2) By far the best commentary I've seen on the UK's purported number one comes from dungeoneer and can be found here.
3) News: Keble alumnus and computer guru makes massive endowment to Oxford University. Hurrah! Take that, Bill Gates!
4) Poker fans will enjoy videos (pointed out by loogaroo) spoofing a certain Poker Brat at http://www.billfillmaff.com/ which are excellent if you get the jopke.
5) Last week, I went to see Kinsey courtesy of the local indy cinema company at the local arthouse as part of an audience of 15 - myself and seven couples. Oh dear. Attractively made and conveys a very likeable image of the subject, while emphasising he didn't know everything. Additionally, the film only tries to be funny a small number of times, but each one hits the spot with a belly laugh. Thumbs up.
6) Next Monday, we get to find out what the IOC Evaluation Committee made of the five remaining candidates' bids to host the 2012 Olympics. I perceive that London's bid is going really well, though it needs to go not just really well but exceptionally well to make up all the advantages Paris has long had over it. Nevertheless, it's not unknown for a strong second place finisher to attract favourable attention in the future. I anticipate Paris winning and doing a splendid job, but London's time may yet come.
7) How are we all doing with practicing puzzles, people? Keep at it; only 14 days to register for the test on the afternoon of Saturday 16th June. This morning I spent the statutory 2½ hours on the 1999 test and would've scored 98 (almost 118 if I had entered the answers correctly). I'm convinced that this would've easily been good enough to get on the UK team, had there been one at the time and had it used the online qualifier. If your score is around there, take encouragement; if not, keep practising, because your ability improves more through practice than the extent to which the paper gets slightly harder over the years.
8) So I'm learning to drive; six hours of off-road and ten hours of on-road instruction down, maybe thirty more to go, plus tens of hours of practice. These days, if you want to earn a drivers' licence, you need to pass a theory test. The driving school with whom I am learning have booked me in for this test on the grounds that the price is due to rise soon and I can change the date if I'm not happy with the one I'm given. OK, fair enough, good proactive thinking on their part, though I didn't tell them to actually book the test.
So the letter comes, a couple of weeks ago, and the test is booked for this Friday. It says "To rearrange or cancel your test, please telephone 0870 01 01 372 or visit our website at www.dsa.gov.uk at least 3 full working days before the date of this appointment. If you don't you will lose your fee. For example, to cancel a test booked for a Friday you must inform us on the previous Monday."
Fair enough. I forget about this for a week or two and remember it on the Saturday beforehand - the Saturday most recent, in fact. I find the letter, see "inform us on the previous Monday" and think "great, I'm not too late". In fact, a day early - Sunday - I go to the web site and try to change my date. After all, Monday may have been a Bank Holiday here in the UK, but by changing on Sunday or Monday, I would leave Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as my three full working days beforehand, right?
Wrong. Apparently I had to change by Friday, for no clear reason. The inference is that although you can book a change on the web site, the change is not actually implemented until the next working day if you aren't changing on a working day itself - so, if you're not changing during a working day, you must do it a working day further in advance still. This, of course, is not what the letter says; accordingly, I am somewhat upset. The site mentions a customer care e-mail address and a customer care phone line; a polite but highly aggrieved mail was sent off and a phone call was made to the line at 8am prompt on Tuesday morning. (Trying for the "working day starts at 9am so leaving Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday" angle, you see?)
No joy. I spoke to a customer services adviser and was escalated to a superior who would, or could, not see things my way and had absolutely no discretion. The supervisor did end up sounding extremely downbeat, though, so it may well be that she took my point and agreed with me but couldn't say or even hint that. If there's any satisfaction to be taken here, it's in reminding people that they have a crap job where they have no discretion to apply common sense because, as the saying goes, "it's more than their job's worth". Surely, given sufficient irritation at their jobs, everyone will quit them and the jobs will not be filled, resulting in the job changing so that someone can eventually be found to fill it. That's the theory, anyway. In practice, it doesn't seem to work like that.
I did learn, though, that the theory test bookings service is run by Pearson Vue, exterior contractors on behalf of the Driving Standards Agency. I next took my complaint to the Driving Standards Agency itself; they advised me to complain to Pearson Vue (which I had done) and then, if I was not satisfied with the result, to take it up to them. I have a customer service e-mail address for the DSA itself and will take the approach that Pearson Vue are not properly applying the guideline that the DSA have set down. The DSA lady even gave me contact details for their Chief Executive. Now that's service.
I can't decide how far to take this. There's a part of me which says "relax, Chris, it's only - only! - £22 lost, it's not worth the aggravation"; there's also a part of me which says "no, it's the principle of the thing". Certainly I'll complain to the DSA itself when Pearson Vue reply to my complaint e-mail; not sure whether there might yet be a letter to the DSA Chief Executive. (Unfortunately I forgot to keep a copy of my original complaint. Damn webmail.)
In fact, I reckon that I could take this to the Small Claims Court, as I think I have a good case; they say "three full working days", but they don't mean that exactly - the deadline seems to be the end of the previous working day, not the start of that working day. However, the odds are hardly good; I would be putting my £60-ish claim fee at risk (though refundable if I win) to win £22 back, and betting at 1/3 doesn't offer great odds. Additionally, I don't really want the money - if Pearson Vue say that "well, we don't agree with you, but as a goodwill gesture, we'll offer you your money back" then that would not be terribly satisfactory. What I want is official word of "Oi, Pearson Vue, no - you're not playing fair, sort it out or you'll lose the contract" and I don't really care whether it comes from the DSA or a court.
Actually, like any British TV geek of a certain age, what I really really want is Esther Rantzen, Doc Cox (*), Kieran Prenderville and the rest of the "That's Life!" crew embarrassing Pearson Vue on national television and singing a little song about it. Zig-a-zig ahh!
(*) not actually a porn star despite the name, though he did release some disreputable songs under the name "Ivor Biggun". Corks!
9) As announced in news, there's going to be a permanent account sale throughout Tuesday June 7th as defined by EST (so 5am British time Tuesday June 7th to 5am Wednesday June 8th). Permanent accounts will be sold for $150. Traditionally permanent accounts have previously been charged at $100, or the equivalent of four years' subscription; permanent accounts were, some time ago, revamped to include the optional paid extra of 50 usericons, so the $150 cost now represents 42/7 years of paid account and 42/7 years of extra icons as well - or six years of paid status if you wouldn't pay for fifty icons. (Buy a permanent account and you can probably transfer any remaining paid time elsewhere.)
I've been using this LJ for three years minus one week and it's still going strong; less frequent than before, but the impetus is still there. Now that I'm gainful, $150 is within reach as a treat with considerable belt-tightening. The big question for anyone who might consider themselves within the radius of a permanent account is whether I'll continue to use LJ for years to come - maybe four years, maybe more.
In my case, I think there's a good chance I will; I kept a private paper journal between 1990 and at least 1997, then contributed heavily to a postal games 'zine (technically, wrote a subzine) for a couple of years after that. I'll always have things to say, of dubious merit, and find it hard to imagine that I won't want to speak to many people at the same time. Besides, I like you lot, and in many cases LJ is the primary way I keep in contact with you. In many ways this isn't ideal - I can think of a few close friendships that have become primarily-LJ friendships. Of course friendships strengthen and weaken over the years, but friendships seldom wane altogether. I think the case for using reading filters not being dishonest is well-paralleled by people accepting the variability in friendship strength over the years.
Additionally, I think very highly of LJ as a networking tool. We often hear that, to get ahead in life, we need to cultivate and maintain useful contacts; a LJ friendship is a good (friendly, unobtrusive, low-intensity) way of maintaining that. Some of you are phone-a-friend candidates of incredible knowledge, some of you are very well-placed journalists, most of you are sufficient experts, to the extent that I will ever require expertise, in the field of your choice. I am happy to be a contact for all of you, too, in the fields where I am expert to a various extent. I like doing people favours, particularly if you ask me to do the right one! In this way, it may well be that any one of us eventually ends up with a Friends list of, say, five hundred, yet only really follows the lives of fifty or two hundred, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
The biggest issue, then, standing between me and a permanent account is whether I want to be tied down to LiveJournal permanently. It's not inconceivable that there may be a better blogging service some day and there's considerable migration in my social circle from LJ to somewhere else. If this happens, those of us who might choose to stay with LJ because of our permanent accounts might end up feeling slightly lonely. There'll always be RSS feeds and YADIS for cross-site interactivity, but there might yet be better ways of interaction that LJ does not have - or, at least, does not have for sufficiently long time to be problematic.
I firmly believe in the network effect, that the utility of a network is proportional to the number of links in it, which is proportional to the square of the number of users in it. LJ needs not only a large number of users - any users - it also needs sufficiently many of the right users. You Lot are the right users already, but if other people from my past start blogging then it would be nice if they were to start to do so on LiveJournal to make mutual discovery easy. (It was a thrill to rediscover mewcenary by seeing his headshot usericon pop up on a reply to verlaine; a dozen years ago, we used to play a simple space war game by post, but we had long lost contact.) There are tons of good folks who will start blogging in the future; all of us on LJ want them to pick LJ rather than some other service.
The other aspect of the permanent account is what might be given to permanent accountholders in the future. For instance, permanent accountholders were given the "50 icons" optional extra for free - but, when it became possible to buy extra Scrapbook space, this wasn't given to permanent accounts. Will permanent accountholders continue to get at least a little of every optional extra in the future? I would expect not; the extra icons were an anomaly based on the fact that, at the time, permanent accountholders had 15 icons to paid accountholders' 10. I would be inclined not to expect this to be repeated in the future - after all, current permanent accountholders have no free extra Scrapbook space, and you wouldn't expect new permanent accountholders to get it without old permanent accountholders getting it as well. All the same, I wouldn't be surprised to see some permanent extra Scrapbook space given as a sweetener to make the new $150 price more palatable.
Another question: if you like LiveJournal and want to support it for the long term, is it really in your interest to buy a permanent account and so deprive it of a long-term source of your repeat business? That's a tricky one; I'm not sure, but they've set the level according to their calculations and I don't think they'd be doing the public any favours here. Traditionally permanent account sales have been used as fundraisers to expedite the cashflow in order to make big-ticket purchases; in the Six Apart era, I can't imagine that being the case any more. Perhaps permanent accounts will be on sale from time to time as a matter of policy, though I did like this take on the issue. :-)
The other item of note is that we will be required to formally accept the recent change in the Terms Of Service if we wish to continue to use the site. I can think of one of you for whom this may be problematic; I hope he sticks around here in the end, not least because his posts have inspired many spirited discussions in his journal, but there's always RSS feeds if not. The changes to the Terms of Service have been analysed and found not to be too significant, but that's a call for each of us to make if we consider it sufficiently important.
On a ToS-related note, I observe that the Terms of Service both old and new say that (XVI.16.a) "You agree to NOT use the Service to... Engage in commercial activities within LiveJournal or on behalf of LiveJournal.com without prior approval. This includes... Displaying a banner that is designed to profit you or any other business or organization." No names, no pack drill, but a few people who I like and whom I dearly don't want to see suffer could be argued to be sailing a little close to the wind on this one. I like the cause and personally don't have any problems with the means of promotion but other people might. Capiche?
10) For your argument, the (not my, the) top ten
1. Olives. Black preferred to green.
2. Gherkins. Also known as dill pickles. Haven't tried bread and butter/sandwich pickles yet, but they might possibly be better still.
3. Peppers. Sweet peppers, rather than chilies, though the occasional (relatively restrained) chili can go down well. No Scotch Bonnets or habaneros for me, though.
4. Onions. White onion, red onion, spring (green) onion, it's all good. I have a toothbrush and toothpaste which live in my locker at work now after my boss complained about post-onion breath, though. (See recent Flocked post...)
8. Cauliflower. Raw or cooked. The single best veg I ever had was battered cauliflower. Mmmmm.
9. Tomato. Normally a first choice in most salads, but, I dunno, tends to tire with the amount of airplay it gets. Also it's a fruit, hence the amendment above.
10. Miscellaneous leafy greens: cabbage, lettuce, spinach.... Almost wholly responsible for the unfair reputation salads have as rabbit food, but definitely where we start to get to the borderline of acceptable taste-to-effort ratio.
Not much love for beans or carrots in salads, though both fine when cooked. Only any love at all for corn when the lovely dezzikitty is around. Never any love for beetroot or radishes.