Atkins and kilts

Despite having sworn never to do Atkins ever again after last year’s experience, I find myself on a low carb diet once more.

It’s not just that I’m overweight (although I am back up at 77kg again)–it’s that I’ve got my cousin Cameron’s wedding to go to in just under a fortnight’s time, and I discovered on Monday evening that I don’t fit into my kilt any more. It may be a recipe for misery, but I don’t know of any other way to lose 5kg in two weeks.

I started the diet on Monday, and the bread cravings haven’t kicked in yet. I had a pretty strong urge for bananas this afternoon, though. Maybe I’m more mentally prepared for the torture of bread-free living this time round…but don’t count on it.

So anyway, if I seem a bit grumpier than usual over the next couple of weeks…now you know why.

Linguistic milestones

Just over the last couple of days, Fiona has started babbling: “bwa-bwa-bwa-bwa” and “ma-ma-ma-ma”. They’re still not words yet, but she has discovered that she can make these different sounds with her mouth, and she is experimenting with the effect they have on us. The effect is generally that we go over and pay attention to her. The other effect is that we’ve reverted to saying “bwa-bwa-bwa” a lot ourselves, so the (little known) Law of Conservation of Linguistic Ability remains inviolate.

Also, as I was strapping Alex into his car seat at the supermarket on Sunday, he sang the alphabet song (“A-B-C-D-E-F-G…” etc.) all the way through–perfectly. He doesn’t recognize all the letters by shape yet, but he can almost find all of “A-L-E-X” on a computer keyboard. He’ll type before he can write.

Another amusing (predictable, but amusing) thing is that he pronounces the letter “J” the Edinburgh local way. Which is not “Jay”, but rather “Jiy”: sounds like “eye”, but with a “J” at the start. He’s already speaking with a local Gilmerton accent.

Standard Life Bank…but only during office hours

Standard Life Bank’s internet banking service is useless. “Banking online gives you the flexibility to manage your account when it suits you,” they say. Well, that would often be on Saturday or Sunday evenings. Or sometimes very late on a weekday evening. Perhaps after 11pm.

Whoa there, boy! Did we say when it suits you? Whoops, we meant to say when it suits us. Sorry for the typo!

Standard Life Bank's internet site is only open during office hours

I mean, really, folks. What’s up with that? Are their servers unionized? Did they threaten walkouts if they had to be switched on 24/7? Do they all pull out their network cables at the end of the day and go home for the night?

Or maybe all of Standard Life Bank’s internet transactions get handled manually behind the scenes? Maybe there’s an army of call centre workers trained to take incoming web page requests, scribble them down on paper, and pass them along to their colleagues who work some abacus magic before approving a money transfer request. Maxwell’s Demon, eat your heart out.

Oh, and their phone banking is even worse. Not open on Sundays at all.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Dutch train station clocks

Dutch train station clocks have always baffled me. They are, I am sure, the strangest timepieces known to mankind.

They’re visually quite distinctive, in an Ur-clock kind of way. They have plain, backlit white faces inside a black box with rounded corners. The hands are thick, and the minute divisions are chunky. They make the time very readable even from large distances.

But their visual apperance isn’t the strange thing about them. It’s their behaviour. Click on the image below for a video clip (about 1.6MB) of one of these clocks in action. I haven’t doctored this clip in any way. Pay close attention to what happens when the second hand passes the minute mark.

A Dutch train station clock

Tick…tick…tick…PAUSE…PAUSE…PAUSE…tick…tick. The second hand pauses for about three second at the top of the minute. Why? It means that the second hand makes a full cycle in 57 seconds, rather than 60. Each beat of the second hand is only 0.95 seconds long. By design, these clocks can only ever show the right time once every minute. The rest of the time, they are GUARANTEED to be wrong.

Okay, so they’re only ever fractionally out, but…but… it’s just wrong. It’s the kind of thing that can drive a person just ever so slightly mad…in 0.05 second increments.

This behaviour must be by design; it’s too strange to be an accident, and the clocks would have been fixed long ago if it was. So there has to be a good explanation for it.

Could it be a subconscious nudge to make people hurry up for their trains, by making them think that it’s slightly later than it actually is? Is it a subtle technique to help people relax in a tense rush hour environment, by giving them a three-second breathing space at the top of every minute? Are there any readability benefits from having the second hand pause like this?

There must be a reason. Does anyone know what it is?

(Amusing speculations are also welcome.)

Minor strangulation incident; nothing too serious

Abi came home this evening with the kids in tow, and explained that there had been an “incident” at nursery today. Alex had been playing on the slide in the nursery’s back garden, and somehow got tangled up with a skipping rope….

Anyway, the doctor said he’ll be fine, and I’m sure the ligature marks around his neck will fade eventually.

(Extra note: and all this less than a week after the Haltwhistle Exploding Nose incident. Alex isn’t havening a very good month so far.)