Tag Archives: postaweek2011

The Breeding Habits of Biros

13 Nov

In 1935 Ladislas Biro journeyed to South America. There, in the wilderness of Argentina, he discovered a species of worm previously unknown to the Western world. Hard shelled and secreting a thick, dark slime, it was considered merely a pest by the locals, but Ladislas could see its potential.

Ladislas rushed back to Paris and lodged a patent for his new ‘invention’. Soon, the world was introduced to the Biro, a new kind of writing implement that wrote (or rather, left its thick, coloured slime) on almost every surface, and worked constantly, without refilling, for up to two years – that being the average life cycle of the Argentinian worm.

Mr Biro was no fool. He understood that if people discovered the true nature of the new pens, not only would he be a laughing stock, but people would simply breed the worms, and there would be no more income to be had from export. He thought the risk was small, however; Biros were both expensive and reliable. Why would any household have more than one? Even if they did, what were the chances that they would have both male and female, and would keep them together for any length of time?

Ladislas’ gamble paid off, and he lived out the rest of his wealthy life without discovery. Those who came after him, however, were not so cautious. Greedy to expand they lowered the price and flooded the market. Soon people were giving away specially bred sloganed versions for free, and betting shops were importing a dwarf variety by the thousand, and what Ladislas had feared came to pass: Left alone in drawers, desk tidies and pencil cases, the worms started to breed.

Ladislas Biro had anticipated an outcry, investigations, the ripping up of his patent and mass breeding programmes, but none of this came about. Instead people merely shrugged, said to themselves “I must have picked up another free one without noticing”, and went on with their lives, resigned to always having too many Biros. Around the world, Biros bred prolifically, rearing their young in the nooks and crannies of modern life, and mankind went about its business in total ignorance – until now.


Liked this? Try Office Life (and Death), a collection of funny short stories.

Foreign Flavours Out Now

4 Nov


You can use this link to buy the Foreign Flavours charity anthology on Lulu. It’s priced at just under a tenner and profits go to a developing world books charity. I have a very small piece in it.

Why I Hate iPhones

3 Nov

The Price

Around £500 for what is essentially a toy? (And don’t bother to tell me it’s a phone; yes, it phones, but you can get a model that does it better for a fiver.  For proof, look at any small child presented with an iPhone: It’s a toy.) But it’s not just the outrageous price of the handset, there’s also the running cost to consider. Normally you can negotiate with a phone company, especially if you’re a loyal customer, but not if you’re after an iPhone. Then they’ve got you where they want you. They can demand some huge monthly payment and, like an addict buying a fix, you’ll grumble, but you’ll accept it.

The Advertising

The problem with the advertising is that it’s so annoyingly good. They show you all the shiny new things the toy can do in the most simple and effective way, so that you don’t feel you’ve had the hard sell, you just feel that you really, really want it. I’m not immune to the covetousness it conjures up – but like Odysseus with the sirens, I make myself resist

The Evil Apple Behemoth

Once you have been drawn in by that siren song, Apple will make sure the pull you further and further into their clutches. You want to listen to music on your iPhone? To do that you will have to download iTunes. No simple drag and drop from your computer to your phone; instead you have to go into their shop and negotiate the fiddly, user-unfriendly interface. And then, of course, if you download any new songs they come in a format that can only be used on iPhones / ipods, no other music devices. The same goes for ebooks. You can read epub files on any book reader, and you can download the Kindle app for your phone or PC, but buy an ebook from Apple and you can have it on your i-device or nothing. All if which means, if you don’t want to lose all of the stuff you’ve downloaded, you’ll have to stick with iPhones forever.

Apps That Eat Money

Another sneaky lure to coax more of your disposable income out of your pocket are apps that are free to download, but require you to buy things to progress. That means you’ll be authorising payments in the heat of a game you’re trying to win – not conducive to sober judgement. Ok, this problem may not be confined to iPhones, and it has nothing to do with Apple – but it’s still very annoying!

Androids Are Better

When the original iPhone was released it was like nothing else, a totally new breed of phone. The adverts seemed like fiction so everyone flocked to see if it was really like that – and it was. Now, however, other companies have caught up. A good Android phone can do everything an iPhone can do, but without the annoying inflexibility, the ‘Apple-knows-best’ness of the iPhone. And they’re cheaper. And the contracts are more affordable. And you have a choice of various makes and models. Once the iPhone was evil but unique. Now it’s just evil.

And that is why I HATE IPHONES!

A note to the designers of mobile websites

31 Oct

I’ve just had a bad experience with two different mobile websites. Firstly Dominoes. After googling the address I naturally went for the mobile site, thinking it would be quicker. And perhaps it would – if I had lived in the USA. No indication that it was a US site until you were well into your order. So I gave up and got the laptop out.

Later, hubbie having annexed the laptop, I tried Boots Treat Street. All went well until I tried to sign in. You’d think that would be a pretty basic function on a site designed to collect points but no, that’s not one of the features of the mobile site.

Nothing daunted, I clicked on the link for the full site, entered my details and clicked submit – only to be taken straight back to the page telling me I couldn’t do that on the mobile site. A few moments’ experimentation showed me that I could dance this merry circle all night if I wanted to. I didn’t want to, so again I gave up.

These are not my only bad experiences if this type, so designers of mobile web sites, please note: I don’t want a mobile website because it looks pretty. I don’t want it because its cool and all the other sites have one. I don’t even care how quickly it loads if it doesn’t perform the basic function I went to it for. If the mobile version isn’t actually easier to use on a mobile than the normal site, I would prefer not to have one. Please bear this In mind in future!

The Hidden Dangers of Freebies

24 Oct

This morning as I walked out of the station in the herd of other commuters, I spotted people huddling under a brightly coloured beach umbrella, handing something out to passers-by. This is not an unusual occurrence; at least once or twice a year there are people handing out freebies at rush hour. I’ve had chocolate bars, drinks, and even a Gillette razor. This time it was a bottle of Powerade Energy, berry flavour. I took one and made my cheery (yes, that’s sarcastic) Monday morning way to work. I had a quick squiz at the ingredients as I was opening it – natural flavours, caffeine, vitamins and serious-sounding minerals, no doubt designed to do you lots of good. Fair enough. It wasn’t until halfway through the morning, and halfway through the bottle, that I noticed all the health warnings: Not suitable for children. Not suitable for pregnant women. Not suitable for those sensitive to caffeine. Not intended to be consumed in high quantities. Ulp! The point of the drink is to provide energy for high-intensity activities – so of course a bunch of desk-bound commuters are the ideal candidates. The drink was quite nice, I have to say, and if it weren’t for the dire warnings, maybe I would have drunk it again. As it is, though, I’ll probably stick to something safer – like lighter fluid.

Getting a wee bit excited…

20 Oct

My book, Leda, now has a proper page on the Troubador website  – where, theoretically, people can buy it!  Except it hasn’t been printed yet, of course.  You can see its page here. (It’s not that exciting if you’re not me, admittedly.)

The publication date is given as May next year, but that’s just a necessary fiction to meet the needs of the books trade.  I am not wise in the ways of wholesalers, so I will bow to the publisher’s superior wisdom.  I’m hoping it will be a real book, and in my hands (and the shops), a lot sooner than that, though!

A Brush with Criminality

18 Oct

This weekend I spent a couple of hours howking weeds from between paving slabs in the name of community action, organised by Reform G43. Despite being fairly backbreaking, it was actually fun. I realise that sounds unlikely, but if you do almost anything as part of a friendly group, it becomes fun – and besides, it certainly had novelty value. I received mostly positive comments from passers-by, and lots of requests that we come and clean up nearer their home (what’s the opposite of nimbyism?).

Some participants didn’t get such a good reaction, though. People tutted and gave them dirty looks. This seemed like a pretty strange reaction to people who were sweeping up litter and pulling out weeds – until one of the leaders pointed out that, faced with people in high-vis vests doing menial work, they probably assumed we were all on community service orders! That made me laugh quite a lot, especially as the group was largely made up of mild-mannered churchgoers and angelic kids from the local Boys Brigade. Reform G43 – the latest criminal plot to hit the south side of Glasgow?

Grey Hair

7 Oct

What is this new fashion for young girls dying their hair grey or white?  At first I thought I was seeing dye disasters, where it was supposed to have come out blonde or black or purple even, but had unfortunately gone wrong.  Then I saw more teenagers with these colours  and my mother (my mother!) told me that it is a real fashion.

There was once a fashion for grey or white wigs (17th – 18th century I think), but I was always led to believe that it happened in a time when age was venerated.  Now we live in a youth-orientated culture where 30 is considered past it – so why the grey hair?  It does actually look ok on some people (grey does – white just makes people look dead) but it also makes them look like some terrible trauma has turned them grey before their time.

Not being a teenager, I’ve started getting white hairs myself, and naturally the mind turns towards whether or not to dye.  I don’t think I’ll be dying the rest of it to match, though.

Free Films = Good

21 Sep

This week I’ve been to see another free film with www.showfilmfirst.com – must be at least the fourth this year. This time it was Drive, which was not bad, although hardly the pumping action film it appeared to be. Some films I’ve had were good (Troll Hunter), some were a bit pants (Columbiana), but you don’t mind so much when they’re free. Besides, you never know when the offer is going to come into your inbox or what film it will be, which adds a nice surprise to your day.

The reason I get all these free tickets is that I took up the offer to join the VIP club – which costs money, so kind of undermines the “free films” idea, but they guaranteed your money back if you didn’t get at least one pair of tickets. I have had so much more than my money’s worth; sometimes impulse buys are a very good thing.

The VIP club seems to be full at the moment, but should it open up again, I would definitely recommend it, based on my experience.

Back in my Suite

10 Sep

After a long absence I’m back writing for Suite101. In the time I’ve been away they seem to have relaxed the over-strict regulations regarding structure and keywords, which is great. I also got a lovely comment from the section editor within hours of posting a new article. A very nice welcome back.

My latest post is on the pitfalls of shared ownership, which may be a bit dry for most, but you can keep up to date with all my articles here.