Voskhod instruments by Tom Royal on Flickr
Valentina Tereshkova with Vostok 6 by Tom Royal on Flickr
Voskhod Capsule by Tom Royal on Flickr
Chartwell by Tom Royal on Flickr
Chartwell by Tom Royal on Flickr
Heron by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr

You're using a very old version of Internet Explorer which can't show the photos that should be in this box. Please consider upgrading to a newer version of IE or an alternative such as Firefox. Thanks.

A fairy tale for modern times

June 30th, 2008

A spam comment left on, and now removed from, my work blog:

Hello all I have a sweetheart. We profession closely in a large convention. She’s self-restrained, cute and somewhat shy. So once she fell in love with this provoke from the department next door. He was an pc maven. And just imagine, he turned out to be so shy that even if she approached him with some job or just for jocularity , he would not ask her out because of his mousiness. Solution it was acknowledged that he liked her a lot too. We realized that if my sweetheart did not draw him somewhere, their connections would not last long ’cause anyway it is the man who is assumed to take the enterprise. Two months of dolor and she eventually evident to act. We got our pathway of affinity ready. First of all, we had to surge him somehow, stir him up so to say. For that besides purpose we decided to buy Levitra on the Internet since there was nothing else we could think of. We ferret for dosing levitra and found what we wanted. We got the package from the Internet store 2.6 weeks later. It was kinda embarrassing to buy it in the drugstore and here it was all covert. Just fantastic. Now all hopes for my sweetheart and pills. We turned two pills into crush. Then brought some hooch or hootch and waited till the weekend. Just a while ago the weekend, almost at the very end of the workday, we stirred the talc into one of the glasses with the alcohol and my sweetheart called the guy to help her with the computer. Everyone had by this time left and she was alone in the office. Stern he came up to her, she gave him some hooch or hootch with Levitra as if to thank him for the help with the computer. It was not long till the trick worked. As she told me afterwards, it had been romantic and at the same time so warm-blooded that she could not tell. The guy even proposed to her not long ago. So our plan had worked just fine. And did any of your friends or even you have amusing legend like this? Or maybe you found your dear half in some usual way as well?

Roughly translated: the author, and her female friend, purchased some drugs online then used them to spike an alcoholic beverage. The friend then called the object of her affections, who works in technical support, and gave him the dosed drink. They had sex, got engaged, and lived happily ever after. Aaaah. The whole thing reminds me of struggling through Malory’s Morte D’Arthur at university – a ludicrous tale, written in something that’s vaguely related to English but scattered with random items of vocabulary.

The blog comment is of course the result not of an imprisoned man hacking out craptastic Arthurian nonsense but of a sketchy automatic translation program – the kind that likes to insert the word fuck into innocuous sentences when changing Chinese text into English. But what happens if you push some already fairly incomprehensible English text (say, a chunk of the Morte D’Arthur) through an automated translation program? Brilliantly, the software inserts a cameo appearance from washed up poptart Britney Spears:

Then he saw to the relief of a castle Cleveland, He’s a horse, trapped in all red, and himself in the same color. When Knight saw in this Red balin, he thought he should be Brother balin cause by his two <July 5> sword, but by his career Know that he is not a shield, in his view this is not his. And so they aventryd their spears and came to the marvellously fast together, They smote on the other side of the shield, but they and their Britney Of course, such a big, it exposed the decline of horse and man, they lay Whether in a swoon. But balin is bruised sore throat, and his fall Ma, because he tired of the travel. And Baran are: first, Rose, on foot and drew his sword, to the balin, he He has the right, but Baran smote balin first, and he He made the shields and smote him through the shields and tame him The helm. Then again balin smote him with the unhappy sword, and And almost cut his brother Baran, so they have fought Together with their respiratory failure.

This is presumably caused by Google’s algorithm wrestling ineffectively with the words “their spears and their course”, but it’s still quite marvellous.

Silver Lining

June 25th, 2008

I was a bit annoyed by the news that Heinz had chosen to pull a television advert following 200 particularly stupid complaints to the ASA. Apparently the complainants wrote (presumably in pencil, in a mixture of capital and lower-case letters, on the back of an old copy of the News of the World) that it was “offensive” and “inappropriate to see two men kissing”. A few even went for the “Will somebody please think of the children!” approach, claiming that it had forced them to answer awkward questions from kids- questions such as, presumably, “who on earth would want to buy flavoured mayonnaise?”.

Today, though, I’ve realised that this is actually a golden opportunity. If all it requires is 200 nonsensical complaints, just imagine the power that a small but committed group of people could exercise. One short letter writing campaign, and:

  • No more Eastenders / Coronation Street / Emmerdale / Neighbours
  • No more Big Brother
  • Pretty much the entire BBC3 schedule destroyed in one fell swoop
  • The new “let’s have a conversation” Channel 5 news? Gone, gone away
  • Living TV? Not any more
  • And so on

In short, the world could be made exactly 147.24% better (and yes, I can prove this with a calculator) in less than a week. Marvellous. If anyone’s interested, I could even knock up a template letter: Dear XXX, I consider your programme, XXXX, very offensive. What if a (parakeet/armchair/plank of alder) had seen it? I could have been forced to answer awkward questions about (mockneys/Stockholm Syndrome/the BBC’s commissioning policy/the merits of viewer interaction in a news programme/idiots). Yours sincerely, XXXX.

Incidentally, in case anyone isn’t in the habit of trawling the ASA’s complaints and adjudications pages looking for news stories, I do recommend a visit. The pettiness of some complaints and almost incredibly serious tone of the adjudications can be fantastic to behold. Example complaint:

A TV ad, for the Nicer Dicer, stated “Love to cook but hate the time and hassle of preparation and cleanup? You need the Nicer Dicer from JML. Look how perfectly it dices this tomato. And these onions are chopped in no time with no tears. … A viewer, who believed food to be diced in the product had to be sliced beforehand, challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that the product could dice whole foods.

And the ASA’s response? They took said product to the ASA-super-testing-kitchen-cave and put it through its paces:

The ASA tested the Nicer Dicer. We noted that, while the product was capable of dealing with whole foods, it did not dice the food into cube shapes but merely seemed to slice it; that result was the same for food cut in half. We noted that, for the product to dice food into cube shapes, food would first have to be sliced into roughly the thickness of the desired cube.

Oh no! Surely not. But do go on..

We considered that the composition of the ad, particularly the name ‘Nicer Dicer’, the claims “Love to cook but hate the time and hassle of preparation and cleanup” and “Look how perfectly it dices this tomato”, accompanied by an image of a tomato cut in cube shapes, implied that whole fruit and vegetables, or at least food cut in half, could be diced into cube shapes. Because it could not, and because it did not show that food had to be sliced before it could be diced, we considered that the ad was misleading.

The ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.2 (Implications) and 5.2.3 (Qualifications).

Fantastic. For the full, thrilling saga, click here, or for gory details of an advert featuring “Colonel Sanders, grinning maniacally whilst holding a chicken by the legs in one hand and a kitchen knife pointing directly at it in the other”, here.

Wheeeee! (Crunch, clatter, thud)

June 23rd, 2008

Of the world’s first, and hopefully last, vertical looping waterslide, assembled in New Jersey’s “Action Park”:

The Loop opened for exactly one month in 1985 before being shut down by New Jersey’s Advisory Board on Carnival Amusement Ride Safety (who knew such a board even existed?). Those who did ride the dubious Loop were lucky if they escaped without bloody noses or a serious back injury. The ride opened for a few days 10 years later before further guest injuries forced a permanent shutdown.

I particularly like the fact that, ten years after it first wreaked havoc on riders’ spines, someone took the decision to re-open the ride – you know, just to see if the rules of gravity had been amended in the preceding decade. Read the article here, or check out the visitor memories here (sample: “Blood, blood, blood. All I remember was blood. All for under 25 bucks a person”). It’s also worth clicking back a few pages to the one that explains how various theme parks are exempt from building safety codes.

Sunday morning

June 22nd, 2008

Sunday morning

And Ralph has all the toys.

Pandas! Pandas! Pandas!

June 20th, 2008

Panda cartoon sample

Please go to this page and read what is a frankly awesome comic strip about the Panda Research Centre, its staff, its pandas, and what happened there during the recent earthquake.