An Untimely Update

So I’ve been away for some time. You may have noticed this, principally by the fact that when you visit my blog, it hasn’t been updated in goodness knows how long.

In actual fact, I have been away for quite a bit. My holidays began fairly early due to the fact that the school couldn’t teach us anything else. (Although judging by my grade results, I could probably have done with learning more of the things they [i]did[/i] teach us. Never mind.) There was a period of quite a few weeks where I variously lay about the house, messed around on my (brand new) laptop and came up with new and ever more imaginative ways of doing nothing. (There is a surprisingly high number of coding projects I’m working on right now that I will never finish.)

Then suddenly, one Friday, I went off to some Christian camp, and for the next month I slept in my own bed for at most three nights. I know. From one thing to the next, I flew. To be honest, my flying went from a brief Christian camp to slightly less brief mission trip in Wales and then to a family holiday in Sussex. I mean, it wasn’t much. But at least it was an excuse.

And that is why I am telling you. These holidays are my excuse. You are my beloved readers, and I would never, *never* think of not writing for your pleasure. Indeed, the weeks where I skip my blogging are, quite honestly, painful, both spiritually and physically. I think we can easily ignore the weeks beforehand where I didn’t blog. Critics would use harsh terms like ‘laziness’ and ‘sloth’, but I think we, as friends, can agree on more accurate phrases such as ‘an enforced period of mutual pause for reflection’ and ‘forgetfulness’. However, I can at least shelter behind these past four weeks.

Well, not the past four weeks. I mean, I’ve also been back for almost two weeks now. It’s not like I’ve literally just stepped off a plane, fresh from saving crocodiles from whatever they need saving from. No, I’ve been moping around for a while, doing nothing. Well, really it was a continuation to the previous enforced period of mutual pause for reflection, but… you aren’t buying that, are you? Fine, I’ll use the proper term. I’ve been spending a week being lazy.

So I thought I’d update you. You may have already heard a bit of the news, probably because you’re my mother, but maybe also because you’re a stalker. Either way, this is embarassing and I should not be discussing this with the general public lest it ruin my already quite low chances of looking cool.

So, let us run through my big recent events, in order of importance. Really not at all important is the fact that I am now the proud owner of the cutest, smartest, most awesomely designed memory stick in the world, the Kingston DTSE9. 16GB of flash memory all locked into a single sliver of metal, and it looks beautiful. It’s probably completly impractical – the port has no cover, so there’s a high chance it’ll get clogged up with dirt and dust within a week, among other limitations – but it’s so beautiful I’d forgive it anything.

I have also become the proud owner of a Raspberry Pi (RasPi or rPi to those of us in the know). It’s that small computer thing that’s the size of a credit card, and runs Linux because there’s nothing else that’s small enough to fit on. It is not necessarily as aesthetically pleasing as the memory stick, but in other ways it is far more beautiful. Alas, I am no longer in the posession of a moniter, so it is functionally useless (and sitting in a box at home) but nonetheless, it is quite cool.

However, there’s far more important news. I am now a full, proper student at the University of Manchester. Indeed, the only thing left for me to undergo is that ritual that is Freshers’ Week. Or Welcome Week, if you go to the University of Manchester. I am currently sitting in my room, typing this out, waiting for the internet connection to work now that I’ve signed in and proclaimed my identity.

Some good point about Owens Park, which is where I’m staying? Well, I suppose I’m glad the fire alarms work. Especially at the dark hours of the morning where, being fast asleep, I appreciated just how loud they were, and effective at waking me up.

Although not waking me up enough to remember to take my keys and lock the door. I may need to work on that.

I suppose another good point would have to be the awareness that good grammar isn’t everything in life. Owens Park is just as good as Owen’s Park, or any other ‘correct’ derivative of that name. Really, sometimes people just need to get out and live their life. Honestly.

However much I moan (if you haven’t noticed the moaning yet, go back and read the last three paragraphs really carefully) it’s cheap*, it’s cheerful, and it’s got a number of fairly nice people in it, so I can’t complain really. Indeed, I reckon, eventually, I might just grow to like it as a place.

* for a given value of cheap


American Dreams: A Rousing Commentary on the Vietnam War, But Not Really

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.

Hello, Johz fans.  Today (or at least some point during the course of today, according to the varying timezones that span this blue-green sphere) is the Fourth of July, or American Independence day, and indeed the whole entire point of this mini-series.  So, I thought, rather than stealing the glory on this beautiful day, I’d let someone else have a go.  A fellow blogger, indeed.  A fellow American blogger.

Considering most of my fellow bloggers are Australian for some reason (although Australia does have “Australia Day”, taking the mickey out of Australians is too easy, and so this blog rarely attempts it, so a mini-series celebrating Australia would be pointless.  Although Australia Day?  Pfft…) I decided to contact NationStatesLandsVille, the great American Doctor Who fan and blogger.  You might realise that he’s a Doctor Who fan.  You might also realise that he’s American, but we won’t comment on that.

Anyway, here he is.  You are allowed to visit his blog, but remember that his favourite Doctor is Matt Smith.  Says it all, doesn’t it?

As I spent six long seconds deliberating what I should write this post about, for I know shit all about “imports”, “exports”, and “the birds and the bees”, I decided that the only American export worth discussing is rather obvious. Me. I mean, I’m great, and everyone knows that, but I did decide against it. I felt bad about the idea of taking all of Johz’s business, and sending it over to my blog,, since Johz was kind enough to let me do this. Well, I really do want to do that, which is why I just linked to my blog, but doing it up front isn’t clever. I like clever, which is why I didn’t know Johz had a blog until he asked me to do this. No, I realized that I, as a native American (fuck off, Pocahontas, it’s our title now), have an obligation to my country. I have a duty to spread America’s message to everyone I can. And that message, besides the one about shooting brown people? Bullshit. Bullshit and freedom.

The UK’s own Winston Churchill once said, “Franklin, get your damn wheel off my foot or I’ll break this bottle over your head”. He also said, hopefully in a less drunken manner, but likely not, “All of the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom…” He then went on to a list a bunch of pussy socialist shit like “honor”, “mercy”, and “justice”, but that’s not important.

What kind of commie pig title is “Sir”?

Basically, what Winston was saying was that freedom, being the ability to do whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, barring certain dangerous things like murder, arson, and marrying someone who has the same body part as you, is damn awesome. And this man knew awesome; he hired Count Dooku to stab Nazis.

How did he cram Christopher Lee in that thing?

Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering; “what the fuck does that have to do with America?” Well, ignoring slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage, interracial marriage, gay marriage, that whole “Occupy” debacle, copyright law, and anything else that makes us look bad in any way…

Like this. This never happened.

…we’re pretty much the greatest nation in the world. Also, we invented freedom.

Back in 1776, a couple of old white dudes gathered in a room and angrily yelled at each other like a bunch of children arguing over a toy until they reached a decision that would affect everyone in the land (something we now call Congress), a tradition that the English stole from us and named “Parliament”. And this decision? To get pepperoni and extra cheese, a hard fought decision at that. The sausage camp was very dedicated. Oh, and they also decided to secede form England, those 12 colonies and also Maryland, and to found their own union, which would be called “the United States of America”, the first republic of the modern era.

Hm? Articles of Confederation? Shut up, we don’t have time for that.

But, anyways, instantly everyone in America (except brown people, women, and the poor) were free to govern themselves, free to express themselves (unless you were nice to the French, which, really, just makes sense), and free to own guns. Apparently, they were pretty damn big on the gun thing. At least, that’s what the GOP tells me, and the GOP would never lie. Right?

The infection of freedom spread, from France to Russia (dropped the ball there, guys), from Canada to somewhere else, democracy battled the demon of monarchy and slew it on the spot. Yes, folks, no kings nor queens survive today, and everyone is in a happy, happy American-style, non-corrupt, republic. Even Russia.

And why’s that? Because America exported its freedom. You’re welcome, the Universe.

American Dreams: Consumer Culture

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.

A shopping trolley in a river.

This is probably symbolic. I’m not sure what it’s symbolic of, but it’s important that it’s symbolic.

I could not be considered a true player of the NationStates game if I did not mention Max Barry’s favourite American Export: the power of consumerism.  It’s an old chestnut, which may or may not actually exist, but certainly has been invented by that lovable entity we know as America.

The concept behind a consumer culture is simple, and it is what drives any Capitalist society.  Essentially, the whole of such a society is geared towards the consumer, and his or her needs and wishes.  It drives the whole culture and economic system from top to bottom, regulating quality and effectively making everything tick.

Of course there are some – Mr. Barry, for example – who might be tempted to argue that we are merely presented with the illusion of choice.  Does consumerism really exist, or do corporations tells us what we want, and then proceed to sell it to us at their own prices?  However, regardless of which side has the power, the culture that surrounds consumerism is real. massive, and a major export of the United States.  We see it in the concept of branded clothing, in fast food on demand, even in the number of channels we have on our television.  If someone wants it, they can have it.  For a price, of course.

It is very easy to consult consumerism, but we take a lot of the benefits it brings for granted.  Cost wars drive down food prices when we go out shopping.  Companies today struggle to sell shoddy products in the face of damning reviews on the internet.  Even having Fair Trade products on our shelves is a result of consumer pressure in some form or other.

Much of this is, admittedly, connected to modern forms of communication, particularly the internet, which allows anybody to have a voice.  However, even with these many mechanisms, it is doubtful whether we would have had a such an impact as consumers had America’s culture not been so prevalent in our daily lives.

American Dreams: Freedom

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.

Today’s Great American Export is particularly hard to describe.  It’s that concept or ideal that seems hard-wired into Americans, often from birth, of individualism and independence, where everyone can escape from oppression and exploitation.  It’s sometimes called the American Dream, but being as this mini-series is called the American Dream, it would be a bit weird if I used that phrase again.  So I’ll term it ‘freedom’.

There are many examples of this freedom at work in American culture, from the early silicon valley-style startups such as Apple, to the lawless adventures in the Wild West, that were about making a new life for oneself.  Indeed, the concept probably stems all the way from the stories of the founding fathers escaping persecution in Britain for a brighter future, and of course for freedom.

What is harder to point out is where in history this freedom – or rather the concept of it – began to be exported.  It’s there in Woodrow Wilson’s repeated calls for self-determination and public referendums during the post-WWI treaties, but perhaps a more obvious export would be the way America encouraged the other western powers to fight against the USSR-led expansion of Communism with the rallying cry of liberty.

Certainly bad things have happened in the name of this freedom.  Vietnam and Afghanistan may well be considered cases where it was realised that freedom itself means more than simple liberation by a greater power.  However, freedom is something that has often been championed by America, and certainly has found its way into many other people’s lives.  So here’s to freedom as America’s second greatest export.  I can only wonder what will be exported tomorrow.

American Dreams: Friends

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.


Friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought we should begin with the basics.  What gift has America exported that has most affected your average 18-21 slob, sitting around on the sofa all day, watching daytime television?  That’s right, Friends.  Not real friends, of course, which are way out of the league for our poor slob here, but Friends, the television sitcom about a group of American 20-somethings in Manhattan.

Friends, undeniably, was a classic.  Talk about the best American sitcoms in the UK (and we have whole channels devoted to them) and you might get some sort of recognition with classics such as ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, or a current series such as ‘How I Met Your Mother’.  You might even hear some mention of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, albeit usually coupled with an explanation of “That show is so weird, I don’t understand most of what they’re saying”.*

Yet none of these match up to the instant recognition of Friends.  Not only that, but the Friends theme tune (“I’ll be there for you…”), the Friends opening sequence (where they jump into the fountain), and any of the Friends actors are instantly recognisable as part of the Friends brand.

But why was Friends such a successful show?  The trite thing to say here would be that the show represents our own lives, but this is actually (and sometimes worryingly) true.  Even for British audiences, most of whom have never been anywhere near America, the situations that characters fall into, and indeed the characters themselves, all ring surprisingly true.

The stuff on top of this basic recipe, however, is just as important.  The show would not be the same without impeccable timing, well-written scripts, and a perfect balance of humour and emotion.

Is this the greatest American export?  That’s for you to decide.  But the popularity and strength of the show cannot be denied, which is why it deserves a place in this hall of fame.

*As an aside, if you don’t understand a joke in The Big Bang Theory, just laugh anyway.  It would have been hilarious.

Three Cheers for Our Republic

The logo of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

Even this is a better logo than the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games…

One of the things I particularly admire about the UK is how good it is at being a republic.  For a country apparently run by a monarchical dictator, it does a remarkably good job of ignoring this and getting on with the business of democracy.

There are probably many reasons for this, but I’ve pinpointed two that I think are especially important.  The first is surely obvious:  we are far too lazy to get rid of the Queen simply for some upstart republicans, and she doesn’t really make enough of a difference that we are forced to.  Ultimately, this is the laziness option, and it’s something we have done well at for a long time now.  While it does mean a gentle loosening of certain ideals, it does mean we have less of those horrendous civil wars.

The second reason is slightly less obvious, because it tends to get bogged down in numbers and meaningless statistics.  It is the fact that the Queen is actually beneficial to the United Kingdom.

Let me explain.  Take the Jubilee we’ve just had.  What a party, eh?  Ignore the fact that it cost so-and-so much to the economy in lost revenue for the businesses that would normally be running on that day, and remember the faces of the people who were part of each of the individual celebrations.  The crowds at the concert, the millions watching the boat pageant, and the face of my friend who stared blankly at the camera waiting for an interview, and then was cut due to a lack of time.  Even the most reluctant of enthusiasts must admit that it was an impressive logistical achievement.  And all these people were happy.  They had a celebration, a day of rest, a good night out bonding with the rest of the workforce.

But does this matter?  Well it has been said that a happy workforce is a more productive workforce, and you’ve probably all experienced this for yourselves.  This is the reasoning behind many public holidays and events.  No-one is a machine, and we all need the break.  To quote another overused, pithy saying, a change is as good as a rest.

The effect is visible around the world.  America celebrates Independence Day, Australia celebrates Australia Day, and France celebrates violently killing their leaders, their leaders’ friends, their leaders’ friends’ pets, and anyone else who had the nerve to politely disagree with the concept of killing anyone who politely disagreed with anything.  These events create a national identity, a sense of common existence.  It allows members from all walks of life to mingle in a metaphorical way, if not in actuality.

But then every once in a while, this mere yearly celebration becomes just another thing.  Bank holidays can be fun, but they can also be that time every year where you queue for hours on the motorway in order to queue for hours in some tourist trap on the coast.  This is even more evident in times of recession, where people simply don’t have the money to go anywhere nice, and so end up queuing for hours to go somewhere that they won’t be able to do anything at for fear of money.  The solution comes in the form of these extraordinary bank holidays (where extraordinary simply means more than ordinary, although you wouldn’t think it).

Does the monarchy really do anything for us?  You could ask the manufacturers of bunting.  You could ask the Queen’s fans throughout the commonwealth and the wider world.  You could ask those for whom the Queen is a vital diplomatic tool.  Or you could simply ask the people of the country that she rules, who would tell you that she doesn’t really do much harm.

Yes!  Johz is back, after many, many exams.  This blog will hopefully be moving to a new address (got any ideas?  Comment below) and there will almost certainly be slightly more activity happening.  However, I thought, as a self-righteous British person, I should try for once to celebrate the fact that America has done some good stuff for us.  As luck would have it, it’s the Fourth of July next week.  So from Wednesday, for the next seven days, I’m going to be posting a short essay on one of the greatest achievements of the United States of America.  And there may even be a guest blog, so you don’t have to listen to me constantly…

Moral Behaviour on the High Seas

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.

Why are pirates so bad?  Because they arrrr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)



So technology. It’s a very large topic, really. If one takes a very broad definition, every time mankind does something for the first time, that’s new technology. Although, honestly, every time mankind does something for the first time is still only about once every decade or so, so we’re probably in the clear.

Anyway, technology is great. Without technology, we would have no computers, no television, no washing machines. Just think, a world without Facebook, Jeremy Kyle, or that bloke who comes around every so often to ‘change a washer’. Although the positive side of that would be that we wouldn’t have Facebook, Jeremy Kyle or that bloke who comes around every so often to ‘change a washer’. Technology is a good example of a very fine balancing act.

But it’s our responses to technology that I’m going to talk about in this article. Or rather our responses to one particular bit of technology which is the internet. You know, that vast filing cabinet of curiosities that upholds itself as a paragon of righteousness, freedom, and free and futile debate between ourselves (sensible people) and those idiots who keep on posting completely fallacious arguments that you of course have to destroy despite the fact that everyone knows that no-one has every changed their mind on the internet.

Indeed, the size of even this narrow topic is so large that we’re going to have to go deeper, if you’ll forgive me a reference to a film I’ve never seen. How do you deal with internet piracy? Are you an internet pirate yourself? And do you believe that internet piracy is even a crime?

The issues are of course complex. If the pirate were to be stealing a car, one could easily see the crime being committed. Someone is losing access to the car, while someone else is gaining it. Internet piracy is somewhat difference. It’s a bit like stealing a duplicate copy of the car, so that both the pirate and the victim now have the car. But then even that’s a bit misleading. A better metaphor might be for the pirate to have stolen a duplicate car from the production line. While the company responsible for the car hasn’t lost anything physical, they have lost one of their potential customers: the pirate.

Of course, the analogies start getting ridiculous after a while, but there is a point between the mundane and the mad where they do throw up some questions. For example, would the pirate have even bought the car anyway? If the pirate drove the stolen car around, would this be free advertising, as the pirate has taken something he wouldn’t paid for, and maybe even convinced more legitimate customers to pay for it?

The problem now is the ease of piracy, because if our pirate can steal the car, so can all of his friends, and now no-one is buying cars at all. If we compare this with music, we would note that were free downloads made legal, sales via ‘legitimate’ sites would collapse. The only sources of music sales, say, would come from live events and CD sales, the latter of which would of course be naturally reduced.

It should be noticed that there is another community that relies almost entirely on free downloads, and that is the open source community. A friend of a friend of mine manages to earn a surprisingly sizeable amount on the side of his normal job from donations for a very small-interest piece of model train software. Is this the way forwards for music publishing?

Then there is the issue of who would suffer. In the music industry, the balance of income from sales and performing is a precarious one. Some artists would undoubtedly remain fairly unaffected. Other artists might find the need to play live more often. Retired musicians are probably the biggest losers from internet piracy, as they are no longer performing at all. Alternatively, in the world of ebooks, one could see many of the new writers suffering. A friend of mine is making his debut into the literary world with a self-published ebook. If people merely downloaded for free instead of buying, he would be unable to even make the start-up costs for getting it into print.

So it’s certainly a fine balancing act. On one hand, there is the idea that no-one suffers, that the creator receives free advertising, and that if the download is any good people will gladly donate to the creator. On the other, the issues of how much money the creators will actually be able to make if they aren’t paid conventionally. The solution? Perhaps another referendum will help us find out.