November 2019
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I often have conflicting thoughts when it comes to donuts.

“I wish I lived closer to a Krispy Kreme”. Or “It’s a good job I don’t live closer to a Krispy Kreme”.

It’s definitely the former right now after I just found this adorable snowman donut at a service station – and then heartlesslt bit his head off.

Very yummy he was too. And it also gave me an opportunity to try some mobile blogging forthe first time. If the picture doesn’t look right I’ll gt the hang of it soon enough.

Vegas trip report begins tomorrow :)

The driving licence lottery

There was a story in the news yesterday about a South Korean woman who had finally passed her written driving test on the 950th attempt.

It’s here if you missed it:

This is a multiple choice test with a pass mark of 60%.  I have to admit that my first thought was that, given nearly a thousand goes, I would be fairly confident about passing a test about anything under these conditions – even in if it was written in Korean.

Surely even the chance of fluking it is better than 1 in 950?

Well, apparently not – and significantly so.

I couldn’t remember the quick way to calculate this but fortunately Claire knew which buttons on the calculator did it, and she also found a web site that gave the same answer:

It looks like this:

A probability of success of 0.25 assumes there are four answers to choose from.  I don’t know whether this is correct and haven’t been able to find out, but it seems feasible.

In fact, an older article says that her scores in the first 771 failed tests were typically between 30% and 50%.  With such a sample size, that distribution suggests she might have a little knowledge of the subject.

A straight one-in-three or one-in-four guess would produce a range of results centred around 33% or 25%, so it sounds like it wasn’t complete guesswork but perhaps she wasn’t picking up some of the fundamentals as quickly as she – and other road users – would have liked.

Still, I was intrigued to see how long it would take infinite monkeys to pass this test.  Could a Korean zoo actually stand a chance of getting a driving licence?

The bottom number produced by the calculator – P(X≥30) – is the significant one, and it’s miniscule.  This is the probability of achieving a passing mark of 60% or higher, purely by picking answers at random.

It equates to odds of greater than six million to one!

And so, if our heroine was indeed just turning up and attacking the test with a ham-fisted crayon, she was running seriously ahead of expectation.

I wonder if we’ll hear more about her exploits the first time she guesses wrong at which pedal is the brake…

Baby needs a new dodgy cover of American Pie

The radio had been washing over me all day and I hadn’t really been paying attention until I heard the sound of dice.

Radio 1 DJ Greg James was doing a puntastic feature called "Dice Another Day" where he was going to throw the bones to determine which Madonna song to play from a list of 12 possibilities.

Two dice make just about the worst random number generator you could come up with to pick a number between 1 and 12 and I have to admit I was shouting at the radio for quite a while about how wrong this was, while also inwardly cheering for him to roll Vogue the hard way.

What can I say?  It gets lonely working from home sometimes, and it’s quite likely that I’ve played too much craps.  If that’s actually possible.

At least he realised part of the problem eventually, at 0:59 in this clip: "I’m guessing it’s not going to be number 1".

Something I’m sure Madonna was delighted to hear a Radio 1 DJ say about her new album.

But, in context, good guess, imo.

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I am not the devil

Thanks to Geoff for sending me the link to this article.  I actually didn’t think to ask how he found it, but that’s probably a good thing.

Just in case you had any doubts about it, I am not the devil.  Google says so.

OK, so it’s an imposter.  This is the guy whose book on snakes appears when you search for me on Amazon.

So maybe I should go and check for horns after all…

Coaster face

As well as recording myself playing the fake drums, I decided another good way to put my new camera through its paces was to see how it coped with some fast action shots.

A roller coaster that accelerates from 0-80 mph in less than 2 seconds seemed to meet the brief. That would be Stealth at Thorpe Park, and as I couldn’t be bothered to queue for 90 minutes to get on the ride, trying to take pictures of people’s scared faces was the next best thing.

This is one of my favourites:

The picture looks a bit crappy this close, but it was taken hand-held from the ground to the very top of a 200ft high ride against nothing but bright sky.  I don’t think I can grumble given those conditions.  Certainly not going to cry about it, like this fella.

The pictures where I didn’t have to zoom so much or point at the sun gave better results.  Watch the guy in the red shirt, looking all excited as it starts to launch…

… and screaming like a little girl on the way down.

This could become one of my new favourite pastimes.

What I want to know, though, is where did his glasses go?  I didn’t actually believe this could happen until now…

I really want to be able to use this coupon


A trip to San Diego isn’t out of the question this summer.  It might just happen!

Mmmmm.  Mexican bread.

MBNA “disappointing” – official!

At last I got a final decision from the Financial Ombudsman Service in response to my complaint about MBNA trying to stiff me on a refund for flights I lost after Maxjet went busto, which I wrote about in this post.

I can live with FOS being somewhat on the slow side to get things done (it’s nearly 15 months since I complained and 6 months since MBNA rejected their first adjudication) when they make great decisions like this.

The ombudsman said MBNA’s handling of the matter with regard to, like, you know, the law and stuff was “disappointing”, and that they now have to pay me:

- The £1649.48 difference in the cost of the replacement flights with BMI – something I probably wouldn’t have realised I was entitled to if they’d just refunded me like they were supposed to.

- Interest on the above at a stunning 8% per year from 31/12/2007 to the date of payment.  Take your time please, it’s already about £200.

- Another £200 for the inconvenience.  Although I like to think of this as a fine for being arseholes.

The ruling is binding if I accept it.  Are you kidding me?  I snap call.

Full copy of the FOS letter is below.  Click a page to enlarge.



Old school bookies

Just been looking through some of the pictures I took at Cheltenham last week.

Although the majority of bookmakers have embraced technology…

… running a portable, electronic operation with a laptop hooked up to an LED sign board…

… with a small printer, and a big wad of cash …

… there’s still a few guys who prefer to kick it old school.

The man with the flip-chart is pretty brave – there’s no easy way to update his prices as the money comes in.  Tippex required, probably.  If you want your market to be able to move, dry-wipe is worth the investment. 

And if you want an eye-catching sign to alert punters which race is up next, you definitely need some clamps.

Some of them even still do tic-tac

… but apparently there are some things you just can’t say by waving your arms about.


Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby

I learned two things at the races today.

First, my dad explained to me the difference between a hurdle and steeplechase.  I wasn’t sure if it was a daft question, so I’m glad it wasn’t.

Hurdle: all the jumps are the same height.  Steeplechase: fences vary and usually include a water hazard.

In my head, sharks with frickin laser beams are a possibility.

Second, I learned the name of jockey Ruby Walsh, who the crowd loved and chanted "Roo-Bee" at any availably opportunity.

The only name from the racecard I actually recognised was The Queen (obviously an owner, not a rider).

See, I really wasn’t kidding before when I said I was clueless about horse racing.

Walsh rode two of the winning horses.  This one is American Trilogy:

My sister backed this at 20/1, which meant she won enough to pay me back for the ticket.  So I felt like a winner too.

This is Kauto Star:

Everybody in the world seemed just keep on piling money on him, despite horribly unattractive odds of 2/1 or lower (I saw it as low as 13/8 with some bookmakers).

Perhaps if I’d bet on "Kay-tow" (as it was pronounced, but somehow with at least three syllables, by hundreds of Brummies on my train) instead of the three-legged beasts I actually picked by pretty much sticking a pin into my computer screen, I’d be able to afford a faster zoom lens with funky image stabilisation that would have turned this blurry photo into the triumphant shot that it should have been. 

Squint a bit, it helps slightly. Maybe there’s enough detail to use some clever "watercolour" filter in Photoshop and make it look intentionally like a painting.  Worth a go, I guess.

Horse meet

I’m going to the Cheltenham Festival next Friday for the Gold Cup.

I’ll admit this isn’t my usual scene, but it’s for my Dad’s birthday present and, really, what kind of son would I be if I didn’t tag along?

I’ve been to the races exactly one time before and I did enjoy it, but I’ll openly admit to being totally clueless where horses are concerned.  Here’s what I know: the ones with the best names probably run the fastest.

I’ve studied the form guide and I think Snoopy Loopy is a dead cert.  Get a bet on now at 66-1 before everyone realises.

The only other tip I have so far is for getting there by train.  It looks like there’s no such thing as a day return to Cheltenham Spa.  I guess it’s just not a popular enough destination the 51 weeks of the year that it doesn’t have a racing festival to warrant such a thing.

However, you can get a day return to Birmingham from almost anywhere - and if you’re travelling from the North or East, there’s a good chance you’d have to change trains there anyway.

For my dad, a return ticket from Leicester straight through to Cheltenham Spa costs £34.50.  However, a day return to Birmingham New Street is £9.40, and then he can go from Birmingham to Cheltenham for £19.40.  Total: £28.80.

That’s a saving of more than five quid over doing it the "proper" way.  As there’s no direct route from Leicester, he’d always have to change in Birmingham so it’s a no-brainer.

For me, Stoke to Birmingham costs £12.20.  A ticket straight through would be £42.50, so I save £10.90 by splitting the journey.

Admittedly, there are some direct trains from Stoke to Cheltenham, but the time difference is only 5 minutes (1:44 vs 1:39) and on this occasion I’d choose to meet my family in Birmingham anyway.

As far as I can tell, these are all flexible tickets with no commitment to travel on a specific train.  The Birmingham-Cheltenham leg is good anytime after 9.30am and although the other tickets can’t be used between 3.30pm and 6pm, that’s not going to a problem with the last race at 5.15pm.

I can stick the tenner I’ve saved on a long shot, but as it’s Friday 13th I will accept there is a small chance it might not win.