Thursday, 27 May 2010

So, Facebook's Turn

After my rant about Google last week, I think it's only fair to have a go at Facebook. The founder of FB, Mark Zuckerberg, has been in the news this week after being forced by public outcry to roll back the privacy settings for FB users. Apparently a new, simpler to use system is being released to users over the next few weeks (why not all at once? I have no idea).

Anyway, I thought I'd check my account to see whether I have the new system yet. I don't think I do. What I've got is a series of pages to wade through. For each thing there's a dropdown list of options of who you want to see your stuff (usually 'Everybody', 'Friends Of Friends', 'Friends Only', and 'Customise'). Customise is usually the one you want, and that contains the 'Only Me' option. The whole process of going through every page and changing what I wanted to took about half an hour. Not exactly user-friendly. There were a few nasty surprises in there where FB had opted me into new features ("Instant Personalisation Pilot Program") without asking or telling me. There's more info here, and I especially like the comment from Sean.

I think the basic idea of FB is a good one. Many more people use it than have blogs, and it is a way of keeping in touch with people without necessarily interacting with them. But you may keep the games, the gifts, the fortune cookies and other malarkey. What does worry me is that FB now has data on 500 million people. I'm pretty careful about what personal info I put online, but others are much less so. And it seems that once you've given FB your phone number, address, blood type, whatever, even if you subsequently choose to hide it, that data is not deleted. And apparently it's almost impossible to get FB to delete your record even if you choose to leave.

This mountain of data is in the hands of some kids in California, who apparently have no understanding of privacy. If that doesn't send a chill down your spine, then it should.

Mind you, Google has a stack more of my stuff, including several thousand emails that they are happy to analyze to find out what kind of stuff they might be able to sell me, and that scares me too.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Do No Evil

I used to admire Google as an innovative opponent to the lovely Microsoft. I especially liked their motto: Do No Evil. Sadly, they seem to have forgotten about that motto. Either that or they can't tell right from wrong. I suspect the latter is the reason for some of the things they have done / are doing / will continue to do until somebody stops them. They've been accused of being 'autistic' when it comes to communicating with the public, and I think there's some truth in that: they really don't seem to dig certain ideas. Like, the reality that intellectual property always bilong someone - you just cannot scan every book you can find, stick it up on the Interwebz and then say that anyone who thinks they own the rights to any of this stuff should get in touch with them (by the way, have you ever tried to contact a real person at Google?).

So this little story caught my interest. Google's Street View cars 'accidentally' capturing data from unsecured wifi networks they happened to drive by. Hello? The cars have a camera tree on the roof. For what reason would they also have doohickeys to steal data? Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, an old dude they brought in to communicate with the real world on their behalf (because that's where he lives, whereas the founders live on Planet Chocolate), immediately said it was a mistake, or not company policy, or some other bollocks of that ilk. I hope they're paying him a ton of money to be the acceptable humanoid face of this increasingly dodgy outfit.

Now, let's see how long it takes The Googleplex to shut down this blog, which they very kindly host for free on the basis that they can steal anything I write on here.

Oh, and I hate Facebook too. Even more, actually.

Friday, 14 May 2010


Having moved to Spain from the Miggle East, I do find the availability and prices of herbs and spices to be a bit of a problem. For sure, there's a short list of stuff you can get in any supermarket for almost nothing, and there are herbalarios that sell the same things and a few others at a somewhat higher price. And anything else you want, you get it when you're in England or order it from some dodgy dudes on the Interwebz. In Dubai, you could go to the Spice Soukh, or even a supermarket, and they would have sacks full of everything and they'd sell you a bit of it for virtually nothing.

But hey, The Secret Pie Company got its First Order today (even though it wasn't planning to), and has almost run out of sage (even though this grows like wildfire all over the hills and mountains, it's almost impossible to find in a shop: and the hills and mountains are too bloody far away for me go and pick my own) and allspice (pimiento de Jamaica) which I've never, ever, seen in a shop in Spain.

The First Order (which will be framed, by the way, and treasured in the boardroom of The Secret Pie Company in decades to come) requires these substances, and I quietly mentioned this factoid to my companion, who told me about a new spice shop that had opened recently a few streets away from where we were.

I went to the shop ('Spicy Yuli' on Calle de Valverde, near 'The Quiet Man' boozah). It's a bit cool, as required by its location, and sells exotic teas and pretty much any spice you can think of. Allspice was no problem at all - they have it whole or powdered. And oh, always a plus for me, the proprietor speaks English. It's not exactly cheap, but they do give you a free sample of the tea of your choice.

Lovely packaging, by the way. And the Secret Pie Company also has to make some sample pies and things next week because it's being interviewed by a local English-language paper. And there's a plan to get more sales by the end of the week. Ooh, err. All a bit exciting, innit.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Spanish Health Service

I posted a couple of weeks ago about a visit or two to my doctor. This eventually resulted in a referral to a specialist medical centre up the road. The appointment was for this morning, and I put the previous horrible experience out of my mind. My positive approach worked: a young lady came out of the consulting room and told us who was who in the queue. I was actually seen at the appointed time, and the consultant spoke English! Brilliant. He didn't actually do anything much, though, just gave me some forms. One for a hospital appointment, and another for a follow-up with him where he would tell me the results.

Things took a turn for the worse after that. The appointments room was packed solid with people, and it took me five minutes to work out there was a ticket system in operation, and another five minutes to actually locate the ticket dispenser (it wasn't actually in the room, it was about ten metres away down the corridor outside). I was horrified to see I was number 818. The display was currently showing 702. I stood waiting for a few minutes to see how fast people were being dealt with. The answer was 'not very', so I went for a long walk. When I got back, the queue had advanced by about thirty. I went and did some shopping - the queues in the supermarket are normally fairly long and slow, but today I just whizzed through the checkout.

Back at the medical centre, there were still fifty-odd people ahead of me, so I went walking again. The display had just reached 800 when I got back, and the crowd was thinning out so I managed to get a seat. But I still had my positive little attitude on me. It would soon be my turn and then I would find out how Spanish hospital waiting lists would compare to British ones. I felt sure they'd be much shorter. Finally, after only one and a half hours of waiting, it was my turn.

The lady at the counter looked at my appointment request, looked at the computer, looked a bit puzzled, and picked up the phone. It seems the department in question is fully booked until the end of July.

'And after that?'


But surely they still operate the service? Buggered if I know. Try again in a couple of weeks, I think she said. And she very helpfully gave me the number for the free appointments phone line, which, of course, I am never going to use. Annoyed doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling right now.

UPDATE: to be fair, I've just looked at the stack of papers they gave me, and the hospital appointment sheet has 3 boxes the doc can tick to indicate priority. It goes from urgent, in which case you should be seen within fourteen day, medium, a month, and non-urgent, three months. Guess which one is ticked on my form?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A Luvverly Day

Like most of the slobs on this planet, I am quite capable of staying in bed until noon or beyond on a Sunday. But this morning was different. I was awake at five a.m., and began thinking about my new project. In my head, I was designing the workflow for the production facility, and even had an idea for how the façade should look. Then I moved on to directing the CGI animated TV commercial. Sleep was avoiding me, so I gave in and got up at seven. MamaDuck showed no signs of stirring, so rather than disturb her I got dressed and went out in search of a coffee.

On a triple holiday (Sunday / Dos de Mayo / Mother's Day), most cafés were resolutely closed (okay, it was also a tad early for most of them), and I was about 2km from home by the time I found an open one. I had a chat with a couple of young Spanish guys who were rounding off their night out with a couple more beers (I kid you not), and when I left the café, the sun was giving a bit of warmth to the day and I didn't feel like going home.

I had an idea. I would do something MamaDuck has repeatedly tried to get me to do previously, i.e. go to the Rastro. The Rastro is a huge flea market that takes place in the La Latino / Embajadores areas in the south of the city. It's more or less over by one or two in the afternoon, and I don't really like it because of the crowds. But I thought if I got there early enough it wouldn't be too bad.

Unfortunately, I'd left my sense of direction at home, and I soon found myself in Argüelles and then Moncloa, which are in the west end of Madrid. So I started heading east, and ended up in good old Chueca. I headed west again, along Gran Vía / Princesa before realising that what I should really try to do was head south a bit. And so it was that when my phone rang at about nine, I was outside the Palacio Real. I told MamaDuck I was on my way to the Rastro, and invited her to meet me there.

'Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?' she demanded. Anyway, she said she would come. And I realised that the top end of the Rastro (it's actually on a very long, straight, steep street) was somewhere near Plaza Mayor, so I headed up there. I stopped at a café for a thirst-quenching caña (small beer), and tootled down the hill to Calle de Toledo, which, if you proceed in the right direction, takes you to the Rastro. I realised the crowds were going the opposite way to me, so I turned round and followed them, and pretty soon was at the bar outside La Latina Metro station where we'd agreed to meet. She wasn't there, so I sneaked another quick caña and went outside to find a bench to sit on - that particular bar is all counter and no seats, and my little legs were a bit weary from all the walking. I soon spotted the boss and we went to another caff where we could sit outside and have a bit of breakfast.

We mooched through the Rastro - it was fairly busy, but not unpleasantly so, and about halfway down the hill I spotted an inviting-looking archway. We went through it and found ourselves in a marvellous Italianate courtyard with antique shops at ground level and lining the gallery above (I can't remember the name - it was Galerias de something) - I'll go back there one day with my camera.

The Rastro, with its infinite array of tat of all descriptions, didn't have anything we wanted to buy, so we carried on to the bottom of the hill, fought our way through the crowds on the Ronda de Toledo, and then escaped up into Lavapiés where a couple of cool drinks were waiting for us on a pavement table. The Spanish Air Force kindly put on a couple of fly-bys for us, and finally we made our way to Retiro Park to look at trees and ducks and swans, and consume a bit more beer and a sandwich.

The sky was turning cloudy at this point, and it was half past three, so we went and found a bus and came home. Perfect day, really. And I reckon I'll sleep okay tonight.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

This Election Thing

Next Thursday is the General Election in the UK, and for the first time in decades, I don't think anyone can reliably predict the result. If I was voting in it, I would normally vote for Labour, or tactically, LibDemSDP or whatever they were called on the day (which I did a few times when I lived in Weybridge in Surrey, where a vote for Labour was a wasted one). Basically, anything to keep the Tories out.

I hate what NuLabor did to their ideology, almost as much as I hated most of what La Thatcher did to British society (abolished it, basically, which I blame for the current dysfunction that Britain is suffering from). I hate the fact that Blair and Brown had this deal whereby Brown got to be Prime Minister without anyone voting for him. And I hate the fact that Labour didn't have the balls to get rid of Brown when they had the chance a year ago, after he'd proved he had the leadership qualities of an overcooked cabbage.  Now he's a total liability. Everybody knows it, but it's too bloody late now. Labour can not win this election.

Tory leader David Cameron is a tw*t. End of.

And Clegg looks like he's no worse than the others. A credible alternative, actually. But nobody seems to think the LibDems can win outright (don't they have enough candidates?), so they'll probably end up in a mess of a coalition Government. And, as Bank of England boss Mervyn King has said, whoever wins this election will have to do some deeply unpopular stuff that will keep them out of Government for a generation. I don't think that's entirely true - the electorate aren't that dumb, are they? They know the Brit economy is in the shite (thank you Gordon, so kind of you to give away all the gold and throw every penny we had at the thieving bankers), but once the new Gov is in place, there will be severe belt-tightening. So, on that basis, I might not mind too much if the Tories win this time. In any case, whoever gets to form the next Government, I don't think it will last more than two or three years.

Biting political analysis by Keefieboy. Bwuhahaha.

UPDATE: Just came across this - the Grauniad supporting LibDems.