Thoughts 2.01 to 2.10

Thought 2.10: 08 October 2003 - If it ain't broke, don't change the name

Some of you here in the UK might have seen an alarming sight down the local newsagent or supermarkets recently. What used to be various bars of Cadbury's chocolate have had a name change to something else, in Cadbury's bid to have most of their main chocolate bars named Dairy Milk something or other, like Dairy Milk Bubbles and Dairy Milk Mint Crisp.

Is it me, or is this a purely pointless exercise? Haven't Cadbury's learned from the past lessons of rebranding of other products that are well known? They only need look at Kellogg's Coco Pops if they require any proof. A few years back, some bright spark though that because Coco Pops were basically Rice Krispies with chocolate on them, why not call them Choco Krispies? You can see the logic, but what they failed to see was the target audience. Who eats such cereal? Kids (small or big I should add) who know where it's at when they eat a bowl of said cereal. They expect the milk to turn chocolatey and all that. Cue advert to tell people and lots of distraught children down the supermarket, in a scene not unlike this:

Mummy: Shall we get some cereal for you, dear?
Child: Please, can I have some Coco Pops then?
Mummy: They're not called that, but they're now Choco Krispies.
Child: It's not the same! They're not Coco Pops! It's so unfair! (etc)

Serious, and a few months later after vastly reduced sales, Kellogg's realised the error and bowed to the public demand. Now what have Cadbury done? Well, Fruit and Nut is now Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut, Whole Nut has gone the same way, the bar once called Wispa is now Dairy Milk Bubbles, and the classic Caramel bar (with Miriam Margoyles' bunny rabbit voiceover in the old ads) is now Dairy Milk with Caramel, and the new named bar doesn't even look the same as the classic Caramel one does!

Put quite simply, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and that's what Cadbury's have not done. They've changed the names and in some cases the look and feel of the bar (so also it can't possibly taste the same either) and I guarantee within a few months sales of most of the bars will have gone down. Enough is enough. I won't be buying any bar of chocolate made by them until they see the error of their ways. There's far too much name changing of brands just so that people will think it's something new and try it, when it's mostly the same quality on the inner. Like changing Marathon to Snickers just because America knows the bar by that name - pointless. Marathon was a real bloke's chocolate bar until the name change. Thank heavens for Yorkie.

Thought 2.09: 26 August 2003 - Prevention is better than a cure

You may have noted in recent weeks that a few computer viruses have been very prevalent, doing lots of damage and infecting scores of PCs. Indeed, the main three that have been the culprits are known as Sobig-F, Welchi and Blaster, and in their own way really do lots of unwanted things to the PC. And it's always at these times that everyone starts thinking "Ooh, it's now time that I went to the shop and bought an up to date virus scanner program, and then I'll be protected".

If only it was that easy. Prevention, as they say, is much better than cure. People assume lots of things, too, so let's quash a few of those assumptions and get you savvy to what's going on rather quickly:

Assumption: If I buy anti-virus software from PC World, I'm protected automatically from viruses.
Truth: An anti-virus software program is only as up to date as the CD was made. With some software stores you will find that in fact the program only has information about viruses up to about three months ago. As virii are written daily, the first thing you need to do is get your anti-virus software up to date, and keep it that way. Most good software vendors release updates very quickly to deal with new threats, so maybe checking at least once a day should be considered good practice.

Assumption: I don't open emails with nasty attachments, so I am virus-free.
Truth: Not quite. Recent virus worms like Blaster exploit vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system that most PCs have, and you can be infected online! Particularly if you have Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the vulnerability is quite nasty. However, you can download the update separately and fix it here if you haven't done so already. Don't now use Windows Update to do it, because the vulneravbility is most exposted when you are doing a Windows Update! Once you have installed the patch separately and restarted the system, you can then use Windows Update safely and install all the critical patches you need. Note: If you kept your copy of Windows up to date in the first place, you wouldn't be affected as the patch was released a month before Blaster came out. In any case, if you have a version of Windows you can update via Windows Update, check for updates at least once a week, if not more often. Usually viruses wreak havoc on unpatched systems.

Assumption: Someone I know sent me a mail attachment, so I am safe to open it.
Truth: Not neccesarily! In fact, a lot of viruses in the Sobig family actually use malformed mail headers. What this means is that it can be sent from anywhere in the world, but change the sender's address to anyone it has in their address book. So, it may look like it's from a friend, but it's actually been sent from someone else, and the virus replaces the from: field to your friend. Besides which, it's not good practice to send screensaver attachments via email anyway as they've long had a reputation for being full of viruses.

So, what else can you do? Well, if you have Windows XP, you can turn on its inbuilt Internet Connection Firewall which will give you some basic protection (but not necessarily the best). If you need instructions for this, please contact me. You can also check out software like Norton Personal Firewall, or Zone Labs' Zone Alarm. In fact in the latter case you can get the free version which I use. It works well and blocks unwanted stuff quite nicely, and one of my colleagues at work who tried it said he was amazed by how much stuff it blocked, so there you go.

But the basic lesson is this: prevention is the best method. Don't act when it's too late. Act quick and decisive.

Thought 2.08: 19 July 2003 - Safety first on the Internet

You cannot have failed to have read or watched the big story here in the UK this week, how twelve year old schoolgirl Shevaun Pennington went missing, meeting up with thirty one year old US marine Toby Studabaker after chatting to each other in a chatroom and emailing each other for over a year. She had been extremely naive enough to lie about her age (she claimed she was nineteen) and also be naive enough not to follow basic safety rules for children when chatting on the Internet. Thankfully she returned home safe and well last Wednesday, but as usual the press have gone into overdrive about how dangerous the Internet is, and how it's a home for paedophiles, you know, the usual scaremongering. Why does it take an incident like this for them to actually mention that there are dangers out there, and forget to mention that if used well and carefully the Internet can be a very useful tool and aid to life.

Nonetheless, there has to be questions asked about the events of the last week, and one of which that I found interesting was that why her parents had allowed her to reach the point of almost Internet and computer addiction. They freely admitted they'd been letting her use the Internet for at least five hours a day, and if they weren't in the house, she would often be on for up to eleven hours at a time. Now even at that young age, this is pretty unhealthy. There are other things to do at twelve, I'm sure, even things where you don't have to go out of the house, like reading books, listening to music, or if you do go out, going to the cimena or bowling with your mates etc. It's not just the aspect of time though, it's the aspect of taking an interest into what your child is doing to ensure that they are protected rightly but fairly. For a start, staring into a computer screen for five hours cannot be doing any good for your eyesight, even the UK Health and Safety guidelines state two hours at a time maximum with a fair length break in between sessions. Not just that, but the parents need to take note of the technology and carefully embrace it with their children, asking them what they like to do, what sites they like to go on etc, so that they can understand how it's used but also where the child likes to explore around.

Safety is first, and to re-iterate the constant advice that many excellent sites for children give, and also a few tips of my own:

Actually, I did have a couple of ideas in my head, and one of them would be that if schools kept (as part of their student records) a record of the students' relevant ICQ number, MSN or Yahoo Messenger user name and made sure the database was somewhere where it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands, then if a child received a chat request, the parents could ask the school to check the user the next day, and then authorise or decline the user accordingly.

The other is more for parents: one safe way to ensure your child only logs on to the Internet when you're around is to password protect the Internet login you have via your service provider, and/or password protect the system BIOS screen at startup. In the latter way, the user cannot even start the PC into windows without you typing in the password for them. As I said, safety first. And if you're a child thinking of venturing into a chatroom for the first time, talk it over with your parents - maybe show them what to do if they're not au fait with the technology, and sit there together at the PC so you can all see what's going on - maybe as well your parents can help you locate a more safe chatroom where you will feel okay and they will also be more at ease with the idea. And remember: you're always in control. You can always walk away from a situation.

One final thing to summise the last week's events: it could have been a lot worse. Shevaun was very lucky.

Thought 2.07: 25 May 2003 - Eurovision Division Two

It was the annual cheesy song-fest that was Eurovision last night. Thankfully, I missed it, but I did note from the news that not only did the UK finish last, but also with "nil points" that's usually reserved for rubbish nations. Well, to be truthful that doesn't surprise me one bit after seeing part of the UK's "performance" (and I use that term loosely.)

You see, it's all very well trying to raise fresh musical talent, but clearly if you're going to pick a song to represent our country, make sure the singers can actually sing their notes properly. It was clear that they both hit several notes off key and also that they didn't look bothered. At least the public agreed and that's why we did so badly. No use trying to gloss over things and say that no one voted for the song because it was a post-Iraq war backlash, that's just a lame excuse in my eyes. At the end of the day, they were crap and suffered for it - now the notoriety of being the worst ever UK entry is theirs for all to see.

However, if everyone thought this meant no UK entry next year, think again. Apparently under some Eurovision rule, the UK is one of a few nations to be exempt from the relegation that they put in a few years ago, and so no matter how badly we finish, we're there! How rubbish is that? At the end of the day, if you do badly (as Ireland did a few years ago), then you have to be relegated and miss it for a year or so - it's the only way that other countries get a chance. We deserved what we got last night - and that was nothing. Now the punishment should be no UK entrant for next year and so we can sit back, watch and laugh at every other country making a complete ass of themselves while we sit in Eurovision Division Two - and in the real world still making intelligent thoughtful music. Thank heavens Eurovision doesn't represent the music industry - or else think how hard it would be for proper musical talent like we have out there to succeed.

Thought 2.06: 01 May 2003 - The parents must be punished for failing to control their children

It's come to my attention over the last few months that there's increasing news reports of young "tearaways" being put on all sorts of probation and social exclusion orders, including some where they cannot enter certain areas and go to certain buildings. At first, you think that the crimes are alarming enough and that you feel genuinely sorry for victims of those crimes. But then, the sympathy turns to anger and you are clearly left wondering "where are the parents in all this?"

There have been plans for some time, and they have been used already, for parents of young children to be ultimately responsible for any crimes that they commit and, in some cases, face sentencing for failing to control their children. I'll be the first to admit it's not always an ideal scenario and really there's a deeper issue of crime that needs someone with their finger on the pulse to give the legal system less loopholes for such criminals to crawl their way out of. However: with a couple of high profile cases over the last year meaning that the parents have been brought to book for their children's crimes, it has seemed to work. Not least on two accounts: firstly there's the embarassment factor of the child in that their parents will be "getting done" for what they've done, and in some children's cases, meaning that they as those parents' children, don't look so "cool" anymore to any of their prospective friends, and secondly because it means ultimately the parent has a more need to know basis on where their children are and what they are doing, which can only be a good thing for society in general.

Also, there is this to consider: most young minors cannot be put in prison: some of them actually know this and therefore get up to as much mischief as possible knowing that they'll be let go at the end of the day. But if their parents are held responsible it's a different ball game entirely. Rather than the parent not care about what their child is up to, or believe the child's lies if they don't tell them the truth about their misdemeanours, their moral duty shifts somewhat to ensure they they abide rather than abuse the law.

It may seem a simple system but given more time I think it will work. It may even go so far as to police being given the powers to evict households who are a problem to the local community that they live in. I don't like to see anyone evicted, but at the end of the day: you do the crime, you face punishment. It's as cold and collected as that. And it effects us all. More crime and related incidents mean more money has to be pumped into police and fire resources, costing us all ultimately extra council tax. Something else to think about.

Thought 2.05: 09 April 2003 - Cigarette taxes must be higher

Today is the UK Budget today, and the Chancellor has announced his usual measures of increases in beer, wine and so on, and only a paltry 8p per packet rise in cigarettes. Sorry, but that isn't enough. At all.

Everyone know the risks of smoking, so I'm not going to bore people with the details. But it's also getting more expensive to do so, and you'd think that anyone of a young age who had decided to take up smoking would find better things to spend their money on than around £4-50 on a packet of cancer sticks. Still, it's their choice. But is it really a choice that they wish to make?

Sadly, I fear the only way to effectively ensure that many people don't take up the habit is by effectively pricing cigarettes so high that people won't be bothered to spend so much on them. At the same time though we need to get tough on those who risks importing many thousands of cigarettes through customs ensuring a lot of sales the black market as well, to really close the loophole. One example of why this should be so was witnessed by me the other day: sat on a bus, and a teenage girl on the back was clearly smoking despite the fact all buses are non-smoking these days. A woman sat ahead asked her politely to put it out, as she was asthmatic (which is a fair enough request to me) and all she got was backchat and a lot of abuse. See, this is the other thing: it's the dependency on the cigarettes even at that age which makes people go down the slippery slope some of the time.

Anyway, the only way the Chancellor is going to win the votes of some of the young people is to really increase the costs a lot higher to stop people taking the habit, and who knows, might even get some of them to stop. When a national newspaper asked the youngsters what they wanted to see, a massive rise was the top of their list, and I can't say I blame them.

Thought 2.04: 17 February 2003 - At last, someone has the courage on transport, unlike the Government

Today sees the start of the congestion charge in London, and in my view a long overdue charge to alleviate the appalling traffic problems and possible gridlocks that happen in London almost every day of the week. If you can be brave enough to see underneath the media sceptism and hype, you'll actually realise not only is it overdue, but also a very brave move by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. His vision, despite Labour's opposition (more on Labour's appalling public transport record later) is to be applauded, not only in seeing it through, but also to be sure the public were informed about it in advance - how and where they could pay the £5 daily charge, who would be eligible for discounts, and so on. The money raised goes towards better public transport for the capital. In theory, at least, a win-win situation.

And in practice? Well, let's not get too carried away as it is half-term for schools this week, which does reduce the traffic slightly. But, nonetheless, success it definitely has been so far. Many people commuting into London left the car at home and used public transport, or even got on their bicycle. And indeed, traffic cameras over the capital all showed the same thing - how much better and freer flowing the traffic was, how that buses could run more efficiently by not being stuck in jams and so on. In fact, one BBC reporter going to work not only saw his journey time cut by well over 30 minutes, but also how efficient the whole system was. Car registered, charge paid online - badabing. Easy as that.

This rare success story may seem like "another tax on the car" for the motorist, however it is those who cannot see beyond their front mirror and realise the environmental damage that they will ultimately cause. The same blind motorists who will use the most petrol-guzzling car that they can find. They're rich enough, so why not invest in getting thier car converted to run on LPG instead and save themselves a small fortune? Has to be worth it, surely. Or why not consider lift-sharing, put four of you in a car going to work in Central London, split the congestion charge between the four of you, and that's three less cars going into the centre as well as much less of a charge per person. Easy, when you stop and think for a moment.

The early success of the congestion charging has to be also a smack in the eye and proving the general short-sightedness of the Labour Government's transport policies. Although public transport in Manchester isn't too bad as a whole, you only have to look at even the villages surrounding Manchester (New Mills, for example) to realise how appallingly bad it can be in a fair number of cases. The Government hasn't had the strength, the will or the commitment to deliver on public transport. None of the major train line upgrades, so badly needed, are proving to be on time or on costs, and that is worrying, especially the spiralling costs of the West Coast Main Line upgrade. While train travel isn't too bad on major routes, it could well do with improvements nonetheless, especially in the punctuality department. Similarly, the promise of not too much roadbuilding is proving the ultimate lie. You cannot cut traffic simply by building more roads, that surely is more outlets for a potential gridlock, you would have thought. Indeed, some of Labour's own cabinet ministers insist on using the car to go to meetings where they could quite easily set an example by either walking or using public transport.

We need more people like Ken Livingstone to have the bravery and the nouse to carry through schemes which will ultimately put public transport at the top of the agenda, and to finally make people realise that everything does not revolve around a car.

Thought 2.03: 13 February 2003 - Where is the pride and passion?

England capitulated to Australia in spectacular fashion last night. Nothing new there, I mean they beat us at tennis, they kick ass at cricket, in rugby league and union they have the upper hand, and football...

.. yes, football! England 1 Australia 3. A sure sign and a wake up call that too many of the England team, and their hapless coach, Sven-Göran Eriksson, are just too up in the clouds and don't realise what we, the fans, really want. We want pride. We want determination. We want passion. And we want 100% commitment to the cause, not just when the players feel like it. Some of those players should remember had it not been for an almost single-handed performance by David Beckham against Greece in October 2001, England wouldn't have been even going to the World Cup. Some players should remember Euro 96 against Spain, when Stuart Pearce (Psycho) had the courage to take a penalty in the shoot out despite having missed one in a World Cup semi. When Psycho scored that day, the passion and pride that ran down the face echoed in every England fan and player . He knew what it meant to play for his country, and you never saw anything less.

The problem as I see it now is that too many of the England players just turn up because they think it's their divine right as a Premiership player, and not a privelege. Well that is just wrong. Terribly wrong. One thing we can look back and say about Sir Bobby Robson and his England World Cup 1990 side - they weren't the most skilled or played the prettiest football. But he knew what it meant, and so did the players, to pull on the white shirt and the three lions, show some pride, determination and to always give 110% and make sure the job was done. The last minute of extra time winner against Belgium was proof of that never say die attitude, as was their comeback against Germany from a goal down and the look on the likes of Gascoigne, Lineker and Pearce when that goal went in. It's that level of pride we want back.

And it's a level we haven't seen from the current England line up for some time. The pathetic display in the Euro 2004 qualifier against Macedonia with the normal side was proof of that. And for forty five dismal minutes, it wasn't just lacking the pride and passion. It lacked everything. Where was the crunching tackle on Kewell when we went through for the Aussies' second goal? Where indeed was the marking all around the pitch? And why were so many of them utterly lazy, just waiting for their weekly pay cheque so they can laze around a bit more? To be fair to Australia, they deserved to win. They showed the level of commitment to the cause that we, England, must seek again. And changes have to be made now to ensure that this happens.

First off, we simply _have_ to sack Sven. I am sick and tired of his experiments in friendlies, which in my view are doing nothing whatsoever to bring the team together, or indeed manage to work out a regular line up. He should pick a first eleven he normally would, and then only make the normally allowed maximum of three changes, so he can see the team at its proper strength. In addition to this, it is of my view that he doesn't understand the concept that there is no such thing as a "friendly" against England. All sides around the world will always raise their game against us, it's a known fact. Therefore why shouldn't we pick our best side and use it as real, proper practice for a qualifier by playing 100% competitive. Oh no. Cue tactics of changing the team at half time, which last night didn't do too much for the younger players taking their chance. They needed a full game but not in that context, maybe start them from the beginning instead?

It's quite clear to me that Sven doesn't have the right motivational qualities because he can't get the players fired up for these sort of games, and that attitude is rubbing off rather badly on the players as well, if I say so. Anyone can be motivated to play for England when it's against Germany, and take their chances against a then poor German side. Although to be fair, 5-1 was and still is a brilliant result, you see, it's against Germany. No motivation needed. We always like to get one over on them and that's instilled into every Englishman from birth, and that rubs off on the players of course. But motivation should be that you need to give the fans something to cheer about, give them the feeling that they want to be a professional like you. On the evidence of last night's performance that was lacking.

And secondly, we should also drum into the England players that playing for England should be considered a special privelege, and not a right. The players themselves owe it to themselves to show that this is how they view it, not act around like some namby-pambies. They need that level that when they pull on the shirt, they believe that anything is possible if they give 110%. That they can give everything. That they know that unless they perform, some other player will take their place and their chance and have their own privelege of pulling on the shirt. They owe it to the fans last night who paid £32 upwards to see complete garbage from the over-paid, just turning up for the sake of it, so-caled professionals that were present on the pitch for the first half. Don't they realise what it MEANS to play for your country anymore? If they don't, the lazy sods should never play for England. Ever again. Give them the harshest lesson possible, that it's not just playing at club level that makes you a great player, it's taking advantage of the privelege of being handed an England shirt and proving that on your day you can be world class.

If we lose to Lichtenstein soon, then the damage has been irrepairably done.

Thought 2.02: 8 January 2003 - Homeless or just after some alcohol?

There are homeless people out there who do make an effort to give themselves a better life. Take the genuine Big Issue sellers (not someone with a dog eared copy) for example. You can always tell a genuine one because they never ask for money, only to sell you the mag, they always are polite to me and they stay in their designated selling spot. Now those people I don't mind helping out, the ones who obey the mag selling guidelines and are honest. Indeed, some of those have now found jobs as City Centre Wardens, guiding the public around town and helping them on their way. Now that's what I call a positive. After all, if you've walked the streets, you know where to go. And indeed, you know where _not_ to go as well. They have a job, self esteem and somewhere to live because they were prepared to do something about it, and good for them I say. However, those who endlessly drink all the time in a vain attempt to think that drink will solve their problems need to know one thing. We don't want to give to you anymore. We know where it will go.

My sister Sarah told me of one such person she tried to help. He was in Piccadilly bus station, and wanted money for supposedly food. So she goes and gets fish and chips from one of the chip shops, a warm meal and something most genuine people would appreciate. What does he do? Throws it back in her face and says "I wanted the money for a drink!" Needless to say, her opinion has changed drastically since then.

So, a word of advice: if soemone is hassling you while selling their dog-eared found in the bin copy of The Big Issue, report it to your local Big Issue office. I'm sure they'll appreciate it so that the genuine folk out there can start making a difference to their lives.

Thought 2.01: 7 January 2003 - Fuelling Our Own End?

Although this appeared in different form in the old website, some of it is very valid, particularly as the real reasons for the US's supposed "war on Iraq" are coming to light. They're just scared fuel prices will go up and have their precious cars and their polluting friends like Exxon (boycott them and Esso, btw) be priced out. So consider this in the UK at least as I've updated these points:

Clearly as fuel usage increases, so does the cost to the environment around us. Not just the ozone layer either. Temperatures in my home town of Manchester have gradually increased each year, as indeed has the humidity. And the air we breathe simply gets more filthy by the day. Although thankfully the majority of us are now using unleaded petrol, which does have less emissions, clearly it's still not enough. Friends of the Earth for example acknowledge that the rest of Europe should actually be in line with what the UK are charging and indeed, many other countries around the world will have to follow suit or face growing concerns from people in the know. More could be done for the taxes on fuel to fund public transport as a more viable alternative, although I will say that public transport, in the Manchester area at least, has improved considerably over the last 10 years or so.

Fuel will eventually run out, as soon as 2020. With this in mind, alternatives must be sought and as quickly as possible. Otherwise in years to come, what we are facing now will be a distinct reality. As supply cannot meet demand eventually, fuel prices will rise even more. So what can we do? Well, for a start, using public transport is good, as it means definitely much less environmental damage, much less fuel usage and also means that the country's infrastructure can be changed, leaving the road for necessary users such as the hauliers to get food and things to us (and also allow them to deliver much faster, meaning leaner costs for them also). If not, there is already widely available compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified petroleum gas (LPG). Both of these cost much less as their emissions are also much less. Although it might cost the average car user a few hundred pounds to convert, the amount being saved at the pumps would soon outlay thiscost and then some. Also, what you will find is that they're even leaner in usage to miles per the gallon. Any user of vehicles could use that now. And very soon, there will be an even better alternative - fuel cell cars. They run on a combination of hydrogen and oxygen and the emissions are water vapour into the atmosphere. Pretty clean I would say. And solar power is improving so much so that advanced solar cells can even power a vehicle in the night.

Or maybe we're prepared with blinkered eyes just blind to a future where no fuel IS going to be a reality?