Jog.fm – for music lovers who run

emergency exit signLike many people who crowd London’s parks, I’m a runner. I also like music quite a lot. So jog.fm is a great site for mixing the two.

Using the very simple idea of matching your running speed to a track’s bpm, it allows you to build up playlists that suit your average pace.

Scientists have actually proven that running to music makes you go faster and for longer, but running to music that is too fast-paced can cause injuries or strains.

Jog.fm seems to fill quite a useful gap in the market and if they could only expand their collection of tracks beyond the slightly limited range on there at the moment, it could become massively popular.

For the record, I find that Dance, Dance, Dance by 65daysofstatic and Race To The Heart Of The Sun by The Automatic are particularly good running songs for running an eight-minute mile.

free representation unit legal charityOn a related note, I am running the Bupa London 10k tomorrow on behalf of the Free Representation Unit. This legal charity provides representation for Brits who cannot afford it otherwise, including workers who have lost their jobs and are not entitled to legal aid. The vast majority of their staff are volunteers, yet they handle over 1,000 cases per year.

Please visit my Just Giving page and donate a few pounds, and you can be sure they will be put to good use.

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Disclaimer – I’m not That Chris Jefferies

The Joanna Yeates investigation and subsequent arrest of her landlord, a 65-year-old Bristolian man called Chris Jefferies has seen the visitors to this blog shoot up.

Let me just make clear that I am not that Chris Jefferies, but a 24 year-old journalist and blogger living in London.

Feel free to browse through my blog anyway, and enjoy some of my ramblings on music, politics and the environment as a trivial distraction from this sad and tragic story.

Once again, just to make clear:

Chris Jefferies (Me) - Chris Jefferies (Not Me)

Mugabe’s magician proves there’s still life in Zimbabwe

An article on Zimbabwe in The Times on Friday made me smile for the first time in the two and half years that I have been reading about this ruined African nation. If it weren’t for The Times’ paywall, I’d happily link to Jan Raath’s article, but in lieu of that, I’ll briefly summarise.

Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe Oil Petrol Pump
Zimbabwe is desperate for diesel

Nomatter Tagarira, a spirit medium aged 35, was jailed this week for 39 months. Her crime was fooling Robert Mugabe and his officials into believing that she had supernatural powers to conjure diesel from a rock near her home, north of Harare. So successful was her deception that she was hailed as potential solution to the country’s energy problems by government ministers. Furthermore she managed to maintain her audacious con for over a year.

This was a sly, calculated ruse, including a secret signal given to an assistant, a length of piping concealed within the rock and £1.7million in largesse lavished on her by the government. At one point she was even supplied with a 50-vehicle convoy to help her travel on her night-time rituals, The Times reports. The officials were so taken in by it all that they employed an armed guard to stand watch and make sure no-one stole the supposedly blessed stone.

The reason this story makes me smile is not because I like reading about Zimbabwean citizens being imprisoned by Mugabe’s infamously brutal regime, far from it. The reason I reacted with mirth, is that the story of Ms Tagarira proves that there is life in Zimbabwean citizens yet. Rather than being downbeat and despondent after 30 years of reckless autocratic rule, there are still jokers, knaves, tricksters and opportunists trying to make themselves a sneaky fortune.

Furthermore, the sentence handed down was surprisingly lenient. Zimbabwe is the kind of nation where political allegiance is enough to get you thrown in prison, so the fact that serious fraud, which made fools of government officials, got such a moderate punishment seems to me as evidence that the judge may have even seen the funny side of this debacle. Ignatius Mugova, the magistrate handing down the sentence, freely admitted that “many people became gullible.”

True, it might have been a different case if Ms Tagarira had been white rather than black, but still the moderate sentence (which she undoubtedly deserved) adds a certain levity to this story. The enterprising spirit of chancers and renegades is alive and well in Zimbabwe, and it is a greater nation for it.

Standard sets the record straight over burkha bus ban

Muslim woman wearing a niqab veil
(flickr user: TheStoryBehind)

Reluctant though I am for this to turn into an Evening Standard-bashing blog, I feel compelled to take the London daily to task again for the third time in as many months. This time, my issue is with its handling of the highly sensitive issue of racism. Last week, their page three lead story accused a London bus driver of banning two students from a bus for wearing Muslim veils. Yasmin and Atoofa, both 22 from Slough, accused the driver of a Paddington-bound bus of refusing to let them board due to the fact that one student was wearing a hijab, and the other a face-covering niqab. Incendiary stuff and it’s easy to see why the Standard ran with it.

Except that it emerged this week that this was nothing more than a baseless allegation. Yesterday’s Standard printed a retraction on page 13 after CCTV footage showed the girls acting abusively towards the driver, demanding to be let on the bus after it had come to the end of its run.

The really objectionable thing about the Standard’s coverage is the disparity in prominence between the allegation and the fact. Surely the correction, based on legally enforceable evidence, should be given, if not equal, then similar prominence. On page 13 it is likely to get overlooked, but it could easily have been slipped onto page two. For that matter, should respectable newspapers be printing unsubstantiated allegations in the first place? Is it enough to take the supposed victims’ word as true? Fortunately the Standard’s lawyers seem to have swooped in at the right time as none of the full names were printed in the original article, thus negating the possibility of a libel suit from the bus driver in question.

However, the credibility of the paper has to be called into question, and worse still the original story has been picked up by the BBC news website and Auntie has yet to print the correction. A valuable reminder then, to read beyond the headline and question every story reported without any proof.

British papers fawn over Russian doll

I must admit, I was taken in by the Cold War intrigue of the FBI arresting 11 Russian secret agents this week. It’s been a good few weeks since a decent story emerged and with England knocked out of the World Cup, the broadsheets were beginning to run out of things to talk about. So it was understandable that the Telegraph and The Times both went big with this story – double-page news features, columnists wading in etc. However, after one extended read it rapidly became clear that this story was not as significant as it first seemed. As with anything involving the FBI, the details are desperately thin on the ground – all that can really be discerned is that there are allegations of money laundering involved. Their main crime seems to be against spying cliches, with one of the 11 recorded as meeting another informant in the park and greeting them with the secret phrase “It is wonderful to be Santa Claus in May.”

Anna Chapman Russian Spy
I wonder why the British press are so keen on Anna Chapman?

Keen to make the most out of this story, the papers focused in on former London resident Anna Chapman. She has effectively made this story, helped in no small way by her former husband Alex Chapman who rather generously sold his most glamorous photos of her to the Daily Telegraph. The shameless punning headlines rolled in, with various allusions to Austin Powers and James Bond. In this way, the broadsheets have rather embarrassed themselves by scrapping over such a non-story which wouldn’t have got anywhere near as much coverage if it wasn’t the summer and if the main protagonist wasn’t so attractive.

The Standard splashed on Friday with a large picture of Chapman in a bikini, describing her as a femme fatale. Lest we lose all perspective, we should remind ourselves that money laundering is not fatal. In fact, in other circumstances it might be described as a victimless crime.

Is there any substance to this story? We won’t know for several months. In the meantime, the broadsheets will enjoy filling their pages with second-hand pictures of some posh foreign crumpet.

Yes, Prime Minister – Chichester Festival Theatre Review

Yes, Prime Minister at Chichester Festival Theatre review Jim Hacker David Haig Sir Humphrey Appleby Henry Goodman“I’m not so sure about a hung parliament – hanging would be too good for them,” quips Sir Humphrey Appleby, and there are plenty more puns where that came from.

Yes, Prime Minister has returned and politicians across the country will sleep much less easily as a result. During the 1980s, the BBC TV series was a roaring success; over five series (including three of the original incarnation Yes, Minister) it won over the most unlikely of fans, including Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.

Paul Eddington played the endearingly incompetent Jim Hacker MP, who was given to grand public gestures and Churchillian declamations, whilst Nigel Hawthorne provided the perfect accompaniment as the devious Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey who sought to rein in Hacker’s idealistic tendencies.

Three decades on and the show’s co-writers (Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) have added edginess and controversial views to their already bursting arsenal of political irreverence and acidic public sector satire. After the sad deaths of Eddington and Hawthorne, the creators have moved to cast David Haig (The Thin Blue Line, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Henry Goodman (The Damned United, Notting Hill) in the main roles. Haig’s turn as Hacker manages to combine statesman-like cunning with bumbling ineptitude, but sadly misses the loveable vulnerability that Eddington brought to the role. Goodman takes Sir Humphrey’s Machiavellian deception to a whole new level, whilst keeping the basic justification that what the PM doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

The plot nonchalantly juggles various hot-potato topics, including Middle Eastern oil imports, illegal immigrants and teenage prostitution. The section most likely to cause offence amongst liberal theatrical types, however, is the flippant treatment of climate change as the ultimate panacea for politicians looking to distract attention from their current failings. Referring to his proposed green reforms, Hacker boasts “even if it doesn’t make any difference, no-one will know for at least 50 years.”

It is in the second half, though, that the heady blend of intellectual farce and quick-fire wordplay starts to drag a little. With escalating volumes of spirits ingested, Hacker becomes increasingly desperate and absurd in his behaviour, and you suddenly become aware that this is new territory for the franchise. At no point are subtle concepts such as sympathy or compassion entertained which, whilst unsurprising, is a little disappointing as the play edges past the two hour mark.

Despite its discreet shortcomings, the return of Yes, Prime Minister is almost perfect in its timeliness. With the political uncertainty of a Hung Parliament a ripe topic for satire, this production will run and run. A West End transfer is surely inevitable. Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this show outlast the Lib-Con coalition it so superbly lampoons.

Yes, Prime Minister is on at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 5th June www.cft.org.uk

Article first published by Open Magazine

RIP The Floppy Disk: 1971-2011

Just when you thought 2010 was filled with enough completely useless things (the iPad, the Northern Line, Gordon Brown), Sony has decided enough is enough and decided to scrap producing floppy disks.

Darth Vader chops a floppy disk in half
Darth doesn't go for retro storage solutions (flickr user: nhussein)

According to the BBC, Sony still manufacture them and ship them by their millions. The rest of the market has long since gone off the floppy, with Apple abandoning them in 1998 and Dell following suit in 2003. Despite this, Sony’s decision will not come into effect until March next year.

But who is it that’s still using them? My laptop can’t read one, and I can’t remember the last scenario in which I needed less than 1.44MB of storage space.

I can remember my first use of a floppy disk though, with much fondness. My brother returned from university for the summer in 1995, with a pirated copy of Championship Manager 1994/95 (Italia edition), which was spread over four separate disks. So retro is this game that I can’t even find it on eBay!

Disks have long since passed into retro chic; these earrings would hardly look out of place in Hoxton, or on the set of Nathan Barley. However, it’s hard to imagine floppies garnering the same kind of fond nostalgia as music geeks reserve for vinyl. Perhaps it’s because techie geeks are so innately addicted to the new, whereas musos tend to live in the past. Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear your recollections – when is the last/first time you used a floppy disk? Will you be at all sad to see them go?

Squatbusters: The biggest con of the year

I’m loving that the Evening Standard is free now. I barely ever bought it when it cost 50p, but now it is clearly the superior choice to the London Lite (which, it seems, is on its way). I also admire the Standard’s new editorial approach under Geordie Greig which stresses optimism and pride over cynicism and defeatism wherever possible. Sometimes, however, a dose of cynicism can be rather healthy.

This week, the Evening Standard fell for a massive con. Page three of the paper was given over to Forbes Risk, who offer to “squat proof” swanky West London houses for the extortionate fee of £2,600 per week. The picture gives the impression that these men, dubbed ‘The Squatbusters’, mean business, and implies that they would not be afraid to resort to violence if needs be. Just look at those black coats and crossed arms. Grr.

Squatbusters
Who ya gonna call? Squatbusters (Photo: Evening Standard)

However, anyone who knows anything about squatting will point out that squatters can only claim residence if the house is empty. If someone is already inhabiting the house when the squatters attempt to enter, then it is trespassing and they can go to jail. So all Forbes Risk’s Squatbusters are doing is living in a house for £2.6k per week. Hardly taxing stuff; this is basically glamourised house-sitting. I wonder if they also offer to check the TV on a daily basis to make sure it’s still working, or provide a sofa warming service for the gullible owners.

This is a perfect example of having much more money than sense. Surely the owners should be making money out of this, not spending. The example of ‘protection through occupation‘ is well established in the case of vacant offices, whereby office space is rented out at a reduced rate if the occupiers agree to leave on short notice if needed.

In my part of East London, long-term squatting is quite a serious problem. There are two disused pubs within five minutes walk from my flat that are occupied by squatters and the owners seem powerless to remove them. Squatting is a major concern all across London, but paying people to live in your flat seems to be the most absurd solution possible.

Fun theory, musical stairs and ever so subtle PR

Some things I come across and know immediately I want to put on my blog. This is one of them:

What a fantastic idea, mixing fond memories of Tom Hanks in Big and the public voyeurism of Dom Joly’s Trigger Happy TV in a pseudo-sociological mish-mash. The only thing that sours it is the sudden revelation at the end that you have, effectively, been watching a VW advert. Sure it’s only ‘an initiative of Volkswagen’, but this implies that they have funded it and therefore expect their brand image to be enhanced by association with a fun project. Just like we may have to get used to product placement, corporate sponsorship is, no doubt, here to stay. Admittedly, their involvement doesn’t make the project any less enjoyable to watch but still, I can’t help but wonder whether VW could have spent their money more wisely (on green technology, for example).

My main criticism of fun theory, though is that fun is transient. People get bored. Sure, the musical stairs are fun now, but that enjoyment will start to wane pretty quickly for everyone over the age of 10. This video may prove the theory that fun can lead to better habits, but sustaining that fun is much harder on a practical, day-to-day basis.

(Hat Tip: Comment Central)

Blog’s First Birthday

cupcakeWhat a difference a year makes! This time last year I reluctantly began this blog, not really expecting much, but it’s become surprisingly addictive. As with any publication, this blog is nothing without an audience. 5,500 hits and 104 comments so far is very encouraging, so thanks for reading.

Self indulgence aside, I’d really appreciate some feedback on the content so far. Positive or negative, I honestly don’t mind. What should I write more/less about? Are you sick of Zimbabwe/Obama/Spotify/Ferrero Rocher? Should I include more embedded YouTube videos or polls? Does the design need a rethink? Is the ‘I’m Reading…’ column worthwhile? Or should there just be more photos of cake?