Thursday, 2 June 2011

A fix, potentially

There's some rumblings going on in anonymous Twitterverse.  There's the suggestion being virally passed that Britain's Got Talent's Ronan Parke (known as the good little camp gay kid in our house) has been lined up by Simon Cowell's SYCO company.  There's an entire ream of allegations [here] and seemingly being spread by a user by the account @ukLegion.  In it, it is suggested:

  • The whole contest is a sham
    The entries we get to see promoted to the later stages are always pre-screened and the general public simply make up the numbers of oddities the show and other Simon Cowell vehicles like it, are famous for.
  • The winner is picked before any auditions
    Britain's Got Talent is a show case for potential performers already on Simon Cowell's books.
  • Ronan Parke is already the winner
    Allegedly, the school boy has already had a track recorded for him ready for release after he wins.
  • Ronan Parke has been intensively trained, manicured and airbrushed
    His performance was managed (including 'fake tears' on receipt of the judge's comments) and he also has been styled to be camp, and after attracting complaints of 'sexualising' the young lad, the gay-ness has been toned back.

the good little camp gay kid
There's many ways to look at all this: it could be driven by those related with a rival of Ronan's, it could be used as a ploy to attack the whole show by a competing record company or perhaps it is an employee who saw the camping up of Ronan as the final straw?  These are but a few explanations, and I'm sure you'll have your own theory.  I'm going to be deciding on my continued, albeit already abstained from voting, viewing.

However, it has thrown up an interesting situation, once again.  The internet has become a living, breathing rumour spreading machine, especially in the dawn of the social networks.  The freedom we have with information and speech on it is flying in the face of privacy once again.  I'm no big fan of Simon Cowell, and I tend to have sympathies with the view that everything he does is a fix - he's a very smug, clever guy: he has no time to leave anything to chance.  That said, he should be given his chance to prove these allegations wrong.

In the world before the internet twittering, the world would have spread this by leaflet campaigns, attempting to bring the Globo-Corp to account over a perceived injustice.  The Globo-Corp lawyers would be able to obtain a flyer, prove their innocence or pay a lawyer to make the problem go away.  This has been replaced by the current trends to prevent discussion of a subject completely.  I'm uncomfortable with this, too.

Freedom to speak through twitter, facebook or blogger, is something that I should be able to do.  The problem here is the media: they rely too much on people generating stories for them.  It's too expensive to hire good journalists, so the journalists just print rumour, supposition and accusation.  This isn't investigative, it isn't reporting.  It's gossip spreading.  A whistle-blower, exposing some shady business practice is something we all should hear about, but there should be method to prove they known what they're talking about: a judge in these cases should certify that the claim has some basic grounding in reality.  This would allow the whole thing to be played out to the public, safe in the knowledge that this claim has a basis for discussion.  This would have a two-fold effect to businesses, both forcing better business practice and keeping workers happy.

Until then, the internet will be fair game for any gossip to spread unopposed.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Muffin base recipe

  • 2 eggs
  • 250ml milk
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 400g plain flour sieved
  • 4tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • flavour to taste
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 and prepare about 12 muffin cases (normally I use the giant cases) in trays, and grease the tray around each of the muffin receptacles: it'll help if you create monster muffins that decide to form an ad-hoc MuffinNetwork™.

It is important to keep the wet and dry separate to the last minute. Mix the dry ingredients well in a bowl.  In a jug (1 litre) preferably, or another bowl, mix the wet ingredients well.  Add flavours to the relevant container: bananas are tricky and can go in either, but I tend to blend some banana in a little of the milk/oil and add it to the wet, while using some chopped banana in the dry for texture.

Make a bowl in the dry ingredients and add a bit of the wet to the dry, folding in and ensure to keep the wet ingredients in their container mixed throughout; the oil will tend to separate.  Adding more wet, some at a time, the mixture should form a smooth batter, which is easy to work - I find that folding air into the mixture adds lightness.  Eventually it is pour-able, or very nearly, depending on your flavourings.

Share out the mixture evenly in the muffin cases, I tend to leave at least 1cm from the top of the cases.  Put the trays in the oven for about 15 minutes and then check them regularly.  They should have risen, and forming dome-tops that may split.  When deciding if they're ready, pick a volunteer at random and run him through with something like a knife or a long toothpick: if it comes out 'clean' they're ready.

As soon as possible, get the muffins out of the trays and onto airers.  Eat when cool.

  • Change the level of wet ingredients, or lower the oven temp and increase the time if they come out heavier than you'd like.
  • You can use self-raising flour, but if you do it's difficult to 'play' trying to get them to rise to your liking.
  • Play with levels of things: increasing the oil amount will make them gooier, like those Starbucks ones.
  • When using chocolate chunks, you might like to add these when the batter is in the muffin cases: for one it'll ensure they don't all end up in a few cases.
  • I tend to always add a little nutmeg and cinnamon to mixtures to give it a nice warm flavour.
  • Try dusting the mixture in the cases with cinnamon, as well as mixing in.

Does anyone actually like this tripe? I mean, really? I mean really, really like it?

A response to a response of a Facebook update, regarding the Royal Wedding:  I tweeted, "Does anyone actually like this tripe? I mean, really? I mean really, really like it?", and I received the response via Facebook "Sometime Barry, just once in a while it's good to just smile and be happy."  Here is my response.

When we're reminded our country's fucked financially on a daily basis by the government (whether you happen to buy into that twaddle or not), it's strange we're "enjoying" this massive waste of money. 

If we wanted to be happy, we should celebrate something more relevant, like using the money to help those in need - I don't know, the thousands of young people out of work, or perhaps improve public transport to enable people to get rid of cars or build a new hospital wing.

Instead, we get it shoved down our throats that a few people who were born into a family are incredibly rich and incredibly pampered, subsidised by everyone else who are meant to mindlessly accept this as normal. I don't accept this.

I'm absolutely overjoyed that they're "happy", that they "love each other" (quotes because I only see what they want me to see and what the media report), but wouldn't mind it if they now decide that the hundreds of years of Monarchy is a little long in the tooth and disappear. We're a modern country and shouldn't be enslaved by a family who we didn't vote in, we don't have a say in changing and don't seem to do much for us.

They do bring in tourists, granted, but plenty of people visit France and its former Royal houses - and they have been a Republic for a long time.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

many jilted suitors desperate for recognition

Feedback to an employment agency for a job I applied for at Carphone Warehouse; sent today.


I recently applied for a job advertised through your organisation and I am very happy to report that the potential employer appears to have very stringent standards for its staff!

I was asked to attend an assessment on 20th January, which while at short notice I was happy to go along to.  On my arrival, excited as I was at an opportunity at the employer, the receptionist was fabulously in character! She was somewhat dismissive in her approach to greeting guests - so much so, after buzzing the main entrance door, I needed to wait for a staff member to leave to access reception. Nothing like that to keep a candidate on their toes.

Approaching the desk, I informed her that I was there for an assessment and introduced myself, to receive a reply announcing I wasn't "on the list".  With resigned acceptance only a production line worker could muster, I was instructed to fill out the visitor's book.  Only a cursory indication of the book was offered, which to be honest is a great first test of an applicant's ability - after all, they should already be aware of internal policies of their possible future employer.  On completing the next blank line, I was in a wonderfully chastising tone told I'd "filled it out wrong".  Then told to fill it out again "on the correct line".

Then I was directed to have a seat around the corner with "the others".  The others, who I discovered were other candidates, were very keen to show their individual prowess - one was particularly sure of himself, on my arrival asking aloud to the group "what do you think, Chief Executive material or call centre position?".  Which made me aware of the fact I had a suit and tie on, while the others were a little more casually dressed.  What a stroke of luck for the company to have someone apply who is perfectly suited to the company's policy in greeting a potential member of staff.

An actual member of staff conducting the assessment appeared, who wore the the now seemingly obligatory company uniform of resigned acceptance.  No introduction was offered of his name, but told us "there is an internal candidate on his way down" so we'll be waiting for him; and with that announcement, disappeared.  That is a stroke of genius - now all of the candidates will be aware of a person with an advantage - someone who will, most likely, get the job.  I was very impressed at this, as it was a totally unexpected means to instil that very same corporate image of resigned acceptance on us, the new recruits!

We waited, with a reward of another update of "he's in work today so shouldn't be too long", before a final announcement after about 20 minutes that the assessment will go ahead, but there was an additional person to the expected number so there wasn't room for us all to be "done together".  It was explained that the assessment was in two parts: a written test and a practical test.  Most of us were to sit the written part first, then move on to the practical. The test was to take thirty minutes and another master stroke of the unprofessional image was the spelling, a company involved in the telecommunications industry shouldn't be able to spell their favourite word 'tariffs' wrong, surely?  But, "tarriff's" it was, with various other uses of apostrophes in plurals and entire questions written in such vague terms that philosophers might organise symposiums to discuss their intricate meaning.

When the half-hour was up, we were again led back out, so the practical test could be set up ready for the second batch of candidates.  The gentleman reappeared and informed us that a computer had given up and one of us in the group needed to wait until the end.  Every other candidate immediately announced they had something better and more fruitful to do straight after this, and perhaps with that over bearing sense of resigned acceptance surrounding me, I offered that I'd wait until last.

Another half-hour passed and eventually invited back into the test room, I was given a half-hour to demonstrate my practical skill.  It is to be noted that at no point had I given my name, save for the introduction at reception, so this was perplexing as to how I might be graded if my examiner doesn't know who I am.  After the allotted time, I was led out and informed I'd hear from them soon, "should be in a few days, but probably next week", "either way".

A week passed and no contact.  Another few days passed and I began to wonder.  So I emailed the lady I'd originally applied to, only to be seemingly ignored.  I called the number, but, as many jilted suitors desperate for recognition might have done before me, I was to leave message after message to no avail.

This is why, therefore, I write to thank you for the experience of attempting to apply for a job with an employer you advertised.  I also would like to ask if you would in the future consider Carphone Warehouse a suitable customer for your clients, given their brilliant disregard for common courtesy, the English language and basic organisational skills.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Barry Crosby

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

I feel ashamed and dirty about it

A post about Windows 7

I've been an ardent user of Debian, a linux distribution, for a long while.  This decision was backed up quite well when I was greeted at a job with a Windows Vista desktop.  Back to that in a little while, first - why the hell would I use linux in the first place?

Well, the main reason was that I'd been using Windows XP for a long while before that and had become fed up of the niggles that crept into annoyances, the annoyances that crept to unworkables, and the unworkables that crept to why the hell doesn't this pile of shit works.  I'd had a reasonable history with Debian, a linux distribution I'd had experience with from jobs at web-development companies; I discovered it was a snap to install and on the whole, it did what I was after.

I installed it permanently on my netbook (EeePC 1000) to replace a very hobbled XP install it came with - longer battery life, better security (somewhat through obscurity, I suspect) and free software were obvious advantages.  It did take some command-line jiggery-pokery to get all the features working as expected, but by jove, I got it all working and working it did, well.  Almost.  You see it had a few crazy oddities thrown in to keep me on my toes, like the fact it crashed randomly while connected to UCLan (my University) wireless access.  When I say crashed, it either threw a Kernel Panic, or locked up totally, running 100% CPU.  No rhyme or reason why, but I pretty much avoided being connected to the university network while working - kind of annoying, but made it that I could type up some lecture notes or do a bit of essay writing between lectures without entering the open access PC mêleé that happens here, so useful.  I put up with that situation because I hadn't paid for Debian - you expect mileage to vary in free, open source software.

Similarly, I installed Debian on my desktop, a dual core, dual screen set-up that ran like a dream - and while I got wireless working (wireless network adapters are almost always Windows-only devices) via some more aforementioned command-line jiggery-pokery, it all worked stunningly.  Except it was absolutely abysmal at playing full-screen video.  And online-banking was impractical as the nazi programmers at banks seem to check what operating system you are using and refuse you access.  Why it matters, I have no idea.  Anyway, I started using Windows 7 on the university machines and it was quite nippy, in comparison to my experience of Vista.  So I took the plunge and installed it on my desktop.

It took a while getting used to, it is now (almost) second-nature to double click an executable in order to install software, even though the first few attempts saw me open a command-line and type "su" followed by a return, my root password, with a return and "apt-get install.." before looking at the screen.  I liked the fact I can now use the BBC iPlayer App, to watch programmes when the TV is in use and I've rediscovered the joy of computer games.  Nothing eye-gouging HD, mainly games I last played back when I fell out with Windows XP: SimCity 4, Command And Conquer Generals to name two.  However, time-vampires these are, and I can't blame Windows 7 enough for making me take forever to complete essays over the Christmas break.

So, earlier this week, I installed Windows 7 Home Basic on my netbook, to see how it would run.  It was simple to install, all necessary devices worked "out-of-the-box" and I'm now connected to the UCLan wireless network without a single spazz-out.  Similarly, it's nippy,  light-weight feeling and manages "power-saving" better than I could get linux to do.  My extra function keys appear to be a lost cause, while I managed to get them to react, Windows 7 doesn't quite do what I expect them to.  Maybe a couple of hours forum-searching could solve this.  I'm avoiding installing too much as I don't need anything much on it, plus the after-market installed solid-state disk isn't epic.

Therefore, I, a former linux zealot and full-time Microsoft basher likes Windows 7.  I feel ashamed and dirty about it, so I presume I feel the same emotions as Nick Clegg et al should have experienced these last few months, but I'm convinced it's a good product.  I still remain to be convinced about Windows as a server platform, I'm out of the loop with all things system-administration, but as a desktop or netbook platform, Windows 7 works.

I'll go bleach myself now.