Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Noughties: A Decade In Books

Over the past 10 years, I have read a number of books. I now present the best and worst of them. Please note that this is not so much a list of books from the Noughties, as a list of books I have read in the Noughties.

The usual caveats apply: lists are not exhaustive, were dreamed up from the top of my head and may not be representative of my actual opionions. Also, they are not in any particular order.

So, here goes:

Books I Read This Decade And Liked A Lot

1. Possession (AS Byatt)
To be honest, I didn't think I'd understand this, because it was all literary and stuff. The kind of book where I would get a couple of hundred pages in and realise I didn't know who the main character was. But it was very good and I liked it and understood it.

2. The Name Of The Rose (Umberto Eco)
Not being a fan of crime, detective and middle-ages books, this did not seem promising either... I do like monks, though, so maybe that helped.

3. The Time-Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
After re-starting three times I finally figured out what was going on and enjoyed it a lot. Once you realise that he is moving about in time and she is not, it makes more sense.

4. Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)
I bought this entirely because Jaybercrow had named his blog after it, and I figured that if he liked it, it must be quite good, and also it is about a barber, which you don't always get. By the end I had almost forgotten that there was a whole, real world out there.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis)
This should not need any explanation; the only question being why I didn't read it until I was in my mid-twenties. I blame my parents.

6. How To Be Good (Nick Hornby)
This is one of those books that wasn't really all that great, but that I liked a lot.

7. The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins)
You may be surprised at this entry, but it is in large part that I felt it was owed a place due to the immense contribution it has made to this blog. When I say I liked it a lot, I am not, of course, referring to its contents, which were mainly dull, anti-scientific drivel (oooh, what's that I hear? Oh, that'll be the comments section going nuts), but I liked when we talked about it. And I liked that it is the only book I have ever shredded (that was fun). And that it inspired what may be the most negative book review ever written, and which was almost on the list in itself.

8. Schindler's List (Thomas Keneally)
If you've never read this, you really should. And it's ok, because the book came before the film, so it's actually really good.

9. Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier)
Probably the scariest book I have ever managed to read, which is nice.

10. The Remains Of The Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
I like this mainly because not a whole lot happened, but it was still un-put-downable

Almost made-its: Life Of Pi (Yann Martel), Home (Marilynne Robinson), The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time (Mark Haddon), The Secret Scripture (Sebastian Barry), A Prayer For Owen Meany (John Irving).

Books I Read This Decade And Did Not Like

1. True History Of The Kelly Gang (Peter Carey)
By the end, I was willing them all to die. Should probably get bonus points for drawing the characters so well that I hated them, I suppose, but I'm not that nice.

2. Miss Wyoming (Douglas Coupland)
I'd been promised a lot, and this did not deliver.

3. The Purpose-Driven Life (Rick Warren)
See number 2

4. Catch-22 (Joseph Keller)
We've discussed this before. We hated it.

5. To The Lighthouse (Virginia Wolff)
We have also discussed this. We got bored after the first sentence, which did not end till page 5.

6. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
I hated this not for the crappy plot, the over-hyped excitement, the non-existent characters, the symbolism nonsense, or the poor dialogue. I just hated it, just because.

7. Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Louis De Bernieres)
Much like To The Lighthouse, I tried, I really did. But I just couldn't.

and I can't think of any more books that I did not like this decade.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Noughties: Review of the Decade

And so we come to the ten-yearly event marked by a communal roly-poly, leap of faith and accidental wandering from the old decade to the new, and it is therefore time to review the decade that was.

The build-up began with the Prince song "Party like it's 1999", which promised that one day we would all party like it's 1999, but it would actually BE 1999, and then it would be 2000 and a new year, decade, century and millenium would be upon us, and with them, a new hope, a new dream, a new resolution and a new future for all. But first we had the argument about when it would start and what to call it.

Now, I can understand the arguments about 2000 being, in fact, the final year of the old millenium, and not the first year of the new one*; I just don't really care. In my view, if you have to have a party, best to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. There was also the important decision of what to call our new Time Home; recent decades (the fifties, sixties, seventies and so on) had all but named themselves, so it was not a problem with which we were familiar, and suggestions included 'The Ohs' (which I can assure our younger readers sounded reasonably plausible at the time), 'The Two Thousands' (dangerously pants), 'Eric' (but that was just me and never really caught on), and 'The Noughties'. In all honesty, we never really committed ourselves, and this was not a problem until about a fortnight ago, when program makers had to think up titles for their Review of the Year show, and the concensus seems to have fallen in favour of the latter option.

(* Note for the slow people: this is because the first year was year 1. Therefore the first 10 years were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, so the second decade did not start until the year 11. By a process of extrapolation, you can convince yourself it doesn't matter all that much.)

You will recollect that there was a lot of fuss about the Millenium Bug, which was supposedly going to plunge computers and, therefore, the world into abject chaos, as Programmers of Yore had not realised that the world would continue after 1999 and had set a lot of things to keel over and die then. In the event, of course, no such thing happened, since so few were still relying on their Sinclair Spectrum to hold their world together, but I do recollect that Mama Smile had some difficulty for a few years thereafter with the system in the surgery, which was unable, for a time, to distinguish 3-year-olds from 103-year-olds.

Now, left to my own devices, I would have started the millenium in bed, but this was deemed by my mother to be Unacceptable, so eventually my sister and I gatecrashed a party our cousin was going to, and then sat in the corner feeling a bit awkward, because we hadn't been invited really and also everyone else had dressed up. At around 11.30 we all decided to go to Bangor to see the fireworks, which were pretty much like any other fireworks except that it was more crowded. However, for a brief spell no one seemed forlorn, and eventually I got to bed, so all was well.

It is hard now to imagine what life was like just 10 years ago. However, a quick perusal of Wikipedia (itself a child of more recent times) informs me that Bill Clinton was still president of the US, most of us still didn't have mobiles, Windows 98 was the height of technology, Facebook was unthought of, and for a tour of Europe one needed a ready supply of Francs, Punts, Marks and Lira. WhyNotSmile was a mere young thing, and was caught between spending £960 on an 8Gb PC with AMD processor, or £1020 on a similar model with, I think, a Pentium 2. She opted, incidentally, for the former. I still have memories of the excitement when, in the early months of 2000, the computer arrived, in several large boxes - wiring it up, admiring the state of the art Operating System (Windows 98), and plugging it in to the phone line to dial up the internet. Sure, it took 8 minutes for your web page to load; of course, no one else could use the phone while you were online; naturally, there wasn't really anything much to DO online (although I fondly recollect my enthusiastic perusal of online clip art *in colour*, and some kind of personality test which matched you up with your friends and told you which famous person you were most like (I was a charitable loner, like Piglet)); but it brought the world together, and we loved it. And in fact, one should not mock the humble dial-up connection; having been without any internet connection at all for about 5 days now, I would happily hook up to the ole' BT line and await the arrival of the text-only version of the BBC site.

Other technological advances have included DVD players, iPods, smilies and text abbreviations (go back to 1999 and say 'ur gr8 lol lmao ;)' and see how far it gets you), flat-screen TVs and eBook Readers (which we so far seem to be ignoring, and rightly so in my opinion, although I can see how they'd be handy if you commuted a lot).

Anyway, as we said above, the new millenium brought a new hope, a new dream, a new resolution, and a new future for all, but this was quickly killed off with the explosion in reality TV. Big Brother first graced our screens within 7 months of the new millenium, and gained viewers during the early Noughties, thus proving wrong the old maxim that 'several million people can't be wrong' - as it turns out, they can, very much so, and indeed repeatedly and for extended periods of time. If you will cast your mind back, you may recollect that the earlier series of 'BB' were not so bad, and could just about pass themselves off as social experiments - likewise, the earliest Pop Idols were a handy way to laugh at people without leaving your sofa; but mainly the joy came with the advent of text voting, and the realisation that each and every one of us could actually *text* the telly from the comfort of our own homes. It was like being famous, but without the effort, wage packet, or unwelcome exposure.

Moving from the small screen to the big screen, the discerning cinema-goer of the Noughties has had a wide choice of viewing. The big news, of course, was the release of the Lord of the Rings series, and this gave us opportunity to admire how much film you could cram onto a DVD, and can you imagine if it had been released on video, how many videos would you have needed? WhyNotSmile is not, of course, a big one for films, but enjoyed Shrek, Shrek 2, Juno and The Shawshank Redemption (which may have been released a lot earlier than 2000, but I didn't see it until more recently).

The important thing, of course, is books, and the last decade was one in which WhyNotSmile found much to occupy her Literature Time. However, I think we will come back to this in another post, and not concentrate on it here.

In terms of career (always a laughable term where WhyNotSmile is concerned), at the start of 2000 I was still finishing my masters, and dreaming of a big job, teaching or in medical physics, or possibly air traffic control. I decided to take a year out to consider further, and spent the twelvemonth from September 2000 drinking tea with students, and sometimes doing Bible studies with them. Toward the end of this year, Voxo took The Soapbox, John and me to the library in a Theological College, which was nice because the caretaker took us onto the roof with binoculars and let us birdwatch. At some point over that week, I decided I wanted to do a PhD, so I did, which brings us to December 2004. After a spell of post-graduate work, which (if memory serves, and it may not) mainly involved eating lunch and going to conferences in exotic places like Sweden. For reasons I now forget, I decided I wanted a real job, and got one in August 2005, which is when I met Alex, who has contributed much to this blog. This lasted until May 2008 or thereabouts, when they decided they could no longer afford my services, and I left to create websites, which is going ok, although I could do with getting paid a bit more and a bit more often. However, I have Big Plans for the next decade, so watch this space.

The world, you must understand, is bigger than just us, here, and this past decade, things happened in the rest of the world - big things. The defining moment, the 'where were you when?' time, the one that will stick in everyone's memories for ever, was of course September 11th, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked. By a bizarre twist which involved the recently-wed Jayspero not wanting to be separated, but him having to go to a conference, so her having to go to and only being allowed to go if she cooked, and her wanting someone else to come and cook too, and talking WhyNotSmile into it, I found out about the whole thing by overhearing a report on a car radio while passing through a parking lot in Shropshire, shortly after 3pm, on an otherwise sunny day. Being something of a novice when it comes to world affairs, I had no idea what the World Trade Center was, why anyone would attack it, or generally what was going on, so I remember taking myself off the next morning to the little village shop in Weston Rhyn, which had sold out of virtually all newspapers; and so arrived the only time in my life when I bought a copy of the Daily Express.

Other big world events included the Madrid bombings and the tsunami in 2004, the London bombings and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Now be honest. If you had to name the years in which those things happened, how many would you have got? Honestly? Obama, ok. The London bombs, I would've put at 2006/2007, although I could have worked it out as I was on holiday at the time. Katrina seems like 6 months ago. Which just goes to show you.

We had our share of health scares too. Mad Cow Disease, for instance. Remember that? The one we all got from eating meat, but we didn't find out until it was too late, and we probably won't know we have it for at least another 30 years. The phrase 'Why Worry?' springs to mind. Then there was Bird Flu, which we roundly failed to catch, and then swine flu, which some people did catch, but not as many as they originally thought. There has also been the looming spectre of Climate Change, which we have talked about a lot and not really done anything about, but which, it is now widely agreed, will Get Us soon.

Fortunately Science is on the case, with the investment of millions and billions of pounds in building the Large Hadron Collider, which uses as much energy in a day as all of Switzerland uses in a year, or thereabouts. Having fallen to pieces when one of the magnets wsn't properly welded in, and then been sabotaged by a bird with some bread, it is almost ready to be switched on, but now someone has figured out that it will never really work because people from the future will keep coming back and sabotaging it because otherwise it will blow up the world and the people in the future would not exist to come back and stop it, and you're inclined to think they maybe should have said all that before, but now we have gone down the 'big-not-completely-purposeful but oh-look-how-shiny-it-is piece of energy-eating machinery' route, rather than the 'everyone getting access to clean water and good sanitation' route, we might as well see the thing through and hope that getting into a black hole isn't as painful as it sounds.

Another thing about the past decade was that there was a lot of what you might call 'Economic Turbulence', but I don't really understand that sort of thing, and only know that I have not, at any point in the last 10 years, had a lot of money.

So that is the decade that was, and I think it is fair to say that we looked at the New Millenium, we saw your warnings of abject chaos caused by computers, and we raised you abject chaos caused by all of us, and we did fairly well at it.

Also, we demoted Pluto.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Review of the Year 2009

And so we come to the end of 2009, a year which bucked all recent trends and ended up better than it started, although some may note, with a wry smile, that it didn't have much farther to fall, and this is true.

It began, you recollect, with The Seige, when a group of young chaps from the local estate started attacking my house because I had 'slabbered about their ma on Bebo'. So this got us through about half of January, and then I fell over and broke my arm, which became the new Most Interesting Thing To Have Happened This Year. For about 20 minutes I had fun getting sympathy for having a sling, and then it got kind of annoying.

An inauspicious start to the year, but it got me through to the middle of February and I think I made the best of it. The other key cultural event of the early part of 2009 was the Atheist Bus Campaign, which we almost enjoyed, but not quite. There was also a brief period of trying to read Calvin's 'Insitutes of the Christian Religion', but it was too hard, so I stopped.

Things trundled along fairly happily until April, when I spent a few days with my parents and became addicted to The Apprentice. From then on, weekly WhyNotSmile reviews of the latest goings on in Apprentice-land became the bedrock of the internet for quite some weeks.

May started with me running the marathon, or at least part of it, and almost dying in the process (how people do 26 miles is beyond me; my 200 yards were quite enough Thank You Very Much), and finished with the celebration of John Wesley Day, which is much more My Sort Of Thing.

Then the summer came, and since no one on the planet appeared to be interested in getting a website, WhyNotSmile became available for outings and investigations with Mama and Papa Smile. Hence, we enjoyed the Zoo, the Tall Ships and Gay Pride.

In September, my sister moved in, and I began to spend a lot of time making Resources for Lessons, and not so much time blogging. Of course, since my sister is never here, I ended up seeing a lot of my dad (incidentally, I forgot to tell you about him cutting through the lead of the fairy lights last week while my mum was at her work Christmas Do). This took us through to the end of October, when sister went on teaching practice and moved in with my parents for the duration.

Then around about mid-November, all the people who hadn't previously wanted websites decided that they did, after all, want websites, and that they had to have them by Christmas, Or Else, and that's what I've been doing since then. Hopefully some of them will pay me soon, and I will have money to spend, but this has not happened yet.

So that was 2009, and fairly uneventful it was. However, it must not be forgotten that this brings us to the end of the decade, and that the Noughties must be reviewed as well. Tune in sometime soon for that.

Until then, Merry Christmas and so on and so forth.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

This Is Not Just A Parcel, This Is An M&S Parcel

Today I had to collect a couple of items I had ordered online from Marks & Spencer, to pick up in the shop. So I go there, and get the parcel. Here it is (Cat & Elephant shown for comparison):

It seemed quite big, I thought. So I opened it up. Here are the contents:

Essentially, a lot of brown paper, the invoice, a thing about birthday cards or something, and a smaller box. This is the smaller box:

And this is the contents of the smaller box, which is what I had actually ordered:

So, this is all the not-completely necessary stuff which accompanied my parcel:

So it is a good thing that they have reduced their packaging in an attempt to save the planet.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Geographical Features

Well, the flash floods which have hit much of the UK have not been apparent in WhyNotSmile's posting rates, which would be more accurately described as 'akin to a famine', and for which I apologise.

However, the good news is that this is all because I am currently sitting under a mountain of work (Heh. Fancy WhyNotSmile thinking like that. Amazing what self-employment does to a mind.). It is unlikely that this mountain will be eroded much in the next couple of weeks, so do not expect the rivers to flow again any time soon.

But I am still alive, and am grateful to those who asked.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Craft Fair, Which You Could Come To

Every year our church has a craft fair, and this year it is this Saturday (I say that as though it's unexpected, but in fact it's always in the middle of November). So you can all come if you want. There will be Christmas things to buy, and other things which might be nice for Christmas but could also provide joy and entertainment throughout a range of seasons. And I might be selling books.

It costs £1.50 to get in, and then another £1.50 for tea/coffee with scones and traybakes and so on (and I should point out that this is excellent value, for you get an entire plate of scones and traybakes and so on, and they are very nice as well).

Also, there is a free children's craft corner, where children can make things and so on.

And also as well, there are (I believe) still a few tables left, so if you are crafty and wanted to sell some of your craft, you could still book a table, for the modest sum of £20. I should now point out that the craft fair is one of those things that is almost an institution, so people come from far and about to visit, and not just off the Cregagh Road (although they also do that). So you might find a reasonably substantial market for your wares. If you contact me I could tell you who to contact to get a stall.

Also also as well in addition, my church is on the Cregagh Road and is called Cregagh Methodist. You can find directions by going to our excellent (ahem) website, which is here.

Monday, 9 November 2009

WhyNotSmile Investigates: Special Edition

Well, good morning and welcome to the start of another week etc.

You will be familiar with the 'WhyNotSmile Investigates' series, in which WhyNotSmile (and, often, Mama Smile) goes forth and investigates... things. Well, today is your opportunity to be part of a special WhyNotSmile Investigates. No, you can't come. But you can suggest destinations.

However, there are criterias. Mostly, that the purpose of this investigation is to find things that a 2-year old could do in Belfast (accompanied by adults, obviously). Let us hypothetically say he is called Neddy and is Very Advanced. Now, I'm thinking that 2 is a bit young for kiddie things, which are generally aimed more at those of primary school age. But I think the Belfast Eye would be quite fun. And also the hole in the road, but they'll have filled that in soon.

So if anyone has any ideas for things that Neddy could do in Belfast when he visits, please leave them in the comments section below. Furthermore, if you have actual experience of doing these things with a 2-year-old, please also detail that, giving particular attention to Potential Hazards, Necessary Equipment, and What You Wish You'd Known Before You Went.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

On Ecumenical Matters (Or Something)

By now you may or may not be aware that Pope Benedict has issued an invitation for Anglicans to become Roman Catholic. The exact details of this are beyond me, but it got me thinking.

Firstly, I thought any of us could become RC any time we wanted. I mean, I assumed there was some sort of entry ritual, like an assault course or a quiz or something, and you couldn't just waltz in and expect to be one of the gang, but I always thought that the entry ritual was open to whoever wanted to give it a lash. It wasn't that I was sitting around waiting for an invitation. It was more that I didn't feel inclined.

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, if I were issuing an invitation to a group of people to join my church, I'm not sure that the Anglo-Catholics would be the focus of my marketing strategy. Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against them or anything; it's just that broadly speaking they're the ones who are defined by being against women bishops and gay people, and I'm just saying that wouldn't be my first choice of essential criteria. Now if someone happened to be against women bishops and gay people, I wouldn't object per se to them coming along of a Sunday (and if they can bake, so much the better and I'm sure we can get over our differences), it's just that it's not the thing I'd be first inclined to go after.

Thirdly, if anyone is inviting me to join a church (and I notice they're not), I'm not sure the Roman Catholic one would be my first choice. Now, I do not wish to offend my RC readers, and assure you that it's not that it's absolutely not an option; it's just that it wouldn't be my first choice. I've always quite liked the Pentecostals, for instance - or indeed any place that combines 'being allowed to dance' and 'being able to dance' so effectively. And I've long had a soft spot for the Quakers. Some of them seem a bit nuts, but I quite like how they all just sit and think and call it a Sunday service. I could do that. I can sit and think. So I think if I was to go anywhere and angle for an invite, it would be one of those two, or perhaps the Rastafarians, because I think I could carry off the hairdo. But I think if I really wanted to join them, I could, because I don't think you have to be invited, and I would just have to gear up for the assault course.

So, in conclusion, the Pope has done something I didn't know he had to do and which I wouldn't want done to me anyway to a group of people who are not me, so that's fine.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

My Opinions On Things That Happened A Week Ago

Well I feel very grand today, because we had the Lord Mayor in church this morning, and it's not every day that happens. To be precise, it happens about once a year, because our BB (Boys' Brigade) captain likes a bit of pomp, circumstance &etc for the enrolment, and while we do not always go so far as the Lord Mayor, we usually have a bit of a Someone.

Also, when the clocks go back, and you get an extra hour in bed but really just end up getting up an hour earlier than yesterday, doesn't it make the rest of the day feel like a fortnight and a half?

Anyway, I was asked by a commentator on my previous post to expound on my opinions on the Nelson McCausland/Sinn Fein row and the Jan Moir thing. So here are my opinions, with which you are free to disagree, but please don't shout:

1. The Nelson McCausland / Sinn Fein row. First, some background. Nelson McCausland is a DUP councillor/MP/something. He recently caused a row by saying that he will not attend any religious service in a Catholic church, although he will go to other things there as long as they're just for the craic. But also he will not go to any event on a Sunday, unless (and I promise I'm not making this up) 'it was an Orange Order parade that included a church service'. Sinn Fein (possibly amongst others) got Quite Cross about this, because they said that it means he cannot be fully representative of the people he serves if he is not prepared to go to a Catholic Church for a religious service.
Now, I do not agree with either of them. I would not, for instance, refuse to attend a religious service in a Catholic church, and indeed have even gone so far as to have done so in the past, oh yes. On the other hand, I do not see why my public representatives have to be prepared to go to church with me in order to represent me fully. To the extent that, at this point, I lose all understanding of what this is about.
However, I do find it oddly fascinating that anyone would be upset by this man not attending their church.

2. Jan Moir. This, you will remember, is the article which we all widely misinterpreted as being Homophobic, Nasty and A Bit Much Even For The Daily Mail. You will be glad to hear though, that we were wrong, and that Jan Moir is not at all homophobic, and that when she said that Stephen Gately's death "strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships", that she didn't mean it like that and is actually very supportive of civil partnerships and really she could have said the same thing about a heterosexual relationship. Which is concrete proof, although then you wonder whether it might have been worth not mentioning the whole gay thing in the article in the first place, given that we were all supposed to think that that bit was irrelevant.

Monday, 19 October 2009

On Important Things, and Also Poodles

There are many things worth discussing at the moment: Nelson McCausland refusing to participate in Catholic services and Sinn Fein being outraged (an argument in which I can see neither's side, and yet still find myself getting quite worked up on everyone's behalf), that article by Jan Moir about Stephen Gately, a piece in the Belfast Telegraph about what age children should start school at (of particular interest, since Sister Smile is doing teacher training, and says (more or less) that they are currently operating a bizarre compromise whereby children start school at age 4 but don't actually do anything until they're aged 6 or 7). If you wish to know more on my thoughts on any of these, please indicate your interest in the comments section, and I'll see what I can do, but in the meantime, I direct your attention to 12 new dog breeds created by show groomers, which focusses on people who start with poodles and then turn them into better-looking things, like pandas, dinosaurs and chickens.

I have to confess that I really dislike poodles. I apologise to any poodle-lovers out there; I just can't stand them. I mean, I wouldn't be nasty to them, or cruel or anything, and if I found one in need of love and attention, I like to think I would take it in and treat it handsomely; it's just that if I was faced with a limited choice of dogs, I cannot forsee any line up in which the poodle would not be my final choice.

We used to have a dog called Glen, who agreed entirely with this. Glen was the best type of dog you could get: no stick or ball went unchased, no passer-by went unbarked at, and he was so terrified of vets that he used to sit on the table and shake, and then be scared of the rattling noise, and shake more, and so on and so forth in a never-ending vicious circle, until (a) the vet drugged him, (2) my dad lifted him off the table and spent the consultation holding him in his arms or (3) he wet himself and my dad resorted to a messier version of (2). He was also scared of Rice Krispies (honestly. We found this out one time my mum put them in his bowl to use up some leftover ones at the end of the packet. This was popular, but then she added milk (like the dog cared whether there was milk on them), and the ensuing snaps, crackles and pops transformed Glen into a cowering heap in the corner), most cats, and gunshots (despite being supposed to be a gundog - my uncle bought him for us, ostensibly as a present, with the proviso that he could borrow him for hunting. Hunting happened once, and ended with my uncle having to drag Glen home, quivering and shaking, to be forever scared of loud noises and fireworks. My uncle shortly afterward sold his shotgun and has never hunted since).

Anyway, Glen hated poodles, (particularly, incidentally, black ones (he wasn't that keen on black anythings)), but there was a lady we often used to meet when out for walks who had a little snow-white poodle called Snoopy, of which she was exceptionally proud. Snoopy had hair clips, was brushed to within an inch of its life, was dazzlingly clean, and wasn't allowed near anything dirty, particularly Glen. Frankly, I always thought it was asking for trouble to let Snoopy out onto the beach, but there you have it. I'm sure Snoopy was a perfectly nice dog, of course, but its owner was insufferable, and snobby.

So, on one particular day, I had taken Glen out for his customary walk on the beach, which had on this occasion involved a lot of being in the sea, rolling in seaweed, and generally enjoying all that the beach had to offer in the way of mess (on Glen's behalf I mean; I was just walking along watching him). Coming in the opposite direction, we spotted Snoopy and owner, and the dogs bounded over to each other. Snoopy's owner became apoplectic, shouting 'Snoopy, no! No, Snoopy! Don't go near that dog!! Snoopy!!! Come here!!!!' at increasing pitch and decibel levels. I vaguely called Glen, like I cared whether he got sand on Snoopy, and he ignored me, as always. Anyway, Glen had a little sniff around, and then realised that he was dealing with a poodle, and that no further interest was to be found. He also realised he needed to pee, lifted his leg, and did so, all over Snoopy's head. Which was unfortunate, but only slightly.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Belfast City Hall Reopens: WhyNotSmile Investigates

It might have been thought that the colder weather would keep Mama Smile and I at home a little more, but this is not the case, and we continue to investigate everything that's open to us, and some that isn't ('keep smiling, keep walking' as my dad would say).

This weekend saw the re-opening of Belfast City Hall, which has been closed for refurbishment for some time now, so of course we had to go along, as a journalistic endeavour. Not that we had the faintest idea what was on or whether we'd be allowed in or anything, but there had been rumours that something was going on (Alex had told me something about caterpillars, which I didn't really hear because the signal was weak where one of us was, and Mama Smile had heard a thing on the radio about 'people going up as caterpillars and coming down as butterflies', all of which sounded promising enough to warrant checking it out, especially as I needed to go to the bank anyway, and Mama Smile had to return something to WH Smith).

I tried doing some research online, but the website was geared up for the sort of people who are discerning about what they go to - events organised into 'Workshops', 'Music', 'Exhibitions' and so on - rather than for the likes of Mama Smile and I, who will go to anything as long as it's free. I had been hoping for a list of 'things happening on Saturday', but this eluded me, so the suspense continued.

Anyway, we went into town, went to the bank, and decided we'd have a look at the City Hall, find out what was happening, and Take It From There. So we ambled through the grounds, which seemed to be teeming with inflatable spiky things, and went up the steps, where a very lovely member of the entertainment staff told us that we couldn't come in. Apparently all the workshops and films were booked out, and we could only get in if we had tickets. This was not a terrible disappointment, since we had not, up to that point, realised there even were workshops and films (I think this may be the secret to our success and happiness: whatever you say about Mama Smile and I, we aim low, and always get better than we hoped for).

Anyway, she said we could go to the Coffee Shop (The Bobbin), so we did, and found an exhibition on Belfast, and people from Belfast, and things people from Belfast had invented, so we looked at that, and Mama Smile reminisced about the bakery (that there was a photo of) that used to be near the Holywood Arches and made Custard Creams, because my granda's shop was near there and when she was working in the shop she could smell the Custard Creams, and they always remind her of that. I should also mention that in the foyer there was a bloke in a vest and tie teaching a group of children to sing something about bugs, while being filmed by a TV camera, so if you see that on TV, keep an eye out for Mama Smile and I sneaking past looking anxious.

Then we formed an orderly queue for food, and were quite impressed by the menu; not that it is extensive (largely a paninis and soup, or tray bakes sort of place), but that it wasn't extortionately expensive, as that is the sort of thing we like. It's also nice and airy, with stools at the windows for loners, bigger tables for those eating paninis and soup, and small coffee table type things for... presumably... coffee. Having selected my piece of shortbread, I was dispatched to find a table, but this did not go well, as I came upon Alan in Belfast, Cheryl Wonders, and Littl'un (whom I had never met, but who was wearing spotty tights), and by the time I had finished talking to them, there were no free tables.

So we wandered around looking lost, until a table of 3 older ladies with 2 spare seats hailed us to join them, which we did. Two of them were sisters, and the other had joined them because she also could not find a table, so we all chatted at length about how nice that was and how nice the City Hall is, and had we been in it before, and isn't it terrible how much vandalism there is these days? Mama Smile suspected that one of them had been a teacher of hers at one point, but didn't like to ask. Anyway, the verdict was that The Bobbin is a very nice place to eat, and we'll go back another day when we can get a tour of the City Hall (Mondays-Fridays only), and perhaps visit the Ulster Museum while we're at it.

The ladies at our table had evidently done their research, and were able to tell us that there was a parade happening in the afternoon, at about 2.30 or thereabouts, so we had some time to kill and did so by going to WH Smith (where Mama Smile caused some sort of chaos whose exact details remain obscure to me, hiding as I was in the card-making section), having a look in Next (note to clothes makers: I am currently in the market for a v-neck tank top, in a range of colours which would match a sort of dark purple. Thanks.) and then Dunnes and Currys, pondering the new sculpture thing near Victoria Square and deciding we had never seen anything much wrong with the bandstand.

This was all much as any normal Saturday in Belfast might be, until we came out of TK Maxx, turned left and saw a giant caterpillar across the road. Further investigation proved that we had, with our usual habit of falling accidentally headlong into good fortune, found the start of the parade just as it was about to begin, and were in an excellent spot to see it all. Hence, I have plenty of photos.

This is the caterpillar:

There were lots of people dressed as butterfly-related things such as these:

There were also drummers:

people who looked... familiar:

and many other things, all very colourful. So we followed the parade to the City Hall, where there were now people dressed as butterflies perched on the roof:

In our bid to see the butterflies, we inadvertantly wheedled our way to another perfect viewing spot, from which we could see both the butterflies and the arrival of the parade.

Now, I have mentioned already about the theme being caterpillars and butterflies, and this is all to symbolise the regeneration of Belfast and the new lease of life of the City Hall and so on and so forth. This was then made more apparent, when some caterpillars started climbing up the walls of City Hall:

and then turned into butterflies half way up:

Then they turned into acrobats (I do not think this happens in nature, I think it was an example of artistic licence), and this happened:

which we liked.

Then we tried to go home, which proved difficult as all the buses were stuck behind the caterpillars and so on, but eventually several arrived and it was all fine.

So all in all we had a nice day out, and are looking forward to returning for a tour of the City Hall, and a visit to the Ulster Museum, which is re-opening this week some time.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Things I Did Not Know About Friends

This is just a short post to record some Surprising Things I discovered recently. One of the many, many benefits* of having Sister Smile living with me is that she comes complete with the entire 10-season box set of Friends DVDs, and she goes out a lot. So I have been gradually working my way through them (currently on Season 8, Episode 13), and have realised that I did not know as much about Friends as I thought.

Now, admittedly, it hit our screens just as I went to university and I didn't have a TV; furthermore, it seemed like the sort of thing my sister enjoyed, which made me automatically Suspicious, but still, I thought I had seen at least 75% of the episodes. I mean, it's not like Channel 4 shows anything else, so when I go home at Christmas there's not a lot of options.

Anyway, here are the things I discovered:

1. There's a storyline which runs through each season, and from one season to the next. I never really knew this.

2. At one stage, Rachel moves in with Joey, because Chandler moves in with Monica. This happens quite early on, and lasts for several series, and yet I never knew that it had even happened.

3. Phoebe lives miles away, in a separate house, and not with Monica and Rachel.

4. Ross also has his own apartment, and does not live with Joey and Chandler (apart from a brief spell when he's between houses).

5. Rachel has a baby at the end of Series 8 (according to the box).

6. Ross and Rachel are not, in total, together for all that long, but at one point they accidentally get married.

7. Ross only owned a monkey for a short time, and not through most of the show as I previously believed. Joey and Chandler had the chick and the duck for much longer, and yet I thought they only appeared in one episode.

8. For a not entirely brief time, the guys and the girls swapped apartments.

I mention this simply because I seem to have seen countless episodes of Friends and had never known any of these things at all.

* Yeah, I sent her an email with the blog address at the bottom

Friday, 9 October 2009

Dodgy Mathematics Exposed #4: The Difference Between Correlation and Causation

It has been said by one Father Larry Lorenzoni that birthdays are good for you, as those who have more of them tend to live longer. This is an excellent example of today's lesson: the line between correlation and causation, which is becoming so blurred by media outlets as to have become virtually indistinguishable from a sign saying 'Please cross here'.

First, we must explain our terms.

'Correlation' is what happens when two things go together. For instance, it is true that the number of birthdays you have had correlates directly with how old you are (one may have to make a separate category for those born on 29th February, but the principle still holds). It is true that how heavy you are tends to roughly correlate with how tall you are, although admittedly the is getting weaker. It is also probably true that during a flu epidemic the amount of Lemsip sold goes up, while the number of beach umbrellas probably goes down (the latter is called negative correlation).

Two things are 'uncorrelated' if they are unrelated, such as the number of spots on my dalmation (if I had one), and the frequency of buses on the Cregagh Road.

'Causation' is a different thing, and happens when one thing causes another to happen. For example, when people get colds and flus, they buy Lemsip to get rapid relief from their symptoms. I don't though, because I hate Lemsips, but this is not statistically significant. They are also less likely to go to the beach, and so do not need a beach umbrella.

From this you should be able to see that 'correlation' and 'causation' are not at all the same thing, and should not be confused. There are three Important Things to remember here:

1. Correlation may be coincidental

For instance, it has been pointed out that a decrease in piracy worldwide has correlated with an increase in global warming; this does not, of course, indicate that pirates were good for the environment.
Similarly, the rise of reality TV shows roughly corresponded with my own progression through university, but I think we can safely assume that they did not help me in any way and that I would probably have gone through university regardless.

2. Correlation may arise from a root cause
During a flu epidemic, we have seen that Lemsip sales will increase; it is also likely that more people will take time off work. This does not, however, imply that buying Lemsip makes you take a day off, or that having a sneaky day off makes us all so gleeful that we rush out to Boots and crack open the cold rememdies. It is merely that they are both caused by the same thing.
A similar effect happens when you give teenagers injections, and this leads to much suspicion about vaccines such as the cervical Cancer one. If you inject a teenage girl with anything at all, including water, or indeed nothing - if, in fact, you stick a needle in the arm of a teenage girl, you will find that very often you don't hear the end of it for days. This is not the same thing as a side effect of whatever you injected. Therefore it is not correct to assume that a rise in headaches in the days after a vaccination programme implies that the vaccination causes headaches; in reality, it may be that sticking a needle in the arm caused an excuse for a bit of drama in the mind of a 14-year old.

3. Causation may not work in the expected direction
This is where the birthday thing comes in, because Father Larry has extrapolated in the wrong direction: it is not so much that having more birthdays makes you live longer, but that living longer makes you have more birtdays. This phenomenon, which we will call 'Causation Direction Reversal' is a good source of potential humour.

I trust that everyone now understands the difference between correlation and causation, and that you will now be better equipped to make up jokes.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

WhyNotSmile Guide To Choosing A Good Password

You know that WhyNotSmile is looking out for you all, all of the time, and so it was with a certain amount of concern that I read yesterday that the most common password among a load nicked from Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo/or something was '123456'. Other frequently used passwords include 'password', 'hello' and 'secret'. I mean, seriously, people, you need to do better than this. This is your identity we're talking about here, your emails, your photos, your secure personal data and your bank details. It's about time you all started taking password selection with the appropriate gravity.

And so I am pleased to present the WhyNotSmile Guide To Choosing A Good Password.

Section 1: What makes a good password?
A good password has 2 elements:
1. It must be secure
Words are not secure. How it works, you see, if you're trying to hack into someone's account, you get a computer and a dictionary, and you get the computer to keep trying to log in with each word in the dictionary in turn. A surprising number of people use words only for their password. Or they use their children's names, but this can easily be hacked in a similar way.
Short passwords are not very secure. g5, for instance, is not a word, but it's hardly rocket science to guess.
Combinations of letters and numbers are more secure. And if you add in some punctuation, it becomes even more secure. But some things you might sign up to will not allow you to use punctuation. So a password like 'x5t67!h1' is quite secure.
This, however, brings us to point 2:
2. You must be able to remember it
There is no point in outwitting yourself. Nor is there a lot of point in having a password so complicated that you need to keep it written down beside your computer all the time. So it needs to be something you will remember.

Section 2: Methods for generating good passwords
You can get things that will generate a password for you; these tend to be good on security and poor on rememberability. Fortunately, WhyNotSmile has some suggestions. In this section, we will look at how you can generate a 9-character password. For most things, this will be secure enough, but if you work for the FBI, you want to treat it as an introduction and extrapolate a little.

Step one: get 6 random letters of the alphabet. These can be anything, as long as you remember where they came from. Suppose you choose a song you like, and take the first letter of each of the first 6 words: taenat, for instance. Or, choose your grandparents' and parents' first names and take the final letter of each: nmdass. It doesn't really matter, as long as you remember what you did.

Step two: choose 2 random numbers. For example, take the final 2 digits of your parents' phone number: 46. Perhaps reverse them.

Step 3: choose your favourite punctuation: _

Step 4: combine them in some way that you will remember: ta46en_at for instance.

Now you have generated your own password which you can remember, and which is more secure than 'welcome'.

So don't come crying to me if someone steals your identity.

Bhutan, And Why I Like It

I don't know how much you know about Bhutan, so I'll start from the beginning (so as to keep as many of you on board as possible), and then I will explain the awesome thing I found out about Bhutan.

Bhutan is a country in South East Asia, next to China, India, Nepal and so on. For today's purposes, that's already more than you really need to know.

Now for the awesome bit. A number of years ago, the King read something somewhere that people who live in democracies are happier than people who live in kingdoms. And then - get this - made the country a democracy by transferring most of his powers to the government*.

But this is not all. Most countries measure their success by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or some variation - so the country is doing well if it is making lots of stuff. Bhutan measures success by Gross National Happiness (GNH) - so it considers it a good year if people are happy, and it makes laws and policies with the aim of advancing the country's happiness levels as much as possible.

Is this not awesome?

* I don't fully grasp politics, so this may not be exactly true, but it's broadly in line with the general spirit of events

Monday, 5 October 2009

Thank you and Please

Thank you to everyone who suggested things I could do to earn money. Some of the suggestions were even Quite Good.

I apologise for the lack of blogging of late; this is mainly due to Sister Smile being in need of a computer and using mine when I'm not. If anyone has a spare laptop they would like to donate to Sister Smile for the next year, blogging may become more frequent.

The good news is, Sister Smile and I have not thumped each other yet, and have not even had any arguments at all.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I need you all to help me to think. Here's the thing: I need a job. Or, not necessarily a job, but a way to earn money. But there are criteria. For example:

1. I need to work from home. This is due to being kind of agoraphobic, so if I work in an office I spend all day in a panic and it's not very productive. If I work at home, I am happy and it is extremely productive. I would not mind having to visit an office once in a while, if it was in Belfast. But I would rather not have to do that at all. I also don't mind being out and about a little bit, as long as it does not involve being in a confined space with a person or peoples. But if I could have a job where they sent me instructions and I did what they asked and sent the results back, then that would be good.

2. It needs to be legal and morally sound. So don't suggest I start a brothel.

3. It needs to pay enough for me to have self-respect. I refuse to work for £2.50 per hour, no matter what the recruiters on the freelance sites are saying ("Hey! I need a Facebook clone built, to launch next month! I have a really tight budget (£200), but once I get 100,000 people signed up, I'll give you 1% of the profits"). Even I think I'm worth more than that.

I think these are all the conditions, but I might think of more when I hear your suggestions.

Now, here are my ideas so far:

1. Freelance web design. I already do this. So you could employ me to build you a website. I'm very good. Really.

2. Maths. For instance, suppose you need an equation differentiated. Or you need to know the square root of something. Then I could do it and you could pay me. I admit that this has a limited market, but perhaps it's a start.

3. Selling books. I also already do this. So you could buy some children's books from me.

4. Get put in jail. This is what we call 'thinking outside the box'. It doesn't earn me money, but it's a way of living without having to pay for anything. The agoraphobia might be a problem at first, because I don't like new places, but I think it would be ok once I got used to it. I'm not sure how to get put in jail though; it would need to be for a decent amount of time, otherwise it just leaves me coming back out in 5 years with no improvement in my employment prospects, and I can't think of anything I could get jailed for that's not... well... illegal.

5. Win money. This could work, but it would need to be on a lottery level to make a real difference, and I don't do the lottery. But if you hear of any competitions, please let me know.

6. Sue someone. At the moment I can't think of anyone to sue, but perhaps if I keep my eyes out, there will be a patch of something I could slip on, or a pavement I could trip over.

So these are my ideas at this point. I should also mention that I am a software programmer, and I can make things like blankets, and I'm very nice.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

On Orderings Of Books

An awesome thing happened on Thursday evening. I ended up alone in a room with an unordered bookshelf. And 25 minutes to do what I pleased with it. I KNOW! I was like a child in a toy shop, a bull in a china shop and... umm... me in a bookshop? Anyhow, moving on...

I began, of course, by taking all the books off the shelf and putting them on the floor. In such a situation, this is the only proper way to begin. Next, I removed the videos and cassette tapes which had weaseled their way in, and put them on a separate shelf, at the top.

And then, I had to decide on a system. And to be honest, it wasn't easy. I thought of sorting by author, but they weren't really that kind of book (the bookshelf in question was our church 'library', whose stock mostly consists of books people were clearing out - not that this is a bad thing, but it makes the selection a little... random). They're the kind of books you want to browse, and sorting by author doesn't lend itself to browsing.

Next, I considered organising them asthetically - either by colour, height, or a combination of both. This would have worked well in terms of making them look pretty, and with a certain amount of effort, one can get a fairly pleasing arrangement in this manner, but eventually I decided there wasn't enough variation in the colours and sizes of the books for it to be entirely satisfactory.

So, finally, I settled on arranging them by subject - 'prayer', 'Bible study', 'Christian tat' etc. - and within that to go for alphabetical order of either author or title.

This progressed well, and for a time I was even wondering where I could get a hold of a copy of the Dewey Decimal system (as used in public libraries) and make the appropriate modifications to ensure that I had covered all categories correctly, but I was interrupted by everyone else arriving for the meeting for which I had been 25 minutes early, so I didn't get to finish. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Things That Feck Me Off: #2, The Whole Cold/Flu Tolerance Thing

What with all this noise about swine flu, it seems that every time someone sneezes at the moment is an excuse for someone to back off, waving their hands in an exaggerated way, making pig noises. Hilarious. Gets funnier every time you see it, too.

Anyway, I was talking to Alex the other week about pain thresholds, and how we* despise people who claim to have a really really high pain threshold and look at you like you're a wimp when you cry because you fell over (for instance). You know the sort of people I mean. They boast about never taking tablets, and how they make it into work despite the crushing pain in their head/back/stomach/whatever. Whereas when I get sick and have a day off, this makes me a pathetic work-shy waste of space. What never seems to occur to these people is that maybe I am, in fact, more sick than them. That maybe their headache is not that bad, and that if they had a headache that was as bad as my headache, they'd be curled up under a desk, eyes shut, wimpering for an epidural. I'm not saying this is the case, I'm just saying we have no way of knowing. When I got my wisdom tooth out, it fecking hurt, and I DO NOT want to listen to people who breezed through it without anasthetic - maybe you are braver and stronger and a more worthy person than me, or MAYBE my teeth have deeper roots. WE CANNOT TELL.

Likewise, people who, when I say 'I've been feeling fairly down lately' (meaning: I have spent approximately 80% of my time sobbing into my pillow and the remaining 20% trying to talk myself out of a complex plan which terminates with a leap off the nearest tall building) say 'Oh, I'm so depressed too, I have so much work to do and I don't think I'll get it done for the weekend'. 'No', I want to say, 'You are not depressed, you are merely regreting your self-inflicted disorganisation'.

Which brings us to another thing I wanted to mention: colds and flu. More specifically, the difference between the two, and, on a topical note, swine flu**. Here's the thing: flu is not just a heavy cold. Trust me. It is a different thing entirely. The fact that they have some symptoms in common does not make them the same thing. For the mathematically inclined, sniffing does not imply flu.

If you come into work with the flu, and I take a week off with the flu, it does not mean you are a better person than me. It means you didn't have flu and I did. If you take part in a triathlon with your flu, and I stay in bed impering for several days with mine, it does not mean you are a hardier soul than I am. It means you didn't have flu and I did. Just because you could go scuba-diving when you had your flu, and I took to bed with a box of lemsips, a forest of tissues and a deep wish to never see daylight again, does not make you a better person.

Please stop pretending it does.

Thank you.

* Technically, I can't remember whether Alex actually went so far as to despise such people. I know I do, though.

** Incidentally, I am due to catch flu this year. I had flu in 1989 and I had flu in 1999, so it's about due.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Nothing in particular

I'd have posted sooner, but every time I go online I watch that Bonnie Tyler thing again and end up losing all motor skills. Anyway, it's not like I have much to say, so you haven't really been missing anything. I've just been doing a lot of work. An almost unprecedented number of people are wanting me to make websites for them, so I've been distracted by that.

You'll be glad to hear that I'm getting on fairly well with Sister Smile since she moved in; this may have been helped by the fact that she's been here for approximately 2.5 hours since moving in at the start of the month. When she's not here, of course, Papa Smile is clamouring for her room, because he likes being in Belfast because you can be nosey in Belfast in a way that you can't in Ballysmile because (1) there's nothing to see there and (2) everyone knows you, so you can't just go round gawping in windows. The wonder of the city is that one can be completely anonymous, and there's always plenty to see, so we had a good wander round the new houses that have just been built near me, and decided they were OK but a bit small.

Tomorrow is the church prayer room; I say this as if you should know what I'm talking about, because I can't be bothered explaining. But it will occupy a Certain Amount of my time, so I thought I'd mention it in case you're looking for me.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Literal Lyrics

You'll be pleased to hear that the cycle to Comber went well, although I've ended up with a sunburnt nose. But you can't have you cake and eat it, as they say, and it was an excellent day. Made more amusing by Mama Smile (who had arrived separately, by bus) being admitted on concessionary rate without even having to ask for it (normally she likes to have to prove that she qualifies); furthermore, we later discovered that concessionary rate applies to over-65s, and therefore she actually has a few years to go yet.

Anyway, it is not often than an internet phenomenon passes WhyNotSmile by, but it seems that I have failed to spot the 'Literal Lyrics' trend. Until now. For those of you haven't come across this either, the idea behind it is that music videos (particularly those from the 80's) are very often fairly unrelated to the songs they are supposed to be enhancing, so a number of people have been re-writing the songs to fit the video.

My personal favourite is 'Total Eclipse of the Heart', but there are plenty more on YouTube (please note that some parts of this may not be completely suitable for family audiences and those of a sensitive disposition):

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Things You Are Invited To

You know how I like to keep you entertained, right? Because WhyNotSmile is the centre of all social activity. So, two things you could come to:

1. Cycle to the Green Living Fair, Saturday 12th September. I volunteer (yeah, I'm so nice) with Sustrans, who are organising a cycle ride from Belfast to Castle Espie (just outside Comber) this Saturday. Castle Espie are having a Green Living Fair, which is always good, and you get in for free if you arrive by bike, which is even better. So Sustrans organise a cycle ride every year, so you don't have to cycle on your own and get lost and things.
We're leaving from the Ravenscroft car park at Holywood Arches at 10am on Satuday morning, so come along just before that to register. The plan is to be at Castle Espie by about 11.30 or so (there will be kids in the group, so it could be quite slow, and there'll be plenty of rests); stay for about 3 hours at the fair, and then cycle back to Belfast.
Children have to be with an adult and have to be wearing a cycle helmet (let's face it, everyone should be wearing a helmet, but for adults we'll not send you home - if you fall off, on your own head be it, possibly literally).
The whole trip is about 20 miles or so, and it's pretty flat for most of the way.
The fair itself is really good; there will be crafts and food and cavity wall insulation and also you can feed the ducks. Oh yes, bring waterproofs in case it rains.
So if you would like to come along, please do. I'll be registering people, so do say hello.

2. The Pontiax Blues Band, Saturday 3rd October. In our band in church, there's this guy called laurence, who's in a blues band, who are very good and play at Proper Things like Jazz and Blues festivals and St George's Market and pubs and things. They are doing a concert in our church on 3rd October, and you are all invited. It will be proper Blues music too, not hymns or anything.
And it's in aid of the Building Fund. And tickets cost £8 (£5 concession, but I do not know what counts as concession). I do not yet know how to get tickets, but I will find out.
Doors open 7.30pm and there is a dry bar.
Oh, and my church is Cregagh Methodist, on the Cregagh Road in Belfast.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Still Alive

I do apologise, it's been far too long. There are Reasons though. Mostly that my sister moved in. Also the shower was leaking. Not that that affected blogging as such, but it meant my dad came up so I was talking to him, and then I had to go to the plumbing shop and talk to them (and, yeah, that went about as well as you would expect), and then I had to put the stuff round the shower and so on, so there hasn't been much time.

Anyway, the Cafe thing in church was great. I was sensational. A little bit. And Edna had made shortbread, and you can never have a bad night when Edna has made shortbread. The consensus seemed to be that we should do it all a lot more often, so I'll let you know.

And then my previous flatmate moved out and my sister moved in. She's doing a PGCE, so I have spent much of the weekend trying to buy things to make music notes out of. Go figure. Also, that computer which would have been referred to by other people as "your computer, WhyNotSmile" seems to have become "the computer" when my sister talks about it. Which is an interesting turn of phrase.

And now I'm tired, so I'll go. But it was nice catching up with y'all.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Types of Questions on Yahoo! Answers

You know what's the best thing about the internet? No, not the ability to be connected to anyone, anywhere with the click of a mouse. And not the instant access to world news. Not even I Can Haz Cheezburger, although that's up there. No, the best thing about the internet is its ability to spread lies, misinformation and illconsidered advice to all who desire it.

Take Yahoo! Answers, for instance. The point of this site, for those who have never visited, is to allow people to ask questions, and other people to answer them. It is bizarrely compelling; topics range from the banal ('What should I feed by dog who's just been wormed?', 'My child is getting a vaccine tomorrow, when can I take him swimming?'), through the topical ('OMG wot do u think of Michael Jackson bein murdered?') and bizarre ("Where can I buy a coffin to sleep in?") to the simply gross ('I went for an xray of my bladder but they told me I'm severely constipated?'). I promise I didn't make that last one up. In fact, here's a link, where you can read the full (hideous) details, and the answers (for some reason, I keep cracking up at 'u should try prascription laxatives').

Now, I can see how this can be useful. Some questions are too embarrasing to ask anyone non-cyber; the women's health section, for instance, is full of 14 year old girls asking how to put tampons in. Others are specialist: "What's the best time of year to prune a wisteria"? Some fall into the 'Needing an outside opinion' category: " I think my friend is depressed, what should I do to help?". I'm not saying there's nowhere else on the internet that you could find this stuff, but it's useful to have, even if it does feel a bit like sitting through a Richard Madley interview with Wikipedia.

But then there's the rest of it. Since we've only recently had 'the 12 most annoying types of Facebook people', I feel we should do something similar. I haven't added it up yet, though, and also they're not all annoying, so I'm going to call it 'Types of questions on Yahoo! Answers'. Questions below are based on actual questions, but are not, in fact, actual questions, unless otherwise indicated; they are, however, variants of questions I have seen on Yahoo! Answers but can't remember exactly.

1. The 'Too Much Information' Question
Typical Question:
Title: I've had the runs for 3 days and can't stop plz help?
Details: Well three days ago i went 2 a Restrunt 4 dinna and then in the middle of the nite i woke up and well I had the Runs and it was like green lol sorry TMI but i still hav it and i dunno wot 2 do what should I do
WhyNotSmile says: You know, I know what 'runs' are. I don't need a description. And anyway, the description should have come with a warning. Because, you know, up till that point, you'd been for dinner, it was going well, and ok, you had the runs, but was I meant to guess that where we were headed next was the COLOUR? I mean, give me a chance to hang up here, man. And what the **** is the 'lol' for? Is that supposed to help? Are you trying to say 'Hey, I know I just made you throw your breakfast up, but I have a sense of humour, amn't I great lol?'

2. The 'Not Enough Information' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Need a good place to take 2 children on holiday?
Details: I want to go on holiday with my 2 children, can you recommend a hotel which is good for children?
WhyNotSmile says: You know, I just can't think. That's the trouble with the world today: there must be millions of hotels, but to come up with one that children might like... *sucks teeth* that's a tough one. Good thing you're not narrowing it down, by specifying, for instance, a country, or the ages of the children or anything. 'Cos then we might really be stumped.

3. The 'I can't be bothered to Google this, please do it for me' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Where could I buy a computer online?
Details: I want to buy a computer online, but I don't no any places, where do you buy them like is there a site?
WhyNotSmile says: Excuse me a moment... *goes off and checks Google*... well, there seem to be a couple of sites coming up in the ol' search there. Tell you what, how about if I ring a few of them, get prices and specifications for you, and then come round to your house, look at your decor, and choose one to match your bedroom? I'll order & pay for it, and you can give me the money when I deliver it.

4. The 'I'll be arrested if I ask this anywhere but cyberspace' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Is it safe 2 drink vodka after u hav marijwana?
Details: none given
WhyNotSmile says: How long ago did you do it, and how bad do you feel?

5. The 'People online know more than my doctor' Question
Typical Question:
Title: My doc sez my baby haz a virus but I think itz sumthin else.... advic plz?
Details: Well i took my baby (shes 7 month to c the doc cos she wuz cryin alot an i wuz worried an he sez she haz a virus but i didn think a virus was lik tht wud she nt be sneezin?
WhyNotSmile says: You're in the right place. What do doctors know? All those years they spent in medical school, when they could have been lying on the sofa watchin' Ricki Lake and surfin' the web like those of us who now have nothing better to do than lie on the sofa and surf Yahoo! Answers. And they get paid for it? Sheesh.

Bonus Question:
Title: Am I pregnant?
Details: The other night well 3 weeks ago I had *you know* with my bf and now I feel kind of funny, like a headahce an wen I stand up fast I'm like dizzy lol do you think I mite be pregnant?
Additional Details: I'm 14 an he didn't go like inside me lol, we wer jus kissin an stuff lol
WhyNotSmile says: I take your Online Pregnancy Test and I raise you... the Online Thermometer.

6. The 'Who Knows?' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Help plz
Details: So i am seein this guy well not reali seein lol but likke we like each other but heres the thing my dad thinks hes no good becuz hes like not tht gd in school but i reali like him and we hav bin seein each other for 3 weeks and think wer gonna b in luv how do i tell my dad plz dont laugh its a serios question.
Additional Details: I'm 11 and hes 12 an he failed a test las week and thats y my dad doesnt like him its not that hes too old
WhyNotSmile says: Huh????

7. The 'Non-question' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Why do sum people not belief in god?
Details: When god is the best thing that can happen in ur life and i hav been followin him for 2 months an hes awesum an u shud all belief in god.
WhyNotSmile says: Maybe if you keep preaching, you could have an excellent future. Or not. Just sayin'.

8. The 'Possibly a joke but not completely sure' Question
Actual Question:
Title: Im worried because i ate some tipex, and i keep getting the runs and...?
Details: Yesterday i woke up to a meal of shreddies and then some purified orange juice. I then hate m&m's and then me and my friend drunk a bottle of tipex for a laugh, ever since i've drunk that fearful bottle i keep getting the runs.
WhyNotSmile says: I need more details: Coco Shreddies, or just regular ones?

9. The 'Asking for Trouble' Question
Actual Question:
Title: Where can I get a breast massage?
Details: I've heard that breast massage can make them grow bigger and I'd like to try it. Where can I go to get it done? No funny answers please.
WhyNotSmile declined to answer this question, due to rofl at the trolls' answers

10. The 'Please help me eliminate all risk from my life' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Would I like the new Cappuchino Kit-Kat*?
Details: I saw the Cappuchino Kit-Kat the other day. I dont really like coffee but I quite like things that have coffee flavours. Would I like the cappuchino Kit-Kat or do you think it tastes too much like coffee?
WhyNotSmile says: Heck. That's a tough one. You might need to be more specific. Can you give us examples of some of the 'things that have coffee flavours' that you 'quite like'? Does it include the coffee ones from Quality Street? What about coffee cake? And what do you mean by 'quite like'? Sorry for asking, it's just that, with the information you gave, we can't be completely sure, and if we don't get it right, this is at least 50p and 37 seconds of your life you'll never get back.

*This is not necessarily an actual product. I am using it for illustrative purposes. But it might exist, I don't know. I'm not that keen on Kit-Kats.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Annoying Facebook People

CNN have published a list of the 12 most annoying types of Facebookers, and it makes for interesting reading. There is also a quiz to find out which type you are, which informed me that I am a great Facebook user and should carry on regardless.

I admit I get annoyed by The Bad Grammarian: "So sad about Fara Fauset but Im so gladd its friday yippe". I'm sure we all have our fair share of such freinds, and I know that the Internet has more of a 'free and easy' attitude to Spelling, Puctuation and Grammar than I'm ever likely to be entirely comfortable with, but PLEASE learn to communicate your thoughts in a way that does not make me want to storm round to your house with a sledgehammer and a mindful of bad intentions. And while we're at it, do not add 'lol' to the end of every sentence; it conveys no additional meaning and ought only ever to be employed in response to an amusing comment in an IM conversation.

I also get a bit irritated by The Sympathy Baiter: "Barbara is feeling sad today". Just like Barbara was feeling "wiped out" yesterday, "overwhelmed" the day before, and "distraught" only the day before that. But, y'know, I can't hate Barbara that much; at least she can spell.

However, I am almost overcome by my own stomach contents when I come across The Maddening Obscurist: "Dave thought he was immune, but no. No, he is not.", "If not now then when?". Part of the irritation stems from the fact that often these don't even make sense as Facebook status updates: "Tim life is precious, let us all embrace it", for example. But by far the greater part of the irritation is caused by the fact that Facebook is not designed to be a vessel for your trite philosophical thoughts: it may well be true that "deep things are found in the wellstream of life", but when the line above that said "Steve is too pissed to stand up" and the one after says "Alex just sent you three daffodils and a goat in FarmTown", y'know, it loses any slim chance it ever had of registering on my 'interesting things I read today' radar.

What is particularly irritating is that these people are usually the ones who I added as a Facebook friend in order to give the impression that I quite like them, without having to spend any actual time with them or have any sort of meaningful relationship, because they are invariably the type of friend with whom a meaningful relationship involves a lot of late evening discussions (over latte) about the existential, theological and modernist themes of the film you just watched, even when the film was Ice Age 3.

Holy COW an almighty great spider has just run across my bedroom floor

On the other hand, I have to admit to not being too troubled by The Self-Promoter (a category in which I include those who detail every aspect of their offsprings' development); perhaps it is because I go straight from "Hmm, what's this" to "Feck off, I don't care" and bypass the bit where any sort of annoyance registers, or maybe it's because I quite admire people who take every opportunity to bum themselves up, because it makes them look like idiots (the humble talented are far more irritating, because you can't even rightly despise them).

And when it comes to The Let-Me-Tell-You-Every-Detail-of-My-Day Bore ("I'm waking up." "I had Wheaties for breakfast." "I'm bored at work." "I'm stuck in traffic."), I feel something probably best described as affection, because I think it's kind of sweet that they think I care. The idea that these people imagine that I will read that they had a Chinese last night and think "Wow. You serious?" is kind of comforting. The notion that cyberspace is there for the filling. The delusion that they can spout anything they want, and the Internet will be enhanced by it beyond measure. In fact, maybe what I feel for he bores is not affection. Maybe it's kinship.

The WhyNotSmile Tall Ships Belfast 2009 Photo Souvenir Special

Without further ado:

The Bounty docked opposite The Odyssey (Wednesday afternoon).

The Bounty is a replica boat built for the film Mutiny on The Bounty in 1960, and has been in other films since then, including Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Europa (Netherlands) arriving in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

If you look closely, you can see someone standing near the top of the middle mast (about an inch below the European flag) (an inch on the photo, not in reality).

The Tecla (from the Netherlands) arriving in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

You can't see this in the photo, but the crew were dancing and singing 'La Bamba', which was nice.

The Europa docked next to The Odyssey, with lots of people (Thursday morning).

Capitan Miranda (Uruguay) and Cisne Branco (Brazil) in front of the fairground.

The prow of The Atlantis (Netherlands) looking over Belfast Lough with the Harland and Wolff cranes in the background.

Me on board The Sagres (Portugal).

The Bounty docked opposite The Odyssey.

The Bounty leaving Belfast on Sunday.

The Jolie Brise (UK) (I think) leaving Belfast on Sunday.

The Europa leaving Belfast on Sunday.

Tenacious (UK) leaving Belfast on Sunday.

There are lots more photos here.