New additions to RSS reader

Over the last few days I appear to have stuffed a whole bunch of new things into the “Funnehs” category of my RSS reader – I use Google Reader.

Funnehs is by far the largest single category, although “Nottingham” probably gets the most post, half down to the high amount of traffic in the Nottingham Flickr photos group. I like reading that, because it gives you a flavour of some of the most beautiful bits of the city, as well as some of the most striking for whatever reason. And it’s a great tracker for seasonal events – there are always a flurry of photos showing how Nottingham marks its year, from the winter ice rink in Market Square, through the February big wheel, down to events over the summer and culminating in Goose Fair – a magnet for photographers wanting to show off what they can do with a long exposure in the dark.

But back to the Funnehs – I have a strong liking for sites that take the mickey out of everyday things. It plays well to my extremely sarcastic sense of humour. Several of these links involve swearing.

Most recently, we have:

Awkward moments with Ed Miliband

Find it: here

Why: Ed Miliband, like Cherie Blair, seems to be a difficult person to take a good photo of. There was some suggestion that for a number of years, newspaper editors were deliberately choosing the ones of Cherie that made her mouth look big. Are people deliberately publishing the embarrassing photos of MiliE ?

Wackaging. It’s packaging and it’s wacky.

Find it: here

Why: Don’t you just hate some of these packets that overemphasise their cute homely origins and yet still read like they’ve been in product development with a team of copywriters for months? Yes? So do these guys.

The Monkeys you Ordered

Find it: here

Why: This is the New Yorker cartoon, stripped of its satirical caption and in its place, something more descriptive. The result is weirdly compelling and hilarious.

Things Real People Don’t Say About Advertising

Find it: here

Why: it’s a regular reminder of the importance of a sense of perspective. When you’ve had your third meeting in a week discussing the content of FOCUS straplines that will be read by few people and digested by even fewer, pop by here to remind yourself what your readers really think.

Interestingly, all of these new blogs use Tumblr, a very simple blog platform that seems to be mainly targetted at people who want to get a lot of photos up cleanly and simply. And what all of them miss is simple “reblogging” buttons – the Cheeseburgr empire always give you free code to reblog their content that automatically links back to their post, thus driving their traffic. The Tumblr blogs don’t seem to do that, unless you’re already a tumblr user.

This week’s @PodDelusion

Bad news for those of you who think I’m already overexposed: I’m on the Pod Delusion again this week.

http://embed.ipadio.com/embed/v1/embed-352×200.swf?callInView=local_41199&channelInView=WEBSITE_USER_3452&phlogId=9216&phonecastId=41199

It’s a piece I filed a few weeks ago with the instruction to hold onto until a quiet week. It’s a riff on the fun of letterboxes that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever delivered leaflets.

Fun at Pod Delusion Live

So, Tuesday night saw a live version of the Pod Delusion, a sort of podcast version of FOOC from a skeptic view point. They have had a weekly audio programme for the last year built up of short contributions from a variety of people, including me, and were celebrating their birthday by doing what they usually do in front of a live pub audience.

Despite the travel, I jumped at the opportunity and dusted off my gay blood ban material and added in a few jokes that would not have been appropriate last time I used it in Full Council.

It went very well. People laughed a lot. They laughed at the jokes I wrote and even found some of the other bits funny too.

There’s a blog post with some videos in it here, and the one of me is below.

(“I’m up here!”)

The full piece will doubtless be available as an audio file on this week’s Pod Delusion, along with some sterling other contributors and ending up with some jolly songs.

The bit of the evening I was dreading most was the questions, but in fact two good points were raised.

Firstly part of my speech included referring to Typhoid Mary, and someone in the audience rightly picked me up in that. Whilst in common parlance Typhoid Mary just means pariah, I had just a few weeks ago read the WP page for Typhoid Mary, and the real story is much worse, and wholly inappropriate for use in the gay blood campaign. What’s worse still is that I knew that! Typhoid Mary was a healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. She was not ill herself, but was able to infect others. Through her work as a cook she infected at least 50 other people, three of whom died. She refused to believe she was infectious, and spent at least part of her life behind bars.

So, she was infected but didn’t know it, refused to comply with the health-based rules, and ended up infecting and causing the deaths of others. Really, really not the sort of case to invoke in the arguments around the gay blood ban.

The second question was around HIV incidence and who was the largest group of people now being infected. I wasn’t sure on the night and the questionner has subsequently got in touch on Twitter with two documents of interesting data which a) show that heterosexual infections are now more common than gay ones and b) although there are now more gay men being diagnosed HIV+, a higher rate of diagnosis probably doesn’t mean higher incidence, just that more of those who have it, know about it.

From Blood Service’s point of view the fact that the straight infections count for a larger proportion of new infections is probably not helpful to the arguments around the gay blood ban, because the group of straight people is much bigger than the group of gay people. So incidence amongst gay men is around 5% whilst in straight people as a whole it’s probably only 0.001%.

The third question was “do you have to have anal sex to catch HIV.” No you don’t, but it helps.

Perhaps the most touching thing to happen was after I got home. I start my schtick talking about the Anthony Nolan Trust and the bone marrow register. I’ve signed up, and given a saliva sample – and just last week received my donor pack.

This, and carrying a donor card, I do partly because it’s right, and partly “pour encourager les autres.” If some parts of the NHS are happy to deal with gay men, that should be encouraged.

It’s probably quite unlikely my number will come up and they find someone who’s a match who needs my bone marrow. But if they do, I will do what I promised to, and go to London for medical treatment and donate bone marrow. Most of the time, that’s a fairly simple course of injections followed by sitting hooked up to a machine a bit like a dialysis machine. More rarely, it involves an operation.

The person who got in touch after I got home wanted to thank me for signing up with the Anthony Nolan Trust – because he was a leukaemia survivor, who was only still alive thanks to bone marrow donation. His came from a sibling rather than the register, but it was still a really interesting story he sent me.

He has blogged about it, and you can read his moving story, intricately woven into his atheism, here.

So, look out for the Pod Delusion Live recording when it comes out tomorrow. Here are a few links to past recordings I’ve done too:

Charlotte Gore’s train experience

Really loved Charlotte Gore’s blog post about taking the California Zephyr, a truly epic four-day train journey the entire length of the USA, from New York to San Francisco

[W]aking up in Denver and then making our way through the most literally breathtaking landscape I’ve ever seen – first the Colorado Rockies then watching the sun go down on the monumentally epic mountains in Utah… I don’t know how I’m going to ever be content with Yorkshire now. Damn. The day after the train goes through the Sierra Nevada mountains and it’s goo goo time, your brain is gone. That’s it.

America… it turns out… is a truly beautiful country. The magnificence of the scenery is then added to by the sheer audacity, courage and engineering-fu to build a train line all the way through it, not to mention everything else they’ve done to this continent.

The only halfway epic rail journeys I’ve done have been sleeper trains across Europe – from Magdeburg to Paris when I switched countries half way through my degree year abroad; and more recently I travelled to Munich by sleeper. On the return leg of that journey, I had the brain-wrenching experience of trying to translate from German to French whilst half asleep at 3am. ((“‘Travailler’, das heisst reisen, oder? / Nein, ‘travailler’ das heisst arbeiten”)) I had been rather surprised that in the four berth sleeper car, it was me and a woman who got on two hours after me, when all the literature suggested the sleeper cars would be segregated by gender. Three hours into the night, and the German woman woke me up to tell me that her handbag had been stolen – lifted off her feet by someone who opened the door from the outside. I helped a little in the conversation between the French-speaking guard and the German woman. In fact, I had probably heard the burglary happen whilst barely asleep, as the door opening makes a noise. I had just assumed it was my co-passenger getting up for a toilet break.

So, if you ever travel by sleeper train, make sure you lock your door at night.

USA, Europe – I have occasionally been reading the website www.seat61.com and getting carried away by the ideas of some of the epic journeys you can do – in particular, the 9 day journey from London to Beijing, via Brussels, Cologne, Moscow and the Trans-Mongolian or the Trans-Siberian railway.

Just how many books would you need to occupy yourself in all that time? ((would it be safe to take one’s Amazon Kindle or would it be flaunting Western wealth and inviting robbery? Would you even be able to charge it?)) How much would it be entertaining and how much of an ordeal?

I particularly like the detail that Russian trains have a samovar in each compartment, so if you stock up with tea bags and instant soup you can provide some of your own food.

A more general problem with holidays and travel

I’m skint and fairly time poor. As a result of making a few ferry journeys, investing a wee bit of an inheritance in HPB, and joining the Camping and Caravanning club, ((I want to build a camping pod in the garden to replace the current battered shed)) every week brings more and more interesting glossy holiday brochures through the letter box.

There are all these wonderful offers and interesting places to visit, and there’s little prospect of me being able to do any more than a fraction of them. Meh.

Cat gif

I am sitting here, immobilised by the kitten, barely able to reach the keyboard and trying not to laugh too loudly at the following:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Most of the time he gets fed up of sitting on laps and goes and sits somewhere else. When he does, I can get on with what I’m supposed to do. But I’m a little feart that for once he is out for the count. He certainly looks fast asleep.

Two web cartoons

Firstly Unshelved – they’re currently actively recruiting new followers.

The comic is a mix of daily library based antics, weekly book recommendations that are half just interesting, and half intended to be printed out and displayed in libraries.

It reminds me of my time working in a library as a teenager. I still don’t quite understand how, but somehow, while I was doing four A Levels, I still found time to work in a library every other Saturday and make full use of my borrowing privileges. How did I have time for so much reading as well as the school work?

The other cartoon is Adam and Andy, a very sweet innocent cartoon about two gay guys in a long term relationship.

A scary sweet and innocent cartoon that very often seems to be spying on us.

Take this. And this.

It’s almost like they know about my aversion to cleaning and all the cake wrappers in the footwell of the passenger seat of my car.

New recording: Pygmalion

Nearly three years ago, we began a group project to record a play over at Librivox.

Today, it’s finally completed and available for download here: Librivox Pygmalion. It is of course the play that gave rise to the musical My Fair Lady, and I play Prof Henry Higgins.

For nearly two years, half the files lay languishing on servers, before one of the excellent co-ordinators at LV made me sit down and record the missing Henry Higgins lines. It was a job I had been putting off for years, but when I finally sat down to do it it took less than an hour.

To make a play at Librivox, we sit separately in our offices and houses across the world, and record the lines of each character one at a time. Another volunteer takes the various sound files and edits them together. The background sounds are not perfectly the same, and you can tell that this is the process we’ve used, rather than an expensive studio process with all the actors in the same place. And yet the finished project is really listenable and enjoyable.