Monday, 31 March 2008

Things That Baffle Me: #2, British Optimism

So Terminal 5 has opened and blah blah blah it's been chaos. Bags have gone nowhere but missing, and half the nation has had to sleep on the floor at Heathrow. Foreigners are laughing at us and everyone thinks the person in charge should resign.

No surprises there. So why does everyone sound so shocked? Sunday's newsreaders were gasping that 'airport chaos has spilled over into a 4th day and shows no sign of abating'. Don't we know by now that what Britain does best is screw things up? Millenium Dome, Millenium Bridge, railway lines, all those stadiums...

The opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 had all the ingredients for a disaster from the start:
1. It's in Britain
2. Half the country didn't want it anyway and couldn't wait for it to go wrong
3. It's an airport, so if/when it went wrong, everyone was going to notice
4. They said it was going to be brilliant
5. It involves BAA and British Airways, neither of whom could organise a piss up in a brewery.

I mention this because it highlights the rather endearing British trait that, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, we (they? - I think I'll excommunicate myself) still expect that it's going to work out this time. This is the trait that causes our clothes shops to be full of bikinis from mid-March to the end of August. It encourages our cafes to put chairs out on the pavement, and allows people to sit on them and believe they will be warm when the sun comes out, just as soon as this gale blows over. It makes each of the home nations believe that their little country will win the World Cup next time round. It is the trait that allows us to be excited about the Olympic games in London in 4 years' time, and which lets us futilely believe that it won't be the mother of all hash ups.

And it makes us announce that we're building a new terminal at our biggest airport, and to trumpet it for years in advance, instead of just building it quietly, opening it when no one's looking, and only letting the media in once it's been operational for a year and a half and the people in charge have got some kind of handle on how things are going to work.

It's a baffling trait, of course, and one has to wonder how it ever developed - a glance at the nation's soaps suggests that it certainly wasn't by over-exposure to any kind of optimism. Nor has it ever really reached Northern Ireland, where we suspect so strongly that there'll be a hack-up that we're almost disappointed when things work out as planned (which they usually don't - but since this is an excuse for drowing everyone's sorrows, no one really cares).

So I remain in a state of bafflement, and await the London Olympics with anticipation.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Happy Birthday WhyNotSmile

I haven't posted much in a while, mainly because I haven't had a lot to say for myself. However, I realised that I missed the momentous occasion of WhyNotSmile's first birthday. On 12th March, WhyNotSmile was a year old.

Clearly, an awards ceremony is in order. I say awards, but there actually aren't any prizes, just kudos.

The winners are:

Most commented on post: It's a dead heat between the Orangefest one and the one in which we all started discussing blog etiquette. An unexpected runner-up, and one which opened the floodgates to even unknown commenters, was the one where I said I'd never seen West Wing.

Commonest label: It had to be what at one stage seemed to be the very raison d'etre of this blog, Incompetent Bandits, who between them managed a whopping 31 entries (Carbon Fast is excluded, 'cos, by definition, it was always going to have 40 entries).

Most frequent commenter: I'm not sure about this, because I can't be bothered to work it out for sure, but I'm going to give this award to QMonkey, for commenting frequently, furiously, and without apparent restraint or objective.

Most unexpected tangent in comments thread: it has to be this one. I was ill, and all you lot start asking after my teddies.

Most manic commenter: P, for his/her first comment in this thread. The first poster here, Anonymous (who may actually have been P, hiding his true identity), was also a strong contender (the manics came out of the woodwork for this post, to be honest), but P wins it for inventing a new word, 'worthly'. Such style.

This of course brings us to the ultimate award: Post of the year. I decided we'd have a poll for this, so I have chosen my favourite posts, and I'd like you all to vote please:

In the meantime, thank you all for visiting.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A petition for you all to sign...

Do this please:

I just signed an urgent petition calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights in Tibet and dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This is really important, and I thought you might want to take action:

After nearly 50 years of Chinese rule, the Tibetans are sending out a global cry for change. Violence is spreading across Tibet and neighbouring regions, and the Chinese regime is right now making a crucial choice between tougher crackdown or dialogue.

President Hu Jintao needs to hear that "Made in China " exports and the upcoming Olympics in Beijing will have the support of the world's people only if he chooses dialogue. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get his attention.

Click here to sign:

Friday, 21 March 2008

On An Important Decision

I've been away from the blog, simply because I've been off work all week and therefore had no need to waste endless hours by writing this stuff. No, for I have had Things To Do, which have included decorating my new room. I say this as if I did it myself, of course this is not true - my dad did it while I talked to at him. But anyway, it's very nice. Maybe I'll take a picture and show you all how nice it is. I also bought tulips, which improved things further.

So the latest Thing with me is that I have decided I would like a pet. It started as a dog, but that would be too much trouble, seeing as how it would have to be taken for walks every day and I'd have to clean up after it (as my dad said, most eloquently, 'Why would you want to walk up the road with a bag of dog sh*t under your arm?' - that rather sealed that decision). I then thrust my mind to the opposite end of the 'pet hassle' spectrum and thought of getting a few goldfish (actually, I guess dogs are only in the middle of the 'pet hassle' spectrum - at the other extreme from goldfish you have such things as horses and so on, which require so much effort that you might as well just have children and be done with it) but goldfish are, frankly, dull. I apologise to goldfish owners out there (please don't bother leaving comments that your dear Flipper and Splashy have the most amazing personalities in the history of marine life, because I was only really apologising to be polite: I will never believe you).

My dad can't be in the same house as rodents, so that rules out hamsters, guinea pigs etc, at least while there's a possibility that I might need him to come round and do more decorating.

And so we come to cats, and this is quite promising. They sleep all day, so I can go to work and leave them; they clean themselves; they can poo in next door's garden (since next door's cats poo in mine); and they are cute. I think I would have to get 2 cats, so they could be friends. And I would like them to start as kittens (I mean when I get them, rather than being already grown up when I get them - I am aware that all cats start as kittens).

So I will look into this further, and let you know how things develop. There will, it goes without saying, be a poll to decide what I should call them, but feel free to get in ahead of time and offer suggestions. This weekend I am beling left In Charge of my neighbours' cats, and the success or otherwise of this may influence things considerably.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Things I would quite like to do to my hair

The following are things I would quite like to do to my hair:

1. Have a big red streak in it. Or maybe several.

2. Have a red streak and a blonde streak.

3. Get it cut really short.

I can't decide which, if any, to do. For those who don't know me, my hair is currently a chestnut brown colour (Garnier Nutrisse colour 4.3, if I remember correctly), which is more or less its natural colour. It is shoulder-length and has a tendency to frizz (in the same way that the Pope has a tendency to be Catholic). It is very very thick. So I don't know what to do, but I want to do something with it.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 40 (the finale!)

Replace your missing bulb with an energy-saving bulb. Make a personal pledge to serve others by pursuing a more sustainable way of life.

Pledge made. One thing I've discovered while doing this has been that I do quite a lot of these things already, without even noticing. Little things really do make a difference, and they're quite easy to do.

Now I just have to read back and see what thigns are still outstanding, count up my forfeits, and send a cheque to TearFund.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 39

Could your church be greener? Talk to your church leaders.

I am a church leader, so this is easier done than said. I've been thinking about suggesting more recycling bins in the Community Centre (which uses lots of paper, drinks cans etc). I'm also going to make the church website green, but I think I said that already.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 38

Draw the curtains to keep heat in.

I've been making an effort to do this; it's easy to forget about upstairs curtains when I'm downstairs, but I've been trying to remember to go round the house when it gets dark and close all the curtains. Also need to sort out curtains for the new room.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 37

Put a lid on it. That's pans when cooking, and use a kettle to boil water.

I always put lids on pans, but I do sometimes boil water in the pan before putting food in, instead of boiling it in the kettle and then pouring it into the pan. Will stop doing that.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 36

Reuse an item you would have thrown away.

I do this a lot; this week I have been making good use of the Community Telegraph as a template for some banners for church; I also reuse envelopes as often as I can.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 35

Put an insulation jacket on your hot water tank.

I went one better and got rid of my hot water tank altogether when we got gas in - so no need to do this!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 34

Tell the mailing preference service that you want to stop junk mail.

I've done this already, and it really does work. You still get the unaddressed mail, which is a bummer, but no credit card offers or anything like that - nice!

What would Jesus download

At the weekend there I was mentally composing a post confessing to you all that I was finally bored of t'internet. This morning, though, I realised that I have merely not been looking hard enough, for my wandering attention happened upon the rather marvellous, a promising addition to the WhyNotSmile fold.

WhatWouldJesusDownload is a website dedicated to all things which are online and Christian; your one-stop shop, as one might say, for 'Pictures of Jesus', Christian news, Catholic news, movie reviews, 'Jesus TV' and the obligatory 'verse of the day'. Don't miss the link at the top to "God's eye maps" (I wasn't at all sure what to expect from these but their striking similarity to Google maps must surely give us pause for thought).

Their mission is to be "your safe place on the web"; we are surely all too aware that "there are many dangers when surfing the net"; it is therefore reassuring to know that Satan has not yet wiped out "Jesus Radio" or the multitude of Christian videos.

The site even offers a free email account, "", to help you to "spread the Word of God". "People will see in your Christian email address, visit the site and join our Christian community" the site declares, perhaps a touch optimistically. Your non-Christian friends will be so impressed that they may well convert then and there; should they need further encouragement, they can readily be pointed in the direction of the delightful range of WWJD Shroud t-shirts which they can proudly wear if only they repent.

Perhaps my favourite thing about this site, though, is the offer of an entire Christian operating system for your computer. They stop short of explaining precisely how an operating system can actually be redeemed by the atoning blood of Christ, but since it seems to have its own hoodie, who am I to argue?

Oddly, the one thing the site does not tell us What Jesus Would Download; a disappointing ommission by any standards, but even more so when they have made such a bold claim in their very title. We are left to wonder - thoughts may be left using the comments button below.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 33

Have an embrace-the-silence Sunday. Turn off everything. No TV, no radio, no ring tones, no cars. It'll be good for the soul.

This was bliss, but surprisingly difficult. I didn't think I listened to music as much as I do - especially the iPod (I have it on every time I'm out). It was really lovely to be out and about with no music or anything - a walk in the park to the sound of birds is so much nicer than when it's accompanied by Podcasts and music.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 32

Any old iron? If it's on its last legs replace old electrical appliances for energy-efficient models; they could save a third of the energy.

I'm not in need of a new iron, but I may soon need a new washing machine, so I will bear this in mind.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 31

Fit aluminium foil behind your radiator - allowing you to turn the radiator down and save £10 a year per radiator.

This is quite simple, so it should be easy to do. The main radiator that loses heat is the one in the new room, but that wall is about to be decorated, so I will do it once the paper is on.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The concrete broke your fall...

I've been following with interest the news stories over the past week which have reported the 'discovery' that Prozac and similar antidepressant drugs (SSRIs) "are no better than a placebo for mild to moderate depression". I speak as someone who has been on one of these drugs (not Prozac, but one of the 'family') on and off for several years now, mainly for a variety of depression-related things, and more recently for anxiety, so I have a vested interest in this story.

Since the news broke, it has been reported in some quarters that we knew all along that medication for depression was little better than "sugar pills", as the placebos are sometimes known; on the other hand, scores of doctors have been speaking out about the positive effect that the drugs have had on their patients.

The story fascinates me on all sorts of levels. Firstly, how is it that drugs companies are allowed to organise, conduct and if necessary hide the trials of their own products? I'm probably quite naive about how the medical industry works, but I had always assumed that drugs were not made available to the public until they had passed independent tests of safety and effectiveness, and until the details and results of those tests had been made available for all to see (or at least, for medical professionals to see). But now it seems that the trials are conducted by the very people who stand to make a huge profit if they are a success; furthermore, they can, if they wish, deny ever having conducted a trial if it doesn't work out how they'd like. Last Wednesday's Guardian carried an article by Ben Goldacre, a medical doctor, explaining some of the myriad ways in which drugs companies can make these trials say whatever they want (apparently there's more info at, but I didn't get that far).

In fact, another source (which I have now forgotten) reports that drugs only have to be shown to have passed 2 (I think - some small number anyway) independent trials; they can then be passed regardless of how many trials they've failed. Apparently drugs companies sometimes publish the results of the same trial in several different forms, thus making it look like a number of different trials have been passed. This is pretty appalling stuff, and no one seems to be about to do anything about it.

On the other hand, one assumes that GPs would not continue to prescribe particular drugs if they didn't see some evidence that they actually helped their patients to get better. This is part of the argument that has come forward for Prozac - the trial evidence may not be there, but people have taken it for years and it has made them feel better. But this of course brings us to the placebo effect. Is it really the drug that makes people feel better, or is there some other reason? Is it that they feel better simply because they take a pill and then expect to feel better? Would the depression have passed anyway? Is it the comfort of having a professional take their illness seriously?

This, for roughly the first time in the history of this blog, is where I speak with something which is doing a damn-near-passable imitation of authority. Depression is a horrible thing. It's much more than just 'feeling down' or 'having a bad spell'. In its most severe form, you wake up in the morning feeling like all hope has been sucked from your world; getting out of bed is an effort in itself; normal tasks can become nearly impossible - but worst of all is the feeling that this is never going to go away. Not a worry that it's never going to go away, but an absolute certainty that this is how life will be until you die. My depression is relatively mild (and also seasonal), so I don't feel quite this bad very often, but when I do I would try almost anything that claimed to work, no matter how wacky or bizarre - and maybe that desperation for treatments to work feeds into how I respond to them.

I have to say that I do generally feel better when I'm on antidepressant medication - barring, of course, the not-so-pleasant side-effects (particularly horrible is the way the drugs can make you feel emotionless – sometimes I wish I could just have a good cry). But when I get depressed, there is certainly something to be said for the feeling that I have gone to my GP and she has taken me seriously, and now I'm taking a tablet every morning - it's like I've inwardly signed a 'statement of intent', and now I have to get on with recovering - which sometimes motivates me to do other things, like exercise, and eating well, which are likely to improve my mood further. The thing is, when you're depressed, having someone just listening and taking you seriously has an incredible healing power in itself, and can give you enough of a boost to recover a little bit of hope that things will get better.

So maybe there is some kind of placebo effect, coming from the opening of a little window of hope which gives me the motivation to do things that will generally improve my health. In fact, exercise and good diet are probably better for you than any medication or therapy, but it's finding the energy to even care enough to do them that is the usual problem, and it may be that the drugs have their place in giving that much-needed boost.

I doubt very much, though, that in more severely depressed people, this brief boost is going to be enough to give them the longer term feeling of well-being that many Prozac users report.

This leads to other questions: how many people diagnosed with depression are really suffering from it? Can it be called depression if a sugar pill, a bit of care from a doctor, and looking after yourself better are enough to lift it? Is there any point in treating it; wouldn't it go away on its own? At what point do we draw the line between feeling 'a bit blue' and being clinically depressed? In clinical trials, what criteria are used to measure the 'level' of depression? (This is not in any way to suggest that those who are feeling 'a bit blue' rather than severely depressed are not in need of care and treatment; rather, that antidepressants may not be the most effective way to help such people.)

Depression is notoriously difficult to diagnose and measure; the symptoms can often be quite vague, and some are fairly common in the general population - the average list of 'signs of depression' will include things like 'trouble sleeping', 'aches and pains' and 'feeling less motivated than usual' - all of which can be caused by a rough few weeks at the office and maybe a few too many late nights. But give people access to the Internet and they have a ready-made source of things-that-might-be-wrong-with-them - "you know, I do have trouble sleeping", "I don't really feel like going out this Friday night" - individual interpretations will vary and it's hard for doctors to know what they're dealing with.

When you start to look for answers to these kinds of questions, you find that a lot of the time they just don't exist; there are a lot of 'maybe's and 'possibly's. A lot more research into mental health issues is needed before they are fully understood; likewise, a lot more research is needed into the effectiveness of various treatments.

The final thing that interests me, though, is this idea that where depression exists, it must be 'cured'. This may seem like an odd thing to say; of course, no one wants to live with depression – but what prompts my remark is that I think we need to look more closely at what depression actually is, and what purpose it serves, before we simply lump it in with 'illnesses' and concentrate on getting rid of it.

Depression is not a new thing, although levels of diagnosis have risen sharply in recent years. It has been around for as long as we have, and in fact many societies do not view it as a medical condition at all - the attitude that “it must be got rid of” is more prevalent in Western society than elsewhere. Perhaps this is not surprising; we tend to have a less holistic approach to medicine than many other parts of the world. In societies with a more holistic approach, depression sufferers are often treated with respect; they will be allowed time to process how they're feeling, to learn from it, and to work through it; they will be allowed to stand back from responsibility and be supported by others around them - and they may well come out stronger and wiser at the other end. The time of illness can be a learning experience, and a signpost to a better way of life, not just for the individual but for the whole society.

By contrast, in Western society (I use 'Western' in this sense to include societies such as Japan, where mental illness is considered shameful), an illness in one part of the body tends to be treated in isolation from whatever's going on elsewhere - it is seen as an inconvenience, to be got rid of as quickly as possible by taking a few tablets. It seems clear that we have lost sight of the connections between mind, body and soul which our ancestors took for granted. Pills may be found which mask the emotional symptoms, but in doing so they may hide the root cause - be it emotional, spiritual or physical. Well-meaning friends may push us to 'try to get out more', to 'shake it off', but in doing that, we can in fact miss out on much-needed time and space for reflection and renewal. But we should no more do this than we would take painkillers for a back injury and then go and play tennis – physical pain is there as a warning, telling us to rest body and muscles; likewise, emotional or mental pain is saying something similar about our need to take time out.

Where an increased proportion of people in a given society are suffering from depression, perhaps it's a warning sign that that society has got its priorities wrong; in the UK today we are working longer hours than ever, spending a lot of time travelling, trying to make ends meet with huge mortgages, finding it harder to spend time with friends... is it possible that increased depression levels are a warning sign that we need to slow down, make time for each other and reprioritise? Rather than treating depression as something to get rid of, would we do better to look at what it says about our society and see whether the root cause lies there? Could we learn from it? Would we serve depressed people better by letting them work through it, with appropriate, understanding support, rather than merely getting rid of their symptoms as quickly as we can, and throwing them straight back in at the deep end? I believe we would.

I believe this applies at the level of society, but also in individual friendships. It can be very tempting to try to make our friends feel better, and to get them back to 'normal'; but for me, the most supportive friends have been the ones who just went through the pain with me and let me feel it. But I'm brewing another post about this, so I'll leave it for now...

In some ways I've become thankful that I've suffered from depression. It has given me a much clearer insight into how my body works than I would otherwise have. It has taught me to respect my body and to treat it well. It has shown me connections between mind, body and soul. It has forced me to take time out and to slow down; to think about what really matters. It has prevented me from getting caught up in the 'Rat Race': for that, I am particularly grateful. It has forced me to see good things wherever I can; to take delight in the smallest of pleasures.

Of course, when this season of depression is over, as I hope it will be soon, I'll be glad to move on and excited to see what's next. In the meantime, though, I'm (reasonably) at peace with this chance to get to know myself.

Carbon Fast: Day 30

Learn a new fact about climate change today. Amaze your friends.

Did you know:

150,000 people already die every year from climate change (World Health Organisation).

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 29

Run your washing machine at 30 degrees - this uses 40% less energy than running at 40 degrees.

I think I do this, but I'm not sure. My washing machine has an 'Energy Save' button, which I think reduces the washing temperature - but I will read the instructions this evening and make sure.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 28

Do a home energy check at You could save up to £250 a year on bills.

Did this - having got cavity wall insulation last year, and the new efficient gas system, I reckon we're not too bad. We definitely need to get loft insulation, and we could probably replace a few more lightbulbs with energy saving ones.

I'm still awaiting my results, which are coming via email - when they turn up I'll let you know if there's anything to report.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Windows Vista, part 2

This Windows Vista nonsense gets worse. Last night it just connected me to someone else's WiFi network all by itself. Isn't that illegal, to use someone else's network? Even if it's not protected? But not only did it connect me, it started downloading things.

Good to know security was uppermost in their minds when they wrote this OS.

Incidentally, we're now on Day 4 of Vista, and we've had 3 crashes so far. I'm going to start filing this under 'Incompetent Bandits'.

Carbon Fast: Day 27

Pressure a car-owner to check their tyre pressure. Low tyre pressure means high fuel consumption.

So, everyone reading this, if you own a car - GO CHECK YOUR TYRE PRESSURE.

If you don't, I will know. Remember, I'm watching you.

Sponsor Me!!

I am doing a sponsored bounce next week, to raise money for the Parent and Toddler group in our community centre in church. We're trying to raise money to get new tables and chairs. The kids are all doing a 5 minute bounce on the bouncy castle, and I said I'd join in - general concensus is that I need to do more than 5 minutes though. If you'd like to sponsor me, leave a comment (including suggestions for amount of bouncing required etc.), and we can come to some arrangement.

I was going to set up one of those justgiving accounts, but decided it was a bit ambitious.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Carbon Fast: Day 26

'Love does no harm to its neighbour.' (Romans 13:10) But while our lifestyles consume more and more energy, our poorer neighbours are suffering. Reflect on ways to love our neighbours in our increasingly connected world.

You may know that we are currently in the middle of FairTrade Fortnight, when we're encouraged to buy Fairtrade products and thereby ensure that the producers get a fairer deal. I'm a big fan of Fairtrade and think its an incredible vision - we've already seen how global trade patterns have been influenced by this relatively small movement.

This week The Guardian had a fairtrade supplement, which was excellent, highlighting various projects which exist entirely due to the Fairtrade movement - producers are not only given a fair, guaranteed wage for their produce, but the communities they live in are supported as well, so that they are able to become self-sustaining and not dependent on hand outs.

I always try to buy Fairtrade products, but I've renewed my commitment to buy them every time I can. Another issue highlighted was that of mainstream brands which have a 'fairtrade' line - like Nestle, for example, which has a couple of lines of Fairtrade coffee alongside its other non-Fairtrade lines. I'm a bit cynical about some of these lines - they can be used by the manufacturer to brush up their image a bit while not really being commited, so where possible, I prefer to choose a Fairtrade product from a company which has ethics at the heart of its vision.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

An unexpected rant about technology

It's not very often that I am moved to rant about technology; mainly I ignore it, but when we are forced to interact I usually win. But. You may recall that some time ago, I mentioned that I was having laptop trouble (hence the infrequency of posting lately). Well, I decided to treat myself to a new one, which has happily now arrived.

This new laptop came complete with Windows Vista pre-installed. I'm not the biggest fan of Windows, but since it was bundled, I thought 'OK, might as well'. Since the hard disc is nice and big, I can always make it dual-boot and have a decent operating system, such as Linux, on there as well. I have to admit that Windows is nice for multimedia, like watching DVDs and so on; also, Linux is a bit crap for syncing with iPod, so all in all I figured the dual-boot thing would be a winner. And heck, Vista is just XP jazzed up a bit - XP's quite nice; this new one can't be that bad.

(Of course, one must always be mindful of the old joke:
Person 1: "Here, I got this Windows install CD, played it backwards and it sounds like they're singing about Satan."
Person 2: "You got off lightly. I played it forwards and it installed Windows.")

So anyway. I fired up Vista to start playing. Oh. My. Life. Has there EVER been a worse operating system, on any computer, ever? The fact that they were finding bugs at the rate of something like hundreds a day about 6 weeks before release should have been a warning. So far I've used it for approximately 4 hours, and it has already crashed twice. And that doesn't count the times the mouse has just frozen dead in the middle of the screen for a few seconds before going beserk, opening a few files and then returning to where it should be. It's pretty slow (and my laptop is pretty fast, so it should be going like lightning) - all sorts of time seems to be dedicated to making things dance across my screen, rather than making anything useful happen.

And it's fecking patronising. If I try to do ANYTHING at all that it's not entirely keen on (like scroll off the top of a page, say), there are beeps, flashes and warning messages all over the place. When I download an installer (for, eg, a decent browser like Firefox), and then try to run it, it asks me for permission and then gives me a lecture about how I shouldn't really trust things like this, and am I maybe not being a bit naive in trying to use my computer to actually do things when there are nice pretty pictures to look at instead. And it's the devil himself for 'tips'. Everything I try to do gets a full-on running commentary, none of which is of any use at all.

Vista is of course meant to be very good on security. My favourite story was the one about how they made it so it had built-in voice recognition to do things like copy, open or delete files at the user's command - and then realised that if anyone opened a website that had audio saying 'delete all files' or something along those lines, their entire system could be wiped. 'Security' seems to involve questioning everything you try to do, no matter how ordinary; I can only assume that this is designed to either (a) make you so paranoid that you give up trying completely or (b) make you so irritated that you lob the computer out the window; to be fair, in either case you will be unlikely to pick up a virus. It keeps running scans of my computer, to alert me to anything that might be trying to hack in; this takes so long that the hackers will easily be in and away with my admittedly-not-very-interesting files before my mouse has even started working again.

This wouldn't be so bad if it was an OS mashed together by a 16-year-old on work experience and handed in as part of his GCSE coursework or something, but Microsoft have the cheek to spend years developing it and then to charge people to use it. People complain about Linux, but at least it's free and it's not going to let people run off with your data faster than you can say 'HM Revenue and Customs'. Nor does it generally crash, unless you try to do something VERY ambitious.

So, the moral of the story is that if you're getting a new computer, you should not get Windows Vista. You will do nothing but regret it.

Carbon Fast: Day 25

Who works hardest in the house? Mum? Dad? No, the fridge. It's churning away 24/7. Treat it to a good de-icing to make sure it's running efficiently.

Now, our fridge de-ices itself all by some kind of magic which masquerades as science. This is a good thing since the previous freezer was so iced up that we could only store a pack of bacon in it.

So, we shall move on to other appliances today, and I think we shall deal with the tumble drier. I recently got some of those tumble drier balls that remove the need for tumble drier sheets; they are pretty good and make the clothes soft and everything, as well as drying them faster. But obviously the thing to do is to stop using the tumble drier at all; this is not always possible in winter since there is just not enough space to dry everything, but now that the weather is better I can dry things outside. So, I will buy a washing line (previous one was removed during the building work), and use it.