Tuesday, 30 June 2009

1st July, 2009

A new month, another one on the road and so begins our 40th since we left the UK.

Thirty nine completed months sounds like a lot (that's 1 187 days according to our count up timer, and who are we to disagree?) but it has flown by and it feels like only yesterday that we were loading up the car and heading off to Harwich to catch our ferry.

Here's to many more to come. :o)

Game Over, Comrade

Nearly two decades after the first casino opened its doors, Russia is to ban gambling from 1st July across most of its territory, when all casinos and slot-machine halls will be outlawed. With the exception of four special zones*, no gambling will be allowed across the Russian Federation.

It will only drive it underground, so I doubt many will be too worried.



*The Kremlin has set up special gambling zones in the Primore region in Russia's remote far east; the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad; the Altai region of Siberia; and the Azov Sea in the south.

England Is Only London Is It?

Bo Jo doesn't miss a trick does he? He's now urging Londoners to back their city for a major role in England's 2018 World Cup bid and called on a million Londoners to register their support for the capital, as it goes up against 14 other UK cities vying for the biggest part in the 2018 campaign.

The mayor staked out London's credentials as “football-mad city”, with world-class venues, 13 professional clubs (more than any other city in the world) and thriving grassroots leagues.

That's all well and good, but that will be on the back of the 2012 London Olympics which is costing the budget of a large third world country and isn't it about time the country realised it does exist outside of London too? Give it a rest and let other parts of the country have a bit of representation.

Besides, the final is already guaranteed to be at Wembley so don't be greedy.

PC v Mac

The average American office worker with a PC on their desk uses 11 432 key strokes and 1 126 mouse clicks per day.

Mac users stroke an average of 8 927 keys and click their mouse 1 823 times.

I have no idea why I find that fascinating but I'm sure that must mean something, somehow.

It's Rude to Interrupt

Little Johnny watched his daddy's car pass by the school playground and go into the woods. Curious, he followed the car and saw Daddy and Aunt Jane in a passionate embrace.

Little Johnny found this so exciting that he could hardly contain himself as he ran home and started to tell his mother.

"Mummy, I was at the playground and I saw Daddy's car go into the woods with Aunt Jane. I went back to look and he was giving Aunt Jane a big kiss, and then he helped her take off her shirt. Then Aunt Jane helped Daddy take his pants off, then Aunt Jane..."

At this point Mummy cut him off and said:

"Johnny, this is such an interesting story, lets save the rest of it for supper time. I want to see the look on Daddy's face when you tell it tonight."

At the dinner table that evening, Mummy asked little Johnny to tell his story Johnny started retelling his tale.

"I was at the playground and I saw Daddy's car go into the woods with Aunt Jane. I went back to look and he was giving Aunt Jane a big kiss, then he helped her take off her shirt. Then Aunt Jane helped Daddy take his pants off, then Aunt Jane and Daddy started doing the same thing that Mummy and Uncle Bill used to do when Daddy was away on the oil rigs."

Cheers, Bren. :o)

I Say

I hope that when I die, people say about me, "Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money."

- Jack Handey

That'll Do

They really don't care about their spelling on TV here, when it comes to translating filum titles. We posted about "The Windowmaker" previously and we currently have trailers for the forthcoming Agatha Christie's "Miss Maple". It's so sweet. :0)

For Better or Worse

In sickness and in health, until death do us part...

Polish couple living in Germany fell out after tying the knot and decided to end their marriage on the same day. Plod in Hanover, Germany said:

"He said he never wanted to see her again and wanted an immediate annulment, and she said the same thing."

Great minds clearly thinking alike. :o)

Customer Disservices

British Telecom has been named as offering the worst customer service of any company. It was criticised for its long holding times and staff who did not understand English and it was voted nearly twice as bad as second place British Gas for dealing with issues and complaints.

Wifey did a stint with BT many years ago and the stories she told will entirely bear this out. Customer services were quite appalling.

Funny

Anyone else find it odd that Jacko's parents are trying to legally become guardians of his kids? They clearly did such a fine job of it the first time around that they're naturals...

Sensible

Sweden’s third largest city has legalised topless bathing…at public swimming pools.

The City of Malmö decision after initially being asked to vote on a motion that would force women to cover up after a feminist group started appearing at pools topless. Instead they voted in an amended version that said that “everybody should wear bathing suits,” leaving the door open for topless bathing as long as the woman was wearing a bottom part of a bikini. A council spokesblurk told The Local that:

“We don’t define what bathing suits men should wear so it doesn’t make much sense to do it for women. And besides, it’s not unusual for men to have large breasts that resemble women’s breasts.”

The leader of the feminist group behind the law said that:

“It’s a question of equality. I think it’s a problem that women are sexualised in this way. If women are forced to wear a top, shouldn’t men also have to?”

Way to gan, pet. Less tops all round. :0)

The Law is the Law- Places to Avoid Being Naughty

Public Stoning

Iranian courts still order public stonings, and those sentenced are often severely whipped before they are stoned.

Women are buried up to their necks before a stoning. If convicted of adultery, Iranian law requires the stones not be too big or too small so that the probable death is not merciful or prolonged. If a woman miraculously survives a stoning, she must then serve a jail sentence.

For men, the stoning procedure is a bit different. Men are buried up to their waists before a stoning. If they confess and manage to escape, they are free.

Appointment at the Gallows: Hanging

In most of the world, execution by hanging is used. Iran recently cut back on the number of its judicial hangings, but in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, St. Kitts & Nevis and Sudan hanging is extremely common. In 2008, approximately 339 men and four women were hanged in these countries.

Short Drop Hanging

The gallows and method of death they produce vary from country to country. Often the "American style" or "short drop" method of hanging is used, which means the drop is only inches and does not break the condemned's neck. He or she struggles in the noose, causing it to tighten and after some time of suffering, dies from asphyxia.

Suspension Hanging

In some countries, the method of choice is suspension hanging, which utilizes a crane or other heavy equipment to lift the prisoner off the ground by the noose. The manner of death is the same as the short drop, which makes it slow and agonizing. After short drop or suspension hangings, the deceased's face is generally engorged and blue with blood marks evident on the face and eyes, and the tongue may protrude.

Standard Drop Hanging

Standard drop hanging was adopted as the normal method of hanging in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century. Prisoners drop four to six feet, which often rips the skin, breaks the neck and in some cases causes decapitation. This method of hanging is still carried out today in some of the countries listed above.

Long Drop Hanging

Long drop or "measured drop" hanging was adopted by British Colonies and practiced in Britain as a "more humane" form of punishment. The distance of the drop is calculated by the prisoner's height, weight and body type and designed to break the neck. If the calculations are incorrect and the drop is too long or too short, the prisoner's head may be ripped off or they may slowly die from strangulation. This is now a very common form of hanging.

The Electric Chair

Since all methods of hanging are either cruel and inhumane or potentially so, the electric chair was introduced in the U.S. in 1888. The electric chair was designed as a "more humane" method of execution, although it does not cause instant death. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were battling to dominate electrical utilities at the time, and Westinghouse's alternating current powered the first electric chair. Edison was pleased that the electric chair required Westinghouse's current, as he had always made the argument that the alternating current was dangerous.

The electric chair has been used in 27 U.S. states and the Philippines. The first man to die in the electric chair was William Kemmler, who was convicted of murdering his lover. Kemmler was executed on August 6, 1890. He sat in the chair on his own and was strapped to the chair with leather straps around his torso, arms and legs. Head and spinal electrodes with layers of sponge soaked in brine were attached to Kemmler and a black cloth was put over his face.

When the switch was thrown, Kemmler went rigid for 17 seconds, then his body relaxed. He was declared dead, but 30 seconds later his chest had a series of spasms. A second charge of electricity was sent through his body for 70 seconds, until there was a smell of burning flesh and vapor and smoke were seen rising from his body. Kemmler was then officially declared dead.

The electric chair is still a legal method of execution in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Death row inmates are given the choice of dying by lethal injection or the electric chair. Since 1993, at least five electric chair executions have gone seriously wrong with prisoners being slowly tortured to death with blue and orange flames shooting out of the helmet while he or she is still alive and in intense agony.

Judicial Caning

In some countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, judicial caning is a common punishment for male offenders. Thousands of men are sentenced to caning each year in these countries and for some crimes it is a mandatory punishment. Judicial caning is done privately inside prisons. Prisoners are stripped naked and shackled to an A-frame. They are then beaten full-force with a four-foot rattan cane that has been soaked in water. The cane splits the skin and rips at the bare flesh. There is usually severe physical damage and permanent scarring. In some cases an attendant holds the prisoner's head and reminds him to breathe. After the caning, the prisoners are given medical treatment to clean the wounds.

A graphic six-minute video of a Malaysian judicial caning, which would be extremely upsetting for most people to watch is online. It is not advisable to watch this video, which was filmed as part of an educational documentary to deter crime.

Death by Shooting

Most countries have stopped the practice of death by firing squad or by single bullet to the head and now use lethal injection. However, shooting executions are still used in the state of Utah, Afghanistan, Belarus, Ethiopia, Indonesia, North Korea, Nigeria, Yemen, Vietnam and some parts of China.

China has the death penalty for 68 crimes. During a war on crime effort in China in the spring of 2001 there were 1,781 executions, according to Amnesty International records. That figure is higher than all of the other executions in the world put together for the same period. Executions are carried out immediately after a public sentencing. China keeps its death penalty statistics a state secret. The prisoner's arms are shackled behind them and they are forced to kneel before they are shot in the back of the head at close range or shot in the heart from behind with an automatic rifle. The family of the executed person is required to pay for the bullets used.

Beheading

In Saudi Arabia, public beheading is the punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy, armed robbery, apostasy and other offenses. Men and women receive sentences of death by beheading and are usually given sedatives beforehand. The condemned are taken by the police to a public place and their eyes are covered. A sheet of plastic is spread out on the ground and the prisoner is forced to kneel facing Mecca. The prisoner's name and crime is read out loud and the executioner is given a traditional Arab scimitar. The executioner generally takes a few practice swings in the air before poking the prisoner in the back of the neck with the tip of the sword. This causes the prisoner to lift their head so that it can be removed with a single stroke. The head often flies two to three feet away from the body and is picked up and given to a doctor who sews it back on. The deceased's body is wrapped in the plastic sheet and taken away for burial in an unmarked grave at the prison.

Whipping, Flogging and Lashing

Whipping, flogging and lashing are judicial punishments in which the prisoner is beaten with a whip, strap or flogger. While many countries have now outlawed judicial beatings, the practice is still widespread in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Bahamas, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Libya, Yemen, Malaysia, Brunei, parts of Nigeria and Indonesia as well as other countries.

In American prisons, flogging and beatings are still used, unofficially, to maintain order.

Mutilation

Mutilation, including eye gouging, chemical blinding, amputation of fingers, hands or other body parts, is also used in some countries, especially in those whose legal system is based on Islamic law.

Amputation

In Saudi Arabia, those convicted of crimes involving theft are often sentenced to amputation, and their right hands are removed. For those found guilty of highway robbery, cross amputation, or removal of the right hand and left foot is ordered. In Iran, prisoners may also be sentenced to amputation of both hands and feet for serious crimes. Judicial amputation is still practiced in many other countries too including Yemen, Sudan, and Islamic regions of Nigeria. Under the Taliban, judicial amputations were common in Afghanistan.

An Eye for an Eye - Literally

In Saudi Arabia, Indian citizen Puthan Veettil `Abd ul-Latif Noushad was sentenced to a brutal punishment in 2005. The Greater Shari`a Court of Dammam ordered his right <>eye gouged out as retribution for taking part in a brawl. A Saudi citizen was injured in the brawl and insisted that the punishment be carried out.

Although Saudi Arabia consented to the Convention against Torture in 1997, brutal judicial punishments in the country have not stopped. Eye gouging sentences are not uncommon.

Chemical Blinding

In Iran, a 27-year-old man who was rejected by a woman attacked and threw acid on her, causing her to be blind and disfigured. The Supreme Court has upheld his sentence, which is chemical blinding in both eyes. He will be strapped down and have drops of hydrochloric acid placed in each of his eyes.

Man's Soup

Click to Enlarge

33% Tardy

One third of America is late to work on any given morning.

Blatant Plug

Anyone wishing to get top quality bread that doesn't taste artificial, sweet or mass produced, try popping down backpacker street to Rainforest Bakery.

Premium, authentic French loves, crusty breads and rolls and all manner of cakes to keep you happy. Reasonable prices too- a baguette is less than MYR 4 for white and under a fiver for the brown and they are open 7 days a week.

The Beano & Bash Street Kids

A great article on one of my favourite comics and strips: Bash Street Kids creator Leo Baxendale reveals Beano's secret: keepie-up

I was seven when the Beano began in 1938 but I didn’t buy it or its sibling, the Dandy. I read the D.C. Thomson story papers Wizard and Hotspur, which were aimed at 14-year-olds, and the AP boys’ paper Champion. The writing was rigorous and the titles magnificent — The Giant Gun that Shook the World, a tale of Afghan tribesmen building a siege gun that could lob a shell from Kabul to the House of Commons.

During the Second World War, when I was at grammar school, paper rationing made comics as scarce as striped ladybirds, so I read the Dandy and Beano on alternate weeks, mainly for the artist Dudley Watkins, who drew Desperate Dan and Lord Snooty.

I had meant since infancy to earn my living as an artist but didn’t know what markets would open up, so I studied everything, not comics in particular. Comedy and language mattered to me as much as drawing, and in 1944 I absorbed the sly drollery of Max Wall, whose absurdist comedy on the radio subverted everything.

After I finished my National Service in the RAF in July 1950 I started as a staff artist on the Lancashire Evening Post: I did editorial cartoons, strips and adverts (I drew a series of half-page ads for a charabanc tours firm — a coachload of tourists plunging down a 10,000ft drop and other enticements). On Saturdays I went to football and rugby games, golf tournaments and cricket matches, where I would scribble notes and ideas from the press box and sketch players in the dressing room (once I dashed off a caricature of Bobby Locke while he was pulling his trousers on). On Sundays I would spend my time drawing features for the Monday sports pages.

In the last week of August 1952 I sat in my parents’ home thinking. I was 21 and entering the prime decade of my life (of any artist’s life), the time when energies of mind and body are at full charge. I had long planned to make a break for a career in the national market at this age.

My younger brother Richard came in with a Beano. I hadn’t looked at the Beano in years. When Richard had finished, I idly picked it up. There was a jolt of excitement, at the unexpected. The inside cover pulsed with life. Somebody was putting an intensity of creation into the set. It was no more than a two-thirds feature but I was struck by the portent of Dennis the Menace. This was the future. I wrote at once to the Beano, seeking freelance work, and the managing editor of D.C. Thomson comics, R.D. Low, replied by return. What followed was an interregnum of strangeness that lasted for seven months.

During my National Service I drew three pages of a book in comic-strip format: pen and ink and monochrome wash; the adventures of a crowd of children. I thought that it was time for me to have a dispassionate professional assessment of my work.

I posted the three pages to Faber & Faber, not for a moment expecting the work to be accepted for publication; I wanted a detached appraisal. A week later the drawings came back with a letter from Faber & Faber’s managing director: his firm did not publish strip cartoons but he had thought that he ought to tell me that in his opinion I would have no difficulty earning my livelihood doing this kind of work. That was enough for me.

Let us fast-forward to January 13, 1953. I pencilled a bison herd of kids stampeding out of school, their marmalizing hooves trampling the world underfoot. I called it The Kids of Bash Street School and posted it to R.D. Low. I waited with high expectation but his reply was offhand, a dampener. Three months went by. Early in April I sat in my parents’ living room, thinking. Then, exactly as on the day in August of the previous year that had provoked my first approach to the Beano, my younger brother Richard came in with a newly bought Beano and another comic (a swap). When he had finished with the Beano I picked it up. Dennis the Menace had gone up to a full page the month before and had taken wing.

I seemed to have been travelling for seven months in a circle, repeatedly passing the sign NO MEETING OF MINDS; and here I was again, looking at Dennis. By now I had found out about Dennis the Menace and his creator. Dennis had burst into the Beano in March 1951, begat by the Scottish artist David Law, a stylish perfectionist and 24 years older than me.

I happened to look up at my brother. He had his other comic folded back as he read it, and facing me was a large illustration of Hiawatha. I quickly sketched a little pencil portrait: chubby, bare to the midriff, with a bellybutton, and with Dennis’s frown and stylised mouth.

I posted the portrait to the Beano editor, George Moonie, and waited in continuous excitement for his reply.

April 14, 1953: George responded swiftly and gave the character a working title: Booster. When the strip started in the Beano in October I found that character’s name had been determined by the needs of a rhyming couplet: Little Plum, Your Redskin Chum. (Curious about rhyming couplets in the Beano, I delved about and found they were part of a tradition that went back to the Middle Scots of Gavin Douglas and Sir David Lindsay in the 15th and 16th centuries.)

In production with Little Plum, I realised that my original concept of how to draw him wasn’t working. To present Plum as a creature of a putty-like consistency, by turns gormless conniver and disaster-prone bumbler, an infinitely malleable set of facial features was necessary. I discarded the Dennis stylised features and we were away.

September 3, and a letter from George Moonie. Wanted: a strip with a female character, The Minx. George asked me to send him several portrait sketches so he could choose one. I couldn’t be bothered with that; I thought up and pencilled the first strip and sent it to Dundee by return of post. George, too, responded by return of post, sending the strip back to me for inking; we were gathering speed.

I made an abrupt decision to create Minnie the Minx as a girl of boundless ambition, and an Amazonian warrior to boot (Minnie’s boot, as I got stuck into the development of the strip, turned out to play a vital role).

Six weeks later, another letter from George Moonie: “I shall be in Preston next Tuesday, 20th October, emerging from the Perth train around 2.51pm. Can you meet me at the station?”

George Moonie emerged from the Perth train around 2.51pm. I met him at the station. We walked to the Kardomah cafe in Fishergate and found a table by the window. Plum had started in the Beano two weeks before; Minnie would appear in December. Over a pot of tea, George asked me if I would create a third set, a two-thirds page, featuring a crowd of children pouring out of school. I told George this was what I had longed to do: what had made him think of it? George looked surprised and pulled from his briefcase the pencil sketch of The Kids of Bash Street School that I had sent to R.D. Low in January: “This gave us the idea. You sent it to us. Don’t you remember?”

I had a momentary feeling of foolishness (for in the nine months since my dispatch of the sketch to R.D. and his offhand response, it had indeed gone from my mind, part of detritus of the past). Instead of The Kids of Bash Street School, George suggested the title When the Bell Goes or School’s Out. My proposal to R.D. had been for a large single-pic series but George came up with a variant: two small intro pics each week of the 4pm exodus from Bash Street School, leading into a big scene.

I saw George off his train, noting that first-class travel was one of the perks of being editor of the Beano.

Starting the long walk along the length of the Fishergate, I had already begun working out the first Bash Street set in my mind. George had asked for a winter scene, since he meant to launch the feature in the Beano soon after Christmas. That meant snow and ice. As I strode, I decided on a frozen pond setting, to provide a common theme of gags and a closely bounded composition where I could place the characters either in the foreground of middle - distance. By the time I reached the other end of the Fishergate and my bus home, I had worked out the gags and comic sequences (but not the individual characters — that would come in the act of drawing). Arriving home, I started on the drawing at once, working on the dining room table. When my mother came to lay the table for the family tea I had to clear Bash Street away, impatient for the meal to be finished, so that I could carry on.

The Bash Street Kids was initially a whole school. When I had finished one of the first half-dozen sets — one was the Army Display, which had the Bash Street Kids defeating the British Army and carrying off the heavy weaponry as booty, with sundry kids machine-gunning fleeing teachers (this was 15 years before Lindsay Anderson’s If) — I thought, I could draw sets like this for years, and the readers would love them; but in the very moment of thinking that, I decided abruptly to change the structure of Bash Street fundamentally. I would get rid of the whole-school concept and replace it with a smaller group of characters, to bring them closer — closer to the readers.

George Moonie invited me to move to Dundee so that I could be nearer to the Beano. I went at the end of November 1953, to live and work in a flat in Broughty Ferry, a three-mile tram ride to the Beano office in Dundee. In the office I encountered Keepie-Up. I had not known of the game before: it was a Scottish cultural phenomenon.

I took my finished drawings to the office two or three times a week, timing my visits for late afternoon, when the working day of the Beano editor and subs was winding down.

At the remains of the day the office furniture was pushed back and we stood in a circle: George Moonie, five Beano sub-editors and me. The Keepie-Up ball was a scrunged up wodge of the Dundee Courier, stitched inside a piece of Scottish tweed.

It wasn’t just the Keepie-Up ball that flew about: ideas did too. As the score mounted and the metabolism rose, somebody would have a flash of inspiration for Bash Street and we would bounce the idea around, building it up until George would turn to me and say: “Have you got enough to go on there?”, or the chief sub would dash to his desk, scribble the outline of the plot on a bumf pad and hand it to me.

You normally expect that your offspring will outlive you. As I looked at my progeny of Little Plum, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids in 1953, I was left with a conundrum: would they outlive me or would I outlive them? Fifty-six years on I still don’t have the answer.

Abbey

Claim to be one of the forerunners in British banking and yet stick stubbornly in the last century. They refuse to allow customers to communicate via email with them and they don't even support the new version of internet explorer, IE8.



Poor.

Only in England

Can the closing of a roof make the headlines.


Slow news day? Or sick of Jacko hogging the lime light? :o)

Goggled Deja Vu

I know we've done this before, but it's back in the news one more as yet another school lets H & S interfere in perfectly natural practices.

Teachers at St Sidwells Primary School, Exeter, Devon, have told parents of pupils that swimming goggles can now only be worn by children who have an "adverse reaction to chemicals* in water" because they run the risk of injuring themselves with wet eye wear protection that could slip.

Authorities at the school say they're following advice from the British Association of Advisors and Lecturers in Physical Education (BAALPE) which states that:

"Head teachers should inform parents and carers that goggles can be a hazard and cause permanent eye injury.

Wet plastic is very slippery and frequent, incorrect or unnecessary adjustment or removal of them, by pulling them away from the eyes instead of sliding them over the forehead, can lead to them slipping from the pupil's grasp with the hard plastic causing severe injury."

The head-up-arse Head guffed:

"It's been around about 15 years. It's about managing risk. We're saying goggles should only be worn by children who have an adverse reaction to chemicals* in the water."

So, if the guidance has been around for 15 years, why are they only acting on it now? Further, if they are so keen to work to H & S protocol, they should have records which will document any such incidents. How many cases in 15 years?

Finally- in any case of risk, there is a duty to compile a risk assessment and this will reduce the risk. It is not necessary to ban something based on the premise of "reasonable risk"- where are their assessments? Trust me, I used to do this as part of my old job- they are talking bollocks here. As ever.




*Easily done- I have an adverse reaction to piss in the eye?

It Had to Happen

When a big name dies, it can never be from natural causes, can it? Some celebrity deaths that have attracted conspiracy theories, from TTel.
  • Michael Jackson

    It took just hours after Jackson's death for the first conspiracy theories to start circulating. The most popular is that the singer faked his death in order to escape the media spotlight and impending bankruptcy. Here we take a look at nine other celebrity deaths and the theories that have sprung up around them.

  • Anna Nicole Smith

    The model and actress, whose real name was Vickie Lynn Marshall, was found dead at 39 from an overdose of prescription drugs in a hotel in Florida on February 8, 2007. An official investigation concluded that she had been killed by a cocktail of drugs. But within days of Nicole Smith's death, the web was alive with speculation over the striking similarity with the death of her son, Daniel, who had been killed a few months earlier from a cocktail of drugs.

  • James Dean

    The actor died on September 30, 1955 when his Porsche 550 Spyder was hit by a Ford Custom Tudor coupe on Route 466 near Cholame California. The Ford was driven by 23-year-old Donald Turnupseed and had crossed into Dean's lane and hit the Porsche almost head on. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. Conspiracy theorists seized upon evidence from a reconstruction of the accident which suggested that the damage had been too light for a high-speed crash and would not have killed the driver. They suggested he faked his death.

  • River Phoenix

    The young actor had a squeaky clean image and frequently spoke of his abhorrence of drugs. And yet, on October 31, 1993, he collapsed from an overdose of heroin and cocaine outside a Hollywood nightclub owned by Johnny Depp. Many people have questioned the official story pointing to Phoenix's public opposition to drug abuse and a lack of any needle marks on his body.

  • Kurt Cobain

    The lead singer of Nirvana was found dead at his home in Seattle on April 8, 1994. The singer - who had disappeared from a drug rehabilitation clinic - had, according to his wife, Courtney Love, been suicidal and a suicide note was found. The initial police report stated that Cobain had been found with a shotgun across his chest and an autopsy ruled that he had died by a single gunshot wound to the head and that he had taken a large amount of heroin. However, Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Love to find Cobain after he disappeared from the clinic, believed that the singer was murdered. He claimed that the amount of heroin in Cobain's bloodstream would have made it impossible for him to have put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Grant claimed that an unknown assassin had administered the drug and then shot Cobain.

  • Natalie Wood

    The 43-year-old actress was found dead in the sea off Catalina Island, California, on November 29, 1981. She had apparently drowned after falling off a yacht owned by her husband, Robert Wagner. Wood had spent several hours drinking with Wagner and the actor Christopher Walken before disappearing. There was speculation that she had been murdered but the Los Angeles County Coroner's office was emphatic: Her death had been accidental, possibly after she had fallen into the water while attempting to get into the dinghy.

  • John Lennon

    The former Beatle was shot dead outside the Dakota building in New York where he lived by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Chapman was jailed for murder and is still in prison. The most popular conspiracy theory over Lennon's death is that he was killed by remote control. Those who believe this claim that Chapman was programmed by US government agents to kill Lennon and that they used the novel Catcher in the Rye as a signal to go ahead with the operation. But there appears to be very little motive for such an assassination by the US government other than a supposed dislike of the musician's radical views by the newly-elected Reagan administration.

  • David Carradine

    The 72-year-old star of the the Kung Fu TV series and Kill Bill films was found dead on June 4, 2009 in his room at the Swissotel Nail Lert Park Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Police reported that he had been found hanging in a wardrobe. Other more lurid reports suggested he had died after some kind of sado-masochistic incident. A pathologist stated that autoerotic asphyxiation was the most likely cause of death and a police chief said that CCTV footage at the hotel showed that nobody else had been involved. The day after his death, Carradine's family's lawyer dismissed the idea that the actor had committed suicide and suggested that he could have been murdered by a gang of kung fu assassins after it was revealed he was planning to uncover groups in the martial arts underworld.

  • Marilyn Monroe

    The actress was found dead at her home in Los Angeles on August 5, 1962. An autopsy found a cocktail of the drugs choral hydrate and Nembutal in her system and the county coroner recorded the cause of death as acute barbiturate poisoning by accidental overdose. However, speculation over Monroe's death continues to this day and centres on her relationships with US President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy. Most of the theories allege that she was murdered either by the CIA or the Mafia because she knew too much about the Kennedy brothers' links to organised crime.

  • Elvis Presley

    Presley was found dead on the floor of his bathroom in Graceland, Memphis, on August 16, 1977. An investigation and autopsy found that he had crawled several feet from the toilet before he died. Two autopsies into his death (one in 1994) concluded that drugs did not play a part and that he was killed by a sudden heart attack. But, given Presley's widely documented prescription drug abuse, most experts believe that he was killed by a cocktail of drugs. And yet there are a million and one theories surrounding the death of Presley - by far the most persistent being that he somehow faked his own death in a bid to boost flagging record sales. Hundreds of thousands of supposed sightings of "the King" have been claimed in the three decades since.

The only thing we can be dead (sorry) sure about is that none will be making any kind of come back soon.

Spill Chuckers

The most frequent spelling mistakes made by users of Yahoo!. Most seem like typos to me- something I am rather expert on. :-(

* Swan Flu (for Swine Flu)

* Susan Boil (for Susan Boyle)

* Brack Obama (for Barack Obama)

* Paperview boxing (for pay-per-view boxing)

* Amtrack (for the US train system Amtrak)

* Wallmart (for retailer Wal-Mart)

* Farrah Faucet (for actress Farrah Fawcett)

* Rod Steward (for singer Rod Stewart)

* “Dancing With the Starts” (for Dancing With the Stars)

* Brittany Spears (for singer Britney Spears)

* Configure worm (for computer virus Conficker worm)

* Mysapce (for MySpace)

Heads or Tails?

Click to Enlarge


A "technical error" at the Royal Mint has led to between 50 000 and 200 000 coins entering circulation without a date, for what is thought to be the first time in more than 300 years.

The error occurred with the introduction of new coins bearing a fragmented image of the royal coat of arms on the reverse (tails) side and a new profile of the Queen on the front. In order to accommodate the new design the date had moved to the heads side on 20 pence pieces, but a number slipped through final inspection and out into public circulation.

Whilst still legal tender, the London Mint Office, a private company specialising in unusual coins, is offering anyone who finds the undated coin fifty quid in the hope of selling them to collectors.

Time to check your change?


Off to Sunny Spain, Oh Viva Espagne

In a similar vein but not as good as the previous post, here's some more advice about maximising your dosh in Europe from TTel again:

1 TRACK DOWN THE CHEAPEST EUROS

Despite the pound strengthening, holidaying in Europe this summer is still more expensive than it was a year ago. According to FairFX, £500 would have bought you €636.80 a year ago (before any commission charges). Due to the weaker pound, holidaymakers handing over this amount today will receive €65 less.

Travellers are therefore advised to shop around for the best value currency deal. Make sure you take both the exchange rate and commission charges into account. Don't assume all "commission free" deals will work out cheapest – many offer poorer exchange rates. According to Moneysupermarket.com, the best deals at present are from the Post Office, where buying €500 will cost £451.92 and Travelex Online, where the same purchase will cost £453.93. Don't buy euros from airports and ferry terminals because they are almost always uncompetitive. Travelex's Heathrow branch charges £483.15 – that's £30 more than its online operation – for €500.

2 CUT THE COST OF USING PLASTIC OVERSEAS

Using a credit or debit card may be convenient, but it is rarely cheap, and the myriad fees and charges added can substantially bump up the cost of a European holiday. Make sure you pop an Abbey credit card or Nationwide debit card into your wallet instead.

Abbey's zero card has no foreign loading fee – so you get the best possible exchange rate. What's more, it doesn't charge a fee for withdrawing cash from an automatic teller machine (ATM).

However, as with most credit cards, you will be charged interest on all cash withdrawals from day one, regardless of whether you pay off the balance in full at the end of the month. But given most credit cards charge interest and a cash withdrawal fee, the Abbey card will cost less overseas.

Nationwide's debit card is cheaper to use in Europe – as there is no foreign loading and no ATM fee. But charges are imposed outside Europe (unlike the Abbey card) and you do have to open a bank account with the building society to get the card.

3 GET A CHEAPER INSURANCE DEAL

Travel agents can make more money from selling insurance than they do from arranging holidays. So make sure you shop online to secure the cheapest deal. It is possible to buy annual European cover from £15 per person – although these cheaper policies may not offer cancellation cover and some charge excess of up to £200 if you have to claim.

However, Direct Travel Insurance charges just £28.15 for its "Gold" cover, which includes standard benefits and just a £50 excess on most claims. Those who can only afford one trip abroad this year should buy a single-trip policy. Use a comparison site to secure the best deal, prices will vary depending on where you are travelling to, your age and the length of the trip. Those looking for cover for two weeks in Spain will pay just £11.12 with insurefor.com.

4 DRIVE AWAY WITH A CHEAPER CAR RENTAL DEAL

Hiring a car once you are overseas can be expensive, and you have little opportunity to shop around. Instead, try and book car hire before you leave by using one of the specialist price-comparison sites. No one provider always works out cheapest – it depends on individual details.

Try Kayak.co.uk , travel supermarket.com and carrentals.co.uk to find the cheapest deal. Remember to specify all "extras" in advance. Most car rentals offer standard insurance, but this will include hefty excesses to pay in the event of a claim. If you want more comprehensive cover, talk to a specialist insurer (such as Car Hire Excess, Questor Insurance or insurance4carhire.co.uk

5 BUY A SPANISH PROPERTY ON THE CHEAP

While property prices are falling across much of Europe, the most pronounced downturn has been in Spain. But while property prices have fallen, a weak pound has effectively increased the price of buying overseas.

Miranda John, of mortgage broker Savills Private Finance, says euro mortgages start from 3 per cent. If the pound strengthens against the euro, then this will reduce the size of your debt. Ms John says that property buyers should seek specialist advice on whether to opt for a euro or sterling mortgage.

6 INVEST IN EUROPE

Over the last few years, Continental European equity markets have lagged behind their British and US counterparts. But those who already hold investments in the continent will have benefited from the weaker pound, as the assets they hold are in euros.

Some fund managers remain confident in the region's potential: Richard Pease, who manages Henderson New Star's European Growth fund, recently invested £1m of his own money in this fund.

But the outlook for European stockmarkets remains uncertain, according to Ben Yearsley of financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown. "The larger European countries don't have a banking crisis of the same magnitude that we do, but many of the countries have less flexible economies and exports were hit by the strong euro."

One of the best-performing funds in this region is Odey Continential Europe, the top performer over three years. However, investors have only seen their money grow by 1 per cent during that period.

7 TALK FOR LESS OVERSEAS

Many mobile phone users don't realise that they pay hefty charges to receive, as well as make calls while in Europe. While new legislation caps these charges at 38p per minute to make a call (and 19p per minute to receive calls), those on phone contracts can pay far less by requesting a free "roaming" package.

The cheapest is from Vodaphone. This summer it is running a special promotion on its "Passport" scheme – so those asking for this option pay just British call charges. This is available in most European countries. Outside of this special deal, Three has the cheapest standard EU roaming prices: 25p per minute to make calls, 10p per minute to receive them.

8 GRAB A CHEAP WEEK IN THE SUN

Holiday companies are heavily discounting hotels, package tours and self-catering villas and apartments. Sources in the trade suggest that some Spanish hotels are seeing occupancy levels drop by as much as 50 per cent, as cash-strapped Britons stay at home.

Not surprisingly, many are now cutting prices, with the heaviest discounts at less popular regions. Travel experts suggest bargain hunters look at the Marche and Liguria regions of Italy; Normandy and Dordogne in France; the Costa Calida and Azahar in Spain and the Ionian islands in Greece. For more details on these see www.telegraph.co.uk/travel

9 CHEAP CITY BREAK

Airlines are also being forced to cut prices in an attempt to fill seats. Many of the budget airlines are running promotional "cheap seat" offers throughout June and early-July.

For example Ryan Air is still offering flights to Barcelona for £10.55 per seat (one way), flights to Venice and Pisa for £4.00, and flights to Alicante on the Costa Blanca for £20, returns are available at similar prices. All flights leave in early July. For more cheap flights, use the "flightchecker" on www.moneysavingsexpert.co.uk

10 WIN A EURO-MILLION

For £1.50 you can buy a ticket in Europe's biggest lottery and have a (very small) chance of winning one of the largest jackpots. The biggest win so far has been £125m but the organisers say there is an estimated jackpot of £37m this week. But as tickets are sold in nine countries, you chances of winning are small: one in 76 million to be precise.

Holiday Bunce

A good bit on sorting your cash out for your holiday from TTel.

Buy foreign currency in advance

While it is still useful to have some currency when you arrive in a foreign country, it is very easy to end up paying too much for it, especially if you leave it until the last minute. The difference between the cheapest and most expensive currency deals could be as much as 10pc.

For example, a holidaymaker who ordered £400 of euros online from Travelex would receive €459. If he waited and bought the same amount of euros from Birmingham City Airport, he would only receive €418.

The cheapest places to buy currency are often online, although high street brokers can score well too. Both Travelex and Marks & Spencer online offer good rates. If you prefer to get money from the high street, the Post Office offers good rates and its service is available at many outlets.

The very worst thing to do is to wait until you get to a regional airport or a station, where you will receive very expensive rates.

Don't be sucked in by the words "zero commission"

It has become increasingly common for many bureaus de change to advertise that they are "commission free" – meaning that there is no one-off charge to exchange your money. However, this means that they are making their profit somewhere else, and that it is far harder to see how much your transaction is actually costing.

These "zero commission" companies are now making their money on the exchange rates they are offering, which can vary wildly. A transaction with Amex on the high street, although commission free, will result in your conversion costing nearly 9pc of your original outlay, while Travelex, which is also "commission free", will charge you nearer 3pc.

Peter Harrison, head of travel money at financial comparison site Moneysupermarket, said: "The phrase 'zero commission' can be very misleading. Customers need to learn to look beyond this."

Be savvy with cash withdrawals

It is very easy to turn up at a foreign airport and just stick your credit or debit card into the nearest cash machine without considering the consequences. This could land you with a hefty bill, so make sure you have prepared in advance.

If you use your credit card to take out money from a cash point you will pay particularly dearly, with a withdrawal charge of £3 at minimum for many cards, and a high interest rate even if you pay off the balance on your credit card in full at the end of the month. In addition, you'll also pay a foreign exchange "loading fee" in many cases, which would add a 2.75pc cost onto your spending.

Using your debit card is usually a better bet, but most still carry a loading fee and a cash withdrawal fee for each transaction.

If you want to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) it is worth applying for a specialist card or even a whole account to make the process cheaper.

*Nationwide's Flex Account debit card is one of the best options. In Europe it does not charge a loading fee and there is no charge for using a cash point. Withdrawing cash is also interest free. Outside Europe it charges 0.84pc for overseas spending as of next month.

To get the card, you'll need to open a special bank account with it, however. This may seem like a lot of hassle just for travelling unless you go abroad a lot – but you could always run your Flexaccount as a separate current account and top it up especially for travelling if you don't really want to switch bank accounts.

Other solutions to the ATM problem include using one of the better credit cards for travelling abroad or investing in a prepaid card, and there is more on these options below.

Finally, remember if you are being charged a minimum fee every time you take money out, it might be best to take out greater amounts of money at once. However, you will then have to make sure you have somewhere secure to store it.

Use the right credit card

Spending on a credit card abroad can be the right decision, provided that you pick the right credit card. It is often best to apply for a specific card just for travelling abroad, particularly if you go a lot. Do not use these cards for balance transfers or if you are not going to pay the balance off every month, otherwise they will work out to be very expensive.

The best card to apply for at present, according to Moneysupermarket, is the Santander Zero card, which used to be known as Abbey Zero. This does not have any charges for withdrawals or purchases. The only negative is its high 27.9pc cash withdrawal interest rate, but it is definitely a good card to use for purchases abroad.

The Post Office Credit Card has no charges for purchases, but will charge you to withdraw money. Both the Nationwide and Saga credit cards have no charges for purchases in the Europe Visa Region.

Consider a prepaid card

Pre-paid cards are becoming increasingly popular with travellers, even though only about 3pc of the nation currently have one. These cards are widely accepted and are safer than carrying cash. If you expect currency rates to fall you can load them in advance with euros or dollars and the exchange rate will be set at that point.

Prepaid cards do not charge foreign-exchange loading fees, although most will charge fees on cash withdrawals. However, they work out cheaper than most ordinary debit cards apart from the Nationwide option. According to recent research by the consumer body Which?, FairFX offers the best value euro and dollar cards, but only if you can get the card with the fee waived.

This can be achieved by applying through moneysupermarket.com or if you load a large amount of money onto the card. FairFX offers foreign ATM fees of €1.50 and $2 respectively. Caxton FX's card is also a good deal. Before you apply for a prepay card, check it suits your circumstances. Some will charge inactivity fees or limit the amount you can top up.

Think about protection

Some ways of carrying holiday money are safer than others. Spending on a credit card automatically gives you Section 75 protection. This means that if the goods you buy are faulty or the supplier goes bust then you can claim from the credit card company – comforting in a foreign land.

Debit cards and prepaid cards do not offer this protection. However, prepaid cards are safer than travellers cheques because you will be refunded the money if your card is stolen and you are Pin protected. You may have to pay for a replacement card to be couriered to you, however.

It is also important to point out that prepaid card owners are not covered under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if the provider goes under and you lose funds. There is no suggestion that any of the providers are in a difficult financial position.

Tell your card providers that you are travelling

If you are planning to use any credit or debit card abroad, it is worth informing the provider first. Despite the large numbers of people who travel at any time, you may find yourself stranded if your provider blocks your card.

"This is happening more and more," said Mr Harrison. "Lots of people do not think to tell their provider." Those whose best-buy cards are blocked may end up using other, more expensive cards, so it is always sensible to be prepared.

Always pay in the national currency

Those travelling abroad should beware a phenomenon called dynamic currency exchange. This occurs when you are spending on plastic abroad and the shop says you could pay in pounds. Some ATMs, particularly in Spain, also offer to convert your withdrawal into sterling when you are withdrawing euros.

You should always refuse and pay in the national currency since the exchange rate you will be paying will almost always be much worse than that given by your own card provider.

Consider a foreign currency current account and broker

If you travel regularly to only one country or own a second home there, you will probably need access to large amounts of cash. It may be possible to open a euro or dollar-denominated account and buy large amounts of cash from a broker, such as HiFX.

This will also allow you to buy your cash at times when the exchange rate is favourable. Many countries will allow you to hold a bank account abroad, but rules differ.

Don't change it back

If you are likely to return to a destination in the near future, do not change your money back when you get back at the airport. Although these services are also often "commission free", you are unlikely to be charged a very good rate. The best thing to do is usually to hang on to the money until you return, or swap with a friend who is going for a sensible price.

*That explains a lot- we were expecting this to be in place for May 2009 but it must have been postponed as we've not had any charges apply to our account yet. Mind you, they're still playing silly buggers with our cash withdrawals- the complaint is on-going.

Here Comes the Summer

You can just tell it's a burd who wrote this. Most of it hits the mark, but I wonder which side of the bed she rolled out of to be so grumpy?

Whoever thought that the British were a prim and well-mannered nation clearly only saw us during the winter. Cometh the rise in temperatures, cometh a complete abandonment of decorum and any notion of social propriety. Things have got so bad that the National Trust – that bastion of stately homes and manicured gardens – has been reduced to running a ''sexual misconduct patrol'' for its (admittedly nudist) beaches.

But even with our clothes on, things are no better. Men who usually wear a shirt and tie strip off in the lunch hour. Others walk down the street shirtless and in baggy, calf-length shorts that belong to a Harlem rapper. Those who scoff at 'elf and safety TV ads reminding us to drink water and put on sunblock should count up how many men pitched up to work yesterday with unseemly pink faces.

A straw poll among some of my male friends reveals why: apparently it is a matter of macho pride not to put on suncream in public. Now I understand why one acquaintance laughed when his children wrote ''dad'' in factor 50 suntan lotion on his chest and then refused to rub it in. It also explains the violent welts of red across the back of men's necks, the T-shirt marks, the balding fuchsia pates.

Not that the women are setting any example. Strap marks etch out each different top and bikini worn over the weekend. Professional women swap smart heels for smelly flip-flops, often before they've even had a pedicure. There might be a crime worse than exposing your yellow toenails and cracked heels to the world, but I can't think of one. (Yes, it's a lookist world – get used to it.)

Parrot-colours and frenzied prints in fabrics that wouldn't pass muster as drying-up cloths are draped, knotted and slung across the body as if the bus-stop bench were a poolside lounger. Forget clever foundation undergarments – it all hangs out in string bikinis when the temperature hits upwards of 20C.

The vast increase in "controlled drinking zones" – there are now over 700 across England – in which police have the right to seize alcohol from anyone not in a licensed area, might be seen as a depressing sign of a nanny state, but can you blame the Government? Anyone would think the country was one giant Glastonbury: open-air drunkenness is practically de rigueur. Locate a patch of green and you will also find a wobbly mass of pink flesh and plastic cups, slurring along to a tinny iPod doing its best to belt out Wham's Club Tropicana.

At any other time of year, asking someone if they fancy a drink 10 minutes after breakfast has been cleared away would be a sign of alcoholism. But when the sun is out, it's form. What's more, no drink is considered complete without half the contents of the fruit bowl and a jaunty cocktail umbrella. Glasses of expensive chablis have large lumps of ice dropped into them, or, worse, are transformed into tasteless ''spritzers'' in a pathetic attempt to drink less when, in reality, twice as much is drunk, twice as quickly.

If the grown-ups manage to stay off the hard stuff, then this is only because they are relishing an opportunity to embrace their inner child. Lashings of ginger beer or even Coca-Cola are served up and drunk straight from the can. After months of nothing but vintage wine and peppermint tea, there are sudden cravings for Fanta, Lilt and Dr Pepper.

Perhaps it's the sugar rush that can explain the extraordinary behaviour in city parks. Men last seen in board meetings debating million-pound budgets are now fighting over a Frisbee or marking out goal posts with their shirts. You may have used your gym only four times this year, but I bet you've started thinking about volleyball or the joys of beach rounders, even calling up friends to see if anyone's got a spare badminton set.

In the countryside, it's no better. Where protocol normally dictates weeks of planning for Sunday lunch, anyone with a pool suddenly finds friends ''popping round'' for the day. Of course, they just happen to have towels and swimming costumes in the car. No one wears sunglasses, let alone sunblock, and consequently they all pass out from sunstroke before sunset.

One can only hope they learn from their mistakes. But somehow I doubt they will.

The Brits only get the sun a couple of weeks a year; why not let them make arses out of themselves if they want to? From TTel.

Whizzy

Can't quite believe how quick our pooter is- and then I remembered we spent several hours defragging the hard drive recently. What a difference, it's much quicker and more responsive.

*waits patiently for it to go "pop" now*

The Ponzi Scheme

This is the scam that Bernard Madhoff used to rip off his marks to a tune of £40 billion. The 71 year old has just been gaoled for 150 years, but what's it all about (Alfie)?

The ruse is named after Charles Ponzi, a 1920s crook who promised investors in New England a 40% return on their investment in just 90 days, compared with 5% in a savings account.

Ponzi had planned to make money by taking advantage of the difference in exchange rates between the dollar and other currencies to buy and sell international mail coupons at a profit. His scheme was an amazing success, and during one three-hour period in 1921, he took in $1 million (£670 000).

Inevitably, the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" con goes tits up and when the house of cards collapsed, it turned out he had only ever purchased about $30 worth of the mail coupons on which the scheme was based.

In Madoff's case he had been paying investors "with money that wasn't there". Regulatory filings show he managed money for hedge funds, banks and wealthy individuals.


All it once again shows is that a fool and his money are easily parted- particularly if they are greedy and looking to make a quick buck. If it's too good to be true, it is.

Funky, Eh?



Here's the theme tune to Dexter, along with the rather clever opening credits.

How to Dine Out, Apparently

Some of the comments are good, some make me think this guy has delusions of grandeur. Take it any way you want, but here are some "tips" from an insider in the waiting business:

1. Avoid eating out on holidays and Saturday nights. The sheer volume of customers guarantees that most kitchens will be pushed beyond their ability to produce a high-quality dish.

2. There are almost never any sick days in the restaurant business. A busboy with a kid to support isn't going to stay home and miss out on $100 because he's got strep throat. And these are the people handling your food.

3. When customers' dissatisfaction devolves into personal attacks, adulterating food or drink is a convenient way for servers to exact covert vengeance. Some waiters can and do spit in people's food.

4. Never say "I'm friends with the owner." Restaurant owners don't have friends. This marks you as a clueless poseur the moment you walk in the door.

5. Treat others as you want to be treated. (Yes, people need to be reminded of this.)

6. Don't snap your fingers to get our attention. Remember, we have shears that cut through bone in the kitchen.

7. Don't order meals that aren't on the menu. You're forcing the chef to cook something he doesn't make on a regular basis. If he makes the same entrée 10,000 times a month, the odds are good that the dish will be a home run every time.

8. Splitting entrées is okay, but don't ask for water, lemon, and sugar so you can make your own lemonade. What's next, grapes so you can press your own wine?

9. If you find a waiter you like, always ask to be seated in his or her section. Tell all your friends so they'll start asking for that server as well. You've just made that waiter look indispensable to the owner. The server will be grateful and take good care of you.

10. If you can't afford to leave a tip, you can't afford to eat in the restaurant. Servers could be giving 20 to 40 percent to the busboys, bartenders, maître d', or hostess.

11. Always examine the check. Sometimes large parties are unaware that a gratuity has been added to the bill, so they tip on top of it. Waiters "facilitate" this error. It's dishonest, it's wrong-and I did it all the time.

12. If you want to hang out, that's fine. But increase the tip to make up for money the server would have made if he or she had had another seating at that table.

13. Never, ever come in 15 minutes before closing time. The cooks are tired and will cook your dinner right away. So while you're chitchatting over salads, your entrées will be languishing under the heat lamp while the dishwasher is spraying industrial-strength, carcinogenic cleaning solvents in their immediate vicinity.

With or Without Chips?

Something for our Canadian cousin(s):

Weird cases: possession of pie with unlawful intent

An alleged plot to throw pies at the Canadian prime minister takes on major constitutional significance


The Supreme Court of Canada will soon hear a case about an arrest for “possession of a pie with unlawful intent”. Surreally, the pie didn’t even exist but the case has now become one of major constitutional importance in Canada.

The story started in 2002 when police said they believed that someone in Vancouver was going to throw a pie at Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister. A judge later described the evidence for the plot as nothing more than “a third hand rumour”. Nonetheless, the police swung into action.

The pie suspect was described by a radio dispatcher as 5 foot 9, with short dark hair and aged 30-35. The police then arrested Cameron Ward – who is 6 foot with collar-length silver hair and who was almost 45 at the time of the incident. Although Ward was clearly pieless when stopped, acting on a suspicion that he might be “hiding pies”, officers whisked him to jail where he was stripped and given a thorough personal search. No pies.

He was then locked in a tiny cell for four-and-a-half hours. Saying that they believed a pie might be hidden in Ward’s car, officers didn’t open the trunk but rather impounded his vehicle. A prominent lawyer often involved in litigating cases of alleged police misconduct, this was not Ward’s first experience of unusual police conduct.

One city officer continued to search for pie evidence for an astonishing six weeks after Ward’s arrest, but none was found. Ward sued the police, the city and the provincial government for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and negligence. He offered to settle the case in return for an apology but his offer was rejected.

In court, a police officer who was asked whether she had found any evidence that Ward was guilty replied, bizarrely, “I did not come across any evidence that he was not”. Ward won the case although the judgment swung on violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not on specifically illegal police conduct. He was awarded $10,000 damages and the appeal court upheld the award.

The Supreme Court of Canada will now consider in what circumstances damages should be awarded to a citizen whose constitutional rights have been infringed — for instance, being kept in a cell too long — but where the authorities haven’t broken any particular law, a point definitely not as easy as pie.

From TTimes.

It's Life, Jim

It's been estimated that over 1 billion man-hours have been devoted to playing the computer game "The Sims"

I'm still on Sonic the Hedgehog.

Should Have Gone to Specsavers

Click to Enlarge
Not the best place to crash your car into...

24 Hour Watch

Thank the Lord that we only have one final DVD to get through before Spack Bauer and his tree stump of a daughter (this could refer to her looks or intellect, you decide), Dim, save the world.

We've now had to endure the President falsely providing his ex-wife an alibi for murder, watch the same guy proclaim that he doesn't negotiate with terrorists before ordering the execution of the head of CTU because the baddie told him to (and getting Spack to shoot the guy in the head) and more incompetence by the workers at CTU who cannot follow a simple order without giving their opinion, arguing the toss or completely ignoring the request.

No one likes or trusts their colleagues, no one seems to need to shave in 24 hours (and that is just the burds) and of course no one ever does their job as they simply wander around sticking their beaks into each other's affairs.

We have to stop watching this dross as it is affecting our health as the blood pressure rises and we move closer to heart attack city. Still, just four more hours to get through and we can all relax again.

Humbling Experience

We explored another area of Georgetown yesterday and found a rather charming food market, quite by accident. Coincidentally, we recognised a couple of the guys working there as they also carry on and work another shift at the Red Market, where we also eat out in the evenings.

Man, do these guys have it tough. They put in a five hour shift during the lunch time session and then are ready to start again down the road from 17:00 to 01:00. I'm not even sure if they take a day off...

Anyway, we sat down to wait for our food to arrive (chicken breast in soy sauce with steamed rice for 75 pence, anyone?) and I went off to get a couple of juices. I was about to pay when one of the guys came rushing over and insisted in paying for our drinks. He wouldn't hear of us declining his generous gesture and took care of the bill.

This, from a guy who is working a 13 hour day to make a living? The less they have, the more they give and this is just a small example of what lovely people exist around the world.




And don't worry, he may have treated us on this occasion but we shall definitely have the last laugh.

Full Circle

Rumour has that the old owner of Newcastle, Freddy Shepherd, is to buy back the club for a knockdown price of £60 million.

Shepherd sold his Newcastle shares to current owner Mike Ashley two years ago as part of a £134 million deal for the club and Ashley's total investment in the club has been estimated at £244 million, which includes paying off debts and buying new players.

It appears he has had more than enough of the club and just wants to get out, so the offer looks likely to be expected.

I'm not sure it's the right direction for the Toon with Shepherd back at the helm but desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. At least they haven't got Fugly Redknapp as manager...

Who Needs ESPN?



If you're an England fan, look away now, but didn't the keeper have a mare? Flapped at the free kick and fumbled and then the third goal through his legs? And what about number four? A beauty.

Yes, it's going to be a great day today.

An Unbiased Report

From the BBC:

England's youngsters were crushed by Germany in the European Under-21 Championship final in Malmo.

The Germans went ahead when Mesut Ozil went past Martin Cranie and cleverly found Gonzalo Castro, who slotted home.

Soon after the break, goalkeeper Scott Loach misjudged Ozil's free-kick and palmed the ball into the net.

After England's Lee Cattermole hit the bar, Sandro Wagner collected Ozil's pass and fired through Loach's legs and also curled in Germany's fourth.

Despite Wagner's late double, it was the outstanding Ozil who was England's chief tormentor.

The Werder Bremen playmaker produced several moments of class and always looked dangerous on the counter-attack.

England, on the other hand, struggled without suspended forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell, who were sorely missed.

In their absence, Theo Walcott was moved in from the left flank by boss Stuart Pearce and operated as a lone striker.

England started strongly, with Cranie heading Adam Johnson's free-kick wide and Walcott shooting wide of the near post.

But their lack of firepower was always evident whereas the Germans, despite having less possession, looked a real threat.

And they went ahead when Castro, who also scored in a 1-1 draw against England in the group stages, made no mistake after Ozil's fine pass.

Ozil was a constant thorn in England's side and went close shortly before half-time with a 25-yard free-kick that struck Cranie and flew just over.

But there was no escape for England three minutes after the interval.

Ozil tried his luck with a free-kick from a much greater distance that was hit straight at Loach.

The Watford keeper ought to have made a routine save but was badly positioned and inexplicably allowed the ball to roll into the net.

It was a terrible moment for Loach, who had been selected ahead of Peterborough United's Joe Lewis to replace the suspended Joe Hart.

Cattermole struck the top of the bar with a ferocious shot as England tried in vain to find a way back into the match.

Their cause was not helped when Johnson missed the target from close range after some great work on the right by James Milner.

Worse followed for England, with Ozil again reaping havoc and threading through a perfect pass for Wagner, whose cool finish effectively sealed Germany's victory.

Their win was rubber-stamped six minutes from the end, when Wagner sent a right-foot shot beyond Loach and into the far corner.


Germany U21: Neuer, Beck, Howedes, Boateng, Boenisch, Hummels (Aogo 83), Johnson (Schwaab 68), Castro, Khedira, Ozil (Schmelzer 89), Wagner.
Subs Not Used: Fromlowitz, Ebert, Marin, Grote, Adlung, Ben-Hatira, Ede, Sippel.

Goals: Castro 23, Ozil 48, Wagner 79, 84.

Booked: Boenisch, Wagner.

England U21: Loach, Cranie (Gardner 80), Richards, Onuoha (Mancienne 46), Gibbs, Cattermole, Muamba (Rodwell 77), Noble, Milner, Walcott, Johnson.
Subs Not Used: Lewis, Taylor, Stearman, Tomkins, Driver, Rose.

Att: 20,000

Ref: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland).

From 1-1 to 4-0?

Sadly we didn't get a chance to see the game (hopefully ESPN will pick up the highlights) but what an unexpected result for Germany's football players in the European Under 21 Championship final in Malmo, Sweden, yesterday.

England played Germany in the qualifiers during the week and they recorded an honourable draw at 1-1. I thought we'd see a similar result with perhaps a penalty shoot out, but it wasn't to be as, by all accounts, they really stuffed the English.

Bloody great. :o)

That now makes it a hat-trick of wins for Germany over England in youth football as they have beaten them at U17 and U19 levels as well.

Bloody, bloody, great.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Calling 999

Each year, an average of 189 people visit A & E because they choked on the mouth piece of their telephone's wireless headset.

Yes, these people live amongst us.

New Wheels?

Bought a new car recently? Get ready to buy a new radio for it in about five years time. That's when the Government turns off the analogue signal and switches over to digital. So no more Capital Radio on 95.8 FM until you upgrade to a new DAB digital system, which could cost you quite.

Standard car radios are built in to the vehicle’s electrical system and are difficult and expensive to replace, so you could be looking at a bill of around £300. Top-selling models such as the Ford Focus and Mondeo, Fiat Punto, Volkswagen Polo, Peugeot 207, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Clio remain in the analogue age, though some manufacturers offer digital radio as an option for £200-£300 extra. Only some more luxurious models, such as the Audi A8, BMW M5 and M6, Jaguar XJ Sovereign and Land Rover Freelander come with digital radios as standard.

No one wants to commit until a firm date has been set.

Putting Pen to Paper

Or tapping the plastic as I refer to it, ways to improve how you write and stuff. Clearly this should apply to us on the Blog. If the captions are cut off, check out Smashing Magazine or view it in Chrome.

Effective writing skills are to a writer what petrol is to a car. Like the petrol and car relationship, without solid skills writers cannot move ahead. These skills don’t come overnight, and they require patience and determination. You have to work smart and hard to acquire them. Only with experience, you can enter the realm of effective, always-in-demand writers.

Of course, effective writing requires a good command of the language in which you write or want to write. Once you have that command, you need to learn some tips and tricks so that you can have an edge over others in this hard-to-succeed world of writers. There are some gifted writers, granted. But gifted writers also need to polish their skills frequently in order to stay ahead of competition and earn their livelihood.

We collected over 50 useful and practical tools and resources that will help you to improve your writing skills. You will find copywriting blogs, dictionaries, references, teaching classes, articles, tools as well as related articles from other blogs. Something is missing? Please let us know in the comments to this post!

1. Grammar, Punctuation & Co.

Ultimate Style: The Rules Of Writing
The web’s ultimate guide to grammar provides a database of topics and an easy-to-search A-Z list of common questions (via)

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Use English Punctuation Correctly
A quick and useful crash course in English punctuation.

HyperGrammar
An extensive electronic grammar course at the University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre.

Grammar Girl
Mignon Fogarty’s quick and dirty tips for better writing. Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.

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Better Writing Skills
This site contains 26 short articles with writing tips about ampersands, punctuation, character spacing, apostrophes, semicolons and commas, difference between i.e. and e.g. etc.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing
An older, yet very useful site that will help you to improve your writing on word & sentence level, paragraph level and also essay & research paper level.

HyperGrammar

Writer’s Block
A compact resource with over 20 articles that cover abbreviations, capitalization, numbers, punctuation, word usage and writing styles.

Paradigm Online Writing Assistant
This site contains some useful articles that explain common grammar mistakes, basic punctuation, basic sentence concepts etc. Worth visiting and reading. The Learning Centre contains similar articles, but with more examples.

Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style
These notes are a miscellany of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage put by Jack Lynch, an Associate Professor in the English department of the Newark campus of Rutgers University, for his classes.

English Style Guide
This guide is based on the style book which is given to all journalists at The Economist. The site contains various hints on how to use metaphors, punctuation, figures, hyphens etc. Brief and precise.

HyperGrammar

Technical Writing
An extensive guidance on grammar and style for technical writing.

40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation
“Purdue University maintains an online writing lab and I spent some time digging through it. Originally the goal was to grab some good tips that would help me out at work and on this site, but there is simply too much not to share.”

2. Common mistakes and problems

Common Errors in English
A collection of common errors in English, with detailed explanations and descriptions of each error.

AskOxford: Better Writing
A very useful reference for classic errors and helpful hints with a terrible site navigation.

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Dr. Grammar’s Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to common grammar questions related to English grammar, with examples and additional explanations.

English Grammar FAQ
A list of common English language problems and how to solve them. This list was compiled through an extensive archive of postings to alt.usage.english by John Lawler, Linguistics, U. Michigan, Ann Arbor.

3. General Writing Skills

Writer’s Digest
Writer’s Digest offers information on writing better and getting published. The site also includes community forums, blogs and huge lists of resources for writers (via)

Infoplease: General Writing Skills
Various articles that aim to teach students how to write better.

Infoplease

The Elements of Style
A freely available online version of the book “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr., the classic reference book.

Poynter Writing Tools
A blog dedicated to writers and journalists. Poynter also provides Fifty Writing Tools: Quick List, a collection of podcasts related to writing.

Poynter

learning lab / writing skills
This site offers over 20 .pdf-documents with main rules and common mistakes related to summarising, paraphrasing, referencing, sentences, paragraphs, linking words and business writing. Handy.

Using English
UsingEnglish.com provides a large collection of English as a Second Language (ESL) tools & resources for students, teachers, learners and academics. Browse our grammar glossary and references of irregular verbs, phrasal verbs and idioms, ESL forums, articles, teacher handouts and printables, and find useful links and information on English. Topics cover the spectrum of ESL, EFL, ESOL, and EAP subject areas.

Online Writing Courses
Free courses are a great way to improve your writing skills. The courses shown here focus on several types of creative writing, including poetry, essay writing and fiction writing.

4. Practical Guides To Better Writing Skills

Copywriting 101: An Introduction to Copywriting
This tutorial is designed to get you up and running with the basics of writing great copy in ten easy lessons. Afterwards, you’ll get recommendations for professional copywriting training, plus links to tutorials on SEO copywriting and writing killer headlines.

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A Guide to Writing Well
“This guide was mainly distilled from On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Other sources are listed in the bibliography. My memory being stubborn and lazy, I compiled this so I could easily refresh myself on writing well. I hope it will also be helpful to others.”

Online Copywriting 101: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet
The ultimate cheat sheet with various Web copy resources that copywriters can use to lean the best writing tips and ideas. More copywriting cheat sheets.

Headlines and Trigger Words

Common mistakes and errors

Writing tips from experts

Practical tips

5. Copywriting Blogs

CopyBlogger
Now that blogging has become the smartest strategy for growing an authoritative web site, it’s your copywriting skills that will set you apart and help you succeed. And this is where Copyblogger comes into play. Brian Clark’s popular blog covers useful copywriting tips, guidelines and ideas.

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Write to Done
Leo Babuta’s blog about the craft and the art of writing. The blog covers many topics: journalism, blog writing, freelance writing, fiction, non-fiction, getting a book deal, the business of writing, the habit of writing. Updated twice weekly.

Problogger
Darren Rowse’s blog helps bloggers to add income streams to their blogs – among other things, Darren also has hundreds of useful articles related to copy writing.

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Men with Pens
A regularly updated blog with useful tips for writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Time to Write
Jurgen Wolff’s tips, ideas, inspirations for writers and would-be writers and other creative people.

Daily Writing Posts
“Whether you are an attorney, manager, student or blogger, writing skills are essential for your success. Considering the rise of the information age, they are even more important, as people are surrounded by e-mails, wikis, social networks and so on.

“It can be difficult to hone one’s writing skills within this fast paced environment. Daily Writing Tips is a blog where you will find simple yet effective tips to improve your writing.”

CopyWriting
Copywriting website is jam-packed with useful information, articles, resources and services geared to show you how to write mouth-watering, profit-generating copy. Copy that changes minds and dramatically boosts your results. So come right in… you’re going to like what you see! It has copywriting courses, tools, articles and much more.”

CopyWriting

Dumb Little Man: Writing
Jay White provides a handful of tips that may increase your productivity and improve your skills. You’ll find many tips and ideas for better writing in his archive category “Writing”.

Dumb Little Man

The Copywriter Underground
A copywriting blog by the freelance writer Tom Chandler.

Lifehack: Writing
This collection of resources includes links to 30 posts on Lifehack that may help you to improve your writing skills.

6. Tools

OneLook Dictionary Search
More than 13,5 million words in more than 1024 online dictionaries are indexed by the OneLook search engine. You can find, define, and translate words all at one site.

One Look Dictionary Search

Definr
A fast, suggest-as-you-type dictionary which you can add to your Firefox search box or use in bookmarklet form (see this post) (via Lifehacker).

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Visuwords
Look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. Produce diagrams reminiscent of a neural net. Learn how words associate.

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Merriam Webster: Visual Dictionary
The Visual Dictionary Online is an interactive dictionary with an innovative approach. From the image to the word and its definition, the Visual Dictionary Online is an all-in-one reference. Search the themes to quickly locate words, or find the meaning of a word by viewing the image it represents. What’s more, the Visual Dictionary Online helps you learn English in a visual and accessible way.

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OneLook Reverse Dictionary
OneLook’s reverse dictionary lets you describe a concept and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept. Your description can be a few words, a sentence, a question, or even just a single word.

Online Spell Checker
Free online spell checker that provides you with quick and accurate results for texts in 28 languages (German, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, Portuguese etc.). An alternative tool: Spelljax.

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GNU Aspell
GNU Aspell is a Free and Open Source spell checker designed to eventually replace Ispell. It can either be used as a library or as an independent spell checker. Its main feature is that it does a superior job of suggesting possible replacements for a misspelled word than just about any other spell checker out there for the English language.

WordWeb
A one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows that can look up words in almost any program. It works off-line, but can also look up words in web references such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Features of the free version include definitions and synonyms, proper nouns, 150 000 root words and 120 000 synonym sets.

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write rhymes
As you write, hold the alt key and click on a word to find a rhyme for it.

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Verbix
This English conjugator will help you to determine how to use verbs in the proper tense.

Wordcounter
Wordcounter ranks the most frequently used words in any given body of text. Use this to see what words you overuse or maybe just to find some keywords from a document. Text Statistics Generator is an alternative tool: it gives you a quick analysis of number of word occurrences.

Advanced Text Analyzer (requires registration)
This free tool analyzes texts, calculating the number of words, lexical density, words per sentence, character per word and the readability of the text as well as word analysis, phrase analysis and graded analysis. Useful! Alternative tool.

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Graviax Grammar Checker
Grammar rules (XML files containing regular expressions) and grammar checker. Currently only for the English language, although it could be extended. Unit tests are built into the rules. Might form the basis of a grammar checker for OpenOffice.

txt2tags
Txt2tags is a document generator. It reads a text file with minimal markup as **bold** and //italic// and converts it to the formats HTML, LaTeX, MediaWiki, Google Code Wiki, DokuWiki, Plain text and more.

Markdown
Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML). Requires Perl 5.6.0 or later.

7. Further Resources

50 Useful Open Source Resources For Writers and Writing Majors
And if you’re a writing major, why not take advantage of all the opportunities to get great free and open source resources that can help you to write, edit and organize your work? Here’s a list of fifty open source tools that you can use to make your writing even better.

English Forums
If you have a question related to English Grammar, join these forums to get advice from others who know the language better or can provide you with some related information.

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The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource
A round-up of applications, services, resources, tools, posts and communities for writers and bloggers who want to improve their writing skills.

100 Useful Web Tools for Writers
100 useful Web tools that will help you with your career, your sanity and your creativity whenever your write. More useful round-ups.