“Same again, please”. A poem I wrote. Yes, really

This is a poem I wrote in 1997, when I was twenty two. Yes, a poem. Do not adjust your set. I found it in a Word document on my hard disk on Friday with no comments or anything in it. I have, quite honestly, no recollection of writing it. I don’t even like poetry. I had to Google the first couple of lines of it to make sure that it wasn’t a poem of someone else’s that I had written down, or a song, or something.

I don’t think it’s intended to be funny so it’s not exactly in line with other things I post here. Also, please be nice. This is something I wrote a long time ago, when I was young and stuff. These days I’m a possible contender for Most Thick-Skinned Person ever but, back then, I wasn’t so much, and I feel that I’ll end up reading your unpleasant comments in some sort of strange flashback mode. I was very much in two minds about posting this – I reread it yesterday and I didn’t think it looked terrible, but then I don’t know anything about poetry. Heaven knows why I wrote some. Oh well, here goes. Cry Havoc.

Same again, please

As democracy thunders through acres of tape
In some topical communist state
The headlines smile on at the Forces of Good
As they line up the Forces of Hate

The public euphoria seen on the streets
Shows a people released from their past
They knock down their walls and burn their bridges –
They’re free from oppression at last

But the days grow shorter and the queues grow longer
And taxes are starting to climb
The rose-tinted spectacles get slightly stronger
But the government needs some more time

So the tension flares up and the populous march
And the activists refill the square
Slitting the throats of the same old scapegoats
And firing their guns in the air

Out comes the tear gas, the crowd is dispersed
The Army is back on patrol
We’re into another state of emergency
But everything’s under control

 Last year’s leader gets out of his chair
And taps his cigar on the floor
He slowly and steadily straightens his hat
Turns round, and opens the door

A new type of joke: the Burnsie. You heard it here first

There’s a fairly crap joke in Scotland that goes like this:

Q: How do you become a famous poet?
A: Sit in front of the fire until your Robbie Burns.

Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. “Robbie” is not an alternate name for any part of the body, although in this context it quite clearly is intended to mean “penis”.  Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty crap joke. Heavens, my dad finds it funny.

I was thinking about this joke for some reason recently, and it occured to me that this joke itself could be just the tip of an iceberg of jokes. In the honour of Scotland’s favourite bard, let me introduce you to the Burnsies. A Burnsie is a joke of the format “how do you <become a famous role>?” where the answer is “<perform some action> until your <heretofore unknown private part euphemism> <verb related to action, which has the slightest of suggestive connotations>”.

I know what you’re thinking. Perhaps this would be better illustrated by example. Or maybe you’re thinking this is shaping up to be a complete waste of your time, but you just can’t let go of the three minutes you’ve already spent. Here come the examples.

Q: How do you become a famous musician?
A: Sit in the bath until your Bill Withers.

That one, my friends, I invented. When your children try and tell you it in fifteen years, you can turn around proudly and say “I know the guy who invented that! Well, I sort of know him. He’s this guy on the internet. The internet? You remember, it’s that thing we all did when all the computers were connected by wires. Of course, back then we didn’t know the dangers.”

You’re ready for another one, I can tell.

Q: How do you have an affair with a famous politician?
A: Sit in a plant pot until your Jennifer Flowers.

I had to modify the rules very slightly for that one, but I think it can still qualify as a Burnsie.

Well, that’s my contribution to modern society. If you think of any, feel free to post them as comments. Oh yes, I know, you have this look of scornful disdain on your face, as if you were so far above this. But really, you’re angry because you haven’t thought of one yet.

A pledge to the world: I will get a photo on Flickr’s Explore by the end of the year

Mount Rainier

As some of you  know, I’ve recently started taking photos more enthusiastically. I’ve always been half-heartedly interested in this stuff, but eventually I bit the bullet and bought a Nikon D40 for $260 and a couple of lenses for another $400. Those of you who have already looked at my photos will be aware that they’re not, by and large, very good. Hey. I’d probably have spent the money on beer otherwise.

Honda S2000 at Pacific Raceways

One of the more fun things about getting involved in photos has been getting involved in Flickr. Whenever I look at my photos on Flickr I can see how many views they have had, who added them as favourites, et cetera. As always with new hobbies (or dental mouth guards), I discovered that everyone I knew was already doing this Flickr thing.

And what was the great achievement that a Flickr photographer should aspire to? Ahah! That will be getting on “Explore“. Explore is a collection of the most interesting photos on Flickr – they take a thousand per day, I believe. The picking algorithm is kept a closely-guarded secret by Flickr staff. Of all my photography-enthusiast chums, I believe only two of them (Dougerino and AlexBrn) have gotten a photo onto Explore. There’s no way, therefore, that I am going to get into Explore by using my raw photography talent.

I decided, instead, to work out what the algorithm was. That seems like something I’d be better at. Well, after nothing more scientific than a couple of hours of buggering about refreshing the Explore page, I can officially announce here that I’ve got it sorted out. I am going to go out and deliberately take a picture that will get on Explore. I even have a pencil drawing of a couple of possible variants, and a prop set aside.

Why haven’t I done it yet? Well, obviously I wanted to make the prediction first, dimmy, as it otherwise wouldn’t make any sense.

Also I am not going to take it until the end of October, when I will have two more required props at hand. I will post this photo on Flickr sometime around the 5th of November, after which it will get into Explore. If it’s not in by the end of the year, I will be willing to call this prediction a failure.

More to come, of course, but the gauntlet is laid down. It’s on, Flickr. It’s on.

Also Wrong: Gents’ restrooms with a urinal and a toilet in the same room, separated by a velvet curtain

Many of you will remember with fondness my recent post concerning restrooms which contained a urinal and a toilet in the same room with a single lockable door. Several of you were good enough to share with me your own ideas about correct etiquette for such a restroom, and I think it’s fair to say that the majority believed that one should lock the door when using the facility.

Naturally I decided that that should indeed be my own personal policy going forward. The world had spoken.

Imagine my confusion, therefore, when I walked into the restroom in Martin’s Off Madison on Sunday evening and encountered this feast of abomination.

Restroom of the angst-ridden
Restroom of the angst-ridden

If what we agreed about locking the door is true, why would there be a curtain? Is it in case the person on the toilet is offended by the very sight of a nearby urinal? No, my friends, it is because dual occupancy is the very ethos of this restroom.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to do. There was another chap heading towards the restroom at the same time as I went, and now he was standing outside the door. I’d already locked the door before I noticed this. I broke out in a cold sweat. I could just imagine him standing outside the door cursing. Was I such a little princess that I needed the whole restroom to myself? I turned around. He’d hear it if I unlocked the door now. And what if – well, I mean, what if he thought that – because, well, it’s possible that Martin’s Off Madison is a gay bar. It has a lot of men in tight T-shirts and an old lady playing the piano. Not that gay bars are bad, of course. Although I am not gay. But if I were gay, that wouldn’t be bad. At least, it wouldn’t if I wasn’t already married. To a woman, obviously. Sorry, I mean not obviously. Gay people can get married too. Some of my friends are gay. Well, one of them. Maybe one other one.

Anyway, look, whether you are gay or not, any sort of “I’m ready” signal in the restroom of a gay bar is bad if you’re not willing to go through with it, which wasn’t something I was mentally prepared for. Gay people don’t like being dicked around any more than anyone else. I mean messed. Messed around.

I looked at the toilet, and back at the urinal. Maybe he would be less upset if he thought I’d been having a number two. I waited for a couple of minutes, then flushed the toilet. I noticed that the seat was up, so I put it down. I tried for a few seconds to break wind, without success. I sighed, washed my hands, took a deep breath and opened the door.

The man was still there. He looked me right in the eye and gave me an ambiguous smile. I held the door open and he went in. He did not lock the door.

I realised at that point that I had forgotten to pee. The bar wasn’t busy, and the restroom was in full view of the main seating area – how could I now get back into the restroom without that being a sign?

I turned around and walked back to the table where my wife sat.

“We need to go home now,” I said, simply, “I’ve been let down by the internet”.

Bad guys with guns

When I first moved to the US, I spent quite some time getting the necessary paperwork together in order to get a firearms license. The rules vary state-by-state, but in Washington it’s actually quite difficult for a non-US citizen to own a gun. I had to get together a bunch of paperwork, including my original birth certificate and a letter from the British police stating that I had no criminal record. But I found it all, and I sent it all off and got my license. Here is a picture of it.

Yes that is my real middle name. My plan was to buy a gun, but not keep any ammunition at home. The gun was only going to be a toy to casually throw in the lap of visiting Europeans, who had never seen one before. I might also take them to the firing range to play with it.

My wife vetoed this entire plan. The gun was a complete waste of money unless I was intending shooting somebody with it. If I found somebody I needed to shoot, I was to get back to her with the details and she could determine whether I could buy a gun or not.

At the time I made a pouty face, and went and test drove a Hummer instead for my taste of the American Dream. But I suppose my wife is right. Even in a country with bizarre laws about guns, there doesn’t seem a point in buying one unless you have a person to shoot.

The National Rifle Association is an American lobbying group which supports gun ownership. After the most recent school shooting, the CEO of the NRA, one Wayne LaPierre, gave a press conference in which he suggested a few things. During it, he said “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Bad guys the world over can find ways of getting guns – I don’t think anyone would really disagree with that. But, in the UK at least, getting a gun is actually pretty difficult. You need to know the right smuggling contacts, you need to have a lot of money and you need to be pretty damn sure you’re going to need it, because if you get caught with a gun you’ll be put in prison until your hair is grey.

To allow people to compare the systems, I have drawn up a handy table to indicate whom is armed in the US, compared with the UK.

Guy Armed in US? Armed in UK?
Mafia hit-man Yes Yes
Drug lord Yes Yes
Police SWAT response team Yes Yes
Bank robber Yes Probably
Gang member Yes Knife
Street policeman Yes Truncheon
House burglar Yes No
Guy you just pulled out in front of Yes No
Your ex-girlfriend’s dad Yes No
Guy you just fired Yes No
Fourteen-year-old child left babysitting Yes No
Guy who just ninja’d first place in the ATM line Yes No
Certified lunatic Probably No

The bad guys who have guns in the UK need them for their work. They have specific people whom they may wish to put holes in, and the possible income they can gain from shooting those people outweighs the huge penalties for firearms possession. I think those people are unlikely to shoot me. The rest are also unlikely to shoot me, but they’re certainly the ones I’m most worried about. Are they the bad guys? Am I the only good guy?

Best junk mail I’ve seen for a while

Really enjoyed this one. It’s advertising an online casino, but the way they’re doing it is splendid. They’re sending you a variant of the oldest roulette system in the book, the “keep betting on black” method. It works great until you hit the maximum bet or run out of money, at which point you lose your shirt. Anyway, just to make sure you don’t accidentally win any money doing that, they increased the required bets from the powers of two to some bizarre sequence they’ve made up after a couple of beers.

The marketing concept is great – not only will you end up in the online casino, they’ve also given you a great system for spending your money there.

Without more ado, let me introduce “scott”.

From: scott <garywtw@my-syte.com>
Sent: 25 November 2009 08:46
To: me
Subject: Re: ok sending it
yo mate, ok I`ll give you my trick but if you give it someone else I`ll fuckin kill you : ) you know in roulette you can bet on blacks or reds. If you bet $1 on black and it goes black you win $1 but if it goes red you loose your $1.
So I found a way you can win everytime:

bet $1 on black if it goes black you win $1

now again bet $1 on black, if it goes red bet $3 on black, if it goes red again bet $8 on black, if red again bet $20 on black, red again bet $52 on black (always multiple you previous lost bet around 2.5), if now is black you win $52 so you have $104 and you bet:

$1 + $3 + $8 + $20 + $52 = $84 So you just won $20 : )

now when you won you start with $1 on blacks again etc etc. its always bound to go black eventually
(it`s 50/50) so that way you eventually always win. But there`s a catch. If you start winning too much (like $1000 a day) casino will finally notice something and can ban you. I was banned once on royal casino. So don`t be too greedy and don`t win more then $200 a day and you can do it for years. I think bigger casinos know that trick so I play for real money on smaller ones, right now I play on elite vip casino: www.elite24tables.net for more then 3 months, I win $50-$200 a day and my account still works. You`ll find roulette there when you log in go to “specialty” section – “american roulette”. And don`t you dare talling about it anyone else, if too many people knows about it casinos will finally found a way to block that trick. If you have any questions just drop me a line here or on skype.

c ya
—– Original Message —–
From: “rhs100932044” <clr@chrisrae.com>
To: <garywtw@my-syte.com>
Sent: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 1:14 PM
Subject: Please send me the system

> Hi scott.
> Please tell me when you will send me your roulette trick?
> You promised you`ll send it few weeks ago : (
> Thanks in advance.

Bloggers block

Some months ago, I told my new media whore friends that I was thinking about starting a blog. Oh, they said, you have to pick a topic and stick to it. You can’t just make it your random ramblings.

So I did that. I decided that I was going to blog only about things that were particularly good or bad about America. This tied in nicely with the content on my dictionary site, which I was sort of intending to promote. I carefully made notes about things that I liked, and things that I didn’t like. Then I made blog posts about them.

After a while, I discovered a problem. I neither enjoy nor excel at being positive about things. This happens at work, as well – I keep telling customers that are products are okay, which is not apparently the messaging that marketing had in mind. This personality trait means that it’s very hard to write a blog that’s supposed to be 50% positive – the blog sort of morphed into “things that are bad about America” and “things that are bad about other places”. Also, I ran out of topics. Friends of mine very kindly suggested new ones, but it’s hard to rant about something that wasn’t your idea.

So I’m going to do what everyone told me not to do, and just put my random ramblings in here. Most of them will be a bit negative.

Book chapter: What not to say or do when visiting the U.K.

As I promised, here’s a near-final draft of a chapter I’ll be putting into the second edition of the book – I’d be very interested in feedback. I have no idea when the second edition of the book is coming out – my current thoughts are that it’ll be sometime around Christmas 2010, so there’s no enormous rush for the feedback. This was written in response to a request from a reader who wanted a new chapter entitled “What not to say or do when visiting the U.K.”.

About Americans

Let’s not beat around the bush here — Americans have a reasonably poor reputation in the rest of the world. They’re broadly regarded as brash, loud, self-obsessed, ethnocentric and uncultured. Why is this? Well, the rest of the world is exposed to Americans in three ways: 

  • Television and films
  • Foreign policy
  • Tourists

 Because of television, the rest of the world is under the impression that all Americans are fantastically wealthy, and are engaged in a polygamous relationship with a homosexual dwarf whom, they will discover that evening on The Jerry Springer Show, is actually their half brother. Because of films, the world thinks each American has an unusual super-power that he’s been unwilling to use because of an accident that happened in his childhood. Eventually, when the entire world is threatened, he will use this power and save humanity. Afterwards, he will fall in love and unexpectedly die.

Because of foreign policy, the world believes that Americans hate anyone with a political system different to their own, and intend to turn the rest of the world democratic or kill them all trying. For the average American, this is a particularly unfortunate state of affairs as he or she stands very little chance of influencing things. So it goes.

Tourism, however, is another kettle of fish. It’s through tourism that Americans can show the rest of the world that they’re not megalomaniac inbreds and are actually perfectly nice people. The way that Americans can do this is, by and large, by turning a blind eye to certain godforsaken acts of complete lunacy being perpetrated by the local population. Whilst I’ll try to keep this Britain-centric, the truth is that a lot of this advice applies to Europe as a whole and some of it to the rest of the world.

One thing Europeans always like guffawing snootily about is the fact that most Americans do not own a passport. What they don’t realise is that America is so gobsmackingly large that Americans can have seen a vast proportion of the geographic spectrum without leaving the boundaries of their own country. Most Brits only possess a passport so that they can go to Mediterranean islands, get drunk, try to have sex with other Brits, then spend most of the next day looking for bacon and eggs and a pub that serves Carlsberg. Try asking Brits how many of them have been outside Europe, and you’ll get the same sort of proportions as the number of Americans with passports. Still, though, there’s a general feeling in Europe that Americans aren’t familiar with cultures outside their own, so here are some handy cheat notes to help debunk that myth.


 Of course, it’s true that most Americans are comparatively poorly-travelled with regard to exposure to other languages, and different accents. When conversing with people in the U.K., bear in mind that these people are having as much trouble understanding your weird accent as you are having with theirs.

When compared to Americans, Brits don’t do a lot of talking, and they tend to do it rather quietly. The most British of Brits simply sit in the corner grunting every so often. It’s also a general rule in the U.K. that one only really talks to one’s friends. Given this, it seems difficult to understand how a person goes about getting friends if they’re not allowed to talk to anyone, but rules are rules. Americans will normally chit-chat to one another when they are in some sort of shared limbo (in the queue at the supermarket; waiting for a store to open; et cetera). In the larger towns and cities, Brits do not do this. They will stand in stoic silence. Let’s say an alien spacecraft were to touch down in the car park at a local home improvement shop. A slimy green alien walks out towards the door of the shop, notices the “closed” sign, utters a strange disembodied sigh, throws a £10 voucher on the ground, and walks back to his spacecraft. The Brits who were standing waiting for the store to open would probably be mute. Perhaps if the alien was unusually tall, someone would mutter “he’s a big ’un” or something.

Service Expectations

Europeans tend to believe that Americans are demanding little princesses, always wanting this that or the other some strange way and never being happy to just fit in with what everyone else is doing. This is, of course, because Europeans love to get really, really bad service. This pervades society at a very fundamental level. Sometimes it means standing in a restaurant’s entrance for forty minutes before being told there’s an hour-long wait for a table. Sometimes it means not being let onto the plane because the instructions said clearly to print out the confirmation number, and all you did was write it down. Sometimes it means that no, there is no possible way that this particular dish can be served without the lettuce. Call bullshit on this great tradition and you will end up being the problem, because none of these Brits would know what good service looked like if it came up and bit them on the bum. When the waitress absent-mindedly pours soup in your lap and then claims that it was because you were in her way, just nod and smile. Professional malpractice is just one of those things that happens in restaurants! Get on with your day. Standing up and appealing to the sensibilities of the other restaurant-goers is not going to work. The minute you get up and say “Oh, man, it’s all down my front!” the assembled masses are not going to think “Boy, what a clumsy waitress.” They are going to think “Here we go; another American whining about something.” Changing this system will take many hundreds of years of societal evolution. It is not something that you should even vaguely attempt while on vacation.


In addition to their expectation of appalling service, Brits simply adore waiting for things. There is nothing more exciting to a British person than walking into the supermarket the day before Christmas and discovering that only one checkout is operational and the person serving there has learning difficulties. When faced with a selection of different queues for the cash machine, Brits will inevitably join the longest one. Do not mess with this system either. If there’s a twenty minute wait at the pharmacist’s counter when there also appear to be three would-be pharmacists sitting back there making chains of paper clips, do not dare suggest that they open another counter. Just thank the Lord that there’s someone there at all. If there’s nobody there do not, whatever you do, drum your fingers on the counter. You’ll be that little American princess again. I know, it’s hard. Count to ten.


Many Americans have some British heritage. It’s tempting to try to engage Brits on this topic because, hey, you have something in common. They’ll want to chit-chat about their own heritage and perhaps you’ll find some sort of commonality. Right? Wrong. Brits just take for granted that they come from hundreds of generations of other Brits and they don’t give a flying fuck about their heritage. Most of them couldn’t tell you where their great grand-parents came from. The fact that your family are the McDonalds from Airdrie is going to be about as interesting to the average Brit as the fact that your ex-husband worked in Wal-Mart. In fact, the latter is probably much more interesting. Their eyes will light up as they ask “Hey, is it true they sell guns in Wal-Mart?”


If you wish to be a stealth-tourist, there are two items of clothing which you must not, under any circumstances, wear.

The first of these is traditional clothing from the place you’re visiting. A quick look around Glasgow will reveal few, if any, people in kilts. These items of clothing are to be taken home and worn on special occasions, not to be worn while browsing the fungal itch creams in Boots.

The second item of clothing you must never wear is white socks. I know. Everyone in America wears white socks. In the United Kingdom, only pikeys wear white socks. Take a look around a high street in the U.K. Observe the correlation between colour of socks and fear that the person may kill you.

Comparisons with American Things

Finally, Britain has a large number of tourist attractions. Like all tourist attractions everywhere, they all pride themselves in being the best/oldest/deepest/tallest of something. Because America is a very large country full of ambitious people, the superlatives claimed by British tourist attractions are, by and large, ball-bouncingly shit when compared with their American equivalents. The Brits secretly know this, but are very hurt if you mention it. Your vacation will generally fly by easier if you keep phrases such as “I think there’s one bigger than that in my yard” or “This is IT?” to yourself.

Armed with these handy tips, you should be able to avoid being labelled as the bad variant of American tourist. And, if you get fingered all the same, you can always pretend you’re Canadian.

How to monitor lots of Craigslist sites at once

If you’ve spent much time trying to search multiple Craigslist sites at once, you’ll know that you can’t do it on Craigslist itself and, for some reason, Craigslist habitually shut down other sites that are set up with that intent. One thing you can do that’s perfectly fine with Craigslist is set up RSS feeds to track your favourite searches – however, it’s rather laborious doing this for every single Craigslist site you want to track. Well, I found a (slightly) quicker way of doing it. Perhaps some time I’ll write a web site to do this, but for the moment it’s manual.

To do this you will need:

  • A text editor
  • Some patience
  • An RSS reader which can import OPML files. I’m going to use Feedly here, although I’d recommend using a mobile app that isn’t Feedly’s own horrible one – I use gReader

First you need to get a list of the prefixes of the Craigslist sites you want to search (e.g. seattle.craigslist.org). This is the most laborious part. They’re listed state-by-state. For each of the states you’re after, go to the equivalent of http://geo.craigslist.org/iso/us/wa (change the state prefix at the end). The easiest way to get the prefixes out is to view the page source in your web browser, then copy and paste the list into a text editor and do some search-and-replace and some manual editing. Hopefully you can end up with a list something like this:


You’re probably also a bit bored. Fortunately, the next parts are less repetitive. Now you need to go to one Craigslist local site and search for whatever it is you’re actually after. Copy and paste the URL into a text editor. It should look something like:


You need to turn this into an RSS URL – ou can do this by adding “&format=rss” to the end of it. So you’ll end up with:


You now need to make a search-specific URL for every single one of the specific sites. I just did this by doing a search and replace on my site list and replacing “.org” with “.org/search/allmysearchstuff“.

If you’re carefully following my instructions, you should now be in posession of a list that looks like this:


Excellent. if you only have a few of these you can add them to Feedly one-by-one, but if you have a lot then it’s much easier to do it via an OPML feed import file. Go to the feedshow OPML generator and just paste in the list of RSS links you have above. Click “Create OPML”. Hopefully your web browser will show you an XML file. Save this somewhere.

Now, off to Feedly. Under “My Feedly”, click “Organize”. You should see an “Import OPML” button – click on it, and import the OPML file you created above. Some time shall pass and then… tada! You now have RSS feeds to all the Craigslist sites you were monitoring. Depending on which app you’re using to consume the Feedly feeds, you should be able to get alerts on your phone when new listings appear.

There. Don’t say I’m not good to you.

How to shop for an unusual car

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I find that car advertiser web sites are pretty well-geared towards finding a blue Honda Accord, but not so great if you’re trying to find a pink Borgward Isabella. Which probably makes sense from the point of view of the web site owners, but can be somewhat irritating if you’ve got your heart set on a particular car but don’t want to sit every morning looking at fifteen “no results found” pages.

What I really want is to set up some searches and then wait for an email saying a car’s turned up, and here’s how I go about doing that. I’m going to group these tips by type of solution – please bear in mind that this is going to be heavily skewed to North America, although with a bit of tinkering you can easily apply these techniques to searches in other places.



eBay’s an easy one, so let’s do it first. Once you’ve searched for the car you want, there’s a button at the top saying “Follow this search”. If you then visit your My eBay page, you can turn on email notifications for that search. One tip: the checkboxes for options will filter based on the current search results. So if you want a purple Gilbern Invader you might have to first search for any purple car, and then narrow your results to the exact make and model. Although frankly if that’s what you’re looking for you might be better trying to buy some purple paint, a bunch of fibreglass and a rusty MG.


Much like eBay, Autotrader lets you save searches and have it email you when new cars turn up. You have to create an account, but once you’ve done that it’s pretty easy to use.


This one is a bit of a nuisance but I did come up with some sort of a solution. I wrote a whole blog post about it. Off you go and read that.

Classified ad sites

After a lot of digging around, these are the only sites that I now bother searching (in approximate order of best to worst):

These sites are all geared toward you searching every day for new results. But we can change that! All you need is a free account on ChangeDetection.com.

For each of these sites, here’s the process to follow.

1. Search for the car you want.

 2. Tweak the search to be exactly right. 

Sometimes the user interface allows you to get the exact search you want but, if it doesn’t, don’t despair. You can start to look at the URLs that the search generates. These URLs contain the set of parameters that are being passed to the search engine, usually in the form “parameter=value” and separated by ampersands (&). For example, I gleaned that you can search for green cars just by adding &clrId=27128 to the URL. Don’t like the dollar ranges they suggest you want to filter by? Look in the URL – more than likely you’ll see something like prMx=6000 which you can just edit.

Screenshot 2014-01-13 14.09.39

Sometimes the clever filters on these sites stop you from filtering results when nothing’s going to be displayed – you can get around this by expanding the search to a larger area or larger selection of models, and then contracting it again (as I mentioned in the eBay item above).

Another URL trick – when you narrow down a search by type of car, Yahoo autos doesn’t actually change the URL. But you can add two parameters manually to the URL to do this – as far as I can see it’s the make and the model with spaces replaced by underscores. So something like make=bmw&model=3_series. I only know this because they used to put those in the URL, and they still seem to work.

Make sure that the maximum number of pages are being displayed – as we’re going to monitor this page for changes, we don’t want new cars to suddenly appear on page two.

Once you have a URL you like the look of, try it in a different web browser (or a private browsing window). This stops the site from using cookies it’s stored, and allows you to see how ChangeDetection will see the page.

3. Monitor the page on ChangeDetection.

Once you’ve got a URL you’re happy monitoring, head over to changedetection.com and click “monitor a page”. Put that full URL into the box and click “next”.


ChangeDetection now has a few extra options to tweak:

  • only send if sizeable change” – I always check this. They’re pretty vague about what it does, but in my experience a new car being listed counts as a sizeable change.
  • only send if text added/removed” – I always check this and select “added”. ChangeDetection is a little finicky with car sites, just because the removal of a 2004 Bentley Continental and the addition of a 2008 one is often seen by ChangeDetection as only the changing of “2004” to “2008”. But either way this counts as text added, so I check this.
  • Only send alert if added text contains x” – you’ll quite regularly get spurious alerts just because advertisements changed on the page, and you can use this option to avoid that. If your search is generally returning no cars at all, just put something like the colour or make of the car you’re after in there. When a car finally appears for sale, the addition to the page is bound to contain the colour of it, and the change detection is much less likely be triggered by advertisements. However… if your search is often returning several cars, don’t use this trick – as I mentioned above, the removal of a 2000 green car and addition of a 2005 one will not be regarded by ChangeDetection as involving the addition of the word “green”.

Get all these set up and, hopefully, you can sit back and wait for cars to appear. It’s not a fail-safe system – sometimes sites change the way they work, and sometimes you’ll get email alerts just because advertisements have appeared or changed. So every so often you ought to go to ChangeDetection and just click on the URLs manually to make sure they’re all working and you’re seeing the results correctly. But it sure beats going to the same sites every day.

Hope this has been some use – if you’ve got your own ideas, please feel free to share them in comments.

Idea: Caddies to Baghdad

I’ve so far spent a lot of time on this blog moaning away about things I don’t like, whilst providing no real suggestions for how to improve matters. Well, things are going to change. Now, my furry friends, I introduce you to a new section on this blog where I propose innovative solutions to the problems faced by modern America. I know Obama reads the internet a lot, so I’m hopeful that some of these will be put into practice.

Let me start with a small amount of ill-researched and probably incorrect history. Many years ago, in 43 AD, the Romans were getting restless. They yearned for adventure, were sick of the nice weather and had a hankering for some fish and chips. Emperor Claudius thought that a fun way to get these things would be to invade Britain. A quick look at the map revealed that it was a long way away, but they set off anyway with high hopes, cheerful spirits and plenty of salt and vinegar. They turned up in England, and were somewhat disappointed with the calibre of the locals, who turned out to be greasy savages with a language so preposterously unstructured that it took several hours of debate to conjugate a verb.

After a couple of brief fights on the beach, the Romans realised that the best way to curry favour with the filthy Brits was to give them free stuff. They got to work building some lovely roads, and after a few weeks managed to start striking deals with local landowners. Before long, the English were building Roman-style villas, wearing togas, zooming around on Lambrettas and smoking Marlboro Lights. The Romans didn’t really do a lot of fighting until they got to Scotland, where the locals thought scooters were gay and preferred grease-induced heart disease to lung cancer. Still, until they hit Scotland the Romans had a pretty good proof of concept for the “cake or death” style of conquest.

Some years ago, America president George W Bush invaded a country called Iraq. He was angry with Iraq because its residents looked similar to a guy who’d been causing America some trouble, and because that guy probably lived somewhere nearby. The Americans got rid of the government pretty quick but, as is the case with many invasions, the local population were irritated and did their best to spoil all of Bush’s attempts to make a new government. This went on for ages, until Bush wasn’t reelected and didn’t have to worry about it any more.

Back home in America, there were yet more problems. The American car industry had suffered its greatest setback for some time when it was discovered by scientists that gasoline was a non-renewable energy source. At around the same time, the world banking industry had discovered that nobody could afford houses any more, and that some of the people who thought they could afford them turned out not to be able to afford them after all. Most of these people owned pickup trucks, which they would not be upgrading.

Over dusty lots across America, unsold pickup trucks and SUVs started to accumulate.

Iraq may be without a stable government or a good relationship with its neighbours, but one thing it’s not currently lacking is gasoline. They had so much fuel lying around during the American invasion that they often set fire to oil wells just for fun.

Here are two problems with an obvious solution. Operating a couple of aircraft carriers in a shuttle system, America can begin to move the unsold pickup trucks and SUVs, acre by acre, over to Baghdad. They’ll then be handed out to the Iraqis who have killed the fewest Americans that week, or who are the best at singing the new national anthem. Perhaps there should be some sort of point system. As time goes on, the Iraqis will be delighted with their new cars, and the money saved in firing expensive weaponry at them will more than pay for the cars themselves.

But it gets better than this, my friends. These cars were made in America. They will spend several weeks bouncing around in the hold of an aircraft carrier, after which they will be driven around on poorly-made roads in scorching heat. After a few weeks, these cars are going to need some serious maintenance work. A whole local economy will spring up around repair of American cars, and the US auto industry will be thrown into overdrive, barely able to manufacture and ship spare parts fast enough. The huge influx of extra income will allow them to invest heavily in alternative energy sources, propelling America’s car industry to the top of the heap once again.

I will probably be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at a ceremony where I will give a moving speech.

Need a spot of help naming an application – winner gets three (yes, three) free copies of the Septics Companion

So I’ve been working on this mobile phone application. The primary purpose of the app is to stop people who’d had a few beers and taken the train home from dozing off and missing their train station. My app will use the GPS to track their progress, then wake them up before they sleep past their train station. However, it can also be used for all sorts of other location-based triggers – SMSing your carpool buddy when you’re about to arrive and pick him up; letting your dad know when he should come and meet you from the bus stop, et cetera. You basically pick a location, and a bunch of things you’d like to do there, and it does them (you can also pick multiple locations).

The app is pretty much finished, but it is currently uninspiringly called “LocAlarm”. I need a way better name, and I am willing to give three signed copies of The Septic’s Companion to the person who thinks of one. How’s about THAT?

Why can’t I think of one myself? Well, it’s kind of complicated. I want it to be immediately apparent that it will stop you sleeping past your train/bus stop (because that’s mostly what it’s for) but I also don’t want to rule out all those other uses. The situation is complicated by the fact that it will be sold through the Windows Mobile Marketplace site, where people will only see the icon, app name and my company name, like so:

A typical marketplace app

Clicking on the app shows a long description. This means that my program name and icon have to alert the casual browser to the fact that that this is to stop him sleeping past his train station, but also does other stuff. I was originally keen to have some sort of catchy Twitter-style name – was thinking about “Jitterbug” (as in “wake me up, before you go-go”) or “Dozer” but I think this is a no-go as you’d actually have to click on the app to see what it did. I then got thinking about some train-specific catchy ones (“WakeMeUp“, “BRT“) but wasn’t too happy that either of them was particularly great. The maximum length of app name is 58 characters, so I am now heading towards something horribly bland and Microsofty (“GPS Alarm“, “Location Alarm“) – I hate myself for doing this but, given the way in which the app is going to appear, I think it might be my only option.

Does anyone have any better ideas? If anyone can come up with some sort of name (and ideally an icon too) that somehow tells the reader all these things, I shall be delighted to send them three books. I will also immortalise them on the credits screen for the app, should they wish!

Need a spot of help naming an application: We have a winner!

So, the other night I collated all of the name suggestions I’d had for my mobile application. Spread across Facebook and the comments on the blog post, I had fifty six of them! Anyway, I printed them all out (with no names attached) and showed them to several people:

  • Myself
  • A friend of mine who works in marketing
  • A friend of mine who works in publishing
  • My wife (this doesn’t really count, as she said “you didn’t put my suggestion on there” and then refused to look at it)
  • A selection of my colleagues at my real job

There were a few popular ones. In the end, these people whittled it down to small batch (some of which got modified in the whittling process). The ones left were:

  • Proximity
  • Commuter’s Companion
  • BuzzStop
  • Are We There Yet?
  • Whereabouts

These are all pretty good names, but there can be only one winner. And the winner is…

… drum roll…


This wasn’t actually suggested by anyone on its own, but it was a part of a number of suggestions from a gentleman named Eamon Holmes, on Facebook. I’m pronouncing Eamon the winner, and will send through his books. Many thanks to all who took part – I expected about three responses so was somewhat surprised by what happened. A lot of the funny ones gave us a lot of entertainment but may possibly not count as very professional. And I am, of course, exceptionally professional at all times.

I’ll be posting here again when the app is available – will probably be in a month or so.

No more nonsense from my .com here

Spurred on by the news that Apple is now bigger than Microsoft, I’m going to invest some time in doing more blogging for my fledgeling nest-egg, Beta Minus. I’ve started a blog on http://betaminus.com/, and migrated a couple of posts I had here about mobile app sales. Just to tempt you over there, I’ve written a brand new post about using my Proximity app whilst skiing.

I’ll try and keep this blog for things marginally more funny. Once I think of them…

Pictures of funny things from my phone

Like any other mobile phone owner, I occasionally take photographs of things that I find amusing. Often, like other irritating pedants, these are linguistic mistakes. More often than not, they involve things in quotations. These just languish on my phone… when I get a new phone, I copy them to it, and then they languish there instead. Occasionally after a few beers I get into one of those “everyone show each other the funny pictures from their phone” sessions, which is the only time they get an outing. Well, not now. Now I’m giving them to the world!

And, well, here they all are. They’re from a mixture of countries and date back to 2000 or so. Perhaps I’ll start a brand new collection, and blog about that in 2020.

There’s cost cutting, and there’s cost cutting.

When autocorrect doesn’t help.
It’s like beer, but without the uncomfortable wetness.
The most important thing about goals is that they’re attainable.
Honesty is the best policy.

This never normally happens…
If you have to ask what’s in the grog, you don’t want the grog.
Sore cock? Try some nice wine.
When picking a web site URL, make sure it works in all variants of English.
A straightforward misunderstanding, I think.

For when you’ve had one of those days.
It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but I still “love” it.
A bag for my paintbrush? Yeah, sure, I’ll take a bag. Oh.
45 days into the project, eight builders were fired.
Sure, you can cook. But can you name a restaurant?
Football scarves on sale on Basle, Switzerland. It’s not so much who you support…
It wasn’t so much a year as an emotion.

That’s all, folks. Get back to work.

Questions people ask when they find out you do Lemons

“How fast do you go?”

Credit: myrideisme.com
Credit: myrideisme.com

: Erm, well, I don’t really know. There’s no speedo. Maybe a hundred and ten at the end of the straight?
Them: My brother did a hundred and thirty between Dead Squaw, Arizona and Coleslaw, Nevada
You: Uh-huh?

“How long do you each drive for?”



You: The serious teams can put a driver in for a whole tank of fuel, which is usually about two hours.
Them: I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles once without stopping.
You: Mmm.
Them: Also I only used two tanks of fuel the whole way.

“Do you all have to be in the car at once?”

Credit: missedshift.com
Credit: missedshift.com

: No. It only has one seat.
Them: But how do you get to the race?
You: I think this is a more involved procedure than you’re imagining.

“Do you wear your costumes when you’re driving?”

Credit: 4theriders.com
Credit: 4theriders.com

: That would be kind of dangerous.

“What do you do if the car breaks down?”

Credit: murileemartin.com

You: It doesn’t.
Them: Really?
You: Sorry, that was a joke. Actually we call AAA.
Them: Really?
You: That was a joke too.

“I love driving. I might get a team together!”


You: Great! Do you love reading instructions, filling in forms, looking after children, organising other people’s vacations or taking days off work to drive around fire extinguisher companies looking for a metal mounting bracket?
Them: No.
You: You probably won’t like it then.
Them: Then why do you do it?
You: By the time I realised what it actually involved, I had a car that couldn’t be used for anything else.

Renaming “Christmas” – next steps


As a non-religious person, I applaud the renaming of various things which once had religious significance. Until last year, “Christmas” in my house involved singing hymns, praying, nailing ourselves to crosses and drinking the blood of bats.  Now, with the invention of the new “holiday yuletide snow fun” period, the event has been completely transformed. We buy a tree, give each other gifts – and this year we didn’t even sacrifice anyone!

I’m equally pleased about the abandoning of the archaic term “AD” (“Anno Domini” – in the year of our Lord) in favour of “CE” (“Common Era”). Previously, every time I wrote down the date I was caught up in a terrible misery over the death of Jesus, the son whom I doubt existed of a god I don’t believe in. As I write dates quite regularly for my job, this was causing me a lot of anguish and I’m very pleased it’s being painstakingly stamped out.

My only complaint is that these changes don’t go far enough. The next things to approach are:

  • The word “enthusiast“, as I’m sure you know, means a person possessed by a god. This is out of touch with modern reality. We should use “fan” instead.
  • The term “OMG” currently stands for “oh my god”. Do we all live in the fourth century now? Let’s stop this nonsense and make it stand for “oh my goodness” instead.
  • Somehow the term “milky way” and its Greek equivalent, “galaxy“, continue to see regular use. We need to stamp this out – although we can’t be sure of exactly where the galaxy came from, we can be confident that it did not come from breast milk sprayed into the sky after Zeus’ baby son woke up during feeding. I recommend we use “distinct universe area”.
  • I don’t believe in the Norse god of strength, Thor, and every Thursday this riles me up into a frenzy. I propose we rename “Thursday” to “Beyonceday” to reflect more current thinking.

These are quite common terms, so making the necessary changes will no doubt take a while. Rewriting the history books will probably be the most time-consuming part, but I think we can all agree that it will be a useful investment.

Review of the Cotton Carrier camera harness

I did say a while back that this blog would become somewhat random. Well, now I’m posting a review of a harness with which one can carry a camera. Variety, they say, is the spice of life.

I recently bought my first digital SLR camera, a Nikon D40. At the weekends I often climb up mountains, so it seems sensible that I use my nice new camera to take pictures of those mountains. As far as carrying a large camera up mountains goes, you have two options:

  1. Leave it in your pack all the way up there and back again
  2. Swear at it continually until you revert to option (1).

Enter the Cotton Carrier.

Simply put, The Cotton Carrier is a harness that straps over your chest and allows you to carry a large camera as though it was bolted to your chest. The unit has a sturdy plate which sits on your chest, and the camera attaches to that plate via a small mount that goes in the threaded tripod attachment on the camera. The camera is attached to the mount by turning it to face left and then sliding it into a groove – it cannot then be removed from the mount without turning it ninety degrees and sliding it upward, therefore making it unlikely (but not impossible) that you’ll disengage your camera from the mount by mistake. The device was created by Andy Cotton, a landscape photographer, and it’s described a lot better in Andy’s own introductory video on his web site.

I heard about this system from my boss, Doug – after explaining the whole concept to me he was then inspired to go out and buy one himself. It arrived on Thursday, and rather generously he lent it to me immediately so I could take it on my backpacking trip down the side of Lake Chelan that weekend. This I duly did, and here are my thoughts about the device. I ought to point out that Doug, being a man of great means, purchased the $170 complete system, but the parts that I am reviewing really just represent the $99 camera vest for regular cameras. The complete system has attachments for a secondary camera, bottle opener, lightning conductor, divining rod et cetera. Neither of these systems are cheap, so let’s hope it’s good!

Okay, it’s good. I was never an expert at suspense.

Putting on the harness was pretty simple and after a few experiments I found a height that works well for me on my chest. After you’ve done it a few times, taking the camera out of the carrier becomes almost instinctive. Once it’s out, it seems to magically end up exactly in the right place to take a picture – you can have the camera out of the carrier, take a photo and put it back in within a few seconds. It fits solidly into the mount so there’s never any doubt whether you’ve got it successfully in or not.

Historically I’ve always taken a point-and-shoot camera in my trouser pocket where it’s nice and accessible – carrying the SLR on the Cotton Carrier actually made it much simpler to take photos on the spur of the moment, especially given the extra power-on time that my compact camera seems to need. At one point, one of my backpacking companions leaned over and grabbed my SLR from my chest mount because he didn’t have the time to take his own compact camera from his pocket. It’s amazing the times when a handy pocket is actually not handy at all.

Alright, I think I’ve gushed about this enough now, so I’ll analyse a couple of details. First off, the way in which the camera is mounted to the stand. This is done via a small machined button – I’m please that it’s not heavy, but it does mean that the camera doesn’t sit level any more when you put it down on a table. The only real annoyance here is that it’s hard to take long exposure shots without actually using a tripod – I’m used to just sitting the camera on a rock, and it’s tricky to do that with the button on the bottom. The button comes off easily with the tool provided – it would be great if either the button was a little wider (so the camera could sit flat on it) or the tool could easily be attached to the harness itself (because, umm, I left it in the car). The slot to unscrew the button is pretty generic and the button could easily be removed with a coin or some other similar object, but I stopped short of this one given that the harness belonged to my boss and it might be a bit difficult to explain on Monday exactly what I had been trying to do with his brand new piece of camera equipment and a bent spork.

I was concerned that wearing the harness all day would make both it and me somewhat sweaty – somehow, this didn’t happen but I’m not exactly sure why. The carrier is made of some sort of mesh – Mr Cotton, I don’t know what this is or how it works, but please keep making it that way. Somehow, my rucksack straps ended up soaked, but the carrier did not.

On the subject of rucksacks, the carrier can easily be worn at the same time as a large pack. As you can see from the photos, I was carrying somewhere around 20kgs of stuff in a 70 litre pack and the carrier fitted fine underneath. The shoulder straps are wide enough that they cause almost no discomfort, although if I had to choose I’d have them wider rather than narrower, as that would mean the backpack sat entirely on them which I think would be even better. The carrier was sitting high enough on my chest that the chest strap sat just above the waist straps on my rucksack, so this worked ideally. I could easily have worn a climbing harness as well, and the carrier wouldn’t have got in the way.

Any minus points? Well, I jotted down a couple. However, I’m very much convinced that the positioning the Cotton Carrier uses is precisely the correct place to carry a camera, and some of my gripes are around this. Firstly, I was using a water-bladder inside my rucksack to drink from – the problem with this is that you’re drinking water from a spout directly above the back of your camera so you have to be a little careful not to cheerfully pour a torrent on top of the thing. The solution to this one is, I think, just to drink more carefully. Secondly, it would be inadvisable to keep the neck strap on the camera when using the carrier unless you were going to also put it around your neck as an emergency measure – there’s a reasonable chance it would slip down and you’d end up putting a knee through it when climbing steep terrain. Again, not sure of the solution – the carrier itself comes with a “jesus strap” that you can attach to the harness, so the right answer here is probably just to embrace that, and ditch the old neck strap.

Overall, this is a superb piece of gear – as you know, I don’t make a habit of writing equipment reviews on this blog but I was so impressed with this harness that I felt I ought to write something. I was approached by two people during the backpacking trip asking me what it was and where I’d got it, and my backpacking chum told me he was sorely tempted to buy one because right now his $1000 DSLR camera was largely worthless, gathering dust in his basement. I’m amazed that this device isn’t an open secret in the climbing community, but it isn’t – I’ll certainly be doing my best to remedy that, and I hope Mr Cotton continues innovating because he’s onto the right thing.

Now to persuade the wife…

Right: Burgers

The best part about America being the most overweight nation on the planet is that, boy, can America make superb beef burgers. God damnit, why do I have to be mean even when I’m being nice. I tell you, I should have called this blog “Things other people apart from me do badly”. That way I could be persistently negative and snipey without really making any constructive effort to remedy the situation, which is my favourite thing.

If you walk into a random bar in the United Kingdom and order a beef burger, you can guarantee some things about it. Firstly, it will be black and hard around the edges, as though it has been fried more than once in its tortured life. Second, it will be strangely soggy in the middle, as though it was finally put out of its misery in a microwave oven. If it’s an upscale bar, you’ll probably get a large piece of wizened-looking tomato to go along with it, and if it’s a really fancy joint then you’ll get a pickle. Generally a burger you bought in a British pub can be regarded as a good one if it’s possible to tell the meat from the bun.

The first time I ordered a burger in America, the waitress asked, “And how would you like your burger?” I peered back at her. “I beg your pardon?” “How would you like your burger, sir?” I tried to sneak a peak at the menu to see if I’d accidentally ordered the Kobe special. The waitress tried to help, “For example, sir, medium rare?” I looked at the waitress and back at the menu. A burger medium rare? Are you nuts? At that sort of temperature the eyeballs and toenails won’t even have melted. “Umm… medium,” I said, and waited for her to ask whether I’d like my chips cooked or not.

As to why Americans are so good at burgers, I can only assume that it comes down to the fact that America actually has a lot of space in it. A cow reared in America owns its own piece of land and has a tree-lined driveway and a hot tub. A cow reared in Europe is sharing a room with another cow in order to pay the exorbitant rent, and turning tricks in the evenings to make ends meet. She’d stop smoking if it wasn’t for the coke habit, which has made her udders practically disappear and left her gaunt and emaciated. How cows are supposed to cut coke with no fingers I’m not sure. This post needs some work to be believable, but it’s getting late now.