strange but not generally true

my sister sent me one of those annoying round robin emails full of junk. this one was full of supposedly true facts. many of these are just badly concocted, unverified and unverifiable statistics but having nothing better to do (yeah, right) i tried to verify a few of the more intriguing “facts”:

  • most lipstick contains fish scales:
    i don’t think this kind of thing is particularly strange but i can believe that pearl essence is used to make cosmetics shimmery.
  • wearing headphones for just an hour will increase the bacteria in your ear by 700 times.
    i don’t know about 700 bit but this sounds feasible

    the soft plastic headphones used on airplanes create a warm, moist environment in the ear canal that is ideal for breeding bacteria.

  • between 1937 and 1945 heinz produced a version of alphabetti spaghetti especially for the german market that consisted solely of little pasta swastikas.
    not true:

    the h.j. heinz company did not produce pasta, in any shape, for the german market during world war II.

    interested parties can still spell out all manner of war-related terms using heinz’ standard alphabetti spaghetti product, though.

singing in the rain

bradford now has singing bus shelters. i had to check that it wasn’t april 1st already.

a hidden camera spots the colour of a waiting passenger’s clothes and then triggers an audio sequence piped out of hidden speakers in the scarlet walls.

the much more useful aspect of the super shelter is that they have heated seats! now that is something you want in a cold and rainy bus shelter.

this “practical people’s art” is part of bradford’s bid to be european capital of culture 2008. sorry bradford, but that honour is to be newcastle gateshead‘s (a single entity with no conjunctions, apparently)

44k and counting

luke has been attempting to write a 50 000 word novel in january and he’s nearly there. he admits that he has plot problems but the excerpts he’s been posting on his website are hilarious.

i’m also glad to see that the algorithm involving taking depressants (ie alcohol) and stimulants (ie diet coke) alternately in an attempt to find that in between state that isn’t the same as that achieved by taking neither has other practitioners than me.

going, going…

so kay hammond has found herself a husband after offering her hand in marriage in an online auction, though it remains to be seen if a marriage actually results. whilst i don’t think this is unethical (as ebay did), i do think that it’s spectacularly unimaginative and that someone who can’t find the time or effort to start a relationship is unlikely to find the time or effort to maintain one. it’s just a gender reversed version of the dowry system as far as i can see, not very 21st century.

i thought that by creating an online auction I would be able to reach as many men as possible and hopefully prove that the internet is not full of cyber-geeks, there are normal people out there.

that’s normal people with a quarter of a million quid to spend on unseen goods before they’ve even thought about the wedding plans.

[found via boing boing]


i’ve been stuck on the end of a non resolving name server for days and days (at least two). it’s pure torture.

The Skull Beneath the Skin by PD James

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Another audio reread. This is the second (and last) of the Cordelia Gray books. It’s not nearly as good as the first one. The set up is too long and there’s no body for about a million pages. The lack of a corpse isn’t a problem but the fact that there isn’t really any air of impending doom is. James’s array of upper class characters all seem to lack a third dimension. The island setting is the best part of the book and even that isn’t very well evoked. I had real trouble with there being a character called Clarissa as well as the character called Cordelia. The names were too similar and the characters too wooden for me to keep them apart.

At the end of the book Cordelia decides that she’s better off investigating lost kittens than murders. It’s a curious way to end a book but you can’t help getting the impression that PD James was already bored with Cordelia before she finished this second book so I think she is better left to her own devices.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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Finally I find a book which has annoying chapter top quotes that actually add something to the story and are therefor not annoying. Usually this device just drags me out of a story as I try (and fail) to figure out the relevance of the quote and I end up ignoring them. In this book the quotes are all as fictional as the chapters and are quotes from accompanying texts to the main story: they are taken from biographies of the characters, their journals and the like. This means that they add to the tale, they pre empt the chapters without giving anything away. They’re one of the best added extras of storytelling that I’ve seen.

This story is set in an alternate 1985 with many, many references to how things might have been if history had taken a slightly different course. Some of this is obvious but much of it is buried deep and makes you laugh when you uncover it. The ongoing Crimean war is a major part of the book and references to the People’s Republic of Wales abound. Other examples are characters “thanking GSD”, the Global Standard Deity, and references to former Luftwaffe bases where you expect RAF ones. The author has dreamed up an alternate universe that’s very familiar and very weird at the same time.

The Eyre Affair of the title refers to the problems that abound when Jane Eyre is stolen from Charlotte Bronte’s original manuscript and our hero, Literary Detective Thursday Next, has to put everything back how it should be, more or less. One of my problems with the book is that the Eyre business doesn’t appear until two thirds of the way into the book and although it doesn’t spoil it in any sense it seems a bit of an odd title for a long time. The book has a beginning that draws you in and an ending that delivers, but I found the middle a little put downable, perhaps Jane Eyre coild have turned up sooner.

On the whole I really liked the book, I saw someone else describe it as literate but not literary and I’d agree. There’s plenty of fun to be had even if you don’t have the vaguest idea of the plot of Jane Eyre, the author took care to explain everything necessary to his plot and definitely isn’t practising any kind of literary snobbery. An original and exciting story, I hope that there’s more that’s just as good.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 15th January 2002.

Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie

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Not as intriguing as many of Christie’s books: I’d never heard of the title before I stumbled upon it going cheap in a second hand bookshop and it’s not nearly as good as some of her other work. That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book though just that it seems decidedly run of the mill when compared to some of her more original mystery plots. The reader is led astray as usual and suspects nearly everyone but the eventual unmasked murderer of killing the Scottish charlady of the title. When the murderer is unmaked it didn’t feel quite as fair as it could have been. I think there were a few too many red herrings for comfort.

One of the best parts of this book is the inclusion of a character called Ariadne Oliver who is a best selling mystery author. When Oliver laments that she made her main character a vegetarian Finn despite knowing nothing of Finland it is obvious that this character is voicing some of Christie’s own problems with being lumbered with a popular Belgian detective for life.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 22nd July 2001.

Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey

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Massey is well on her way to making a mark on my favourite author list. This second mystery sees our heroine Rei struggling to keep her new Japanese antique buying business going after she discovers that a chest she has spent oodles of cash on for a client is a fake. The plot is very competent with twists that have you saying “I should have see that” without making you feel cheated.

I got a better sense of Japan from this book than from the first, I don’t know whether that’s because settings like temples seem inherently more Japanese or because the author did a better job of the setting this time. I expect that it’s a bit of both. I liked the characters in this book, most of them had depth and motivations to ac as they did. Rei’s rich boyfriend is visited by his globetrotting younger brother and I thought this pair were very realistic.

Some of Rei’s actions are a bit cliched from a “putting the main character in peril” point of view but as an amateur detective she does admirably at not rubbing me up the wrong way, I never want her to leave the investigation to the professionals.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 22nd November 2001.

Stone Dead by Frank Smith

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This is a book I bought just for the setting, a police series set in Shropshire was something I had to try out and the reviews weren’t bad either. So I was a bit disappointed at the lack of scenery details, other than the mentions of various small towns we could have been anywhere in rural Emgland. And the back cover thinks it’s set in Hertfordshire anyway, so it very well may be set across the county border.

My main problem with this book was that there were too many police people. I never did get the male characters straight or figure out the rank hierarchy. I figured out the female police staff and thought one of them, a forensic technician, was the best drawn character on the investigating side. The miscellany of characters drawn into the investigation were much better drawn and I think it’s a pity that the skill that was shown in creating these individuals didn’t stretch to what I thought were the rather generic policemen.

For the most part I thought the plot was good and the author dug into the suspects lives, uncovering layer after layer of hidden motives, very realistically. The weak point was a subplot involving one of the policemen. I thought this could have been used to develop the police characters and the fact that one of them was caught up in it should have had a knock on impact to the main investigation.

A short but well formed book but one where many things could have been a little better polished really. I’ll probably try another in the series sometime as I think these are marks of a first book rather than a bad writer.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 18th September 2001.