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Linda Smith has died

Linda SmithComedian Linda Smith has died from ovarian cancer, aged 48.

Linda was somebody I, along with many others, liked a lot. She was one of that rare breed of comedian that can always make you smile, regardless of what mood you’re in, or however much you don’t want to. I loved listening to her on The News Quiz, Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Just a Minute, and watching her appearances on the excellent QI, as well has her not infrequent appearances on Question Time, where she always had interesting points to make – as always, deadly serious but delivered in a comic way.

In his tribute, Jeremy Hardy tells how Linda chose not to tell many people about her cancer, not wanting to be seen as ‘that comedian with cancer’, but rather just ‘that great comedian’. And she truly was great.

There are formal obituaries on the BBC website, and also at MediaGuardian.

She will be sadly missed.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment.

Jeeves retires

Jeeves in retirementAfter ten years of loyal service, Jeeves has retired from the search engine Ask Jeeves, as bizarre as the concept might seem. Ask Jeeves has now rebranded as the utterly forgettable Ask.

But then, as bizarre as the idea of the eponymous character being dissociated from his own search engine appears, it’s certainly no more bizarre than the initial decision to associate a seventy-nine year-old Wodehouse character with a site claiming to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. Having said that, the strategy was remarkably successful, with the site gaining far more popularity than the (woeful) quality of its search results ever deserved.

As for the new-look Ask.com: It has a very clean interface, which appears to be largely based on Google’s (as almost every search engine is nowadays – the only innovations appear to be in sites like a9.com). Frankly, it’s so samey as to beg the question: Why bother?

This post was filed under: Technology.

‘Our customers sound like wankers’

Not the latest inspired marketing campaign for Kleenex (sadly), but rather the new one for Norwich Union Direct – at least according to this week’s Guide:

In a regrettable attempt to ingratiate themselves with the nation’s youth, the shadowy dream-weavers at NUD’s marketing department have centred their latest ad on a joke about masturbation. The onanistic wheeze unfurls thus: a large-chinned twentysomething is engaged in an animated telephone conversation with NUD. Cut to a shot of his grandmother, who, by standing outside his closed bedroom door with a cup of tea, is an unwitting party to the climax of said transaction. “YES! YES! I LOVE YOU!” he bellows, as an unheard customer-service operative delivers the explosive news that his car insurance might cost him slightly less than he thought.

Of course, in normal circumstances, any grandmother encountering this apparently masturbatory outburst would be expected to either: a) stagger backwards in horror, clawing wordlessly at the banister before slumping, unconscious, to the carpet; or b) tiptoe downstairs and immediately set about cutting the pervert out of her will. But these are not normal circumstances. These are ad circumstances, which mean they bear no relation to real life and are, instead, wholly stupid and entirely nonsensical. Thus nan responds to the outburst by smiling enigmatically and caressing her ancient breastbone in the manner of a saucy Edwardian chambermaid fingering a colonel’s monocle. “Just like his granddad,” she says to a baffled Craig Cash before wandering off, possibly to the bathroom, whereupon she will spend the next 40 minutes tickling her support hose while thinking about her dead husband’s cravat.

What are we to take from her reaction? That her grandson’s decision to spend afternoons using his genitals as a mortar and pestle is grounds for familial pride? That her husband was as aggressive a masturbator as her grandson? That she gets off on the idea of a close relative roaring himself to orgasm? Who knows? And so another gag goes off in the trousers of advertising incompetence. Still, kudos to NUD for having the chutzpah to imply, however inadvertently, that their customers sound like wankers. Now that’s funny.

It’s definitely an original idea, if nothing else.

This post was filed under: Media.


We’ve all heard of Stelios’s EasyCruise, but this is just ridiculous…

EasyJet in deep water

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Council Tax

Council Tax is rising by a predictable amount – probably as low as it could possibly ever rise by, given that it primarily funds people’s salaries.  But if one more person goes on TV claiming it’s a stealth tax, I think I’ll scream.  It’s by far the most publicised and debated tax we pay.  It’s forever in the media.  It’s about as stealthy as taking your pet elephant round Tesco, having previously taken it to get its hair dyed orange.  It’s not in anyway stealthy.  So to call it a stealth tax is positively ludicrous.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment, Politics.

Death by decisions

Windows VistaA little over a year ago, I scoffed at the idea that Windows Vista would have seven versions. Then I sort of unscoffed about six months ago. Turns out that the initial scoffing was right. There won’t be seven versions; there’s going to be eight.

Just when you thought computing was getting simpler, choosing an operating system is suddenly becoming as confusing as buying a toothbrush. We all now face the unenviable decision of choosing between Windows Starter 2007, Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Basic N, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Business N, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ulimate. Of course, asking for advice anywhere as to which version you actually need will result in being told to buy Ultimate, because that’ll be the most expensive. It’s much the same as the way that thousands of Home users are using XP Pro, despite not needing any of the extra features.

I can’t imagine where Microsoft were coming from with this decision. And I have no idea where I’ll go with mine. It’s a headache waiting to happen.

This post was filed under: Technology.

An amazing couple of weeks

Bloggy AwardThe last couple of weeks have been really, really amazing for the site. The last two weeks have brought more hits to the site than the first three months of last year (more than 150,000 in all), mainly due to the somewhat surprising spread of this post, which certainly wasn’t hindered by the fact that it became one of the top results on Google for the search term “Denmark cartoons”. Quite how that happened, I have really no idea. The post was inevitably controversial – it generated (and is still generating) more comments than any other item ever posted on the site – over 70 in total.

And then today, I find out that I’ve won the above award, with a perfect ’10’ score. That’s just incredible. I have to say that I find the idea of winning award like this mildly embarrassing, because the site was never intended to be a huge thing, it’s just a place where I kind of vent my spleen, and make almost mental notes for myself for the future. I really have no idea who my audience is, because the stuff on the site is so ecclectic, I can’t see anyone liking it all. Yet clearly some people do. Some choice quotes from the Bloggy Award review:

Hilarious, absolutely hilarious, but refreshingly intelligent as well. This blog, run by a British medical student, runs the gamut from political commentary to a E! Hollywood-esque article on the romance of Barbie and Ken. One of the best ways to start the day.

It’s intelligent without being academic, opinionated without being arrogant, well-written without lapsing into the arrogant self-obsession that can often occur when you fall in love with your own wit. A fantastic read.

I love that they used the word ‘gamut’. I really love that. It’s just a lovely word. And I love even more that they feel I haven’t lapsed into arrogant self-obsession. Personally, I would’ve thought that registering a (or several, actually) domain name in your own name, then posting a load of personal thoughts with the presumption that someone will want to read them is a definition of arrogant self-obsession, but clearly that doesn’t come across in my writing. Which, I guess, is a Good ThingTM.

So thanks to the Bloggy Award people for their very kind comments, and their shiny little award. If I had a virtual trophy cabinet, it would have pride of place in it. But I don’t, so the sidebar will have to do.

Now, in an effort to be fair and balanced, let me include the comments of someone who isn’t such a fan of the site:

Sjhoward, bulshit bullshit, bullshit, bullshit

Sometimes, I love the bad comments more than the good. The official tagline of this site has been, for a long time, “The thinking man’s blog (provided you don’t think too much)”. Which is frankly terrible, which explains why it appears nowhere except for on the RSS feed. I’m beginning to think though, that “Sjhoward, bulshit bullshit, bullshit, bullshit”, complete with spelling errors, would be a fantastic alternative.

Whadya fink?

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

The twelve funniest seconds of your day

This has been minding it’s own business down in the ‘Recent Finds’ list on the left of the page for a while now. But I think it’s so funny, I’ve had to give it its own post.

It’s probably very cruel of me to post it, but please try and see the funny side. My last cat post didn’t go down so well either… But then, I’ve had a bit of a crash course in complaints recently, so I think I should be able to cope. And most people will find it hilarious.

So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy the next twelve seconds.

Unfortunately, this video of a very funny cat is no longer available. More’s the pity.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Memo: TB to GB?

When this video was first released, it was largely assumed, not least because of some of the comments in it about the Leader of the Opposition, that it was intended largely for the eyes and ears of David Cameron. But watching it again, I’m not so sure.

Watch it again, and work with me on this…
[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/tbgb.flv” /]

It seems quite clear to me, now, that this is the advice of the retiring (metaphorically) elder statesman, passing on his vast knowledge and experience to his successor. It’s a public memo from TB to GB, with more than just a hint of “Young upstarts, don’t challenge the natural successor, because you can’t cope in this job” about it. Almost every necessary quality he mentions as necessary for the top job is one that GB’s publically acknowledged to have.

Maybe everyone else noticed this weeks ago. But I didn’t. So there you go.

Update: Minor typo corrected and added to new ‘Video’ category.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Video.

Smoking banned in pubs and clubs

Moronic graphic complete with terrible pun to illustrate the concept of smoking, just in case you're slow enough not to know what I'm on about.MPs have voted to ban smoking in all pubs and clubs in England. This is a tough one for me, because I’m very much on the fence on this issue. But, for the record, I don’t smoke, and I don’t like people smoking around me. That just doesn’t necessarily mean I want it banned.

As a healthcare (apparently) professional, I should be jumping up and down at the prospect of people not smoking in pubs and clubs, and raving about how this legislation will save people’s lives, and reduce the rate of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. But I have my reservations. Yes, this will undoubtedly stop some casual smokers from smoking, and possibly thereby stop other people who might start as casual smokers from ever starting. It will also protect staff from the effects of passive smoking. Some lives will inevitably be saved.

But what about the (stereotypical) poor household, where dad would wander down to the pub for a pint and a smoke each evening? Is he not now going to smoke more at home, and do more damage to his poor kid?

And what of the heavy smokers, who are those most at risk of disease? This legislation is unlikely to change their habits. And what of the little villiage pubs? Is the local PC really going to Plod round there and slap a fine on them for failing to ban smoking? Especially if PC Plod himself smoke, or the consolidation of police forces means that he’s out of a job and the nearest police station is fifty miles away? Will the problem not increase in these ‘underground’ pubs, where more people are potentially at risk as the pub serves as the hub of the community, and people are in there more often than the trendy wine bar in the city?

On top of all of that, it’s another government dictat, which are inevitably controversial, and shift the balance of power further away from the people who elected the government in the first place. My argument throughout this saga has been that if pubs are brave (like Wetherspoons briefly was), then they’ll ban smoking. If there’s such a demand for non-smoking venues, then their business will increase, and other pubs will be economically forced to follow suit – including the little villiage pub, who would be introducing the change off their own back, and so be more inclined to make the ban stick. This would be a gradual change, which would change the public’s and smokers’ attitudes to smoking in general, and would probably have more far-reaching effects than simply banning smoking in these areas. Smoking would become increasingly socially unacceptable, which is a powerful force in getting people to give up.

So, whilst the ban is clearly a good thing in that it will save lives, I’m still not convinced that it was the best way to tackle the problem. But it’s a way, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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