Big Wok – Big Disappointment

I love Chinese food. Somehow our friends from the other side of the world have managed to improve our diet by the inclusion of their delicious culinary dishes.

One of my favourite ways of eating their lovely food is at a Chinese Buffet. Pay your money and eat as much as you can. This is what we tried to enjoy last night as Big Wok in Nottingham.

The only problem with that plan was – it was a bit crap.

You can’t knock the price. For £10 you can stuff your face as much as you like. It looks like a nice place and the people there were very friendly. The problems started when you sampled the food. It just wasn’t very good.

You normally expect these buffet places to have a bit of variation in quality, but compared to other Chinese buffet places in Nottingham this was pretty poor. Some of the curry dishes were just plain bad. Too much sauce and not enough meat, and what you could taste was not very good. The starters were very average – too sweet and overcooked. They also had a sushi bar, but only four things to choose from.

The chocolate fountain was quite nice, but by the time we ate our starters and main courses we were already pretty disappointed with our meal.

If you want to try a Chinese Buffet then visit the Flaming Dragon in the Cornerhouse. The food is much nicer and the service has been great every time we’ve been. Big Wok falls down in every department.

I have no idea why so many people seem to flock there on a Saturday night. We will not be bothering again.

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Speak not-so-easy

The BBC often come up with some very interesting and pertinant articles, and they have one today on a problem that I had – stammering.

It wasn’t a huge problem for me when I was younger, and I don’t remember when it started, but I often had problems starting sentences and I had lots of issues stumbling over words. I never wanted to answer the telephone because of it, and I was always nervous when having to speak to anyone. I spoke, or tried to, very quickly. It was like my brain was going one speed and my mouth couldn’t keep up. It lasted for a long time – into early adulthood.

Since then, though, I’ve found speaking easier and easier. I doubt that anyone meeting me now would even know that I used to have a stammer, but I still have the odd diction problem. My girlfriend often complains that she can’t understand me due to a combination of my Yorkshire accent and the fact that I tend to mumble. Mumbling at speed with a Yorkshire accent is a bit of a barrier to being understood! I think the mumbling bit is something I carried over from my younger days – a lack of confidence then has resulted in me naturally speaking too quietly now.

Luckily for me, though, I’m one of the 80% of sufferers that “spontaneously recovered”. I suppose my own stammer was pretty mild compared to many and I’ve been able to grow out of it – as my self-confidence grew so my stammer disappeared. I do feel for the poor bastards that haven’t been able to get rid of this affliction – it’s an intensely frustrating thing to have. It’s certainly not funny if you have it.

Videos showing people stammering are being classified as comedy on YouTube. It’s typical of people’s attitude towards the disability, say those with the condition.

“You can see them thinking ‘arsey little bugger, I was only having a laugh’. You’re the comedy show and if you don’t play along you’re the one without a sense of humour, the one ruining everyone else’s fun.”

It’s an everyday scenario for someone with a stammer and nearly 750,000 people in the UK have one, according to campaigners.

While many disabilities elicit only compassion, stammerers seem to be viewed by some as fair game. After all, what’s the problem? It’s only a stammer.

“It’s not ‘only’ a stammer if you have one,” says Leys Geddes, director of the British Stammering Association (BSA).

“Simple things, like ordering a sandwich at lunchtime, are a complete nightmare. They take an immense amount of energy and thought. For some, stammering simply becomes unbearable.”

The YouTube situation is indicative of people’s attitude in general, says the BSA. Videos showing people struggling to speak have been categorised as “comedy” by those who’ve posted them.

I get annoyed when people take the piss out of stutterers. WIthout context stammering is not funny to me, although there’s plenty of opportunity to use it within comedy. I think that Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright was particularly funny and Michael Palin was hilarious as the stuttering dog-murderer in A Fish Called Wanda. Having a stammer can be funny but to just video some poor sap falling over a few sentences is, well, completely insensitive and not funny at all.

I’ve always believed that any subject can be the open to having the piss taken out of it, but there has to be a line somewhere. You should at least acknowledge that laughing at someone stammering is hurtful to them – this is not a trivial matter to them.

Ronnie Barker’s character Arkwright in Open All Hours – can trivialise the disability and make people think someone with a stammer has mental issues, says the BSA.

No wonder some people think poking fun at stammering is ok – and a lot of people do, say those with the disability. But tackling them over their attitude is not easy.

“When you stammer it’s as if you are incapable of thought, you’re just locked in time trying to get that word out,” says Claire Pirnie, 25, herself a stammerer.

“If someone makes a dig at me I usually wait until I’m calmer and then go back and tackle them over it. Many people don’t even realise it is a disability and are apologetic.

“What really upsets me is people dismissing it as a superficial thing, something that can easily be dealt with. It’s just not that easy. The reality is stammering is on my mind every minute of every day, I adapt my behaviour all the time and avoid situations. People with stammers refer to it as being a walking-talking, self-editing machine.”

I can certainly relate to that last paragraph. I still avoid speaking with people I don’t know and I’m almost postive that this is a throw-back to my earlier stammering. The thing is – I’m fine in new company. I really shouldn’t worry about such things, and yet I do.

This article has made me think a great deal about stammering and my attitude towards it. I hope it does for you too

Tag

I have no doubt that my somewhat copious readers have noticed a few changes to this blog. I’ve upgraded to the latest version of MT4 (4.01) and changed the style of the site. This is just one of the default styles but I really like it. It’s simple and as I’m lazy it’ll do nicely. I may make the odd change, such as adding an image or something to the header, but knowing my levels of procrastination I doubt that very much.

There’s also something else appeared too. You may notice the “tag cloud” over there on the right. Movable Type has included tagging for a while but I’ve never used it. MT4 has upped the implementation of it and it’s now really easy and convenient to use. I’ve added a few tags here and there so you can now use the tags to search for entries that might interest you. That’s just in case I’ve not covered it with the categories.

I’m approaching 700 entries in this blog so I doubt that I’ll be tagging all of those. I’ll re-edit as many as I can, though. Maybe 20 or 30.

Let me know if you have any issues with that feature, or anything else for that matter.

Atheists and morality: not mutually exclusive

It’s something I’ve heard before from different sources, but do you think that Atheists are by definition amoral? How can someone with no faith have a sense of morality?

PZ Myers gives the answer.

I do have a real and consistent reason for behaving morally, it’s just one that doesn’t require a supernatural foundation. I was raised in a happy family, one that reinforced that conventionally ‘good’ behavior, and that rewarded appropriate social behavior. I lived with good role models who offered love without conditions, who taught by example rather than with fear or threats. I live now in a family and with a community of friends who do not demand obeisance to superstition in order to give respect. I am rewarded materially and emotionally for moral behavior.

That’s the recipe for building an environment that fosters moral behavior. It doesn’t involve gods or even belief in gods. It is completely independent of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or atheism. It works — religion is irrelevant to morality.

I completely agree with him, even though I still wouldn’t consider myself an atheist. My fence-sitting agnosticism is deep-rooted, although I am spending some time now on educating myself on religious matters. I’ve always believed myself to have a good, decent set of morals and I’ve never been particularly religious. I believe that I am this way because of my good, decent up-bringing.

At this moment in my life I really don’t have a need for any god.

Apple: not so tasty

I love gadgets. I like shiny things that do fancy stuff. Technology rocks my socks and I spend much of my free time trawling over various aspects of the internet while listening to music stored in a digital format.

So, who do you think makes the shiniest, fanciest techno-gadgets out there at the moment? I’ll tell you who – Apple. Their current stock of gizmos and widgets look like the ultimate technoporn – wonderfully designed items that just work.

The thing is, prospective Apple purchasers may find themselves having a bitter taste in their mouths.

Bill Thompson, excellent technology writer at the BBC, has an excellent article explaining all the important things you need to know before buying anything from this company.

Columnist Bill Thompson asks whether the time has come for Apple to be put under the EU microscope in the same way as Microsoft has.

Microsoft has taken a lot of flack over the years due to their perceived abuse of their market dominance, and rightly so. Sometime we consumers get a raw deal from these Megacorporations and it’s right that the powers that be look after our interests.

Microsoft are plainly not the only ones giving us poor service though:

Apple […] managed to get acres of coverage for the UK launch of the iPhone, despite the many ways in which the device is closed, locked down and restricted.

Of course the iPhone is a new product with a tiny market share, so there are no issues of dominance, but when it comes to music players and music downloads the situation is very different, and yet it is rarely commented on.

Apple has spent much time trying to ensure that anyone who buys an iPod is completely locked in to an Apple-centred world in which they use iTunes, buy from the iTunes Music Store, and purchase only Apple-certified iPod accessories.

The recent launch of the new range of iPods, including the video Nano and the iPod Touch, has shown just how far Apple is willing to go to make life difficult for its users in order to shore up its dominant position in the market for music players and downloads.

Well, it’s not new news that Apple likes to lock-in iPod users to iTunes. However, this is just the start of the lengths that Apple will go to in order to gain more of your cash.

The iPhone does not allow you to play your own MP3 files as a ring tone. Obviously Apple will happily charge you 99c for downloading a ringtone from a selection available in the online store. False market? I think so, even if there are hacks around for those adventurous enough to try them.

Apple are also creating new hardware restrictions on their new iPods so that only Apple-approved accessories will work. Expect to pay higher prices for cables, docks and widgets.

The biggest problems seem to be reserved for those that really don’t want to use iTunes. Linux users, like myself, can’t even use it as there’s no official version available for fans of the penguin:

[T]he nastiest little change is to the iTunes library itself. iTunes keeps your songs organised using a database, and over the years a number of free and open source music players have been developed that can read and write this database format.

This is important as Apple doesn’t support Linux, so any Linux user who can’t resist the lure of an iPod needs a non-Apple library manager, but it also gives Mac and Windows users a bit of flexibility.

Programmes like gtkpod, Rhythmbox and Banshee are easy to use and don’t try to sell you songs all the time, but now Apple has added a new feature to the iTunes database, a special number which is calculated from your list of files using a process only Apple knows.

If the number is wrong, your library looks empty. And because the free players don’t know the algorithm used, they can no longer be used with iTunes/iPod.

There seems to be no reason for this change except to break the functionality of alternative jukebox software.

So, it looks like they’re deliberately screwing over Linux users and anyone not willing to use iTunes. Does this look like anti-competitive behaviour to you? It certainly appears that way to me, and as Microsoft has already been dragged over the coals for doing similarly dubious things then it may well be high-time for the courts to take a closer look.

The thing is, I desire an iMac. It’s a beautiful machine and it works wonderfully. I also lust after the new iTouch – the most desirable music player on the market.

However, I will not be dictated to. I will not be restricted to where I can play my music. I want to buy those cheaper accessories and I don’t care of they’re not officially badged. I don’t want my music infested with DRM from iTunes and I’m certainly not going to pay a higher price for DRM-free versions when I can just buy the CD cheaper and rip it myself. I won’t be blinded by fancy graphics and sleek designs when the underlying software and hardware are restricting how I use it.

I’ve worked out that a new iMac with some improvements and specifications that I want will set me back nearly £1500. Bugger that. I’ll just buy some new bits for my PC and upgrade. Even if I go for some decent specced gear it’ll be about 1/3rd of the cost.

I chose not to subscribe to Apple’s siren calls, not while they’re implementing restrictive practices like this. I’m staying with Linux.