Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Social networking

I've neglected the blog lately, yes. My second ever blog post dealt with my hesitation to get involved with online interaction again, but a few weeks ago - while under the influence, I freely admit - I found myself signing up on Facebook in my 'real' name. I'm here to admit to its addictive aspect.

My working life started in an old-fashioned printing factory. When I say, 'old-fashioned', I mean that we cast lead type there. Fresh from college, I was tasked with dragging the place over to photo-lithography. Not many years later, we were dragging the place over to fully electronic systems and buying Macs as if they were going out of fashion. But even with the most modern methods of putting ink on paper, there's a real lag between composition of text and pictures, and seeing the end result in its published form.

Not so with the internet and digital photography. Seconds after your first draft, there's your material up there, visible to a bazillion people. How cool is that? And it fits so well with our age of instant gratification - something for which I'm an unashamed advocate. Life is so pitifully short, let's have our fun quickly, while it's warm.

Blogging has been great fun, and I have no intention of stopping. (That may or may not be good news for some readers. Howsomever.) Facebook, though, has the extra appeal of remaking links with old friends. I know some will say - as I have myself - that real friends are the ones you stay in touch with in real life, and you don't need to be arsing about on Facebook or MySpace or whatever. I wouldn't argue. But there's a range of people that are, let's say, more than just casual acquaintances, if not so close that you meet regularly. The sort of people you'd enjoy bumping into at the local, even if you seldom if ever take back for dinner and to stay the night. (For any reason.) Most of us have friends in that category, I think, and Facebook can have something of the 'virtual pub' about it at its best - casual comments and brief touches of contact which leave you feeling part of a community of sorts even if you're separated by many miles.

Now, I will say straight away that I'd rather be down the local getting this sort of social interaction, but my liver won't take it.

I've also decoded the real appeal of Facebook. It's like inviting all these old friends and acquaintances round to your house, and while they're having a chat amongst themselves, you excuse yourself, saying you're going out for a fag or something, and you nip round to one of your friends' house and surreptitiously look through their address book and their photo album. "Ooo-er, he's put on weight... blimey, she used to be blonde... that's never their child, surely?"

And once you've had that pleasure, you look up one of their friends - someone you don't know from Adam - and trot off to their house, and do the same there. Now really, is this not enormous fun?

Mind you, at some point, it will occur to you that the friends you invited round are busy going through your address book and your photo album, and making equally rude comments.

Fair enough. Facebook makes voyeurs of us all. Which takes us back to the 'On watching and being watched' post a couple down, in a way.

And now, if you'll excuse me, someone's just commented on a photo I posted to my album. I must go and see who they're friends with at the moment.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The price of freedom

My business in London concluded, I stepped into a pub near Euston for a drop of lunch before getting a train. Spotting a handpump offering Thwaites 'Liberation', a beer I'm fond of, I thought that would be the perfect choice to celebrate the long-awaited release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Three thirty-two," said the pretty child behind the bar.

"Why, thank you for the reminder," said I, "but my train is actually at three fifteen."

"No, ze drink, iz three thirty-two."

I believe I lost consciousness for a moment, but a steely inner core kept me upright, albeit not exactly perpendicular.

"Young lady. I require one pint, not a lifetime supply."

She shrugged. "Iz three thirty-two."

See, this is where being English is such a pain in the arse. A Frenchman would start shouting and waving his arms... would probably still be shouting and waving his arms... while a Scot would simply turn round and walk out. But Mr English can't abide being thought of as poor, provincial, or just plain stingy. Most of the English are all three, of course, and I certainly am myself, but one hates to make it obvious.

Now, I do have quite a lot of Welsh in me, and I dare say that if an impi of Zulu warriors had appeared I might have managed a chorus of Men of Harlech, but I was brought up in Lincoln. Enough said.

And I suppose the waif behind the bar wasn't directly responsible for the grasping avarice of her employer. She was trying to better her life through hard work, and who can fault her there; I couldn't quite place her accent, but she was clearly from one of those benighted outposts of humanity like Tirana or Rotherham. Enough misery for one lifetime, I thought, so I let her live and contented myself with the usual petty revenges: handing over the disgustingly tatty and greasy five-pound note kept in the quarantine section of the wallet for just such purposes. And, naturally, pointedly not taking the empty glass back to the bar.

While drinking I got on the Blackberry and e-mailed the Burmese Embassy to say that I was delighted they'd let her go, but if they do bang her up again, could they keep her in this time, as I couldn't afford this twice in a lifetime.

I'm only joking. I could afford it again, but it would still hurt, even though Liberation is a quite splendid ale, and good to see it so far from its Blackburn home.
Going back some years, Thwaites was one of those brewers whose beers didn't travel over well and on the odd occasions you saw it out of its own territory, it was probably not worth trying. Theakstons out of Yorkshire and Castle Eden out of County Durham were the same. But I can report, happily, that the Liberation was drinking well in London this afternoon.

Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero of mine and I'm delighted to see her at liberty.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

On watching and being watched

There I was, just sitting having a quiet pint at a city pub, when I realised I was being watched. Now they're being watched, potentially by the bazillions of people who visit this blog daily. Well, I say 'bazillions', in terms of regulars it's actually two or three, but they're very welcome and much valued.

That said, my traffic has recently much increased. It would seem that since I rather innocently used a picture of Jean-Luc Picard looking pained in this post, our friends at Google have stuck it up at about number five in the images list if you Google for 'Picard'. Well, who'd have thought, eh? I can only apologise to my visitors from Russia, the USA, Australia, Germany and... er... Wales... who were suddenly transported here under false pretences. That's what comes, though, of Google watching everything. And, of course, you watching Google and asking it questions.

Note from the above that I'm watching who's watching me. Check out the 'sitemeter' button at the bottom of the page. Some hide it; I prefer to leave it visible, so people can see, if they wish, what sort of trace they leave behind when they visit.

On the news this afternoon was an item about the Guvmint quietly going ahead with trying to get ISPs to record all sorts of communications, including blog visits and posts, who you contact on Facebook, all that kind of thing. Despite their fine words about wanting to reduce the power and presence of the State, they are now being housetrained by their officials in the Civil Service and various other state agencies. As we knew fine well they would once they'd been sat down and talked at by the men in grey suits for a while. Here's a prediction: it won't be very long before some new legislation tries to enforce this, with our Glorious Leaders banging on about 'The first duty of a Guvmint is to protect its citizens, and we can only do that by knowing every last fucking thing about you, who you talk to, whose pictures you look at, and where you drink beer. Oh, and by the way, we noticed you having that extra pint.' Or words to that effect...

Some say you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide. To which my invariable answer is: 'Well, give me all the curtains and blinds in your house for a month, then talk to me again'.

That's it, rant over, and I hope you notice I didn't even mention Eric Blair. Who, you say? Google him. If you dare.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Fuel economy

Having spent much of the weekend blamelessly clocking up pedestrian miles and less blamelessly dropping into licensed premises for beer, I thought I'd see what sort of economy I'm getting. A moment with the calculator reveals a figure of 10.9 miles per gallon.

Now that's not great. Even my old Jag XJS, with its 5.3 litres of V12 thirst, managed better than that.

And let's not even mention my emissions. Suffice to say Mrs QO has views and I fear a thorough service may be in order before long.