Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Review of the Year 2008 (Part 2)

So we are now into the final stretch as far as 2008 goes, and some of my correspondents in foreign places have already made the futuristic leap into 2009.

We have already reviewed most of the year in Part 1, and I have filled you in on all that has happened since then, so this Review of the Year Part 2 will focus largely on the success, or otherwise, of the New Year's Resolutions.

And it turns out that that 'or otherwise' is going to come in handy. Here's how it went:

1. The usual things: I will eat healthily, exercise a lot (must buy a new bike), and drink plenty of water. I will not live on chocolate. I will have a more disciplined spiritual life. I will take control of my finances and buy a house and start a pension, and other such responsible things. I will stop spending hours staring into space.
Ha. Buy a house? Start a pension? In my defense, though, had I done these things, I would now be living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, spending hours staring into space, so this is not a bad thing.

2. I will put weight on. I know this is the opposite of what everyone else will be doing, but you see I've got a bit skinny, so I need to fatten up a bit, because my clothes don't fit any more, and I don't want to have to buy new ones (see previous post). Since most people are trying to lose weight, I could make a lot of money if only I could figure out a way to transfer weight between people.
I'm not sure, because I threw the scales out, but I suspect this didn't go so well either.

3. I will work very hard in work, and win Employee of the Week every week (this is not too difficult, since I started the award in the first place and I choose who gets it).
Now we're just getting ridiculous. I managed to work for a grand total of 3 full weeks this year. And forgot to award Employee of the Week in any of them. And probably wouldn't have deserved it anyway.

4. I will not undertake any form of DIY, building work, renovations or redecoration, other than that which is necessary to tidy up the current mess. I know this is disappointing for those who regularly follow the blog and enjoy the updates on the building work and the non-progression thereof, but there are plenty of other incompetent bandits out there and I am certain we can make do with them for a while. Besides, we still have some way to go with the present work, so we could be riding that wave well into the Spring.
The Spring? The Spring?! That was optimistic. But in general, this did not go too badly for most of the year, with very little DIY work being done, beyond assembling flat packs. However, we got a bit cocky towards autumn, with a bit of painting and papering, most of which was fine, apart from the Hole In The Living Room Ceiling Incident.

5. I will find a new, grown-up approach to handling crises. The current approach ('scream until grown-ups come') has served me well for the past 29.5 years, but it is wearing a little thin, and now that I'm about to turn 30 I need a more adult means of coping with life.
Does it count that I discovered that 'scream until grown-ups come' actually still works quite well, so I decided to stick with it?

6. I will leave Richard Dawkins alone, unless provoked.
I'm sure Richard Dawkins breathed a hearty sigh of relief at this one, and it went well for a full 3 months, until this little gem distracted us. In October we mused on The Atheist Bus Campaign, but I think that counts as provocation, and therefore is OK.

So much for the resolutions. I will come up with some new ones for 2009, and no doubt we will build on this year's success.

Of course, no Review of the Year at WhyNotSmile would be complete without the Review of the Year at The Largest Bar of Soap in the World, and an analysis of the related state of the global economy.

The Soap (for which read 'global financial markets') had presumably been around for some time, but only came to our attention in June, when it was received as a birthday present (the soap, not global financial markets). It was not, however, fully appreciated until September or so, when we realised just how large it was. Since then it has been in a steady decline, both in terms of quality and quantity.

The latest report shows that it is still about the same soapcumference, but underneath it has gone all squishy, and large brown cracks have developed.

An interesting point to note, though, is that the Soap has led to a massive increase in blog traffic; a look at my analysis software shows that the search terms which most frequently lead people here are variations on 'The Largest Bar of Soap in the World' and 'Large Soap' and 'Big Soap', which proves that more people are interested in the Soap than in global financial markets.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 29 December 2008

What Ever Happened To The Weather?

I don't mean this in the sense of "What's going on with the weather these days, where are all these tornadoes coming from?", I'm talking about the weather forecasts on TV.

With not having had a TV for a while, the last time I saw weather being presented by an actual person, it was Michael Fish with a big map of Britain and Ireland behind him, with weather symbols which he changed by pressing a little button which he held in his hand. Of course, he wasn't really standing in front of the map, he was in front of a blue screen onto which the map was digitally added afterwards, and if he wore a blue tie, you could see the west coast of Ireland through his middle. To a child of the 80's, this was all stunningly innovative; my formative introduction to the science of predicting forthcoming atmospheric conditions was via Wincey Willis and fuzzy felt. But you knew where you were with it, and you got the basic idea that the weather tomorrow was likely to be much the same as today, or perhaps a bit different.

But I happened to tune into the weather at my parents' house yesterday, and it was like an ill-advised cross between A-level geography and the Large Hadron Collider.

For a start, we were zooming about all over the place; I fully expected that if I pressed the red button on my remote control (which I first discovered during Christmas Day Top of the Pops, allowing my father and myself to sing along, much to my sister's disgust) it would fly right in to my own house and show me the current cloud cover. The rain clouds were actually raining, and the clouds were shown flying across the sky. It was like the internet, but on TV.

More disconcerting, however, was the presenter, who seemed to be on his own personal crusade to fight the nation's falling educational standards. We were gravely informed that the front currently in the Atlantic is stationary and we were invited to inspect for ourselves the predicted behaviour of the isobars. Now don't get me wrong, Michael Fish talked about isobars with the best of them, but only in a way that made you think he knew more than you and therefore should be believed, not in the sense of expecting you to understand and suggesting it as a topic for discussion at the dinner table.

Anyway, the weather today seems to be much the same as it was yesterday, so perhaps it's not as complex as it looks.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

An Account of Christmas 2008

Apologies for the delay in transmission during the festive period, which we will return to presently. First of all, however, I trust that we all had a very merry Christmas and did much eating, drinking and being... well... merry. Also, a belated Happy Birthday to The Soapbox for 23rd. I don't mind that I didn't get invited to the party (not that I would've gone, of course, being in a state of ill-health, but it's always nice to be invited. As a matter of point, in fact, if you're ever having a party and you want to be seen to be generous with invites, but you can't really be bothered entertaining everyone, invite me - I never come).

But to get back to the business in hand, you'll all be wondering how Christmas was here at WhyNotSmile, and in all honesty, the answer is that it was pretty much the same as most Christmases that you or I have ever had. Mum decided to have turkey for dinner, and my dad had got these things called crackers that had bits of plastic and crap jokes in them. Great-Auntie Isobel asked whether Mum had steeped her ham (despite having no idea of the potential consequences, I live in anticipation that the answer to this question will one year be 'yes') and then we pondered why it is that people always say that turkey's dry. My sister got overexcited about the whole thing (one of these years I'm going to hit her with a turkey drummer in the middle of The Snowman), we went for a walk on the beach and then came back in time for The Queen, who spoke of how she was thinking of the troops and how it would be nice if we were all nice to each other a bit more. Then we played 'Matching Pairs' with Great-Auntie Isobel (we like our games, but you can't have anything with overly complex rules).

Then of course there was the religious aspect. I failed to make it to church this year (all that 'oh look how much you've grown, are you married yet?' from old Sunday School teachers just could not be faced), and was left at home in charge of putting the oven on, cutting X's in the Brussels sprouts and sorting the presents (the latter at my sister's behest - she really does get overexcited). But of course, there is always TV, and on Christmas Day it offers something for everyone. On one side we had the atheists scoffing at how they are dead clever and they know things that Christians don't know, because Jesus wasn't really born on 25th December and anyway Christmas is a pagan thing. On the other we had the Archbishops saying that it would be really nice if everyone was a bit nicer to each other and that what with the credit crunch and Christmas, it is a good time for spiritual reflection and maybe people should go to church more.

Incidentally, someone, somewhere has worked out that Jesus was, in fact, born on 17th June (something to do with Mars and Venus, or something), which is pleasing because it means He has the same birthday as me, but would be a bit crap if they moved Christmas to then because then I'd only get one set of presents. I already share my birthday with John Wesley, founder of Methodism, so it's clearly the day to be born.

I should also mention that I got the biggest present of all, although this was mainly because it was saucepans, which are an awkward shape to wrap, so my mum put it in a big box.

So that, basically, was Christmas, and very nice it was too.

Anyway, the festive season was dulled slightly by lack of internet access, the tale of which you will be wanting to know. It started like this: on Monday I was sitting in Belfast and trying to finish off some work and wondering whether the scary kids would come back and getting a bit nervous, when I realised I'd run out of milk. I couldn't really be bothered going and getting more, since I was due to be going to The Parents on Tuesday anyway, so I thought, 'Sod it, I'll go to them today'.

So packed up all my things and drove down, got myself unpacked, and thought 'I'll just go online and finish off that bit of work'. Fired the laptop up and it wouldn't connect to the network, cos I didn't have the password. So I thought, I'll use mum's computer. But all the files are on my laptop. So I came up with a (in hindsight, ill-advised) plan to use her modem/router cable in my laptop, which went well until Windows told me there was a problem and to reset the router. Held in the reset button, tried again - nothing. Held in the reset button again, this time for a bit longer - nothing. And now mum's computer isn't working either. Dig around, find user guide for router thing, it says 'Pressing the reset button resets the router. Holding it in for more than 4 seconds will wipe all your settings and banjaxx everything.' Damn.

Anyway, it's working now. Well, my laptop is. Mum's computer not so much.

A second festive disaster involved the jardinaire (don't know how to spell that - kind of a fancy plant pot) which sat at the bottom of the stairs and which we have now all agreed we weren't that keen on and didn't really match the decor anyway. I'm still not entirely clear how this happened: one moment I was at the top of the stairs holding a sofa cushion, next moment it was bouncing down the stairs, gaining speed despite my desperate attempts to wrench it back with the force of my anguished stare, and then the jardinaire and plant and cushion were all in a little muddled heap in the hall.

So that was Christmas 2008, and frankly I'm more than a little relieved it's all over.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dodgy Mathematics Special Edition, Part 2: For The Slow People At The Back

I said I would only explain this once, but some people clearly weren't listening, so I am going to have to say it again. But differently, because this time it's for the slow people.


I saw a sign in Carter's on Saturday (I should explain that I was not in Carter's, but going past on the bus; I should also explain that yes, I was in Belfast city centre on the Saturday before Christmas, and that I left quite quickly) which said that they are offering VAT-free prices (or some such; I forget the exact phrasing), by reducing prices by 15%.

But of course this is incorrect, and I shall now explain why.

Suppose that pre-sale, an item cost £100 (this is at the new, lower, rate of VAT).

Now, if they reduce it by 15%, the new price will be:
(£100*85)/100 = £85

However, if they merely removed the 15% VAT, then the new price would be:
(£100*100)/115 = £86.96

which is not so good, so you wonder why they make that claim.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Funny Things For You

Thanks to Virtual Methodist for finding this. Splendid.

Review of the Year 2008 (Part 1)

So the year that was 2008 is almost over, and I now present Part 1 of the Review of the Year here at WhyNotSmile (Part 2 will be published at the actual end of the year, leaving open the possibility that something interesting will happen between now and then; it will also contain a review of the New Year's Resolutions, which can be viewed here for those who wish to prepare in advance by refreshing their memories - and trust me, the review of the resolutions will be laughable).

As I've said before, at this time of year I get lots of Christmas cards which include a letter listing details of what the sender has been up to for the past 12 months, including photos of new arrivals, weddings etc. Yet again, I have cunningly avoided doing anything of any real interest, but that's not to say there's nothing to report, for in all manner of ways 2008 has been a fairly eventful year.

The year began, as these things tend to, in January, with a 3 week flurry of activity and hard work which came to an abrupt end following a discussion with the boss on the importance of me working 25 hours a day in order to prevent armageddon. This led to 5 weeks off work, and armageddon did not, as far as I can tell, happen, but far be it from me to say 'I told you so'. Anyway, the immediate aftermath of The Discussion was punctuated with my dad installing my shower door, and this was probably the more significant event, not simply because of all the new, interesting words I learned, but also because of the discovery that essentially all DIY projects can be made right with a big tube of squeezy stuff to fill the gaps.

And so into February, which was characterised by not having to go to work, and thereby discovering that a lot more fun was to be had on a week off than I had previously realised. This was when I got invited along to Parent & Toddlers, and discovered that it was an excellent way to spend a Tuesday morning; so much so that I also signed up to help at the Thursday morning creche.

By the time it came to March, I was having so much fun that I didn't really want to go back to work, but of course bills were to be paid, and I returned, building up from 1 hour twice a week to a full 4 days by the end of the month. I did cause slight consternation by choosing to still take the 10 days I'd booked for Easter, despite having already been off, by that stage, for the guts of 7 weeks, but I enjoyed my holiday and didn't feel bad about it at all.

In April I had almost managed to get back to work full-time when my employers decided that they could no longer afford my appearance fee, and I decided I would therefore no longer grace them with my presence. Of course, this also meant the end of free cups of tea, unrestricted internet access, a steady income and (most importantly) the Morning Sing with Alex, but on balance it has worked out not too badly.

May passed in a flurry of vaguely pretending I was going to look for a new job (before I gave up quite openly in June); word got around, of course, that I was free, and so it ended up being quite busy.

June was a significant month, and indeed may well be awarded 'Month of the Year 2008'; all the significant events happened in the week in the middle of the month, when I turned 30, my mum turned 60, and my favourite minister got deported* to Cullybackey. After all this, I decided I needed a rest, and did nothing for about 2 months, apart from growing some carrots.

* Not really.

Nothing much happened until the end of August, when I decided I needed a holiday; being skint and agoraphobic, the destination was quickly decided on, and WhyNotSmile got a Metro Day Ticket and hit the heady sights of Belfast. Photos were taken, postcards were sent, interesting places were visited, and it is fair to say that the loyal readers enjoyed the holiday almost as much as I did.

In September we bought broadband, got slightly nervous about the Large Hadron Collider, and enjoyed the delights of Garden Gourmet, but all in all it was a quiet month, and peaceful. It was also the month in which I began to find gainful employment designing websites, which at least makes me look vaguely employed and stops people asking awkward questions about how the job-search is going.

I don't remember much about October, but given that I seemed to post a lot of blog stuff then, we can assume it wasn't overly productive in any other useful way, although it did present an excellent opportunity to roll our eyes at Richard Dawkins and his Bus Campaign. It was also the month in which we launched the financially-astute Largest Bar of Soap in the World, and if you're not a regular reader, you'll just have to look through the archives or get CrookedShore to explain it to you.

By November the world was crunching around us, but WhyNotSmile was rather smug as she flies below all financial radars and has no assets whch could drop in value. I did get sucked into several pointless internet debates, but declared myself the winner in all of them, which was a timely ego-boost. This was also when Dozavtra moved out, which was sad, but which opened the door for me to buy anything I want from the Kleeneze catalogue without interruption from any sort of voice of reason.

December's peace has been shatterd by the ongoing Seige by kids from the estate, but I'm hopeful that my mother will catch them soon, and then they'll regret it all. It has also seen a range of carol services, in which, thankfully, 'Away In A Manger' has only featured once.

Last year we paid tribute to a number of people who had graced this blog with their antics: Richard Dawkins, the builders and HM Revenue & Customs, to name but three of our favourites; this year, frankly, it's been all about me (although Richard Dawkins has popped in from time to time and will be mentioned again in Part 2); I would, however, like to make mention of those who have left sympathetic comments and generally offered all manner of help as it has been needed.

And thus we look back on the year which suggests that 'Things Can Only Get Better', and we are grateful for the fun that has been extracted from it.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Seige

So WhyNotSmile is currently under seige by some local hoodies, who are accusing her of 'slabbering about my ma on Bebo'. 'Slabbering', for those unfamiliar with the term, is a serious offence in these parts, so the hoodies are rightly angry. Obviously WhyNotSmile did nothing of the sort (although she thanks Virtual Methodist for his Facebook comment: when her status was changed to 'WhyNotSmile is a bit scared of the boys who are saying she slabbered about their ma on Bebo', VM responded with 'Did you?', so it's good to see that all my loyal readers will back me up if this goes to court).

The wee feckers broke my gate; the official line we have given to the police is that this was a Bad Thing (because it is, in principle), but in reality it would have probably fallen off if someone had sneezed hard in the area, and they may have done us a favour by removing it so we didn't have to pay someone to take it apart. They also broke a window in my door.

It was interesting to note the options offered by police, which basically amounted to: (1) do nothing, or (2) hang them. Not that this is the policeman's fault, and I have to say he was very nice and helpful, it's just that I had expected that there might be a choice along the lines of 'Send police to give them a bit of a telling off and make sure they leave me alone', but apparently our local law enforcement policy is based on (1) no funding and (2) Daily Mail ideology.

Anyway, as QuestionMonkey rightly said, 'What doesn't kill you is good blog fodder', so once The Seige is a distant (and quaintly fond) memory, I will see what nuggets of comedy gold are buried within, and get back to you. In the meantime, my dad is staying. Now, since there's not really any need for him to do much other than sit and hope they don't come back, we're going to tackle the living room ceiling; he's bringing foam and a bottle of wine, so expect to hear more presently.

This whole thing, and its timing in particular, is a little unfortunate, as I had been specially invited to the MWI Carol Service tonight (MWI=Methodist Women in Ireland: think standard WI, but with a Methodist slant), but it would probably be rude to go out and leave my dad alone when he came all this way. Not to mention dangerous, when I'd be leaving him in sole control of a bottle of wine.

Incidentally, those of you who don't know me might be surprised that I have been specially invited to the MWI Carol Service; since I use the blog to express my cynical side, you probably get the impression that I'm like this in real life too, and that I might not be terribly likeable. In reality, I'm much-loved by all the elderly ladies in church, and most of them want me to marry their grandsons.

Of course, then there is the true true me, which doesn't think I'm very likeable at all, but it would be inappropriate to discuss my low self-esteem here, so we won't.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Things You Overhear While Standing In The Queue At The Stationery Shop

If your name is Louise and you have a friend called Kelly who works in a stationery shop in East Belfast, you're getting a vibrator for your Secret Santa present.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dodgy Maths Special Edition: On Calculating Prices Following The VAT Decrease

Right, I'm only going to explain this once, so please listen carefully.

The UK Government has reduced VAT by 2.5%. So how much of a saving does this represent?

Let us suppose, for ease of calculation, that an item cost £100 on Friday.

Now, we wish to determine how much it will cost today, having had VAT reduced by 2.5%.

Many people have supposed that it will now cost £97.50 - in other words, 2.5% of £100 is £2.50, so you pay £2.50 less.

But this is not correct, because it corresponds to a price reduction of 2.5%, not a VAT reduction of 2.5%.

Instead, we must calculate how much VAT is currently being paid on the £100 item, and then reduce that, and recalculate the total.

£100 = full price
= cost of item + 17.5% of cost of item
= 117.5% of cost of item (because 'cost of item' = '100% of cost of item')

cost of item = £(100/117.5)*100
= £85.11

So, if an item cost £100 on Friday, then that price was made up of £85.11 for the item, plus £14.89 for VAT.

However, the VAT is now 15%, instead of 17.5%. This means that the total cost of the item is now:
total cost of item = cost of item + 15% of cost of item
= £85.11 + (£85.11*15)/100
= £85.11 + £12.77
= £97.88

And thus we see that the saving is, in fact £2.12, and not £2.50 as has been proposed.

I think.