Barren superfluity of (pass)words

As you may have guessed, I own a Dictionary of Quotations and I’m not afraid to use it.  Today’s title (mostly) comes to us from Sir Samuel Garth, one time physician to George I, from his mock-heroic poem The Dispensary.  I, like a clueless Mastermind contestant, provided the “pass”.

The modern, computer era requires a chap to keep track of a plethora of passwords – and, not just words but numbers and more complex ciphers as well.  Different organisations have different requirements – some insist on characters that are neither numbers nor letters whereas others won’t permit these at all (though don’t usually reveal this fact until after you have entered your choice: twice!).

Work is even worse, as I am forced to change my passwords on a regular basis.  As an ex-system manager, I recognise this as good practice – but as a user it is nothing but a pain.  The vacancy which overtakes my mind when required to come up with some new, secure password is matched only by that when presented with a leaving card in which to write something suitably pithy.   (And yes, I have thought of “orange” – but fear its use could lead to my early Sectioning.)

Often passwords are supposed to be linked to a particular concept: a memorable name or date, first or last school or that class of thing.  Given the relative ease of discovering information about a chap from the web, and the amount of data available to any cyber-criminal with sufficient time on their hands and a high enough boredom threshold to work their way through this blog, I feel that using birthdays, my mother’s maiden name or real educational history would be a less than secure choice.  As a result, I tend to use bare-faced lies when required to provide this data for security purposes (I do worry that this revelation may reduce this blog’s readership at a stroke, but I am willing to forego my massive cyber-criminal following).

Using fictitious data for passwords does provide significantly stronger security for my various on-line transactions.  However, for sites I use infrequently the security provided is so high that even I cannot gain access as I tend to forget which particular “lie” I found amusing at the time I established the relevant password.  I have never written down the necessary information as (a) this would weaken security and (b) because I think I have such a good memory that I will never forget the witty reasoning behind my choice.  Ah, hubris, my Nemesis!

Yesterday, in common with many across the land, I needed to send some money to the Inland Revenue (sadly, they do not yet accept buttons).  I do this only once every six months and so had (obviously) forgotten all the relevant passwords: either to make payment using my debit card or to set up a transfer from my bank account.  So, I was forced to fall back on human contact and ring my bank to try and reset my passwords and then make the payment.  As you might imagine, the prospect filled me with dread – but how wrong I was!

There was no tedious menu of options to work through, or the normal long wait in a queue whilst being told that my call is important (as I fume that it clearly isn’t or they’d have hired more people to answer the phone).  The phone was answered almost instantly by a very cheery and helpful chap who, I’d guess from his accent, hails from somewhere in northwest England.  The lad even laughed at my jokes – surely well beyond the call of duty on a Friday evening.  We swiftly managed to reset all my passwords and money was soon winging its way (on electronic wings) to HMRC.

So, I have decided to briefly cast aside the mantle of Victor Meldrew and embrace that of Pollyanna: though as the service was so good, I have no need of her ‘Glad Game’ philosophy.  So, GofaDM raises a salute (and a glass) to the fine folk of the Co-operative Bank, it seems their slogan of ‘good with money’ even extends to customer service!

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Get lost

It was in the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee (and so, horrifically, 35 years ago) that I started to learn the French language.  I think this may have been the first time that I became aware that my memory was better than that of the average bear (I am also unable to resist a pic-er-nic basket).  Each week the splendid Mr Harlow would set a test, either on current new vocabulary or a verb conjugation we had just learned.  Each week I would do no preparation and each week I would score top marks in the test (I was a terrible swat).  In those days, once seen, never forgotten.   Now, I’m lucky if I can hold a thought in my head for more than a few seconds – though, I do still try to live without any preparation.

Another important part of learning French was translating la plus belle langue du monde (see, I haven’t lost it) into my mother tongue (or failing that, English).  I seem to recall much of this translation involved the rather limited (not to say, dull) adventures of Marie-France, Jean-Paul et Claudette.  I was taught never to use the verb “to get” in these translations, though I no longer remember why: perhaps it was because there is no equivalent verb in French since “get” is used to cover a multitude of sins (Mr Collins has 35 separate meanings, and I’m sure the OED could muster significantly more).

Mr Harlow would probably be pleased to know that this piece of his teaching has stuck fast in at least one pupil.  To this day, 50% of three score and ten years later, I find that I am still almost unable to use the verb “to get” in a blog post, email or other writing.  I can do it, but I it’s always a struggle and when I succumb I feel that I have somehow let myself down.  I find myself wondering whether any readers of GofaDM have a similar aversion to this mainly transitive verb?  Or is it only me?

Promoting Mr Unger

I am, of course, not old enough to remember the Odd Couple – or at least, the play pre-dates me and the original movie was released (from durance vile, I assume) when I was only a toddler – but luckily I have race memory to fall back on.  OK, in the spirit of full disclosure, my knowledge may not have come from any hypothetical race memory but instead from an episode of the Burkiss Way: “Write Extremely Long Titles the Burkiss Way”, if anyone is interested.  In this excellent episode, the brothers Grimm are based on the Odd Couple and so one of them is both called Oscar and (allegedly) played by Walter Matthau.

This reminds me that, in the late 1970s, I managed to convince my mother that the school dinners were so poor that I was allowed to come home for lunch (it may have helped that school was a mere 3 minute walk from school, but I like to credit my powers of suasion).  My desire to come home for lunch had nothing to do with the quality of food, or the maternal company, but a desire to listen to Radio 4 comedy – which in those days was broadcast at 12:27.  Thus was I introduced not only to the Burkiss Way, but also to Hello Cheeky, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Many a Slip and Just a Minute.  I think this early exposure to radio comedy may have had a marked effect on my later life – of which this blog is but one aspect.  However, in an unprecedented move (note: move may have precedent), I seem to have digressed.

The original intention was that this post would give my entertaining spin (“Fat chance!”, I hear you cry) on the Oscar nominations which were announced earlier in the week; to the best of my knowledge, Mr Unger has no eponymous award.  In an unusual turn of events, I have seen several of the films that have been nominated – and most of those that have multiple nomination in the more prestigious categories.  The two big “winners” (in terms of nominations) were The Artist (10) and Hugo (11) which were both about the early days of film.  As a result, in 2012 I’m planning to make a black and white, 3D movie about the zoopraxiscope.  The sound track would be comprised only of white noise, or better still, a modern successor to Ligeti could compose the score – it would seem like noise, but still be in with a chance of winning the music gong.  To keep costs down, I’ll use only four actors – two lads and two lasses – as that is enough to maximise the possible actor-based nominations.  It would be a period piece, so I’m in with a shout for best costume design, and if I replace locations and scenery (more cost savings) with visual effects, that’s another nomination in the bag.  I can’t see how it can fail – it has everything!

Earlier in the week, I went to see a film that has not been nominated for a “Madison”.  I suspect our esteemed PM wouldn’t have approved either – not populist enough (though I am expecting him to release public funds to invest heavily in my Eadweard Muybridge biopic).  This was a small British movie, and wasn’t easy to see.  The Arts Picturehouse had only three screenings, all at rather odd times (mostly impossible for any but the unemployed or independently wealthy – and me – to attend) and there was no chance of a multiplex sighting.  I am not an expert on the economics of the film industry, but I suspect it is quite hard for films to make money if no-one can see them.  This is all the more disappointing given that both directors, both writers and one of the actors (only two people in total) are recent alumni of the local university – presumably, elsewhere in the UK it was even harder to see.

Black Pond was in two dimensions, in colour, with a traditional sound track set in the present day – so not much hope for Oscar success, I fear.  However, it was quirky, funny and different – and I much preferred it to the big winners nomination-wise.  I think it may be time to start my own awards, “The Felixes” perhaps (maybe I could get sponsorship from the cat food industry – well, the French have an award named after a dog food, so why not?), to honour all the good movies that are hard to find and forgotten by other award givers.  I could host the ceremony at Fish Towers (which should provide a much-needed boost to the profile of Sawston), and I could put on a spread so that no-one leaves hungry.  (Trust me, no-one ever leaves Fish Towers hungry (or sober) – over-catering is my middle name!).  I’m sure I could rent a short stretch of red carpet for the guests to be “papped” walking along (I can even do the papping, if required).   I think this blog has proven that I can make dodgy jokes in dubious taste, so I should be able to handle the hosting duties.  What more does an awards ceremony need?

Spookopolis

Can you guess what it’s going to be about then?  Yes, it will be about scare city!

Having just been drenched yet again whilst out and about on two wheels, and with my garden looking more in need of a marina than a patio, I was surprised to see the Environment Agency fretting that our rivers may run dry.  Given how waterlogged the semi-arid environs of South Cambs are, it struck me as a rather distant worry (I suspect the sun swelling to consume the earth or the heat death of the universe should be more pressing concerns).  Still, trying to make the best of a bad job, I am willing to offer my current abundance of the wet stuff (collected in both vessels and the local topographical minima of the grounds of Fish Towers) to the EA to refill a river or two at a very reasonable rate.

I am, in many ways, a creature of habit and there are certain dietary staples (well, they’re staples to me – if to no-one else) that I attempt to buy every week.  However, these staples do have a tendency to disappear from the shelves of Waitrose – and, indeed, from those of other (inferior, probably serviette selling) supermarkets.  Organic cottage cheese has not been sighted for many months.  Organic, wholemeal spaghetti is but an infrequent visitor to our shores – I presume it is driven here by adverse weather conditions on its regular migration routes (well, it doesn’t grow on trees, whatever you may have seen on Panorama).  The most recent disappearance has been of toasted flaked almonds (an essential part of my daily breakfast), and then of all flaked almonds – and this was not just a Waitrose-based phenomenon but one that occurred Cambridge-wide.  Almonds were still readily available, as was the ground version, so I am led to posit that the UK (world?) has but a single almond-flaking machine.  Could there be a business opportunity in this?  Could I set myself up as an almond-flaker and break this monopoly?  Or should I offer to establish an almond-flaking regulator, OFFLAKE?

However, my most serious recent scarcity has been one of time.  This shortage has led to a serious decline in the generation of nonsense to post to this blog.  I wish I knew where the time went.  Perhaps its leaking out into all those hidden dimensions the folk of CERN are poking into?  I have to seriously wonder (can, or indeed, should I be breaking infinitives for emphasis?) how normal folk, those with full-time jobs, make it through the week at all.  Am I just hopelessly inefficient, frittering away the hours?  If so, I really ought to stop as deep-fried time must be terribly bad for me – though may be excellent training for my next trip to Alex Salmond’s kingdom.  Or am I just trying to do too much?  In this latter case, things will shortly be getting even worse as I shall be taking on a whole new activity in February (of which more in a later post).  We must all pray that my temporal oversight improves and that the blogging does not continue to suffer!  Either that, or I shall have to find a way to make the stuff – I’ve always been a big fan of seconds (at the meal table at least), but I’m not sure if this is sufficient background to go into manufacturing.  At least, the leap second has been spared for another three years – it may not be much, but that second could be vital to me!

Cold Collation

Some posts benefit from a high concept and offer the reader a single unify theme – well, we can all dream.  Other posts rely on me trying to shoe-horn a bunch of disparate (some might say desperate) ideas under a fig-leaf of unity (whilst merrily mixing my metaphors).  The title may have given you a clue, but this will fall into the latter camp – and will even dispense with the fig-leaf.  It will just collect together a number of my recent musings which the day job has prevented me from developing into fully-fledged posts (but, then again, who wants a feathered post?).

A little before Christmas, I found myself crossing the men’s underwear department of John Lewis on my way to an assignation with the ties.  As I passed the under-crackers, one packet caught my eye – not for its contents or the graphic depiction of a chap modelling the product, but for its strap-line.  This garment promised a “body-defining fit” – even some four weeks later, I still have no idea what that might mean.  In what way could the fit of my boxers define my body?  I struggle to find an adjective that could be shared by both fit and my body – so far “good” is my only serious candidate (unless, any readers consider my body to be “snug”).

We find ourselves in the midst of the annual orgy of prize-giving once more.  Despite my usual disinterest in such matters, I was interested to see that Ron Weasley has been nominated in several categories at the Brits.  I’m really not sure an alumnus of Hogwarts should be participating in a muggle competition – and certainly not under a pseudonym (Ed Sheeran).  He hasn’t fooled me, and I really don’t see this ploy fooling the Ministry of Magic either.

In the world of film, The Artist seems hotly tipped to collect the lion’s share of the awards.  Now, I’ve seen the film and it’s perfectly enjoyable and does have a rather nicely trained dog which (just, only just!) avoids the cliché of bringing help to someone who has fallen down a well.  It has the novelty (for 2012) that is is both silent and in black-and-white – though 80 or so years ago, this would have been nothing special.  Otherwise, it didn’t strike me as anything exceptional – the plot was pretty predictable and I can see people (well, myself at least) mugging at a camera every time I use Skype (or record a vlog).  I do wonder if its popularity derives from the fact that it is a film about film, and this appeals to the film-literate critics who vote for these awards – or perhaps my comparative lack of appreciation is just a symptom of my limited critical faculties.

I am not the only person who likes to bring things together under the umbrella of a common theme.  It is popular device in the wacky world of television, where theme nights seem to come round at least once a week.  I’m not generally a fan of these as either (a) I have no interest in the theme, and so the entire night’s televisual offerings are a write-off or (b) I am interested, and so am stuck in front of the television all evening with no chance to garner snacks or a hot beverage (or indeed, deal with the after-effects of consuming said snacks or beverages.  I have, so far, resisted the colostomy bag).  However, last night at nine, the even-numbered BBC channels offered a new take on the theme night.  We had the choice of a documentary on Pugin or one on Putin – quite a contrast in subject matter.  I rather like the idea of using themes that rhyme or perhaps themes which differ only in a single consonant – and why stop at two?  I think I may appropriate this idea for GofaDM: private and primate? miner and mixer?  lifer, liger and liner?  The possibilities for juxtaposition are endless.

Finally, I notice that the world (well, the English speaking, non-mobile world) was robbed of access to Wikipedia earlier in the week.  GofaDM stayed up throughout with its treasure-trove of obscure knowledge and dodgy puns.  This led me to wonder if I should be expanding my efforts to form a more complete encyclopaedia of all the knowledge needed by the right-thinking.  If any readers have requests for subjects they would like me to cover, prior to the next loss of more traditional sources of half-baked facts, they should submit them via the usual channels and I will consider them…

The power of the blog…

A week ago, I asked the readers of GofaDM to petition any deity (or deities), with which they may have a positive relationship, to provide some frost to the beleaguered forced rhubarb farmers of West Yorkshire.  Well, in the environs of Fish Towers we have had a hard frost every night since that request was published – so I’m assuming that the more northerly region which is home to the rhubarb triangle should also have been well-frosted.

I admit that I am uncertain how much frost forced rhubarb actually needs and whether the recent cold weather is enough.  However, I was able to obtain my first sticks of Wakefield’s finest from Waitrose on Friday – there wasn’t much, so I bought two-thirds of their entire stock (leaving one packet for the rest of Cambridge)  – so I figure that the cold snap has been long enough.  Certainly, the novelty has worn off for me as the recent weather has made for some seriously chilly cycling (and I’m starting to run out of warm clothes).  So, can I ask you all to stop bending the ears of the divine with requests for falling mercury?  Or at least to tighten the geographical focus of you prayers?

This incident has made me realise the extraordinary power of GofaDM.  I make a relatively frivolous request on-line and within 24 hours the temperature plummets.  What should I do with this terrible power?  Will this new power corrupt me – or at least tend to do so (to paraphrase Lord Acton)?  Absolutely!

It seems that now is the perfect time to realise my ambitions for planetary dominion…

Costermongers’ Corner

I was going to try and place the title’s apostrophe in an ironic manner, but then realised any position was potentially feasible.  Also, given the slightly archaic nature of the term costermonger, it is rather less associated in the public mind with imaginative use of the apostrophe than the more modern greengrocer.

Following last weeks’ news that M&S had developed exciting new packaging to prevent fruit and vegetables from ageing, I had planned to purchase some suitable comestibles and then wrap myself in their packaging whilst I slept at night.  I am, after all, ripe enough already and, as is often quoted, share a worrying proportion of my genetic material with the strawberry or lettuce.  I fondly imagined my wrinkles being smoothed whilst I, nonetheless, retained the ability to produce facial expressions.  Alas, it was not to be.  Further reading showed that the packaging only contained a trap for ethene (or ethylene for older readers), a gas released by plants affecting germination of seeds, ripening of fruit and senescence of flowers.  Despite intensive research, I can find no evidence that ethene has any effect on middle-aged men – and so its night-time sequestration is unlikely to share any common ground with the fountain of youth (though it would reduce the risk of an explosion).  Looks like it’s back to the alchemy for me – the pesky Philosophers’ Stone cannot elude me much longer…

At the weekend, I purchased a bag of small apples from Waitrose.  The packaging offered no indication that it would retard local entropy, but did describe the contents as being “weather blemished”.  The contents were in fact “russeted”, and this was only right and proper as they were Egremont Russets in their natural attire.  There are a whole family of russet apples, my personal favourite being the Princess Russet – though this particular member of apple royalty is hard to find.  Late frosts in South Cambs have denied me its crisp delights for the last two years: wiping out most of the crop from the heritage orchards of Cam Valley Orchards, who are suppliers of most of my apple (and plum) based needs.

However, other recent news reminds us that frost is not always our enemy.  The lack of frosts is having a terrible effect on the forced rhubarb crop from the Rhubarb Triangle.  Despite lying within a frost pocket, the current mild winter means the crop has not received the invigorating frosts the roots need.  Unlike the perfidious Dutch, the fine folk of Yorkshire refuse to dump acid onto the roots – which leads to anaemic, tasteless stems – but rely on the tried and tested powers of old Jack Frost.  So, in the hope that it is not too late, all right-thinking readers of GofaDM should pray for Wakefield, and its environs, to be heavily frosted and soon!