Friday, April 27, 2007

Is commercialism killing the blogosphere?

The last question in the Love to Lead competition is quite a brave one. Why? Not because it tackles a controversial theme that forces people to take sides and defend their opinions. Nor because we are being asked to tackle one of the many big questions on life, the universe and everything. No - it's simply because it appears the organisers are putting themselves in the stocks. In my last entry I'm therefore going to use the Love to Lead competition as a case-study within the wider question.

Let's look at the facts...
Since the beginning of this competition, there have been numerous attempts to subvert the rules and regulations. The organisers have had to remove entries on the basis of them being either unintelligble, or copied from somewhere else. The voting system was abused on a number of occasions, and several of the winning entries are from people who have no history of blogging, and were clearly after the prizes. The rules had to be changed on several occasions because of systematic abuse and unfairness. You may form your own opinion on the quality of the winning entries, and what made them winners.

Where did it all go wrong?
It's not rocket science to identify why the whole thing didn't work very well. It boils down to the voting system, which was open to abuse from the first week without any real attempt to close the main loophole that allowed people to exploit their connections in the wider on-line community. Cynics might argue that the whole venture was an experiment in pushing commercialism onto the blogerati to see what happens. One can guess that the whole thing was meant to go viral, with bloggers emailing each other like crazy, thereby pushing the Toshiba brand firmly into bloggers minds. The result, in my opinion, met with only limited success and was a deeply unpleasant experience. Had this been a competition where the only prize was praise from fellow bloggers, the quality of the contributions would have been rather different, and the atmosphere would have been much healthier. It was commercialism that brought in the cheats, and it was the cheats that ruined the competition. No-one can say the last 15 weeks have been a fair fight on a level playing field.

What does this case-study tell us?
The experiment didn't work very well. The number of entries each week has not been huge, despite the publicity and the prizes on offer. The free-spirit of the blogosphere depends entirely on not having commercial pressures from any direction. As soon as a monetary value (literal or material) is placed on the writing any blogger, things start to turn ugly. We can take heart from the fact that the commercial interests did not penetrate the blogosphere any deeper.

So, is commercialism killing the blogosphere?
On the evidence of this attempt, the answer has to be no. It's just a flesh-wound. We can't extrapolate too far, of course, but it looks like the current attempt at taking the life out of the blogosphere has failed. Breathe easy, fellow bloggers, the threat has now passed.

Long live the blogosphere!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The McCrumble affiliate program

Hello all

Dr Mark Booth, my marketing manager, has informed me that the 'bookstore' known as Borders have stocked my book in their Cambridge branch. He sent the following picture as proof:

They have apparently sold one copy.

Become a McCrumble affiliate today!

Interested in contributing to a worthy cause at no expense to yourself?

Fond of the written word?

Keen to support self-publishing writers?

If so, then you might like to consider becoming a McCrumble affiliate.

Here's how it works...

Pop along to your nearest bookshop (preferably an independent) that you think might be interested in stocking McCrumble. Approach the manager/purchasing person and ask them if they would consider putting McCrumble on their shelves. Upon receiving an affirmative response, ask them to contact me at with their details, and I will organise for my marketing manager to undertake negotiations. Should the negotiations work, you will automatically become an affiliate - a badge you can wear with pride!



Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Breast is best

Hello all

No 3 is now over a week old and doing well. We did get off to a shaky start, though, as Dolores insisted on breast-feeding despite never having attempted it before. When the twins were born, she was advised to use formula to ease the feeding burden, and found it so convenient that she never once offered her breasts to either infant. The twins have since blamed some of their aberrant behaviour on not having recieved the goodness contained within breastmilk, and it was for this reason - amongst others, that Dolores decided to throw away the formula and push No.3 onto her left breast within minutes of his birth.

The neonate latched on enthusiastically and began sucking out the life-giving colostrum. The feeding only lasted a few minutes before he rolled off, burped, and fell asleep. A midwife, satisfied that he was able to latch on and suck properly, announced that both Dolores and No.3 would be fine. She also told us to expect a 10% loss in birthweight over the first few days that would be regained over the next week, or thereabouts.

Having stretched NHS finances by turning up at one of their hospitals to give birth, we were not encouraged to hang around for very long. There were no complications to keep us in the hospital for more than one night, so the next day Ravel came with the car (and car seat, of course), to pick us up.

Everything went well, or so we thought, until a few days later when a midwife came to weigh No.3. It turned out he had lost a bit more weight than expected. The midwife asked if No.3 had been feeding regularly, to which Dolores responded in the affirmative, but this did not stop the midwife suggesting that we might try a little formula as a top-up. Dolores agreed to this in front of the midwife, but renounced her intention minutes later - after the midwife had left.

'What...?' I asked, surprised at this clear breach of a verbal agreement.

'I'm not touching the bottle, Joseph. You've seen what bottle feeding can do. Look at the twins...'

'Yes, I know love. But just a few drops won't hurt. Millions of kids are raised on formula. I know you think the twins suffered, but there are a number of confounding factors that really should be taken into consideration.'

'Stuff confounders. I'm not using a bottle. We'll just have to feed him more. I'll be in the nursery.'

With that, Dolores strode off, infant under her arm squealing like a piglet on its way to slaughter. 'Stress, boss', said Ravel. 'She need some peace and quiet, like you get in Bulgarian woods.'

'Huh? What are you suggesting? I should take them into the forest for a few days?' I asked Ravel, my voice revealing a degree of frustration at Dolores's lack of flexibility on the formula vs breast issue.

'I come from big family', replied Ravel. 'Many women always around to offer advice. Who does Mrs McCrumble have to help? Where is her mother?'

He had a point. Mrs McHaggarty (the mother of my wife) had only made a brief appearance, despite living only 50 miles away. She had walked in, given No.3 a rapid physical examination, pronounced him fit and left a couple of hours later telling Dolores to ring her if she needed anything. Dolores, ever independent, took this as a snub from her own mother, and had not rung.

'Feeding from breast is not so easy, boss. It isn't just simple to put nipple in mouth and give good suck.'

Ravel was right, of course. I'd read about the decline in familial support for new mothers due to people living further apart from their parents than ever before, but hadn't brought it up mainly because I wanted everything to run smoothly and not introduce it a new 'issue' for Dolores to worry about. With hindsight I realised I had been wrong, and I now realised that I had an 'issue' of even greater magnitude.

'Leave it with me, Ravel. I'll sort something out,' I said, though in truth I had nothing to offer. My own parents live many miles away, and I still don't have a very good relationship with the village, who view my work and lifestyle with some disdain.

I was distracted from the 'issue' for a while whilst answering some emails. Dolores remained in the nursery and Ravel took himself into the garden for a spot of reading. I became tired at some point - likely as a result of only having 4 hours sleep the previous night, and decided to go for a nap. I dreamt that Dolores was walking in the woods, spraying milk from her breasts whilst No. 3 slept in a rucksack on her back. It must have been about 5pm when I awoke, feeling thirsty. on my way to the kitchen I heard Ravel's voice coming from the nursery. Wondering whether Dolores might have called for help whilst I was sleeping, I performed a u-turn in the corridor and made quick-steps. As I approached the nursery, I heard Ravel, quite clearly, say 'Dolores, let me have a go, yes?'

I automatically coughed before entering - as I always do if I feel I might be interrupting something. It was unnecessary, of course, as I was entering the nursery of my own child containing himself and two other people who could not be doing anything that would be deemed interruptable. The shock was therefore very real when I entered the room to see Ravel lift his head from the general area of the bosom of Dolores, turn towards me and present his visage with a very noticeable line of milky-white liquid over his top lip.

'WHAT IN THE NAME OF McCUMBERNAULD ARE YOU DOING?' I shouted, my voice warbling from the flood of adrenalin in my brain. 'WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?'

Ravel looked surprised at my burst of anger. Dolores looked annoyed and said, firmly, 'he's helping my milk come in, Joseph. What does it look like?'

'I surely don't have to tell you what it looks like from over here do I? What is this, some kind of Bulgarian peasants folk-remedy? Do all the men in your village take turns, eh? Line up in front of the the poor mother so you can all get your kicks sucking...'

'That's enough you pillock!', hissed Dolores, her face screwed up with annoyance. 'Don't bring your paranoia in here. I asked Ravel if he knew of any techniques to help with milk production. He was looking at how the baby was sucking.

'He asked to have a go!', I squealed, my anger not yet quelled, and my suspicions still raised that something untoward had occurred.

'I was trying to unlatch the baby but couldn't get my finger under his lip. Ravel offered to help.'

'I'll bet he did. Do you mean to tell me that you have let a member of staff interfere with your breasts? Why didn't you ask me, huh? You think I can't pull a baby off your breast? And why's he got that white stuff on his lips, huh?'

'I enjoy a drink of cappucino coffee, boss', said Ravel quietly, pointing towards a cup half-filled with said drink on the bedside cabinet.

Dolores looked skywards as she realised the source of misunderstanding 'Look...' she said firmly, pausing to ensure I was listening. 'Just calm down will you? This is not the time to be precious about my breasts. I need help, and Ravel has the right experience. He's my breastfeeding counsellor. Deal with it. You can either watch and learn, or keep out. I need to relax, and you do not help standing there with your arms folded looking like you have acheived some moral victory. If you want to help, go fetch a hot damp towel.'

I was suitably admonished. The mistake had been all mine, and I felt incredibly humbled. The arrival of No.3 has, I admit, led to a number of re-assortments of my mental state. I will continue to adjust, and no doubt overcome the obstacles associated with a new-born, in the McCrumble tradition of rational and comprehensive analysis. Dolores is happy for me to deal with things in this way, providing that I spare her the details of my thought processes and do what she (and Ravel) says. On balance, I think this might be the best approach.



Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

No 3 has arrived!

Hello all

Well, that didn't take very long! I am pleased to announce that No 3 is now part of the McCrumble family. He weighed in at just over 3kg, and was screaming and kicking moments after arrival. Mother and baby doing well. I'm so proud, that I'm going to break with my own rules on familial anonymity (see posts passim) and post a couple of photos. I figure no-one will recognise the young'un when he finally gets out and about.

The twins have told me they are excited about having another brother. They want to understand what it was like to be so young and 'flexible' as Twin X succinctly put it. Twin Y thought I might be too old to have another child, and asked me if I ever intended playing football with No 3 when he was the twins age. When I answered in the affirmative, my first-born merely snorted, and proceeded to imitate an old man with scoliosis and a walking stick. Oh what a couple of wags they are becoming. I am minded to keep a close eye on them when No. 3 comes home, in case they attempt to subvert his innocence.

Please join me in a virtual wetting of the baby's head. To No 3!


Sunday, April 08, 2007

No 3 on its way....

Hello all

No sooner did I set my mind to blogging (almost) every day, when Mother Nature decides to scupper best laid plans (yet again) and bring forth a new member of the McCrumble household. No. 3 will be with us shortly. Normal blogging service will resume fairly shortly after his/her arrival, all being well.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ravel's Goulash - The Daily Mccrumble

Did anyone watch that programme on channel 4 the other night about eunuchs? It was stomach churning stuff that left me feeling vaguely queasy and putting my hand lightly over my pants in the general groin area on more than one occasion. I wanted to turn over to another channel - any channel would do - but Dolores insisted on watching. She was giving herself a mini pedicure at the same time, and at one point where some very thin young man revealed his empty sack, she lent in my direction and said 'snip snip' whilst waving her nail scissors at my nether regions. She's been in a funny mood lately, and I put it down own to her hormones, but the experience left me feeling distinctly uneasy. Ravel, on the other hand, was engrossed. He watched the whole programme open mouthed, in silence, on the edge of his seat. At the end, he turned to me and said 'I had no idea...' before leaving the room. He returned a few minutes later and asked if he could prepare us dinner for the next day. We discussed what was planned, and said that we would be happy for him to cook for us - something that happens at least once a week. It's always goulash, but it's good goulash, using a recipe handed down from Ravel's grandmother.

An hour later I called it a day and decided to retire. There was a light on in number 1 laboratory, so I detoured to switch if off. Inside, Ravel was working on something at the operating table. This was a little curious, as he never normally works this late. I heard what sounded like a an electric shaver, and saw Ravel make small sweeping movements with his right arm. On the operating table was a pan from the kitchen. 'Everything alright, Ravel?' I asked, feeling curious but not wanting to make him feel like I was watching his every movement. He is currently my only research assistant, and I've been reluctant to play the hard boss in case I lose him. I'd previously asked him to catch up on some work that had been given a low priority, and guessed this was what he was now doing.

'Sure boss I will finish in a minute and switch off', said Ravel, not bothering to turn around. 'You go to bed with Dolores. Don't forget I cook tomorrow.'

I was about to go but something didn't quite seem right, so I walked towards the bench. Ravel didn't hear me approaching as he was listening to some music on his mp3 player. I first peered into the pan, and was vaguely relieved to see it was empty. I then looked at what Ravel was doing with his hands.

My hunch was correct that he was using an electric shaver. With his left hand, he was holding down Timothy Hedgehog, whilst with his right hand he was carefully shaving the undercarriage of the insectivore. This wasn't too unusual, as we always shave our hedgehogs before an operation to prevent hairs entering the wound. Timothy, despite his experience of being on the operating table, had the look of a hedgehog fearing he might be about to cut into tiny pieces. He was unable to communicate his feelings due to the thick rubber band that was wrapped around his snout.

Ravel sensed my presence just as I was about to challenge him. He switched off the shaver and looked first at me, then the pot, then Timothy. 'Yes boss?' he asked, his tone somewhat nonchalant considering the scene before him.

'Ravel, I was just, er, wondering what you might be doing with Timothy.' I said slowly, choosing my words carefully so as not to offend my only assistant. 'I, er, didn't know he was due for an operation.'

'He isn't boss. I just had an idea for tomorrow. Timothy is good for my idea.'

'I see. Was Timothy happy with this, er idea?'

'I guess. He try to bite me so I had to put on the rubber band. It's OK, boss, he come to no harm. I work very carefully.'

'Ravel, I don't mean to be suspicious, but what exactly are you doing with Timothy?'

'Boss, if I tell you it will ruin the surprise.'

'OK, sure. Well if you promise he's not coming to any harm...'

'No boss. I look after him. You trust me, yes?'

Eager to display my trust in my one remaining research assistant, I backed down. I have been allowing Ravel to take a more independent role in the laboratory of late, and felt that perhaps I was just being a little too protective of my equipment and animals. Ravel and Timothy were well acquainted, and I admonished myself for being too uptight as I prepared for bed.

Yesterday I was away most of the day, and I didn't see much of Ravel until the evening. He was in the kitchen cooking goulash when I returned. My mind returned to the events in the lab the night before, and I was minded to just go and quickly check that Timothy hedgehog was still in one piece. Poking my head through the doorway into lab 1 afforded me a view of his cage, and I was relieved to see him snuffling around in his straw.

Dinner was served about 8pm. Dolores was not feeling too well, and had gone to bed early with only a few rice-crackers for company. Ravel's goulash was the usual meaty soup served with fresh bread, but this time there was something else in the mix. 'Dumplings?' I asked, picking out a small, oval shaped mass of what looked like suet.

'Is that what they are called boss?' asked Ravel, slurping a spoonful of thick broth.

'Yes. But they don't taste much like suet,' I said, sucking and rolling one of them around in my mouth to understand its flavour and texture. How did you make them?'

'I didn't really make them you know,' answered Ravel. 'I just dropped them into the goulash for added flavour. They are good yes?'

'Yes. Very tasty. Slightly meaty. Quite salty. Where did you say you got them?'

'Timothy gave me...'

The words barely penetrated my inner ear before the mouthful of goulash, complete with dumpling, exited my bucchal cavity in a surprisingly graceful arc. The dumpling landed back in the pot, but most of the soup landed on Ravel, who couldn't jump out of the way fast enough despite his military training in the Bulgarian army and self-described 'reflex like cheetah'.

'You castrated Timothy?', I squawked, suddenly filled with anger that my trust had been abused. An image of the poor little hedgehog wailing in a castrato voice popped into my head.

Ravel calmly cleaned his shirt with napkin. 'No boss. Timothy gave me instructions on how to do operation. These come from hedgehogs in freezer. I figure they don't need their balls too much any more. That programme the other night gave me idea for improving recipe. I use them long time ago during army survival course, but forget how to remove intact. Timothy - he was in bad mood, biting and he annoy me too much with his always talking so I gag him with the rubber band. You don't worry boss. I not hurt my friends. You right to trust me, eh?'

'Er, sure. I, er, think.' I stuttered, slightly apprehensive about allowing this violation of lab procedures. Unauthorised removal of animal parts is not allowed by Insitute rules, and I was monentarily minded to put Ravel into the incident book with a view to initiating disciplinary procedures. But I have to admit that the goulash did taste much better than usual. After a few moments reflection I came to a conclusion and said 'I'm not sure Ravel...but, well, they do add flavour. OK, sure. Let's finish it.'

I have to admit it was the best goulash I have ever tasted. The addition of hedgehog's testicles, straight from the freezer to the pan, was inspired. Next week, my No.1 research assistant has promised to introduce me to another dish inspired by his army training - something he calls 'head cheese', though he refuses to give any details. He does love his surprises...


Dog sniffs mobile phones - The Daily McCrumble

The BBC news website has recently updated / recycled a story that a dog in the UK has been trained to sniff out mobile phones, so that prisoners can no longer make illicit calls to the outside world and arrange their next job (and I'm not referring to anything that requires a national insurance number here). At first I assumed this was an April fool, but some research made me see that original story first appeared in the Times (Sept 06). Depending on your point of view, this is either the future of contraband detection, or a dead duck with a shelf life shorter than the attention span of a chav at a classical music concert. What would it take, you think, to fool the dog? I'm no expert, but I think that the smell associated with mobile phones is probably quite easily masked by being rubbed with prisoners underpants, socks or aftershave. Your average criminal, I suspect, cares not what their phone smells like, but would not like their stash to be tainted in the same way. I don't want to give inmates of any HMP ideas with my solution to their snooper-dogg-dog problem, but do suggest that now the story is in the public domain, prison chiefs think again about relying on a springer spaniel with a phone-fetish to lead their effort against the contraband menace.

**** UPDATE *****
It appears my idea has, unfortunately, been independently adopted by criminals in Cumbria. One police force is already trialling a dog to sniff out contraband cheese after an upsurge in complaints from local prison officers that a large number of prisoner's cells smelt like ripe Stilton.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A post a day keeps dementia away

This is my first daily blog. An attempt, if one be needed, to ensure that I keep my brain working on a daily basis. I was stimulated to begin writing a daily blog by Dolores, who read somewhere that people who do more than 4 crosswords a week reduce their risk of alzheimers by 50%. As a scientist, I'm a little sceptical that it is the action of solving crossword clues per-se that prevent the clumping of amylo-proteins in the cortex, and would like to know if alternative forms of puzzle-grappling have the same effect. What if someone eschews the idea of playing with words and focuses exclusively on the popular, numerically-oriented, square-filling game known as Soduku. Will they accrue the same benefit?

The problem with these ex-cathedra statistics in general is that they make good headlines but rarely stand up to scrutiny. Ask yourself - why 4 crosswords, why 50%, how was this measured, how long was the follow-up, what are the caveats?

I don't do crosswords, or soduku. Am I doomed? I'm having trouble remembering things already, so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone by writing a daily diary. On the one hand, I'll be keeping my brain active, and on the other I'll be writing things down to help me remember what I did / plan to do.

I'll confess now that it's unlikely to be daily, or even much of a diary, but at least I begin hopefully. It's going to be mainly my thoughts-of-the-day, probably reacting to some news item, particularly if it involves the government / business trying to convince us that modern life is good, when it is, in fact, often rubbish. The other blogs will keep going, if I remember to update them.


P.S. Dolores thinks I'm 'nuts' just for trying to do this. She has a point, and it's already got me worried. Am I actually going to drive myself crazy by attempting to prevent degeneration?


Hello all

That most eloquent, erudite and shrewd of bloggers, Mr Kim Ayres, has left a comment on suggesting that I should run my daily blog from this site, and the more meaty stories from the other site. I ruminated on this idea for a short while and came to concur with his sharp insight into the issue. So that is what will do. The current site will become the repository for my daily rant, and I'll start a new blog for the stories.

Sorry for the confusion, and please watch this space!


The Daily McCrumble

Hello all

I've started a new blog called The Daily McCrumble. It will be an incisive, cutting edge, humourous, sceptical, upbeat, uplifting, no-nonsense, fact-finding, gut-busting dollop of McCrumble every single day (except during weekends, holidays, wedding days, funeral days, off-days). Comments are positively encouraged. The focus will be on current affairs, particularly those that amuse / confuse / annoy me. This blog will remain the focus for events at the Cumbernauld Institute and beyond.

The first post is already up, so why don't you skiddadle over there before you forget.

Happy reading!