Product Placement

Within the past week I’ve had my hair cut. As with every time I have my haircut, I always plan to have the next one before I take on the appearance of Bigfoot, but failed yet again. Now I mention it, the last barbers I used went out of business – do you think the two are related?

Anyway, last time I had my hair done it was at a new barbers and by “Big Shaun”. He’s called Big Shaun because he’s, well, big. And his name is Shaun. There’s also a vanilla Shaun – his name unadorned with adjectives. I assume it was against some EU human rights legislation that they couldn’t call him “Little Shaun”. So we’ve got Shaun, Big Shaun, and two others whose name plaques I couldn’t read without my glasses.

Big Shaun did a good job last time and working on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle, I decided to ring up and book an appointment with a named barber. Already this disturbs me because I have never asked to see a specific barber in my life. In the past I’ve always just turned up and sat in the chair pretty much regardless of who was wielding the scissors.

This is an appointment-only barbers, however, so I rang up and instantly felt like I was in a Guy Ritchie film by asking to meet Big Shaun at 10am the following day. When I turned up I didn’t know whether to get a haircut or buy a couple of sawn-offs for use in an amateur bank heist. Luckily it turned out to be more haircut than hold-up.

Now the last time he sorted out the top mop he put some ”product” in, just to keep it from fluffing up like a newborn kitten’s fur – I’ve got quite fine hair. Note that’s “fine” as in “not thick”, as opposed to “fine” as in “it’s alright”. Meanderings aside, he put some of this product in my hair and it seemed alright. I meant to buy some to use myself, but like most of my life’s tasks, I just didn’t get round to it.

This time, the return journey from seeing Big Shaun took me into Sainsbury’s and I (miracle of miracles) remembered to buy some. I opted for some branded stuff in a little round silver tin that seemed to fit the bill (and it wasn’t Kiwi Black before you ask). Now this brings me to disturbing point number two: I’ve never bought myself any sort of hair product so we’re already deep in unchartered territory here.

Obviously I couldn’t base my purchase decision on past experience, so I had to blindly go on the picture on the outside. I’m well aware that there will be just one type of gunk made and this will be repackaged according to the target market, but I still deliberated for longer than I do over a good cut of meat at the butcher’s counter. Do we go for the stuff aimed at teenagers with the trendy dude, loads of thick “manly” stubble, and bright, bold (bizarrely 80’s) colours? Do we opt for the “gentleman’s” styling product with the impossibly chiselled jaw that’s been shaved to within an inch of it’s life, and the faint whiff of Just For Men? I ended up with a fairly plain tin that seemed to be produced for 30-something males in the IT industry.

The following day, after my morning shower, I realised I had no clue whatsoever about how to put this stuff in my hair. The day before I had watched Big Shaun do the same, but it dawned on me that I had no idea what I was doing. He made it look easy, but for a newbie it’s far from straightforward. This brings me to my third and final disturbing point – I’ve never put “product” in my hair and it’s not very easy when it has the consistency of glazing putty (perhaps the clue should have been the words “styling putty” on the tin). Now trying to put it in, then having a shower and trying again is extremely pointless. Until I can get this product placement correct, I’ve decided that I’m wearing this hair stuff every day as practice. Practice for what I don’t know, but I’ve heard that it’s not vanity until you’ve suffered for the art.

So now I’m in the habit doing my hair on a morning; regardless of what I’m doing during the day. Normally, to play on the floor with Lucy I just wear my black jogging bottoms and a (invariably black) T-shirt. So until I get this down to a fine art, I’m going to end up looking like a well-groomed Milk Tray man on dress-down Friday.

Was That It?

It’s New Year’s Eve 2009 and it has been ten years since the anti-climax that were the millennium celebrations.


Or nine years if you were one of the pedants who pointed out with a nasal whine that the new millennium actually started in 2001, while conveniently forgetting that we had changed calendar systems several times during the previous 1000 years.

So where did those ten years go and what the hell did I do? On reflection, that’s probably been the most productive and rewarding decade of my life so far. Here’s a list of the big-hitters of “The Noughties”:

  1. Completed a degree (2001)
  2. Started working at IBM (2001)
  3. Bought my first house (2003)
  4. Got married (2004)
  5. Turned 30 (2007)
  6. Became a Dad (2008)

That’s not bad going in terms of “big life events” and all within the decade.

So what’s to come in 2010 and beyond? Don’t really know actually… no plans at the minute for any of the following:

  1. More education
  2. New job
  3. New house
  4. New wife
  5. More children

All I say with any degree of conviction is that in 2017 I will turn 40. It’s going to be good though.

One To Avoid

I always watch Film 2009 with Jonathan Ross, despite the fact that the last film I went to see had a bloke in the corner playing a piano. It’s interesting to see what’s happening in the movie world and to keep an eye out for must-see movies that will eventually percolate down to DVD release.

Perhaps one to avoid though, is Nativity! – a British comedy about a schoolteacher (Martin Freeman) putting together (you guessed it) a nativity production. Here is Jonathon Ross’ review of the movie, which I find quite funny.

What’s wrong with the film is that it’s unconvincing and lazy on a much more fundamental level. Admittedly it has a certain amount of charm built-in, thanks to the presence of some cute kids and is astutely cast with a kind of who’s-who of modern British comedy performers. All of them deliver confident performances, but also, familiar performances. None of them are called upon to anything they haven’t done before.

However, this over-long, shoddily directed film saves the worst until last. With not just a taste of the nativity entertainment that’s been in preparation, but several whole numbers: all of them dreadful and which I only wish were instantly forgettable. I haven’t enjoyed myself less at the cinema in years and speaking as someone who loves Christmas, those songs almost put me right off it – for life.


There’s a lot that’s been written about the auction site “Swoopo” and the general opinion that it’s a bit of a con. It’s not actually a con – it just takes advantage of greed and stupidity.

To sum up how things work, here’s an example: the Swoopo website auctions off a Nintendo Wii. Normally these are around £170. Like using eBay, I bid online at £100. Someone outbids me, so I bid £105. Someone outbids me again, so I bid £110. The auction then ends with me as the highest bidder, so I win the Wii for £110.

But with Swoopo, there’s a trick.

No there’s not, there’s two.

Or maybe three if you count the fact that many auctions are international.

Every time you bid, you use up credits which must be purchased in advance. Each credit (bid) costs 50p and increments the auction price by a fixed amount. In addition to this, every time someone makes a bid, the auction time is extended by about 15 seconds. So unlike eBay, there is no fixed closing time and things can be ending “in less than a minute” for several hours. Plus, bids are non-refundable: if you don’t win the auction, you don’t get your money back. And that’s the rub. Everyone who is bidding on an item is paying for their bids. Here’s a real-world example of an item that finished recently.

A Nintendo Wii Fit (normally around £70 in the shops) started at 0p. The item sold for £57.90, with a bid increment of 10p. The headline figure is that someone picked up a bargain Wii Fit for £57.90 + P&P instead of £70. But, to reach a final price of £57.90 with a 10p increment, that means 579 bids must have been made on the item. Now at 50p each, I make that £289.50 to Swoopo in bid money alone. Now the winner also needed to pay the auction price of £57.90. Total to Swoopo is £347.40, plus P&P for the item. Now you’re starting to see why people think it’s a con.

True, the winner of the Wii Fit could have made one bid and won it at £57.90, making a total cost of £58.40. But they almost certainly bid many more times than that.

Now actually bidding on any of the items is a bit pointless, but I’ve started to make a habit of browsing the completed listings to see what people are buying and how much they’re spending. The trick is to look down the “Savings” column to find the “0%” markers. That usually means someone has lost money on the deal.

Here’s some real world examples that I have pulled from the website. By the way, the “advertised price” is what Swoopo reckons is the retail value, not what I could have got the item for online. You make your own mind up as to whether that figure is artificially high.

Samsung LE46B650T2 46" Full HD Crystal LCD TV

With an advertised price of £1,008.17, the winner placed 1540 bids and won the auction at £79.00. Total cost to winner is £849.00. Not bad going.

Samsung UE32B7020 32" LED TV

Advertised price of £849.99. Winner placed 1516 bids and won the auction at £119.30. Total cost to winner is £877.30.


Microsoft Arc Mouse (Black)

Proving people can lose out on cheap goods too, an advertised price of £30.97 went for £15.20 after the winner placed 64 bids. Total cost is £47.20.

Nintendo Wii Console + Wii Sports

As above, advertised price of £174.96. Winner placed 261 bids and won the auction at £94.00. Total cost is £224.50.

Bet the kids were pleased, if not the wife.


My favourite out of all of this has to be the notion that the website auctions off bids for its own website. The following auction was to win a “50 bids voucher”, which by its very nature, would normally cost £25.00.

The winner placed 47 bids to secure the voucher at a bargain price of £18.10. So this genius has managed to spend a total of £41.60 to end up with £25 to spend on the website. He (and it was an American “he”) could have saved his time and burned a 20 dollar bill, yet still been up on the deal.

Circular Polariser

Latest photography gadget is a circular polariser, picked up quite cheaply from the global tat bazaar that is eBay. With the nights being long and dark, yesterday was my first chance to go out and have a play to see what difference it can make. I’ve included “before” and “after” photographs below.

Firstly is the “before” shot:


Next the “after” shot:


Both pictures are exactly as they come out of my Canon 350D, with no post-processing applied. Both pictures were taken at ISO 200, aperture priority of f/11. Exposure times were 1/200s and 1/100s respectively. White balance for both was fixed at 5650K.

Notice how adding the filter brings out the blue in the sky, giving the clouds much more definition. Also note how the grass looks significantly more green – this is due to much less reflection of the sun off the foliage.

Final image is after some post-processing, with a bit of a better crop to ignore the ivy branch I missed in the viewfinder (my 350D doesn’t have 100% coverage, although I should have spotted that one). White balance has been corrected slightly and I’ve also cloned out the electricity pylon in the centre horizon and wires on the right hand side.


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