Fashion, Psychology, Society

Rescue Rover

Cat and Dog

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Today more people in the UK get pets from animal rescue centres than other sources and this is a good thing for the animals that have been removed from cruelty or neglect and the various organisations doing the rescuing do a great job.  Battersea Dogs and Cats Home even say in their adverts “rescue is our favourite breed”, to encourage people to look beyond pedigree and perfection to choose a pet.

Why though do so many people who obtain their pet this way emphasise the fact whenever they mention their dog or cat – for example someone writes in to a radio show saying “From Ellie, Tom and Boris, our Rescue Dog”?  Is it now a fashion tag – along the lines of “shabby chic”, or a badge of honour – a way to look good in other people’s eyes, to show how caring you are?

Personally whenever I hear the words “our rescue dog” I imagine that at any moment a beeper will go off and the dog will grab a rucksack and head off out the door and up a mountain clutching a Kendal Mint Cake. 

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Politics, Society

Quarantine Party!

Flock of Pigeons

Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

A colleague today made a good suggestion for what to do about large groups of people who insist on ignoring Covid lockdown rules and any kind of common sense and have large parties, raves or wedding receptions for hundreds of people.  There would no doubt be complaints about Human Rights though…  no, wait, stay with me people…

Instead of fining everybody the police should just lock them all in where they are for two weeks, with regular food and medical supervision.  You could even seal up the doors with big “quarantine” signs.

There you go, you wanted a party, now you’ve got one, a fortnight long one, enjoy.

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Cars, DIY, Fashion, Psychology, Society, Transport

Less is More & More is Less Authentic

Car

Image by strikers from Pixabay

Why do so many people not want others to know what they drive?  So often it’s bloody obvious.  A common practice is de-badging which removes everything including the makers marks, the Vauxhall, Ford or Peugeot badges etc.  I’ve often wondered if some of them have watched TV police shows where they say “you’re looking for a dark blue Ford Fiesta” and they’ve thought, I can get one over on them, I’ll take all the badges off so they won’t know what kind of car it is at all.  Generally though car customisers say it’s about individuality, about not caring about such superficial frippery as brands and badges.  Okay.  It’s definitely not about not wanting people to know they actually drive an everyday branded car, of course, which brings me onto the additions…

Image does matter to some people though to the extent that they add badges that weren’t there when the car left the factory.  I’ve seen many old BMWs in particular which are clearly not M3s or M5s (the details are all wrong, I’m a car geek and make no apologies) and yet the badge on the back says 325i (petrol) when the car’s clearly a Diesel and there are M3 badges on the side, usually applied in the wrong place and at some kind of jaunty angle too – if you’re going to make out that you’ve got a higher spec car than you actually have then at least settle on one model rather than mixing two together and then find out where they’re meant to go and use some masking tape to mark out their location first – there’s this magical thing called the internet that has lots of instructions and even pictures, Google Image Search is your friend.  A quick search on Ebay reveals thousands of badges that can magically transform a humble hatchback into Type R – not even just a Civic Type R but a Fiesta Type R, a Polo Type R, a C3 Type R…  (glances outside at the silver car in the car park).

The best fakery I’ve seen (by which I mean the most unbelievable) was a brand-swap.  It is common for people who own Smart cars to apply the badges of Smart’s parent Mercedes Benz to their cars but the association on this one was, as far as I know, non-existent.  I saw a Ssangyong SUV parked and I noticed after a few moments that the badges looked odd, the owner had glued AMG badges over the Ssangyong ones, not replacing but stuck on top of the originals.  I looked at the back as he drove away and the same was true at the back but then the piece de resistance…  “Turbo” badges which were clearly from a Porsche, I could tell by the distinctive style of the lettering.  There was another equally preposterous badge on the rear but it escapes me what it was – something like AMG’s Black Edition or something similar.  Lastly I did see a 2004 Volvo V50 sporting Ferrari badges.

Finally there are the attempts to make an older car look newer – now this can have merit, it’s been done on Wheeler Dealers on TV many times including a Land Rover, a Range Rover and a Merc G-Wagen and it can even add to the resale value but another example that takes the biscuit was an Audi A3 which had the split-grille that preceded the current single, large trapezoidal one they use across the range now.  In an attempt to look newer the owner had painted the silver bit of the bumper between the two grilles black, painted or removed the top chrome trim of the bottom grille and the bottom of the top grille and added stick-on silver trim at the edge of the bit he’d painted.  Five stars for the idea, one star for the execution.

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Society

The Dying Art of Queuing

All our plastic ducks in a row

Image by DaKub from Pixabay

Not much is more English than queuing.  We are the best in the world at self-organising into an orderly line without being corralled like rowdy cattle.  Or at least we were.  We used to take offence, in a chorus of disapproving murmurs if someone just ignored a queue, or barged in.  We instinctively know that, for example, outside the bank I use if someone’s already at the cash point the queue will extend along the wall of the building, not across the pavement and into the pedestrian area.  

In the past I’ve even been barged aside in a supermarket by two women who were desperate to get to a newly opened checkout lane.  Usually when I’m in a queue and a till is opened I will usually suggest to the person in front of me that they go to it before me, as they were there before me but not many people do now.  I was once in the barber’s shop and another man walked in and sat down.  A customer paid for his haircut and left, the hairdresser said “who’s next please” and the man, who I can only assume was related to Usain Bolt, shot from his seat and into the chair before I had even had the chance to say “where the feck are you going, I’m next”.  Being English I, of course, harrumphed, wished bad karma on him and waited for the next chair.

I’ll admit that most of us still have our instinctive ability to line up, many even offer to bump you up the line ahead of them if you only have a mars bar and box of tea in the supermarket and these people are to be blessed and cherished but…

During the time of Covid and social distancing I’ve noticed that people’s inability to see queues has increased, and others have reported the same.  You’ll be queuing at the end of an aisle as required, then someone will walk past with a basket or trolley and march straight up to the checkout having seen that you’re standing there and not so much as wondered what you were doing – “yes, I just loiter next to the discount freezer for the fun of it, you meet such interesting people, such as the TEN PEOPLE WITH BASKETS BEHIND ME”.

Even in a virtual queue few people are willing to wait, most think they’re more important, that their job should be done before everyone else’s, their food should come first, “but I’ve paid for it” they whine, but so has everyone else, and all before you.

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Politics, Psychology, Science, Society

It Was Bound To End In Tiers

I’ve just heard yet another news report about anti-lockdown protests in London, people chanting “take your freedom back.”  What freedom has been taken away exactly?  The freedom to contract a potentially deadly virus and then pass it on to someone else who might then die or perhaps the freedom to die yourself?  Such people say it’s their responsibility if they catch it, or they don’t believe it exists – one man, when asked if he had a face mask said he hadn’t and was asked to remain behind the screen instead at which point he said “it’s sad that you’ve got to believe in this crap”– and this attitude demonstrates the levels of sheer selfishness in modern society and ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence – ask someone whose relative has died from it if it isn’t real.  Their protest is not about freedom, it’s about ego.  It’s about being told they can’t have parties, go to the pub and show off to their friends.  If they wear a mask then it means accepting, visibly, that they’re not able to do whatever they damn well like, that they’re not so badass and indestructible.  They’re terrified that they’ll look silly in a mask, weak, or afraid of the virus.  They’re terrified they’ll look boring, subservient or submissive, it’s not cool to follow rules.  They want to show that they’re too special or tough to be affected, that even if they catch it it won’t bother them, when this attitude is demonstrated by so-called celebrities who should be setting a good example then it’s all the worse.

What they’re also showing is that they care not a jot about anyone but themselves.

Since we started wearing face coverings in the UK I’ve seen quite a few people, men and women, wearing a mask over their mouth but not nose – a fundamental misunderstanding of the plumbing inside their own heads and the nature of Covid-19, preferring to live, as it does, in the lungs not the mouth, it’s not fatal halitosis.  I also saw a young couple, of the type you see on so-called Reality TV shows – all gelled hair and excessive makeup.  He was wearing a mask and at first sight she wasn’t, until I noticed she was wearing one – on her wrist.  I know she might have had a good reason to take it off but you have to wonder if she was instead taking the definition of “wearing” at face value, or not face value.  In our shop a man came in with what appeared to be a scarf covering his mouth and when he started to talk he pulled it down to around his neck.  I saw the same thing in another shop.  I wonder what they think the face coverings are actually for.  Similarly during the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia there were spectators stood in the road on the slow climbs, leaning in to within a couple of feet of the riders, shouting “encouragement” at them, many with their masks worn round their neck or on their chin at the most – potentially one big dose of the virus sprayed into each cyclist’s face.  No doubt it would have been the same at other such events.  I’ve even heard it said that “it’s ok, I’m outdoors” – hence large groups travel halfway across the country to see some snow.

The first lockdown was imposed because something had to be done fast to keep people apart as face masks weren’t readily available.  But it was also because of the reason the subsequent lockdowns have happened – because a large number of people won’t follow rules and as such they have to be legislated into doing so.  We’re told to wear masks, many won’t; we’re told to stay two metres apart, they won’t; we’re told not to go to each others houses or gather in large groups, people gather in large groups and have parties at each others houses, or just continue to visit their friends and family like nothing’s happened. 

The lockdown measures aren’t the fault of the government or scientists but the arrogant and/or stupid who refuse to follow simple rules, who can’t compromise for a year – to go without socialising, to go without their holidays like most of us have.  If they’d be sensible then the pubs that they complain about being closed could still be open.

Those crying about losing their freedom would still expect the NHS to make them better if they catch the virus, they’ll probably also be the ones shouting loudest to get the vaccine first too. Our global situation needs cooperation not selfishness – we’ve seen plenty of the former but sadly too much of the latter.

[For those outside the UK the title refers to our Tiered Lockdown system, where we’re mostly in Tier 4, or is it 5?]

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creativity, Tech, Work

The Universal Instruction Manual

DIY

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I still have a copy of a book that was once the bible for anyone who built or fixed PCs, it weighed about a kilogram and was roughly two inches thick, could break your toe if you dropped it on your foot and doubled as a doorstop when a new edition replaced it. It was one of many such books, many of which are still updated and published today, which were the go-to place for guidance when the machine or network you were fixing wasn’t cooperating. I have similar books for DIY and cookery as many people do. I also used to maintain lists and folders of useful settings and tips that I’ve either found or worked out but I find that I’m referring to these less as the smartphone is taking over.

I recently set up my new laptop and there are a couple of things I like to tweak on any new Windows setup but as it’s been a while since I last did it I couldn’t remember where the settings were – especially as one, the setting for turning the Caps Lock key off with the Shift key as on an old manual typewriter, seems to keep moving to different dialogs. Not a problem, I just picked up the phone and searched for it and the answer was provided via Google. Other search engines are available, of course.

The internet is an amazing resource for learning in this way, I developed an Access-based database ten years ago by doing the same thing, searching for how other people have achieved the action I wanted, whatever your struggling with someone will have a suggestion or a whole tutorial. At work I’ve found instructions on changing the side indicator lens on one of the vans and at home how to reset the service indicator on my old car. Naturally there are instructions for exercise, positive thinking, painting, brewing, relaxing, productivity, using tools and how to do home repairs – as we noticed from the number of people during the first Covid lockdown attempting their own glazing. The other advantage of the internet is that you not only have words and pictures but video too.

As well as the amount of crowdsourced instructions manufacturers also have their product manuals online too, which is useful if, like me, you can never find the manual for something you’ve not used for ten years – like my car battery charger I needed during the first lockdown which is an old piece of equipment yet the manual was there on the manufacturer’s website, which saved me half an hour of looking through a large box of instruction sheets.

I have another book that is called “How to do just about everything” – well, the internet on a smartphone is like having a million page illustrated book in your pocket called “Now we really mean how to do everything”.

Of course not everything in life should be attempted without professional training – gas repair and dentistry come to mind – also not all the advice and instructions are entirely accurate or advisable and as the saying goes “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, but as with going to the pub it’s all about knowing your limits.

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Tech, Television

Remote Selling

Auction

Image by succo from Pixabay

I watch the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip which, for the uninitiated features antiques dealers and auctioneers travelling around the UK and Ireland buying antiques to sell, hopefully for a profit, at auction. In between spending cash the experts visit interesting local places along the way.

I thought that this year’s series wouldn’t be possible due to Covid-19, because of closed antiques shops and auctions not being allowed due to social distancing but another online innovation and the production team’s ingenuity has saved the day.

Auction houses have, of course, accepted commission bids and phone bids for some time but over the course of the Roadtrip’s twenty previous series more have accepted live online bidding.  Having an audience of not just potentially a couple of hundred in the room but thousands across the world benefits the auction house and sellers alike, often the online bids well outstrip what those present in person are willing to pay.

In the case of the Roadtrip itself there is still plenty of opportunities for Covid-safe shopping but social distancing has meant that we are now treated to our experts travelling in separate cars and sometimes by bike and then sitting on the edge of a field or car park watching the auction on tablets, losing a little of the atmosphere of the past, with the auctioneer in an empty room talking only to webcams and assistants on phones, but at least we still get our entertainment. 

It’s even thanks to the internet that I can watch it at all as it’s shown when I’m at work and I watch it later on iPlayer.  As such as they watch the auction on their tablets I watch them watching it on mine, if you see what I mean.

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Business, Tech, Transport

Sometimes I Surprise Myself

Gift

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve recently received a little padded envelope, I knew it must be something I’ve bought on Ebay but I could not for the life of me remember what it was. I knew it must be one of those little cheap gadgets or decorative items that fill Ebay, Amazon and so on and are all too easy to buy but which one?

It is one of the unexpectedly pleasant side-effects of having a poor short-term memory, lacking concentration, or visiting Ebay or Amazon while mildly inebriated, or all three: being able to give yourself a surprise gift, not just at Christmas but all year round, as long as it’s not too expensive that is, or too large – it’s less of a nice surprise to be greeted by an unexpected Jacuzzi or life-size toy Tiger if you don’t have the space to appreciate it.

The best thing though is if you happen to have it delivered from the other side of the world too, that way you also have about a month to forget what you’ve bought while it’s sitting on a slow boat from, well, you know where…

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Business, creativity, Design, Tech, Typography

Simplicity is Not Always Easy

Wood type

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Often an organisation or business will unveil a new logo, branding or slogan which is met by members of the public saying, like they also do when a footballer misses a goal, “I could do better than that” or “my six year old could do that with a packet of crayons.”
Such was the case with the London 2012 logo and the Scottish tourist board’s slogan of “Welcome to Scotland” which was ridiculed for its apparent simplicity – comments like “they spent hundreds of thousands on consultants and all they come up with is that, it’s bloody obvious.”

While it’s true that the end result is simple and obvious it was no doubt also the result of a long period of consultation on the wording of the message, then the design of the presentation of the message. Just because the end result seems obvious doesn’t mean it was from the start, hundreds of slogans were probably trialled on the public and expert groups and it could have been that something like “Get High on Scotland” combined with a talking Haggis could have been more memorable, made more of an impact and was now the slogan, the public would never have been aware that “Welcome to Scotland” had even been considered.

If a branding is seen as complex, showy, clever or edgy then the critical public feel that the money that was spent has been used, like it in some way involved more work, like a simple design would have been knocked out in five minutes between lunch and a few beers paid for from the budget. Was Kentucky’s slogan “Unbridled Spirit” which derived from the state’s big industries of horse racing and distilleries worth more just because it was a play on words and as such “a bit clever”?

Such armchair experts have never designed a logo. The last one I designed passed through numerous stages as it had to contend with people who really wanted to hold onto the old logo and then it evolved from two separate proposals that had elements combined into the final design. And I’m not even a professional designer.

Of course not all designs are successful, Nottinghamshire County Council’s “N” logo was dropped quickly due to negative public reaction, but again this was partly because the logo didn’t really symbolise the county but also because many people thought that the design’s simplicity indicated a lack of effort, that it was a waste of tax payers’ money. Combine this with the often repeated “it was just done on a computer” – by which they also mean “with no effort” (because the computer does all the work, of course) and the simpler logo will always seem worse value. I have encountered clients who insist on filling every square millimetre of an advert space with pictures and text because they think that white space is wasted space, I’ve been told that “customers want to see lots of pictures” and “the logo needs to fill the space” and so on, with my suggestions that white space helps to guide the eye around the ad and a cluttered design looks unprofessional went ignored because, well what would I know? As for distorting logotypes to fill a space so much that the end result would make the original typeface designer cry, don’t get me started.

There’s a video online that is a cartoon of a conversation between a designer and client in which the client keeps wanting to add more colour, more complexity etc, my takeaway phrase that I’ve used often was from the designer: “unbe-f***ing-lievable.”

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Fashion, Tech, Work

Oh For Fax Sake

Apparently the NHS is the biggest purchaser of fax machines in the UK. “What?” people cry, “why are they wasting tax-payers money on last century technology, it’s a scandal.” No it’s not, it’s because, fundamentally, it just works. Two machines connected by a phone line, you can send a message in seconds. In the pre-mobile days there were all kinds of fax-based services, one example that I’ve recently seen reminded of via a 1996 back issue was Fortean Times magazine’s FortFax service that allowed you to dial up and request articles be sent back to you.  

Of course though time and tech moves on and email has largely replaced faxing as I think people see it as obsolete because it’s an old technology, it’s monochrome and it’s paper based but at least modern ones use proper paper rather than the crinkly, fading thermal paper of old.  In addition companies only tend to have one fax machine so it’s inefficient to go to the machine to send a fax and have someone regularly empty it’s in-tray, so to speak.

For text you can, of course type out an email but it’s often still slower than writing out a fax unless you’ve been on Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing recently. The main advantage though is if you want to send a drawing as to email it you’d have to scan it, attach the scan to an email, type the email explaining what the drawing it and then send it to someone who has to open it, assuming they have the software to open the scan if it’s an Adobe document for example, then print it if they need the hard copy. With a fax you draw it on the paper, type the fax number and send. Simple and classic. I’m only moving, reluctantly, to scanning and emailing because the fax machine’s on its last legs.

I have found, admittedly that Email does has its advantages, like traceability and searchability and using templates for common emails like orders, quotes etc speeds up the process somewhat but it depends on individual circumstances. At the end of the day if it were still working and the people we sent faxes to still used faxes themselves then we’d still be using it – it seems that the fax has become a still useful, but niche, technology.

One day, like vinyl and 35mm film, it’ll become fashionable, probably amongst hipsters and their like, as an analogue, “authentic” communication method and there’ll be an app to send digitally crinkly and barely readable facsimile faxes, perhaps.

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