Monday, 31 January 2011

Some of my favourite quotes

Here are a few of my favourite quotes I've collected over the years. Like all good quotes, I think they say something that can't easily be said by using more words. I'm sure there will be more when I remember them:
"If I'm selling to you, then I'll speak English. If you're selling to me dann muessen Sie Deutsch sprechen"
Willy Brandt

"If he knew, he's too evil to be Prime Minister, and if he didn't know, he's too stupid to be Prime Minister."
Nye Bevan on Anthony Eden, after Suez

"The Noah Principle: predicting rain doesn't count, building arks does."

"It's hard to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it"
Upton Sinclair

Dry February

Over the past 24 hours I've taken the entirely arbitrary and capricious decision that I'm not going to drink any alcoholic drinks during February 2011. A long time ago someone asked me if I could stop drinking for a month, and my response ever since has been "yes, but I don't want to". Well, so much for that cliché, I'm not particularly sure I do want to, but I've decided to, and I'm now making a public commitment.

(I'll also be spending February getting back into the gym and the swimming pool properly for the first time in 6 months -the two are not entirely unrelated. You might also have observed that I've chosen the shortest month of the year for this particular experiment... coincidence? Well, I think so...)

Unfortunately, I don't think a public commitment is likely to actually stop me from drinking any alcohol at all in 2011 - I just don't mix with people who disapprove strongly enough of drinking alcohol (in fact, it's much more common for me to mix with people who disapprove of *not* drinking alcohol). Social opprobrium just won't do it.

So, I'm going to have my own personal little StickK contract (yes, for those in the know, that is a little bit like a "PIN number"). If I knowingly drink any alcoholic beverage between midnight tonight and midnight on February 28, 2011, I will donate £200 to... the Church of England.

I've been thinking for a while about which not-quite-worthy cause I could choose, and I think the C of E is probably a good compromise. If I say I'll give the money to the London Homeopathic Hospital (which was my first choice) then I'm pretty sure that I just won't do it even if I lose. On the other hand, while I pretty violently disagree with the C of E about just about everything, I'm at least willing to countenance the possibility that the marginal pound in their collection plates is a force for good.

So... why am I posting this? Partly because I want to get it out there. This is the sort of thing that isn't worth doing if you don't do it publicly, and partly (this is basically the same reason) because I want anyone who reads this and sees me in February to help enforce it. Seriously, you see me with a drink in my hand, you tell me there and then to get my chequebook out (I won't have it with me, but actually, I would guess it's possible to donate to the C of E online, so I might well be able to it instantly).

Why am I not taking a StickK contract out? Partly because I haven't quite figured out their business model - how do they make money if the users don't pay them any? Partly because I'm pretty sure one has no control over who the money goes to if you do lose. And partly because I want to see if it's necessary. If you have a blog, and if enough of your friends read it, does that replace the need for StickK?

Monday, 17 January 2011

Things they should teach in school part 2: Touch-typing

I mean, really, this is a gimme isn't it? You spend 6 hours a day for at least 10 years going to a building where they are supposed to be teaching you basic life skills, and they don't even teach you how to use the single piece of equipment that you're going to spend more of your time using than any other (disclaimer, I just made that statistic up, but I can't even think of another candidate, so I'm going to go ahead and assert it as fact).

It took me about 10 hours to learn to touch type, very possibly less, and it must save me several hours a week in time spent not looking at the keyboard and, more importantly, not having to correct mistakes that I didn't notice because I was looking at the keyboard instead of the screen.

I propose that teaching kids to touch type would be more useful than literally everything that they learn in school after the age of eleven. Anyone got any counter examples?

Friday, 7 January 2011

Young Person's Railcard Oyster Discount just got better!

My previous post on this question lamented the fact that lots of people don't seem to know that they can get discounts on travel on the London Underground network by loading their Young Persons Railcard onto their Oyster Card. Just take both railcard and Oyster card into any Tube station, and they'll do it for you. Well, now I'm lamenting it double, because things just got even better.

With absolutely no fanfare, TFL have extended the YPR discount to off-peak single fares, as well as the previous discount on the off-peak daily cap. See here for details. So now an off-peak zones 1-2 single will only cost you £1.25.

For those of you who are wondering, the off-peak daily cap applies as long as your first journey in the day came after 09.30. That is, you don't have to make all journeys in off-peak times in order for the off-peak cap to apply. For single fares, peak is 6.30-9.30 and 16.00-19.00. (For anyone who wants to stay out late, the "day" finishes at 04.30 the following morning).

For some reason, this seems to have been completely buried by TFL, I even had to edit the wikipedia page myself just now to contain the relevant information! My post, which comes from a relatively tiny blog is still in the top 10 hits on Google for "Young persons railcard oyster", for some reason. This information could be saving quite a lot of people quite a lot of money if they knew about it. Please tell your friends!