Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tagged (the other sort)

Meesa bin tagged by HMHB

1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages.
The Reavers by George MacDonald Fraser.

A hilarious borders burlesque by the bestselling author of The Flashman Papers.

2. Open the book to Page 123 and quote the 5th sentence.
"For plainly Operation Heretic had developed a stutter, with La Infamosa, the impostor and Clnzh in the grip of huskies who might well, Fray Bentos reasoned, be plain-clothes rozzers, a theory supported by the presence of whistle-blowing lawmen."

3. Post the next 3 sentences.
"What had gone wrong he couldn't guess, but it called for swift evasion on his part - his hopes for the prize spot were up the spout, anyway. With a mutter of "Ah'm outa heah!", the clerkly conspirator rushed through the orchestra, dropping his small change in the pianist's glass, and disappeared behind the curtain shielding the secret stair to the Priest's Hole Suite."

4. Tag 5 people.
Madame Cyn
Yellow Box of Doom
The Gnomad
El Casareño Inglés
An Englishman in Dubai


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Hospitals sometimes stick them on newborns to prevent baby-snatching; Alzheimer's sufferers sometimes wear them. Supermarkets use them for stock control. RFID tags are so cheap that there's one on pretty much every item of hard goods. Any attempt to get the product out of the door without going through the checkout will result in alarm bells and awkward questions.

Dubai RTA's Salik tags use the same technology. Assuming the tag reader is working the system can tell who's passing through the toll gate. Conspiracy theorists might like to speculate on how many Salik tag readers are dotted around Dubai recording vehicle movements, even if they're not being totted up at Dh4 a pop. If Virgin Megastore can give away a tag free with each DVD, what's with the RTA needing to relieve the punters of Dh100? Blatant profiteering, perhaps?

However, for once this is not a tirade against the RTA. Neither is it an attack on the Virgin empire.

My experience last August got me thinking about using RFID technology in airport baggage handling. No, I'm still not having a dig at Sir Richard. The paper tag is all fine and dandy with its bar code on the luggage and a copy on the boarding card, and this is great for ensuring that a bag gets put in the correct pile for loading into the belly of Speedbird 666.

But what if a particular item goes astray? What if a specific bag needs to be located now? With the airport version of a Salik gantry in the baggage hall and an RFID tag on the luggage, the system ought to know exactly where each and every bag is located. Typing the tag number into the computer should very quickly result in "The item you seek is in the third pile from the left." or "That particular bag arrived in Manila two hours ago and is even now getting dizzy on the baggage reclaim carousel. Such a shame you're in Murmansk."

Imagine the advantage in a security situation. After checking in his bags, Osama bin Laden is apprehended. It would presumably be extremely useful if airport security could precisely locate his luggage immediately.

Meanwhile, I try my utmost to travel with carry-on only. This works fine provided I'm willing to travel without nail scissors or anything else sharper than a wax crayon.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Socket and see

"Pray observe the magnanimity
We display to Madame Cynity
And indulge in the felicity
Of unbounded domesticity..."

after A. S. Sullivan,
'The Pirates of Penzance'

As is written in the ancient scrolls, marital bliss involves doing some of those things that only a Man (or perhaps even a Goat?) can provide. You know the stuff: Removing spiders from the bath, wiring plugs, putting up shelves... So last weekend I finally got around to hanging some pictures on the walls of the Crumbling Villa. Out came the spirit level, the power drill and the stepladder, and to instructions from Beloved Wife of "Left a bit" and "Up a bit", I drilled some holes.

It must be a bloke thing. Everyone who ever uses a power drill points the drill upwards and squeezes the trigger before getting on with the actual business of making holes in the wall. Even Gromit does it in A Grand Day Out. (Worryingly, so does my dentist...) And thank heavens for hammer action. The Crumbling Villa is actually made of extremely hard concrete beneath the 1/16 of an inch of crumbly plaster. I recently discovered screws with hooked ends instead of the usual slots. Bang the plastic plug into the hole and screw in the hook until all that protrudes is a very short L-shaped piece of metal that'd probably suspend an Acme anvil. Those plastic picture hooks with three or four panel pins might work OK on plasterboard or wood, but they're completely hopeless on concrete. The pictures, or at least some of them, are now up. The remainder await delivery of my tuit. A circular one.

I am given to wonder why the power drill came with only about one metre of power lead. The manufacturer apparently anticipates that I'm only ever going to drill holes within a metre of a power outlet. This is clearly nonsense, so a vital part of the power drill's armoury, as well as drill bits and a chuck key, is an extension lead. Hanging stuff high up requires that the extension lead be supported by a Beloved Assistant or left swinging until it falls off the plug and comes crashing to the floor accompanied by profane language.

It's not only the power drill either. I selected a vacuum cleaner on the basis that it was the one with the longest flex, and even this came with a totally inadequate four metres of cable. So it's out with the extension lead again. Given the tiny cost of the stuff, would it really hurt Mr Hoover's profit margins to put a decent amount of cable on a mains appliance?

An even better example of tight-fistedness with flex is in the ornamental fish industry. Obviously, where the power lead goes into a submersible pump it has to be thoroughly sealed. Electricity and water are not a good mix. But where is the plug? About 75cm from the pump, that's where! And where is the plug plugged? Into a power strip right next to the fish tank. So what do I have to do? Cut the factory-moulded plug off and extend the wire to a power strip inside a dry cabinet. If any water gets on to the flex where it enters the fish tank, it'll run down to the joint. I have done what I can to make the joint insulated and waterproof, but wouldn't a decent length of moulded cable have been safer?

And this brings me on to another thing. There are probably as many opinions on what constitutes the best power socket as there are international standards. But the industry standard power socket in the UAE is the British three-pin-flat 13 amp fused-plug type, delivering around 240V. So why do so many mains appliances get sold here with various versions of two-pin plugs? Is it beyond the wit of Man to supply plugs for the target market's sockets? It is certainly considered beyond the wit of Man to wire a plug in the UK; by law all mains appliances nowadays have to come with a factory-fitted plug. Inevitably on a piece of electric string that's not quite long enough.

What about adaptors? Oh yes, there are loads of adaptors on the market that will enable just about any plug to be bodged into any socket. Quality varies from prettu good to frankly frightening. And most of these adaptors do not provide an earth. The three-core, three-pin plug and socket arrangement has to connect the earth before the live terminals are exposed, and any metal-bodied appliance needs this earth. Without it, an electrical fault could make the metalwork live in lieu of blowing the fuse. Continental Europe's two-pin plugs have a third flush terminal that provides an earth in an appropriate socket. Sticking one of these plugs into the standard adaptor does not provide the earth connection. Some appliances don't need an earth, and using a two-pin adaptor is OK, especially if the adaptor has a built-in fuse. It would be good if the pins actually fitted securely into the socket. I have lost count of how many times a comedy plug has been so wobbly in a comedy socket that it either only makes a sporadic connection or keeps falling out.

In the absence of an appropriate adaptor, a great favourite among those who have no respect for their own mortality is to wedge open the earth terminal of the socket with a wad of cardboard or plastic (please, not metal!) and then stuff the two-pin plug into the other terminals. This practice, like not providing a metal device with an earth, is dangerous, and is only practised because the wrong plugs are provided by the manufacturers. Even that is an improvement on the disconcertingly common stuffing of bare wires into a power socket.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Forty shillings

Le Bouc Bougon vient d’entendre que Monsieur Miles Kington, allegedement l’inventeur de la langue Franglais, est mort. Est-ce qu’anyone remember le magazine Punch, où le column 'Lets Parler Franglais' était printé? C’ était très amusant.

Tout le monde peut learn à parler Franglais. C’est facile! Vous parlez seulement en anglais, et inserter les mots françaises que vous can remember from l’école.

C’est seulement difficile si vous n’avez aucun de francais, où vous don’t know vôtre derrière from vôtre coude.

Note pour les vrai Francophones: Ce blog-ci est un petit peu de fun. J’éspère que mes mots ne sont pas offensives.

(Le Bouc Bougon a travaillé très hard to avoid too many mistakes. Quelle horreur!)

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