Blowing up parliament: now there’s a celebration

November 1, 2007
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(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

Now that the idiotic Halloween season is finally over we can look forward to something that is much more civilised and family-friendly: blowing stuff up.

Unfortunately, retailers have jumped on the Halloween bandwagon much like they did with Valentine’s Day and now we’re bombarded with messages to adopt the United States tradition of encouraging our kids to approach total strangers and ask for lollies. You know, the very thing we discourage our kids from doing for the other 364 days of the year. Go figure.

Note: please don’t before e-mailing me to tell me why Halloween is a global event with a long history.  Yes, I know it started as the Pagan festival Samhain and probably originated in Ireland. I also know I don’t care – this festival bears little resemblance to what happens now.

Now, back to the important stuff: Guy Fawkes Night, a night where we celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot. And how do we celebrate young Mr Fawkes failed plot to blow up the British Houses of Parliament back in 1605? By following his lead, of course. Imagine how big the event would be had he succeeded in his plan.

Wikipedia has a nice rundown of the whole history of the event, as does the Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night website.

With a bonfire event being banned in York – Guy Fawkes’ hometown – it’s worth remembering that for all the fun they bring, fireworks can also bite.  The official government site details all the new laws about the selling of fireworks and the Fire Service site has some useful safety tips, including the sage advice that ”fireworks and alcohol/drugs are a dangerous combination”. I’ve always found if I mix things with alcohol they just get soggy, but there you go.

Guy Fawkes Night has been, and still can be, a fun event. Just be careful.

Small DiskIf you’re looking for a bargain, First In might be worth a look. The deals on offer change daily and while some of the prices aren’t particulary great, I have spotted some real cheapies there.

I’ve also been  hearing a lot of buzz about PriceSpy again lately. The site compares prices from many of New Zealand’s online computer parts and home electronics retailers. It’s certainly useful if you are planning on  buying online, but don’t forget that any retailer without a website doesn’t make it to the list so still shop around. I bought a laptop from H &  J Smiths last year for nearly $200 cheaper than the best deal for the exact model listed on PriceSpy.

Small DiskHave you had the e-mail about Blackle yet? I’ve had half a dozen hit my inbox this week. For those who don’t know, the e-mail says: “If Google had a black screen, taking in account the huge number of page views, according to calculations, 750 mega watts/hour per yearwould be saved. In response Google created a black version of its search engine, called Blackle, with the exact same functions as the white version.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. First of all, Blackle isn’t owned by Google, it’s owned by Sydney-base Heap Media. It’s simply a custom Google search page but actually lacks some  of the functionality of the real Google search site and you’re out of luck if you use iGoogle. It’s also worth remembering that you may not get exactly the same results on Blackle as you would on Google.

Aussie technology journalist Darren Yates took 27 different monitors for a test drive and came to the conclusion that with older CRT models, the reduction in energy consumption was much lower than the 15 watts per view figure cited on Blackle. It was in fact just 7 watts. Many of the more popular LCD monitors actually used more energy to display the black screen.

I suspect Blackle’s biggest impact is on the pockets of  its creator: as Melbourne Age reporter Asher Moses points out, the site makes money from the sponsored links it runs next to the search results.

If you are really want to save a tree or two and are still using a CRT screen, you will do the environment more good by replacing it with something more modern and planet-friendly than by using Blackle.

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