in telling me that I was misguided.

Granted, I don't know how much current a USB phone charger draws, but I did know that if the computer was saying that there were 35 USB phone chargers in stock then such things probably do exist.

I also knew that I had a train to catch...

After the lovely people* at Tesco had dithered for a bit longer we agreed that I might return once they had got a grip on their stock control.  I don't intend to return, of course, and will buy online out of principle.  Besides, coming on top of previous incidents, I feel that the words "grip on stock control" and "fat chance" go well together.

Unfortunately, I had by this point missed my train, and the next one was cancelled, so I feel as though everything has conspired against me this afternoon.

I have, however, had plenty of time to stand in the cold and think, and I'm afraid I'm none the wiser about why such people are employed by Tesco, or alternatively why Tesco seem to have no concept of staff training.  In this "credit crunch" era, they could conceivably save money by not employing some people and it would make no difference at all to the customer.  Equally, I'm amazed that with lots of people looking for jobs they've not found anyone who has a clue. About anything.


You can put the stress ball away now.  I've ranted enough for one day, and will spare you the gory details of my latest train delay.


>>

*I'm being sarcastic, of course.  "Jobsworths" would be more honest.




Thursday, January 15, 2009

Papa's got a brand new bag!

Actually, it's more "JP's got a brand new phone (and he's trying it
out)" but I had to inject some soul in to the post somehow.
As that rather obscure Bon Jovi song starts, "James Brown?! If James
were here...it'd be a hit!"

Monday, January 05, 2009

A BBC News story to warm your hearts

As you know, I'm generally quite a fan of the BBC News Page, and I thought that this story was an absolute gem.  If you've not already read it, I promise that it will put a smile on your face.

I'd wear Speedos for you any day

One of the good things about returning to work is the joy of picking up a copy of the Metro each morning from the blue container now so conveniently sited in the waiting room* at the station.

Today I read that Danny Cipriani upset Kelly Brook on a recent holiday they had together.  Apparently he insisted on wearing baggy shorts when she wanted him to wear Speedos.

Fool.

 

>>

*Before you wonder if this really is the JP you know and love, rest assured that I've not suddenly developed a habit of arriving at the station in sufficient time to need the waiting room.  Rather, the waiting room forms part of the entrance to the station and the new position of the Metro container here means that I don't have to worry about not having the time to trek along the platform for my copy before I bundle on to the train.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

JP's Cake Corner

I have been going through my photographs over the Christmas/New Year break, and I have found a few skeletons in the closet.  One of my favourites is this photograph of the cake which a friend and I made for someone's birthday whilst we were all at university together:



Image064



This was taken just after we'd returned from celebrating the end of someone's exams with a cheeky pint to discover that we'd not done a great job of greasing the tin.  I'd love to say that it was better when we'd glued it back together with apricot jam and iced it, but I'm not so sure.  Perhaps it's good that I don't have any photographic evidence of the finished article.



On the plus side, I don't think I'd laughed so hard in ages.

JP talks rail fare rises

Here we are folks, this is what we've all been waiting for.  The first train related rant of 2009.  Stress balls at the ready...

 

Obviously, I'm in favour of the rises.  I don't mind paying more for my commute, because the government has shown that it can be prudent with money.  At a time when we should be concerned about the environment it's very wise of them to reduce investment in the railway network.  Besides, the increases have been offset by the fact that the VAT reduction saved me 2p on my cup of coffee at Victoria recently.

 

It's too early to say for definite whether or not I can actually expect an improvement in the level of service, but in the unlikely event that I begin to find standing up for most of my journey home a bit wearing I will obviously complain to the train operating company concerned; they don't have much of an excuse with our pro-Rail friends in charge at Number 10.  The government, of course, makes it very easy for them to offer the service people want, and their system of targets works very well.  I have to admit that I did get a bit cold on waiting on the station platform earlier today as I watched two fairly empty trains sail through non-stop, but I know that such apparent "cancellations" are for the Greater Good.  I know that the aforementioned trains will have made it to their destination on time, and I look forward to the warm fuzzy feeling I will get when I see the next round of punctuality figures.   It won't be long before Gordon Brown and his chums are hailing the fact that punctuality figures have improved a lot under their reign, and when that day comes I shall look back with pride at the times I endured lengthy delays on a cold platform to make this happen.

 

As 2009 dawns, it's good to see that caring for people is a thing of the past.  As with the railways, so with the NHS.  Why worry about what things are like for the individual at the bottom of the pile when you can have statistics which look this good?

JP has a lovely bunch of...

...grapes, apparently.  Actually, this is why the aforementioned stress ball is fun.  When you squeeze it, this happens:


03012009(001)


Nice.

JP takes a chill pill

If you are an avid reader and have been keeping up with the comments recently, you will know that Dave advised me to 'take a chill pill'.  He probably isn't the only one to have considered offering such advice, although to be fair this Corner of the Blogosphere does get a disproportionately large amount of my ranting and frustration.  If my only contact with you is through this blog then you probably have a worryingly distorted view of me, but never mind.


Anyway, the point is that my stocking contained a stress ball.  Comme ca:


03012009


It's not quite a chill pill, and if this stops me from ranting then there will be even less action here in 2009 than there was last year, but it's fun nonetheless...

Happy New Year!

As I'm about to indulge in a bit of a Blogging spurt, I don't think much else needs to be said here.  I hope and pray that 2009 is a good one.