Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our Friends Electric

It’s strange how lives are measured out in cars. Our old van, the ‘new’ van, the Vauxhall Viva, the Vauxhall we didn’t have for more than a couple of weeks, the Chevette ('the Vauxhall Chevette is whatever you want it to beee'...), the much later Ford Orion, the Escort and now, well, the ‘new one’. For those of us who don’t do pets cars cut your life into chunks of memory. I wonder if this still works for those people who replace their car every couple of years?

This leads me into one of my ‘inappropriate technology’ rants too. I wonder if the Vauxhall Viva had any instructions in the handbook on locking the doors? Probably did but probably didn’t need it. Thing is that most people could figure out how to lock doors. You put the key in and turn. Well, the new car has no less than 17 pages of instructions about locking the damned car – and we still can’t work out why there’s one key without a bleepy pressy keypad thing which just sets off the alarm if you try to use it. 17 pages and we still can’t work out how to unlock the stupid car! Why?

And everything is automated and computerised so you can’t work out how to use it and it does things it thinks it should do that you don’t want it to do – so the windscreen wipers set themselves to the speed they think they should go at, one of them comes on on its own when you reverse whether you want it to or not, you can’t tell how much petrol you’ve got (or anything else) without the ignition switched on and if it all goes wrong you need a software engineer rather than a mechanic. Stop this madness!

Modern stuff does everything but no-one uses it properly because it does too much in a much too complicated way and no-one has the time to figure it all out. So people go for years without being able to use anything they’ve bought until they replace it with the next thing they don’t know how to use.

I got a new mobile phone (an antique by most people's standards of course) and the instruction book has 120 pages! And it's not got a blue wire video wapp enabled search camera either, it's just a phone. I guess button A and button B were a bit complicated but they had instructions written up in a few sentences. Not 120 pages. And directory enquiries was free of course. Before competition made the world so much better. And they were all made of wood. In Sheffield.


Whole Sky Monitor are off to see My Bloody Valentine this weekend and good for us. Thing is that I just looked on ebay and you can get tickets really cheap. Nothing particularly wrong there but it does remind me of something depressing. That is that bands who re-form or those who have just been around for a long time never seem to get any new fans. They just play to a proportion of the old fans. When I've been to see gigs by people I like who have been going ages (Donovan, Melanie, the Magic Band, the Moody Blues - don't laugh, they are one of my guilty pleasures) nearly everyone has been old enough to have seen them 'first time around' and I'm the youngest there. What happened to people discovering what went before? Why aren' t 19 year olds watching the old (classic) farts before its too late? Hopefully they're out watching fantastic new bands. However, I suspect they're not. I have actually seen a few 'young people' at those gigs. Then I realise they're standing next to their Mum looking bored. Ho hum...


I’m not going to tell you how long I've been listening to music but I’ve finally got a Walkman! Not a cassette walkman (I've dropped the capital for copyright reasons by the way) but a walkman all the same. It is I predicted it's just like having a walkman. Like a cassette walkman with a few tapes to hand – and a bit smaller. As I predicted. It’s an MP3 player. There's no leader tape but it does spend a lot of time 'creating database'.

Thing is that people like to tell you that things are revolutionary but generally they’re not. Like the walkman. It’s like a walkman really. Another example is the internet. For nearly all of us the internet is like a very big reference book (though probably not as reliable) combined with a phone to order stuff. DVDs are like videos - and so it goes on. Our lives are continually being ‘revolutionised’ and yet life still feels very much the same. Only with more traffic.

Weird thing is that in a world where you'd think everyone was scared of being happy-stabbed by their local hoods in yardie tops, people cut themselves off from surrounding sounds so they can't hear anyone sneaking up on them and I found it really weird listening to 'Animals' by Pink Floyd while crossing the road. On the other hand it was useful for recording an 'ident' for an internet radio station. Makes it a recording walkman nearly I guess. They were always really expensive.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Leeds Inclusive Learning Strategy

We received a leaflet via school yesterday. Seems to have been given to all parents. It claims to be ‘Information for patients and carers’ on the subject of the ‘Leeds Inclusive Learning Strategy’. It comes from Education Leeds. They’re pretty much the Council (except when they apply for grants…but that’s another story). What an ‘inclusive learning strategy’ might be I have no idea but let’s read on in the hope of finding out.

Well, they claim that their goal is a ‘world class inclusive education system for all children and young people in Leeds’. World class eh? But we still want to know what the Inclusive Learning Strategy is. I’m hoping they’ll explain what ‘inclusive learning’ is and how they plan to be world class at it. Well, it doesn’t say. What it does do is explain (and I use the word extremely loosely) the areas it covers. This includes ‘Promoting and developing inclusive practice and inclusive schools’. What might that mean? What is ‘inclusive practice‘? - and what does an ‘inclusive school’ look like? Another area covers ‘Developing how pupils access behaviour provision across the city’. Mm, not sure about the grammar for a start. Leaving that aside, what on earth can accessing behaviour provision be? What kind of behaviour can one ‘provide’ to a child?

Oh well, so their grammar isn’t very good, they haven’t defined what they mean and they use jargon. Let’s move on. In the section ‘What does LILS mean for your child?’ they explain that ‘Your child will have full access to school life’ (!) – ‘from the curriculum and teaching to out of school activities’. They don’t explain what partial access to school life is currently being provided and why children apparently don’t yet have ‘full access’ to teachers and the curriculum. Even better, ‘They will learn and go through school in a way which suits both them and you, their family.’ Can we get our child to go through school dressed as a pirate? How many alternative ways of going through school will be offered?...’I’m sorry headmaster but our Charlie is going through school in a way that suits Charlie but doesn’t suit his family or myself, 1 out of 3 is simply not good enough. I demand you change the way he goes through school immediately’…

Now we all know (or you haven’t been reading this blog!) that there are a whole group of people whose job is to have endless meetings with each other to come up with ways of stating good intentions and the bleedin’ obvious. These usually amount to saying ‘we think good stuff is better than bad stuff’ (don’t get me started on the Leeds Initiative’!) and all conceivable meaning is lost on the way. You end up with a leaflet (more often a big glossy brochure with thick card covers) containing ‘information’ which is actually completely free of information. In this case I think they’ve used relatively few words thinking that this might possibly make it easy to understand or be in plain English. In fact it’s little more than a random series of words. I guess (and it is just a guess) that it might be something to do with equal access to education, but who knows.

The final page says that you can contact a man from the ‘Pupil planning team’ (their lack of capitals) ‘if you need this document to be interpreted’. I am soooo tempted to write and ask to have it translated into English. If I could be bothered I’d write to Education Leeds and get really arsey as well as writing to the papers. The trouble is that this kind of toss is so prevalent that no-one can be bothered to fight it any more.

People will talk about ‘social cohesion’ and misunderstanding between cultures and the rest but it’s actually these white middle class overpaid 'educated' people that are the people I have nothing in common with and don’t understand. Why do they talk like this? And why do they think that anyone might be interested? I think we have to assume that this ‘Strategy’ in common with nearly all strategies has no application in the real world at all.

In the section ‘what we have done so far?’ (I think they meant ‘what have we done so far? i.e. a question that makes sense, or possibly ‘What we have done so far’ i.e. not a question) they say they’ve been ‘holding discussions to help people with a key interest in the project understand the LILS and get them involved’. A ‘key interest’?

Aw forget it, these people aren’t worth getting angry about. I just despair that so much money is spent on this stuff and the people who come up with it who presumably cry themselves to sleep at night realizing they’re wasting their deluded little lives – if only. I’m off to ‘write learning programmes to meet the needs of children and young people’.

Designer Plumbing / Scrotum

I’m really sick of designer plumbing. Basically, I don’t know how to work any of the stuff. I mean the kind of thing you get at airports and hotels. Half the time I can’t work out whether to wash my hands or piss in it.

I want to know instantly whether something is soap or some sort of electric sensor or just a curly bit of chrome plated metal with no discernable use at all. I want to know which is the stuff to wipe my bum on and which for drying my hands. I’m not stupid but I don’t want to have to waste time and energy in a strange place figuring it all out. Most of all I want control. I want to be able to decide when the toilet flushes, whether I get hot water or cold (or the mixture of the two). The bald fact is that some designs actually work and the rest don’t. Have you ever used a tap that you press to turn on that didn’t power water out at 200psi followed by an abrupt stop? – or they just pour away for hours so they can’t possibly use any less water than a real actual normal tap.

I found a tap today in a disabled toilet (yeah I know, how can a toilet be disabled…) which has a widening stripe on it suggesting that the water would get colder the further it was turned on – so it’s a dribble of scalding water or a torrent of cold it would seem. What if someone wants a torrent of hot or a dribble of cold? And how do you know where the happy medium you want will be if you turn the tap on ‘a bit’ and loads of water gushes out? Actually, where are the people who want scalding hot or freezing cold water to wash their hands in? 'Caution hot water' means 'this water is too hot to wash your hands with, we thought you might like a cup of tea' or 'we're idiots'. Legionnaires disease is used as an excuse by the way (I'm not making this up).

The thing is don’t muck about with fancy designs that don’t work, and most of all don’t do it in airports and motorway service stations where people are not so likely to be regulars. And while we’re in the men's toilets, I don’t like that razor advert that suggests you shave your scrotum by showing 2 kiwi fruit, one having had its fur shaved off. Who wants to think about shaving their scrotum in a motorway service station for fucksakes? There’s coffee at £3 a bucket and the most expensive cakes in Christendom to think about. And ‘special offer’ breakfasts at only £8.99.

Sick cookery

I go down to the kitchen to discover a copy of ‘The Pooh Cook Book’ on the work surface.

I’m appalled - Are there no depths to which some people will not stoop?…

Even more deeply in love with the insurance industry

I receive a personally addressed postcard from the insurance company (my favourite kind of people as you’ll know if you read this stuff). It says ‘We’ve missed you…and your home. We’d love to look after your home again – come back to Co-operative insurance and not only could you save money but we also offer a great range of benefits your current insurer may not.’

So, first of all, here’s another example of that fake advertising matey-ness I loathe so much. I’d hazard a guess (and this is just a guess mind) that they haven’t missed me and they don’t miss my ‘home’ (which I call my house). What with one thing and another, I hadn’t thought about them in ages, that’s for sure.

They say they want to ‘look after’ my home. So are they going to come round and watch for burglars, try the doors at night to check they’re locked and make sure the cooker is turned off – and perhaps run a sponge round the bath once in a while? A moot point. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

My third point is the one about ‘coming back ‘to them. Thing is I didn’t know I’d left. I thought they were taking money every month and were already ‘looking after’ my ‘home’. They have my address because I have a policy with them.

I rang them to ask, because previously the policy was cancelled by accident (ironically…) They wouldn’t talk to me at first. They assumed I was only the 'named driver' on a car insurance policy and not the policy holder so they couldn't talk to me. What!?

I’d started the call by reading out the first few lines of the card – all that ‘we’ve missed your home’ stuff. Obviously easy to confuse with ‘hi, I’m the named driver on a motor insurance policy’. So...after explaining that I wasn't asking about car insurance and that the named driver stuff was irrelevant they finally checked the house insurance and I am still paying.

They didn’t have a ready answer as to why they’d sent a card saying they want me back. It’s ‘advertising’ apparently and I should ignore it.

So, 'let’s have three cheers for matey bullshit, inaccuracy, not listening and of course for advertising. And this is the Co-op who I’m let to believe are a bit better than some. What can you do short of arson attacks?

Choclate spread

Nutella chocolate spread (as you and I and the world call it - or ‘Hazelnut spread’ as it calls itself on the label) is ‘packed with over 50 hazelnuts, a glass of skimmed milk and a little cocoa’.

Wow, sounds like it's really healthy then? The ingredients, listed by volume or weight I assume, are: 1. Sugar. 2. Vegetable oil.

Yum. Hurray for marketing once more!