Browser update…

I have, I’m afraid, given up the quest for a browser that will do everything I ask of it (as Firefox 2 did). Until Mozilla get their heads out of their collective asses, and accept that no-one wants their stupid Awesome Bar, and that Firefox 3 is a fuck-up (and still can’t handle Bookmarks), that they still haven’t fixed, there’ll be nothing to replace Firefox 2. Chrome and Safari are very similar and, I’m afraid, browser foetuses rather than fully-developed and functional apps. I know Chrome is still in beta – it’s still shit. IE is as clunky as it ever was.

I use Opera as my main browser, and I’ll continue to do so, as it does almost everything acceptably well, and some things very well. It is, I believe, the perfect browser for most people. For me, though, the fact that Google Gears, which speeds up WordPress, is not yet compatible with Opera, and that Opera isn’t entirely compatible with WordPress, are problems.

I can compensate by writing my blog posts in Word, then pasting them into WordPress, which is what I’m doing right now, but Opera loses all my formatting in the process, which really pisses me off(the reverse is true, too – copying text from the web, in Opera, and pasting it into Word, fails to give me the normal formatting options that I expect).

To solve the blog problem, I’ve had to revert to Firefox 2 when I’m posting, and that shouldn’t present too much of a security risk when support for FF2 ends next month. Typing posts, other than very short, simple, ones, directly into WordPress using Opera simply isn’t an option; it’s too compromised. For most folk, this just doesn’t matter.

The downloading text thing I can live with, and for things where the formatting options are important, I’ll have to use IE.

For online shopping, some sites are still incompatible with Opera and Firefox, and often you don’t find out until checkout, which pisses me off big-time. Most of those I use regularly – I shop for pretty much everything except food online, unless I’m not able to get out, then I’ll use Tesco. They’re compatible with Opera but not, bizarrely, with FF.

There’s a problem shopping with Opera, as it’s facility for remembering the repetitive stuff you have to input is very limited (IE is simply crap at that, and always has been, even with the requisite plug-in). FF2, though, is simply superb at remembering stuff – I can complete online forms with just a few mouse clicks but, of course, once support ends it’s going to become increasingly insecure, so I’ll use it less and less as time goes by. I’ve only stopped using it full-time because I decided to give Opera a thorough workout, and stayed with it.

For the foreseeable future, though, I’m going to be running at least 2 browsers simultaneously, Opera and FF2 (showing just my WordPress writing page, though I’ll also use it on some shopping sites until it becomes a problem; I had hoped Mozilla might change their minds about killing it off, but I’m not holding my breath!), with IE fired up whenever I need it. Good job my PC’s not short of memory. Unless things change dramatically, I can’t see this changing any time soon.

Update, November 30:- Last night someone posted a comment, which was actually more of a rant, along the lines of “You’re wrong, I’m right…”  about Opera so I binned it. The only person allowed to rant here is me. The crux of the argument was that I’m totally wrong about Opera and IE is far superior, to which there is only one thing to say – Bollocks!

IE is a clunky browser – it always has been, and from what I’ve seen of IE8, despite all it’s flashy plug-ins and add-ons, the basic browser will remain clunky – if it were not for the existence of the terrible Outlook Express IE would surely be in the running for the worst MS app ever. That’s my opinion, OK? It’s based on my long experience of IE and I’m not interested in being told I’m wrong, so don’t bother. I used IE for over a decade, before switching, first to Firefox and, more recently, to Opera, because support for FF2 ends soon, and FF3 is an abortion. Opera, like FF2, is better than IE7 in almost every conceivable way. I have probably a couple of thousand bookmarks, amassed over a long period – IE7, like every version before it, and like IE8 to come, as far as I can see, has no Favorites search facility, which is frankly shit. Searching them in Opera, like FF2, is a breeze.

Opera isn’t quite as good as FF2, which is a shame (see above – these shortcomings shouldn’t bother the average user), but I’ve been using it for a couple of months now, and I’m 99% happy with it (hey, nothing’s perfect). I spend a lot of time online and I need a browser with which I’m comfortable, which will do what I want it to do, with no baulkiness, and which won’t keep pissing me off, which IE did repeatedly. Firefox didn’t, and neither does Opera, and that’s good enough for me. Probably good enough for you, too. As with any app, there’s a bit of a learning curve (and the basic colour scheme sucks, but it’s easy to change), but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. My advice would be to live with it for a couple fo weeks, before deciding whether you like it or not. That, of course, is dependent on how much time you spend online. If you just dip into the Net for a few minutes a day then you’ll be just as happy with IE. If, however, you’re online, as I am, for hours at a time, then I strongly recommend Opera; there really is nothing that can compete with it right now, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Grumpy Old People…

I confess that I have a soft spot for the TV programs Grumpy Old Men/Women, not least because the guys all seem to be a version of me (depending on mood!). Some of the women, too, hold views worringly similar to my own.

It does appear, though, that the definition of “old” was revised downwards with each successive series, so that now it seems to encompass any minor celeb (and some I’ve never heard of), over 37.

I’m constantly intrigued by the appearances of journalist Kathryn Flett, who is rather substantial and seems to have a penchant for dressing in what appears to be hideous floral wallpaper, given its apparently rigid structure – it contrasts oddly with the relatively slender babe whose pic appears alongside her Observer magazine column. It’s either the world’s most astounding diet – it’s even reduced the size of her head – or she’s been Photoshopped to buggery (note for Americans – that expression, common in the northern counties of England, has nothing at all to do with homosexuality; can’t have you getting over-excited, you know). And yes, I know TV is said to add 10lb, but this is ridiculous.

That, though, is not why I’m here. I don’t know if these people are exaggerating for the sake of effect – I suspect just a little – but they are, with very few exceptions, the most appalling technophobes.

I just don’t understand it (and I’ve approached this from a different direction recently). When some people – and this is a cross-gender thing – reach a certain age, do they abandon the ability to reason, to extrapolate, even, it seems, to read manuals?

Recently, it’s GOW who have been featured – not sure when GOM is on these days – and last night they manifested a collective inability to impose their will on cookers, microwaves and washing machines (presumably DVDRs, VCRs, computers and digital cameras were considered terra incognita, and no-one dared venture into that area; just as well, I think).

Look, it’s simple. Getting old does not automatically equate with getting stupid, or losing the inability to learn yet these people, who had careers in the media, or the arts (the unknown one or two, perhaps), were trying to demonstrate that it did. I don’t know; maybe they’d spent too much time in the green room, sampling the pre-show hospitality. Or maybe they weren’t dumb until confronted with examples of modern technology, at which point their IQs diminished to vanishing point.

Take microwaves. Yes, they often do have more buttons and functions than any sane person could possibly need, but you don’t need to faff about with them all in utter bafflement. You only need three of them – the On/Off button, the power setting, and the timer – anything else is entirely superfluous.

Likewise with washing machines with 57 programs – you can safely ignore most of them. I use just 2 – the low-temperature, quick wash cycle (which, even so, takes 45 minutes!), because nothing is worn more than once before it’s consigned to the laundry bag. Yep, I know that’s unusual for a guy, but some of us are civilised. The other is the woollens cycle, and even that gets used very little these days, as garments that once would have been wool are now fleece. Women may well need delicates and coloureds, too, but that takes us to just 4 out of god knows how possibilities. And I’m taken about those of us who are getting on a bit, don’t forget, having kids in the family is, I know, a whole different ball game. And when one is getting on a lot the occasional boil wash may be needed – but let’s not go there…

And on to cookers, and here I’m utterly baffled by their confusion, because the damned things have clearly labelled controls these days, which is what made me suspect that they may well have been lying just a little, for the entertainment value. I do hope not. I’d prefer to believe that the cooker person (one of their number was selected to do little visual inserts showing how “hard” things are to master), really was a dumb as a stump, because otherwise she’s doing the rest of you no favours.

Now pay attention – this really is easy. Take a modern cooker, with a hob, maybe a small oven that doubles as a grill, and a main oven below that. The controls are on the front, just below the hob (some designs have the controls alongside the hob, which is a seriously stupid place to put them, so let’s ignore them). The top rank of controls is for the hob, the second for the ovens and grill, and they usually have little symbols alongside, the hob controls showing the position of the burner each knob controls, and the oven and grill controls will be labelled, too, the top oven usually having the controls on the left, the bottom on the right (though I have seen them the other way round, which is counter-intuitive but not exactly mind-bending). The oven’s thermostats are easy to identify – they’re the knobs with numbers. So, how hard to master can that be? Well, last night, we were asked to believe, both in the little video insert, and with the talking heads, that it was completely impossible. Oven timers, I confess, can be a pain in the butt. There is no logic to some of them and, it seems, no two work in the same way. But hey, here’s a thought – until you get used to it, use the manual. In the computer world there is an advisory abbreviation – R.T.F.M. – very loosely translated as please read the manual! It applies in most other areas, too. It’s a guy thing to ignore the manual until all else fails; women don’t have that excuse. And sorry, guys, but that’s a really dumb attitude.

So I asked myself – could these women have reached whatever ages they are (from about 37 to their 50s, as far as I could tell), without having learned how things work? Let’s face it, anyone who has learned to use a gas cooker by their 20s (and if you didn’t – are you reading this, Rachel? – then I’m sorry, you’re doomed), has mastered the basics, so if they can’t get their heads around a slightly different design then it’s a bloody poor show.

In fairness, I do know people – men as well as women – who are as useless as that bunch, and I think it’s pretty pathetic. OK, some are intellectually impaired by age or illness, but most aren’t. What they are I think, is lacking in confidence in their own abilities, and in a willingness to learn – I know one guy, only a little older than me, who told me, some years ago, that he wasn’t able to learn to use a computer, because he was too old! The other side of that coin was a 74-year-old neighbour, who bought himself a PC and dived straight in. OK, he was unlucky; Windows 98 had just arrived, and that came on 14 floppies (or was it 13?), and he had to ask me to install it for him (why it wasn’t pre-installed I never figured out). He didn’t get on TV though…

Sir Ian Blair quits…

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, leaves office today. Intriguingly, Blair blames the London mayor, Boris Johnson, for forcing him out.

This baffles me, because Blair is a Home Office appointee, and Johnson simply does not have the power to force him out – a point that has been made repeatedly since Blair first raised the matter.

Blair says “He made clear that he didn’t want me to remain and it became apparent that if I stayed we would leave the Met at war with its own authority,” He being Johnson, who has taken over the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the force’s governing body.

Well maybe so, but I would have hoped a man in Blair’s position, and with his wealth of experience, was well up to the task of standing up to Johnson, who, beneath that amiable, bumbling-oaf exterior, is a typical, dyed-in-the-wool Tory prick. It bodes ill for London that he felt he wasn’t able to.

There are, arguably, any number of reasons why Blair should go, but caving in to a guy who can’t even dress himself properly is a bit bloody much. I just hope his replacement – whoever it may be – is going to stand up to Johnson, as Blair should have done… Personally, I think pissing off the police force, in the way that Johnson has, is going to come back and bite him in the ass. Hopefully

Diet aids don’t work…

Professor Michael Lean of Glasgow University has called for stricter enforcement of laws prohibiting companies from making misleading claims about the health benefits of their products – says an article in the Guardian.

Prof. Lean goes on to say that most products aimed at the slimmers’ market are useless. Seriously, though, is there really anyone who doesn’t (at least at heart, no matter that they get sucked in by the hype), already know this?

There is only one guaranteed way to lose weight – the calories you expend must exceed the calories you take in (though for anyone taking steroids, this idea falls to pieces). In other words, eat less, exercise more. The end.

OK, there are a couple of drugs that can help – Orlistat and Sibutramine – and if I wasn’t already taking so many drugs I might be tempted, as I can reduce my diet (well under 1,000 calories most days), but I can’t exercise), and, of course, for suitable patients there’s stomach volume reducing – banding or stapling. And that’s it.

All the magic teas, tablets, herbs, or assorted dietary supplements (without adjusting the calories in and out ratio), are simply a waste of money. And a picture of “a doctor” with teeth like tombstones on the box makes not a blind bit of difference.

In an editorial in the British Medical Journal, Professor Lean condemns the “commercial exploitation of vulnerable patients with quack medicines” and calls for strict enforcement of new laws make it illegal for companies to mislead customers by making unsupported claims for the health benefits of their products. Earlier this year, the UK adopted an EU directive aimed at tackling such products and to “protect vulnerable consumers who are often the target of unscrupulous traders”.

Gillian McKeith is probably the most well-known vendor of herbal dietary products. If, as she does me, McKeith makes you cringe, fulminate and snigger in almost equal measure, then I recommend this article by Dr. Ben Goldacre, where you will see, among much else, the reason why I don’t refer to McKeith as “Dr.” I have had to be very careful what I say in this paragraph, as McKeith is absurdly litigious, but Dr. Goldacre’s article is excellent, and there is more coverage of McKeith on Quackwatch and pages and pages of stuff at The Quackometer.

If you want to lose weight, keep you money in your pocket, exercise more and eat less – sometimes a lot less, it depends on the individual – and that’s all you need to do. Often just walking more rather than using the car is sufficient exercise – walk to the corner shop for the newspaper, for example, instead of driving. Oh, and don’t join a gym – you know when you sign the Direct Debit that you won’t go more than once or twice!

If you’re sick and disabled, of course, when it comes to exercise, all bets are off. This is why so many of us are overweight – we’re fat because we’re disabled, not disabled because we’re fat (except in exceptional cases). So far, I haven’t found an exercise-free method of losing weight consistently. I did shed a couple of stones by diet alone, but then I reached a stage where I was still too heavy, but diet had no further effect. And there, for now at least, I’m stuck.

The BBC strikes again…

Announced changes, today, to BBC Radio 5 Live schedules (or rather, confirmed changes – they were leaked some time ago), have generated a fair degree of frustration and anger among listeners, if newspaper blogs are any indication, who are in equal part angered and baffled by the changes, and the reasons for them. But this is the BBC, so they shouldn’t really be expecting reasons.

BBC radio management in general, but especially Radio 2, cares not one iota about reasons for change – or whether the listeners actually want it, because they are massively arrogant – as far as they’re concerned, they know best, and the listener is just a cash-cow.

Several years ago, as I’ve said previously, the Radio 2 evening schedules were totally revised (read “trashed”), under the aegis of Lesley Douglas, seeing some extremely popular shows terminated and others moved to early evening or late night slots, or totally and pointlessly revised – like stapling Stuart Maconie to the coat-tails of Mark Radcliffe (who already had a very successful and popular late-night show), for example, accomplished nothing except providing some seriously gay-looking and strangely-composed web-page photos of Maconie (I’ll swear he wore make-up). OK, maybe Radcliffe wanted to get to bed earlier, but just moving his show to an earlier time-slot and retaining the format would have been a far better option. But no, we can’t just have unwanted change thrust upon us, it has to be radical change

Radio 2, under Douglas, also had a pernicious habit, during staff holidays, of replacing mature, intelligent, highly competent presenters with wittering fluffballs whose voices haven’t yet broken, who simply didn’t have the talent or intelligence to hold down the show without involving listeners in witless phone-ins (And what did you do behind the bike-sheds when you were 13? Do call and tell us.). Anyone who listens during Ken Bruce’s holiday breaks will know exactly who I mean – Aled Jones, dubbed a ladyboy by many furious Bruce fans on the BBC’s bulletin boards, before the Beeb shut the boards down (though it occurred to no-one there to address the reasons why so many listeners were so pissed off) Not to mention the demented and dim-witted shriek-fest of Chris Evans, designed to attract a younger audience.

So, what are panjandrums at BBC radio really accomplishing? Bugger all really, except pissing off listeners in droves – it’s just change for the sake of change, like the attempt to attract yoof to Radio 2, that recently backfired so badly. But why this constant meddling with the demographic?

It’s not as if there’s any advertising revenue at stake (no matter what the age of Radio 2’s audience, it has zero effect on the BBC’s revenue), and BBC radio already caters more than adequately for the under-35s, so why was Douglas so intent on attracting the youngsters to Radio 2? It seemed more like an obsession with yoof, to an outside observer, than an attempt to improve the quality of the station’s output.

So here’s a tip for La Douglas’s successor – bloody well leave things alone. Better yet, bring back some of the shows Douglas dumped. And for pity’s sake, when Radio 2 presenters go off on holiday, do try very hard to find someone more mature and talented than young Jones. Unless you want to alienate more listeners than is really sensible… Trust me, the contrast the between the shows’ normal presenters – mostly it seems to be Sarah Kennedy and Ken Bruce who get the Jones treatment – is hideously jarring. And that’s not hyperbole. (And if you think Ms. Kennedy is a confused old bat, you’re really not paying attention.)

Since the BBC is funded totally by public money, it’s high time those in control of BBC radio – which does seem to be buggered about with far more than TV – gave a lot more consideration to what the listeners actually want, and abandoned the principle of change for its own sake. Different is not always better and, at Radio 2, it’s frequently a hell of a lot worse, as recent events have shown.

The Day of the Triffids…

I’ve just read, in The Guardian, that  “The Day of the Triffids to be remade by BBC,” in which the writers of the article write that the Beeb is “Updating the sci-fi tale for modern audiences, the two-part drama revolves around a hunt for alternative sources of energy…”.

Excuse me, but have these BBC people actually read The Day of the Triffids, because that is exactly the reason why triffids – a high-yield, oil-bearing plant – were bred in the first place, before they got ideas above their station. Even the calamity that caused near-universal blindness and plague was attributed to orbiting weaponry being trashed by a meteor storm.

The Day of the Triffids simply doesn’t need updating – it’s precisely relevant to the present day in a way that Wyndham seems to have fortuitously anticipated. Leave it alone.

Rolling Along update…

Rolling along described my search for an affordable rollator – a wheeled walker, what I call a Racing Zimmer – and it’s just occurred to me that an update is long overdue.

I’ll be honest, once I’d bought the thing, I suspected there might be a psychological barrier to my using it, and so it proved. It sat, unloved, in a corner for months. Anyway, eventually, I bit the bullet and gave it a test trundle and I had to ask myself, what’s the point of these things?

OK, the four-wheelers have a seat, which is useful, but I found I simply wasn’t getting the support I felt I needed. After all, the things are designed to roll, and I felt that if I leaned too heavily on it, it would just roll away from me, rather than supporting me. I also felt I just wasn’t getting the degree of support I needed – certainly not as much as from crutches (and I need a new pair of those).

There’s also the problem that I intended to use it in conjunction with my car – but now I don’t drive, and it would just be too much hassle dragging the thing on and off public transport.

Sadly, then, it’s been pensioned off, at least for now, though I suspect as I get older and more infirm, it’ll be of more use than it currently is. In the meantime, I’ll stick to crutches and retreat to my wheelchair on bad days.

So, farewell then, Woolies…

Back when dinosaurs walked the earth, shoplifting Airfix kits, not to mention paints and glue (though, perversely, we chose to use the glue to assemble the kits), was very much a rite of passage in my youth. And therein, I think, lies at least part of Woolies problem. They were a haven for shoplifters 50 years ago and, because their stores (if my Local Woolies is typical), are such a shambles, they probably still are.

Add to the mix bone idle staff (again, in my local store, I’m not generalising), who would rather gossip than attend to the customers, and took an age for even the simplest transaction, in a store with a severe identity crisis – their stock was far too diversified, there was no focus – and the mostly small number of customers, and I’m surprised they lasted this long.

Yes, they were cheap, and quality was often excellent, with mainstream branded goods sold at absurd prices (I once bought a Tefal Thermo-spot frypan for under a fiver , which was ludicrous), but I was always left with the impression that even the management had no idea what things were actually worth, and pretty much made up prices on the fly. I once took an unpriced item (a rather nice 10′ beach rod – yes, they used to sell fishing tackle), to the checkout, but no-one had any idea what it should cost, so they just picked £6 out of thin air – even in the seventies, for what was a decent quality rod that turned out to be a real pleasure to use for many years, that was absurdly low.

A bit off-topic, but PC World are feeling the pinch badly, too – hardly surprising, as pretty much everything they sell is cheaper elsewhere online (even their online store is overpriced).

The Web was, I suspect, just another factor, perhaps a major one, in the downfall of Woolies.

It’s tragic for the staff, but I think Woolies, as a concept, really has had its day – from what I’ve seen, people would much rather buy crap from a pound shop, than pay a little more for better quality from Woolies (assuming they could find what they wanted in the maze of a store). I suspect that if they’d positioned themselves just lightly higher in the market-place they may have done better – the demand for pick & mix, dirt-cheap garden hoses and hideously-coloured, moulded-plastic suitcases, isn’t limitless.

Some people believe anything…

I spotted this nugget of sheer lunacy on a blog tonight (I’m not going to name it, to save the poor, deranged soul embarrassment):-

Never touch your face and you should never get a cold.

I mean, come on. . . How the hell can you never touch your face?

It’s complete bollocks, of course. The cold virus, like other respiratory viruses, including flu, is spread by aerosol dispersion – coughs and sneezes. You can sit on a bus, or on a train (aircraft are worst), assiduously avoiding touching your face(!), and some ignorant tosser too dumb to cover up can infect dozens of people at a stroke. It’s also the reason – if the predicted flu pandemic ever arrives –  why one infected checkout person or shelf-filler in a supermarket could, directly and indirectly, infect half a town (because you can pick up the bug from things that have been coughed or sneezed on, and you WILL touch your face – you can’t avoid it.

There is a specific condition in which you will never get another cold – that’s when you’ve had all the cold viruses, as you can’t catch the same virus twice (that’s not to be confused with things like the herpes virus, which stays in your body for ever, and reappears periodically). When you’ve had them all, you’ll be cold free (after being plagued by colds for the greater part of my life, I haven’t had one for over 20 years).

The rule is one virus, one infection – this is why vaccination works, by giving you a weakened form of the virus your immune system is triggered to reject (or, at least, minimise the effects of), the full-scale virus, as with flu.

Go on, touch your face – you know you want to. . .

Political hypocrisy – no surprise there, then…

A day or two ago, Tory pundits – and political commentators, too – were saying that a 2.5% reduction in VAT was so piddling it wasn’t going to make any real difference.

Now, these same hypocritical assholes are up in arms, frothing with pretend rage (or possibly insanity – who’s to know?), over the not very real (not any more, ya numpties), possibility of a 1% increase in VAT.

Sorry, guys, you simply cannot have it both ways. If no-one was going to derive much, if any, benefit from a 2.5% tax cut, then by applying your own logic, they sure as hell wouldn’t have noticed a mere 1% increase, now would they? And anyway, it’s all academic now but why, last night, was that smarmy oik Cameron all over the BBC? I mean, the bugger was everywhere – when Labour spokespeople didn’t get a look in. A little, fairly conspicuous, political bias there, I think.