Rant


That example par excellence of stellar journalistic accomplishment The Melbourne Age, tells us this morning that iPods and iPads are nothing less than the Typhoid Mary of the looming global apocalyptic pandemic. Well, they stop just short of putting it exactly like that, but it is hard to understand why they’re running an article headlined ‘Apple Store Teeming With Germs’, if not to warn good citizens about the looming plague.

Because they surely wouldn’t be doing it just to bash Apple…

The story, if you haven’t guessed, is that demonstration models of the abovementioned devices on display in Apple stores, can transfer germs from one prospective customer to another – a concept that seems to send the journalist responsible for this rubbish (one Asher Moses)(i) into virtual paroxysms of hand-wringing. The article give us all kinds of ominous facts and figures, with commentary by various and sundry ‘experts’, about how iGadgets in Apple stores (mentioned solely and specifically) are contaminated with various kinds of icky bacteria. It’s all so very ewwwwww.(ii)

In a further attempt to give the story credence, Mr Moses happily goes on to conflate a completely separate dataset with his speculation. He breathlessly inform us that Britain’s Which? magazine, in consultation with a ‘hygiene’ expert, examined a sample of 30 (unnamed brand) mobile phones and found that:

…the average handset carries 18 times more potentially harmful germs than a flush handle in a men’s toilet.

O.M.G!

Aside from the fact that a study like that (even if it is executed properly) is completely irrelevant to this story,(iii) please to note the journalistic weasel word ‘potentially’ in that quote. Let me give you a Tetherd Cow Ahead rephrasing of that:

Experts find that stairs are potentially life threatening!

Experts find that water is potentially lethal!

Experts find that newspapers are potentially dangerous to your mental health! (Oh wait. That’s true no matter how you look at it).

This stupid piece of scare-mongering fluff is a shining example of why I will be happy to see newspapers go the way of the town crier, and hopefully, their owners and editors hauled off by tumbrel. Honestly – what is the point of such a story?

Let me ask you, Mr Moses, why isn’t this piece about the thousands of other things that are touched by human hands in the course of a normal day? Like escalator handrails? Or lift buttons? Or money? Or salt shakers in McDonalds? Or ATMs? Or public phones? Or demonstration products belonging to other electronics goods retailers????

Could it be, perhaps, that the mileage you would get out of that might not be so… convenient… to your purpose of trashing a successful company that makes products that promise to be the biggest threat to your livelihood since the advent of television?



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Footnotes:

  1. Well, I guess he’s not entirely responsible. Like pretty much all modern journalism it’s just a story recycled from somewhere else – in this case, The New York Daily News. []
  2. It’s hardly surprising that the bacteria mentioned are in evidence – they are among the most common on the planet. []
  3. Consider this – the flush handle in a men’s toilet is probably cleaned at least once a day, if not more frequently. It is NOT a good benchmark against which to measure anything except other things that get cleaned as frequently. It’s irrelevant in respect to phones (inasmuch as you could choose ANYTHING which doesn’t get cleaned much with which to compare it – tv remotes, say, or car keys) and it’s certainly meaningless in terms of iPads in Apples stores unless you have some kind of tangible link. This is a journalist using data recklessly and indiscriminately to attempt to add weight to an article that is lighter than The Zero. []

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This is a Canon iP4600. To some, it might look like a printer but it is in fact a demon sent to Earth by Satan. Its very purpose on this mortal plane is to torment the souls of its victims until they lose all sanity and can be thus claimed by the Evil One as his own.

I have come to this conclusion because whenever I try to actually use the iP4600 for the purpose for which it is supposedly ‘designed’, ie, ‘printing’, it attempts to do anything but. It behaves wilfully – malignantly, even – and finds all kinds of ways to inflict misery upon me. It even communicates with me via strange taunting messages.

I attempt to print a photo and it replies:



Which it does. And then stops. And then does it again. Then, grudgingly it spits out a mangled copy of my picture:



Sometimes I set it running and go off to make a cup of tea, thinking that when I get back in ten minutes it will have finished. Instead:



This morning it decided, for no apparent reason, to glob ink all over some CD artwork.






And it is entirely futile to try and just ‘print off a quick document’…



It will behave for an entire day, and then, just as I’m trying to finish up and go off to dinner…







Pray for me, Acowlytes. I feel my soul slipping into its icy mechanical maw.





How Many Pilgrims

About a quarter of Australia’s population is self-declared as Christian Catholic.* Over the last few decades, the younger part of the population has been demonstrating a slow inclination to drift away from the conventional Christian Church (and indeed, organized religion altogether) but in about 20 days time in Sydney, the Catholic Church will attempt to reddress that trend by exerting its influence over the waning faith of the young people of Australia and holding an event that they are calling (some might say duplicitously) World ‘Youth’ Day.

Tourism New South Wales’s ‘Sydney’ page breathlessly gushes:

New South Wales looks forward to welcoming young people for World Youth Day 2008, the biggest event to be held in Australia, ever.

Poster and radio advertising around Sydney is urging people who are ‘not involved’ with World Youth Day to take a holiday or stay off the roads. The NSW Government is spending a small fortune on the event and the Catholic Church, notably the oleaginous and unpalatable Cardinal George Pell, is of course smirking all over the media.

I’m not entirely sure why, but if it is true that this is ‘the biggest event to be held in Australia, ever’† this makes me incredibly depressed. I intended to make this post a kind of jocular look at a silly phenomenon, in keeping with The Pope’s Cologne and Mother Teresa’s Breath Mist, but you know, I just don’t find it funny that at the beginning of the 21st Century, a two-thousand year old superstitious belief system has enough currency (metaphorically, practically and politically) to bring an entire modern city to a standstill. It’s particularly disheartening that this exercise is nominally aimed at young people – it’s hard not to be cynical about such things.

I often hear the argument, when it comes to religion, that it does no harm, and people should be able to make up their own minds about what they believe. While I disagree strongly that religion does no harm, I certainly approve of the concept that a person should be able to make up their own mind about it – with the caveat that they should also be given the tools to make their decision an informed one. This particularly applies to the young.

The Catholic Church has never been particularly squeamish about converting non-believers so I don’t expect that an event masquerading as Australia’s Biggest Sleepover is going to even register a blip on their moral radar, but in my opinion this is a sneaky, disingenuous ruse to attempt to lever more religious thought into a country that has been until recently making a slow but encouraging trek toward secularism (inherited religions notwithstanding).

I put this thought to you Cardinal Pell and Pope Benedict: if you’re really confident that God will come through with the goods, and you are morally committed to the betterment of young people as you claim, concentrate your efforts on giving them a proper education and the ability to make up their minds based on what we know to be true instead of attempting to indoctrinate them with intangible, absurd mythology while they are still impressionable. Give them the data and the brain tools and let them decide, when they come of age, whether or not to believe in a two-millennium-old fairy tale.

Surely, if you are right, and God really does exist, then you have nothing at all to be afraid of.

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*Statistics from the 2006 Australian census.

†I guess it depends on your definitions of ‘biggest’, ‘event’ and ‘ever’…

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I was loitering over at Radioactive Jam yesterday, where the Jamster was musing about an epiphenomenon of texting (namely ‘twittering’) and where he posed the following question:

What about you, my feiends? Do you use your phone for text messaging? If so how often, and how many people do you communicate with using text?

Well, for me, that question was like waving a red flag at a bull. Or, to be specific, since we evidently have so many pedants in our midst, like waving a Pantone 032 HC woven textile heraldic banner at a toro lidiado.

Because I absolutely detest texting. To me it seems like a useless 21st Century gimmick that will surely, and quite properly, go the way of CB Radio craze of the mid 1970s*. My reasons are many, and only one of them is because I’m a grumpy old geezer. Here are some others:

1: On a normal keyboard (that is, one designed for human fingers) I’m a pretty fast typist and it drives me absolutely BANANAS to try and tap out messages on those stupid little phone keypads. Especially when it is almost always faster and easier to dial the number and actually talk† to the recipient.

2: Predictive texting doesn’t help matters any. How many times have I sent a message to Violet Towne that says ‘DON’T WAIT FOR OF. I’LL BE GOOD LATE.’ or something equally as baffling. Additionally, the software for predictive texting (on my phone, at least) is written by an insane person. Let me give you an example: recently I was keying in a word, let’s say it was ‘hamster’ (because I can’t remember what it actually was – suffice to say it was a word in fairly common usage as opposed to, oh, quincunx, or something). Anyway I get as far as H-A-M-S… and the phone makes its irritating little ‘ping’ noise and says WORD NOT IN DICTIONARY. OK, so its dictionary doesn’t know hamster or hamstrung, even. Understandable, I suppose, if somewhat moronic. But then one day I find I’ve inadvertently keyed E-X-P-O-N-E-G-F-D-E-R and it’s still letting me merrily type away, with no advisory ‘ping’, as if somewhere, somehow, if I keep on adding on enough letters exponegfder… is suddenly going to turn into a word it retains in its feeble little nano-brain. What the fucking hell is that all about? It’s the kind of thing that can only happen because a mad person is at the controls.‡

3: I have a rare genetic disease¤ that means I am unable to write sentences without using punctuation or correct spelling. This slows texting down by nearly one million percent, because people who write the software for mobile phones are illiterate and don’t care about such things. So if you want to put an apostrophe or semi-colon in your text, you have to first have a Degree in Illogical Thinking to figure out how to do it, and second, spend an extra two minutes actually doing it.

4: Texting is the method nonpareil for avoiding taking responsibility for bad behaviour. Let me draw you a picture (and tell me this has never happened to you): you’ve just spent 30 minutes standing in the rain, chilled to the bone by a raging blizzard, fighting off drunken louts who seem to think they have more right to the taxi that you flagged down than you do, arrived at the cinema for a film that you really don’t care too much to see but which you’re prepared to endure because, well, you’re a good friend and you do that kind of thing, only to have your message alarm make its chirpy little beepity-beep-ta-ping!: ‘SORRY CANT MAKE IT 2NITE CATCH U L8R!!!’†† When you try to call back, the phone goes straight to message bank. C’mon, hands up, who can relate to that? Even more pertinently, hands up who’s guilty of sending that message! Yes, just as I suspected.

Of course, in Ye Olde Days, being stood up in some similar fashion might have easily happened too, but back then we had GUILT™. In this new Age of Instant Communication, the text message somehow allows a weird kind of magical dispensation whereby the fink that ditched you can now be tucked up all warm and comfy on the couch at home with a tub of Cherry Garcia and the DVD Box Set of the Remastered Outer Limits Collector’s Edition and able to enjoy the rest of their evening somehow completely absolved of any remorse!

Because they texted you that they couldn’t make it.**

5: You don’t need even the smallest degree of commonsense to be allowed to use your phone to text. Last week I was traveling back along the airport freeway in the rain when a car just in front of me in the right-hand lane swerved so close that I was forced to slam on the brake to avoid a collision. As I slowed down, thanking the Spaghetti Monster that I was still in one piece, the culprit went weaving back into his own lane, oblivious to what had happened. Yes, you can guess what was going on. Whilst travelling at 100 kilometers an hour on a multi-lane freeway full of cars on a wet night, this idiot was texting someone. Not only that, I bet my entire Spam Fortune (which is quite considerable now – about 120 billion dollars at last count) that his message was something like ‘SORRY CANT MAKE IT 2NITE CATCH U L8R!!!’. This guy was equipped with a car, a phone and the English language, any one of which would been an obvious challenge for him to deal with on an individual basis let alone all at the same time.

Oh, there are many more reasons I could go on with but I’ll give it a rest now. Anyway, I can see you all twitching your fingers there below the table, undoubtedly Twittering something along the lines of ‘REVEREND A WAFFLING ON AGAIN PLUS CA CHANGE PLUS CEST LA MEME CHOSE’

(Does ANYONE see how pathetic and sad that phrase looks without the proper punctuation? Anyone? Sigh. I thought not).

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*Most of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about unless you’re around my age. And there’s a very good reason for that.

†Yes, yes, I know that talking business is SO Last Century.

‡I’ve spoken previously about other aberrant behaviour in the predictive texting of my phone that gives weight to this theory.

¤Its technical name is ‘Education’.

††The multiple exclamation marks are mandatory in cases like this. They do not represent ‘punctuation’ as such, but instead are meant to evoke a sentiment something akin to ‘Oh I’m just SUCH a kooky crazy wacky kinda person and, gosh, life is just so topsy turvy, and like ANYTHING can happen really. Wow! How can you possibly hate me?’

**Seriously, if you ever bother to take the matter up with the fink the next day, the response is invariably one of indignation on their part: ‘What’s your problem – I texted you to let you know!’

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UPDATE to the UPDATE: Blogger folk – here’s what you need to know to set your comments to allow links to blogs on other platforms. First, you need to log into your blog via Blogger in Draft, which is a kind of sandpit or beta Blogger that exists, supposedly, so that you can play with Blogger features before they’re actually released. What the hell is that? They implement a feature (OpenID) blog-wide on the main platform but you can only change it from the beta??? O-k-a-a-a-y… Anyways, once you’re in Blogger in Draft go to Settings->Comments and check ‘Registered Users – Includes OpenID‘

So, after spending ten minutes figuring this out, and with help from someone who was clued-in, I don’t feel quite as bad that I flew off the handle at Blogger. What kind of idiots alter their current release software to take away utility that existed previously and that can only be restored if you happen to be running the beta? And where is the notification on your Blogger Dashboard that says ‘Parts of your blog have been changed, and will not be accesssible to you unless you go and log in to another site entirely’?

I say to you again: WordPress, peeps.

UPDATE: rd5 comments that the reason this happens is due to Blogger implementing OpenID! So all you folks on Blogger, please read the comments on this post to find out how to allow other blog platforms to get active links. And I’ll just go eat a slice of Humble Pie that comes direct from the Oven of Shame set at gas mark ‘Egg on your Face’ ‡

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Once upon a time, so long ago that it seems like just a bad dream, Tetherd Cow Ahead started its life on the Blogger™ platform. All went well for a while, and indeed, I am grateful that Blogger™ was such an easy way for me to start The Cow rolling.*

But then, not long after Blogger™ was acquired by Google™, things started going haywire. There was the dreaded ‘smenita’ affair that intermittently took down Blogger™ Comments for weeks. After that, there was a several-week-long crapshoot in which nobody (including me) could tell whether or not The Cow was likely to be functioning or commentable. This was made aggravatingly worse by the fact that Blogger™ personnel went completely incommunicado, and made no effort whatsoever to let users know what was going on, let alone apologize for the problems. Then there were numerous smaller but infinitely annoying shutdowns and faults that served to make a quick read of The Cow into an interminable chore. Again, with no explanations from Blogger™. After weeks of frustration I’d had enough and (with surprisingly little effort) I migrated The Cow over to WordPress where I’ve maintained it with no trouble ever since.

Only now, it seems, I have cause to bitch about Blogger™ once again.

I visit many friends who have their digs on Blogger.™ Up until now, whenever I have left a comment, I have been able to enter my name as either a user from a Blogger™ account (which I can do, since my old account is still active)†, a name & url combination (which creates a direct link on my name to the url, in most cases TCA) or post anonymously.

My preference is to leave my name linked directly to my (non-Blogger™) blog. This means that if you want to visit my blog, you simply click on my name.

Over the last few days though, I have noticed a disturbing difference in the way that Blogger™ allows a visitor to comment: now, instead of having the option to link my name to a url, I am only allowed a non-linkable ‘nickname’. Either that or I must have a Blogger™ account. In other words, I can no longer leave my name as ‘reverend anaglyph’ and have it link back to Tetherd Cow Ahead.

This is a really shabby and pathetic impediment for Blogger™ (and one must therefore assume Google™) to have foisted on its users. It effectively says to your commenters: you cannot comment and be linked to your own blog without being a member of the Blogger™ club. It is, in fact, antithetical to the very concept of blogging.

If you have been thinking about shifting your blog elsewhere (and I do recommend WordPress supported by your own host if you can afford it) then now is the time to do it, as a protest to this extremely Microsoftian draconian imposition. Either that, or write to Google/Blogger™™™™™ and use strong language on them.

Blogging is about interaction, not about clubs & closed doors. These kinds of ideas will bring the utility of the internet to its knees if they get a grip. Acowlytes! Protest them, and protest them strongly!

ADDENDUM: And here’s a thought: if, in the course of your wonderful philosophizing, you manage to attract new readers to your blog, and they reside on platforms external to Blogger™ (and there are now dozens of free blogging sites) you can almost certainly kiss them goodbye as new connections in your blogging circle. Why? Because no-one will be able to follow them back to their own place to engage in the community that is set up by such a practice. Why should they visit you and engage in your show if their is no possibility of reciprocation? My best blogging buddies – indeed, nearly all my current blogging friends – came here via other people’s blogs, often on other platforms.

If you think I’m over-reacting a bit on this, go spend some time trawling around a closed community, like, oh, MySpace let’s say, and see exactly what calibre of intellectual tête-à-tête a whole lot of inbreeding gets you.

For my own part, this very problem has prevented me from engaging in the TypePad and LiveJournal communities – every time I find myself at a TypePad blog and want to strike up some banter with the writer, I am supposed to ‘Join Up’ to do so. Bollocks! They’re gated communities by any other name, desperately trying to keep out the riff-raff.

Viva la revolucion! To the guillotine with the lot of them!

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‡TCA consumes and recommends The It Crowd.

*And as we all know, a rolling cow gathers no moss! (Cow rolling should not be confused with cow tipping which is a different thing altogether)

†On a technical note: I’ve hacked my Blogger site in such a way that if I do leave my Blogger name, you now never see my old blog – instead, you are whisked immediately to the proper home of TCA. I’m lucky – I know how to do these things, but it’s probably outside the capabilities of many less technically inclined bloggers.

Hey CowPokes!! Don’t Forget: the Christmas Competition is still running! Be sure to get yer entry in!

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The Sheep Train

In another first for The Cow, this post comes to you live from the inter-city train that runs between Sydney and Melbourne. Well, not live, as such – there is no actual internet connection on the train, lest you think that Australia might be anywhere near that technologically hip – but I am typing it on my laptop[tippy title="¹"]You may think I’m that technologically hip.[/tippy] as we hurtle[tippy title="²"]I use the word with irony.[/tippy] out of Albury Wodonga towards Melbourne, now about three hours away.

Being something of a fan of rail travel, and heading off to visit Violet Towne for a few days, I thought that instead of taking the usual ho-hum plane flight I might splurge the extra $20[tippy title="#"]That should really have clued me in… a 20 buck difference between Economy and First Class travel… [/tippy] and kick back in the luxury of First Class. Sure, the train takes about 6 times longer, but hey, First Class! You know: Leather seats; red velvet curtains; witty attractive passengers; crisp white linen table cloths and sparkling silver cutlery in the dining car. Orient Expressville baby! Get the picture?

Yep, it’s the wrong picture.

We head out of Sydney Central at 8am, late, but what’s rail travel without delays, right? The First Class carriage is moderately filled, but I have two seats to myself, and there is no-one behind me or across the aisle. Cool. Nice, quiet trip!

10 minutes out: Ergghh. These First Class seats are SO uncomfortable. They must be the only seats I’ve encountered anywhere in the world where reclining them increases their discomfort by a factor proportional to the angle of inclination (that’s not to say that they were comfortable upright either – I’ve sat on more luxurious seats in bus shelters). I marvel that anyone can have, even intentionally, designed something so back-achingly awful. I hope the designer, when he goes to Hell (for he surely will), spends Eternity in one of these seats.

20 minutes out: We stop at Strathfield Station, the last urban stop before we hit the country, and pick up a million extra passengers. Well I do exaggerate. But in a fitting demonstration of CountryLink ineptness, there are, in fact, more passengers boarding the train than there are seats available. Yippee. This causes more delays.

The seats around me fill up. With old ladies. Now I’ve got nothing at all against old ladies, but these are stupid old ladies. Stupid, loud, annoying old ladies. You know the kind of thing – everytime the train goes past a station one of them says “Oooh. Flemington. Oooh. Picton. Ooooh. Moss Vale”. One of them talks endlessly about absolutely nothing. In a very loud voice. For hours. I can’t even drown her out with my iPod turned up loud. I glare at her pointedly and screw my ear-buds in even tighter. She takes this as an invitation to turn her volume up from squawk to shrill. If I ever get that bad, someone shoot me.

The loudspeaker spruiks wares from the Buffet Car. Idiotically, I venture out for a cup of coffee (mostly so I can have some brief respite from the inane prattle which has now turned into a mix of racism and cooking suggestions). I come back with a scalding hot cup of weak instant sludge and a little container of UHT milk. I look at the these things on my cheap cardboard tray. Someone’s meddling with my sanity. First Class? Swill?

I try to console myself with the thought that if this is First Class, things must be truly hideous in Economy. Evidence of this is forthcoming pretty quickly. The First Class carriage is the second car on the train. The first car is a sleeper that has been converted to Economy seating for the daytime trip. This means the First Class carriage is between them and the Buffet Car.

Soon begins the long procession of Economy Class passengers intending to fuel themselves for the grueling journey. The first thing I notice is most of these people hardly need fueling. In fact, dispensing with the train and jogging to Melbourne might be a good option for many of them.

There is one guy who has the most ENORMOUS belly I have ever seen. He’s not really a big man in other respects, but his belly looks like it composes the better part of his body mass. The most off-putting thing is that he chooses to highlight his asset by wearing tight jeans and an even tighter lycra t-shirt that allows the bottom of his stomach to sag out. The shirt’s slogan says ‘Buff Riders’. At first I thought it read ‘Butt Riders’ but I had ample opportunity to check. I don’t know which is worse when I think about it. He has no front teeth, and makes numerous trips back and forth to top up with Coke so he can remain that way.

Then there is the young, even groovy looking, guy in dark suit and sunglasses, who walks past clutching to his chest something that looks awfully like a carpet bag. Attentive to his threads he may be, attentive to his personal hygiene he definitely is not. A wave of overpowering body odour floods in his wake as he passes through. After his second trip, and the sense of disbelief that anyone could smell that bad has diminished, First Class passengers start to cringe pre-emptively when he enters the door at the far end of the carriage. For inexplicable reasons he makes numerous trips back and forth, always clutching the carpet bag, but never bringing back any food or drink.

From time to time the happy CountryLink staff keep us informed of where we are. Which wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that every time they announce “Our next stop will be Goulburn”, the old ladies go into a flurry of repetition: “Ooooh, Goulburn! Next stop is Goulburn! Oooh…!” (I kid you not). I start dreading the click of the intercom that heralds the announcements.

So. Three hours or so to go and it’s getting dark.

I begin to really really wish this was the Orient Express. Not because I’m pining any longer for the crisp white tablecloths or the mahogany trim or the caviar and champagne, but because this First Class carriage is looking more and more like a very fitting setting for murder.

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¹You may think I’m that technologically hip.

²I use the word with irony.

#That should really have clued me in… a $20 difference between Economy and First Class travel…

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