Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Comment 2012

1.

2. Search terms that brought people to my blog:

* bald midget
* the furred reich
* real zombie outbreaks recently
* a man can love a million women
* zombie apotolips

3.
4.

5.


6.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Nice Things About Switzerland #4: Snow

Sunny days are nice. You can eat ice cream and wear sunglasses and look at women's breasts without them knowing. But nobody says 'I hope it suns on Christmas.'

Rain is worse. It stops cricket matches and ruins your hair after you've put loads of product in it. One of my friends called his startup company 'RainThreat' and it failed within months. When he renamed it 'SunGlee Industries' he got millions in capital and grants. If it rains on Christmas it's God trying to make you cry.

What everyone wants at Christmas is snow. Crisp, white, powdery snow hugging the city like a mother cat. Snow is to Christmas what shrugging is to the French. Put another way, snow makes Christmas christmassy the way feral grunting makes sex sexy.

One of the nice things about Switzerland is that it delivers snow in winter. Look at the snow!

Snowcapped peak, like the very Alps
An amorphous blob, next to a snowman

So it's not actually going to snow on Christmas Day, and the snow in the photos was from two weeks ago. But I saved a bit of it and put it in my freezer, and I'll put it in a glass of champagne for Christmas breakfast and then I'll feel really christmassy.


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Friday, December 21, 2012

He Ain't Hesse; He's My Brother

On December 7th, my brother Adam posted a link to a comparison of mobile phones. I started reading the article and was puzzled by the number of run-on sentences, random capitalisations and weirdly-spaced compound nouns. But there was something light and charming about it. It was as though the piece had been written by a kindly, high-functioning alcoholic with one and a half Jack Ds in him. The light dawned - it had been written by Adam.

This was a surprise. Adam read his first book, Pippi Longstocking, at the age of twenty-two, and had never displayed any inclination towards writing as a hobby.

He is attracting more than a hundred hits a day. Which is more than this blog, even though this blog is the number one resource on the web for Latin Jokes, Asterix translations, and Girls Who Look Like Hitler.

Let's try to find out why he's more successful than me:

Output
The pace Adam's writing at is dizzying - 16 posts in 2 weeks. In that time I've uploaded a couple of photos to a draft, thought up exactly zero new comics, and played 30 hours of Skyrim. If you don't check his blog for a day you'll be so far behind you'll never catch up.

Cats
20% of Adam's posts are pictures of him holding cats.There are almost no pictures of cats on my blog. Is it any wonder no-one comes here?

Attitude to Readership
I don't like human beings; Adam does. This shines through in his writing. Assuming my readers are stupid, I carefully draft, craft, and shraft my writing so that people can't possibly misunderstand anything. In contrast, Adam just types whatever comes into his fingers in the belief that his readers will be bright enough to get it.

As a fun game, count how many different tenses are used in this anecdote:
I was in a hurry because I was running late as I was feeding my cat Mr Smith. I rushed out of my front door with a bag of goodies in each hand and got to my front gate and then…DISASTER, I tripped and fell to my knees, then my head was slowly but surely heading towards the pavement and due to my overprotective nature with food, I  kept hold of my shopping bags and failed to use my hands to stop myself.  CRASH, I hit the floor, I feel nothing.
As I get up from the ground I notice a chorus of cackling coming from across the road. (you should note, at the time I lived right opposite a primary school).  The children were laughing at me.
Charm
People who have never met me describe my blog personality as 'cold', 'assholey', or 'dickish'. Fortunately, I'm all those things in real life so I don't find it offensive. Adam, though, is a nice guy and people like him. I mean, how can you not like the writer of this story?


It was winter time and foggy, even if I had glasses on I’m not sure it would have changed anything. I was walking home from work because I like to not pollute the world. I heard a noise behind me, I turned to see what it was. In the distance I saw a group of thugs running towards me and I did what any normal white boy would do, I ran away.
Alas, I was fat and weak back then so my running didn’t last very long. I turned to face my assailants with ready to do some kung-fu and beat them back, only find a mixed sex jogging group passing me with slightly confused looks on their faces.

Pleasantly Confusing
With my blog, people know what to expect - me making fun of my dwindling group of friends, me killing my friends in comics, and insincere 'nice' or 'socially useful' articles. With Adam's you never know what you're going to get - sometimes you still don't know even after you've read it.

I went back to the article he'd written about phones and saw there was one comment on it. The comment was from Adam and it said 'your email address looks like gibberish.' I instantly apprehended what had happened: one of the internet's many spambots had posted a comment and Adam had replied. Except he'd then deleted the first comment and chosen not to delete his reply. 

Somehow this sums up his blog to date. I told a couple of people to check it out and their reactions were the same - "I don't understand it, but I like it."


#                   #                   #

My Christmas wish is that everyone who reads this post visits my brother's blog.
Read it here: http://www.grumblereview.com/

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Nice Things About Switzerland #3: The Children


Children are like zombies. They can barely walk, have a limited vocabulary, and are messy eaters. No, wait. Children are like drum solos - at first they are awesome, but after two minutes you're totally sick of them.

But I have to admit that the kids in Switzerland are pretty adorable.

First, when they are out of kindergarten they have to wear triangular fluorescent bibs.


A man. A pram. A tram. Panama.

Second, the kindergarten workers sometimes transport whole batches of kids in these massive kinderwagons:


It is literally impossible to see half a dozen kids in one of those and not smile. I like saying the word kinderwagon. Top tip - it's more fun if you stress the first syllable and pronounce the 'w' as 'v'.

Another gratifying sight is kids riding ruinously expensive wooden pedal-less bikes (sometimes called "ride-on bikes"). Thusly:


Child's smile: priceless   Wooden bike: 500 pounds or something
Growing up, I never had a toy that cost as much as a second hand car. That's why I cry myself to sleep every night, mumbling 'Rosebud', 'Rosebud'. But I do like the bikes - I imagine them being handcrafted by a jolly Santa lookalike.

Finally, I'd like to do an online fist-bump to Swiss parents in general. I can't recall seeing a parent screaming at their kid in a supermarket. I've never thought the word 'feral' when looking at a group of kids, and in restaurants they just sit and eat food and don't run around screaming.

I don't exactly know how they do it, but high five, guys. High five.


More Nice Things About Switzerland here
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Friday, November 23, 2012

7 Ways Your Money Can Do Good

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!" In the classic line from the movie Network, Howard Beale was raging against the gloom of the 70s; the economy, unemployment, bank failures, crime, pollution.



What would the cry of our time be? For me, there's not a lot to be mad as hell about. My life's pretty good. But there are one or two things I'm mad as heck about. For one, I'm mad as heck about Starbucks and other corporations paying zero tax. Their tax avoidance is primarily the fault of the people who make tax laws but as a consumer I can choose not to give my money to companies who are, let's face it, total dicks.

And so I'm boycotting Starbucks. I quite like their Chai Tea Lattes but their Chai Tea Lattes are fattening and just crazy expensive. That was okay until I realised the extent of Starbucks's dickishness. I haven't been in one since it was reported Starbucks UK paid 8 million pounds tax on a turnover of 3 billion. It made me mad as heck and I'm not going to drink it anymore.

So I have a bit more money in my pocket now, and want to use it in an ethical way. You know, to make the world a better place and that.

Here are 7 ways to make your money work for (mostly) good instead of (mostly) evil.

1. Microfinance Charities

When I sicken myself by doing something evil or selfish, which obviously isn't very often, I go to Kiva or Deki (a British version of Kiva) and make a loan to some hard-working entrepreneur. I blogged about that before. My Kiva team has made over seven thousand dollars in loans now.


The best bit is that when the loan gets repaid, I can relend it, and get a hit of smugness again.


2. Creating Employment

You've probably seen some of my comics. Basically I design them and send them off to an artist and they draw it for me and I pay them. It's a win-win-win situation: I win by getting a new blog post, the artist wins by getting some money for their labour and validation for their talent, and society wins by getting quality art.

If you think there's nothing similar you could do, you're probably wrong. Read The 4-Hour Workweek and see if it inspires you.

3. Owning Football Teams

Recently there was a campaign to save the Spanish team Real Oviedo. You could buy shares for 10 euros via paypal and lots of people did, some to say they owned part of a football team, some to help save an important part of the local community.

Then the club said that foreign shareholders would be able to get into games for free. I thought it would be a good excuse to spend a weekend in northern Spain and bought one, as did a few friends. We'll have a nice weekend in Oviedo and we helped save the team. 

Plus we can say that we're business partners with Carlos Slim, the world's richest man. He bought 2m euros of shares. I guess he really, really, doesn't like paying entrance fees.


My Business Partner

4. Funding Circle

Funding Circle is a website which raises finance for British businesses who are being stiffed by banks. A 50,000 pound loan (for example) is broken down into units of 20 pounds which are bought by thousands of people, spreading the risk.

I haven't been using that site for very long but so far I haven't lost any money and my current yield is 9.4%, which is really good. I've invested in 28 companies and as things stand two would have to go bust for me to lose money. 




Apart from making money, I like the concept of the site - supporting local businesses and giving people alternatives to banks.

(If you want to try the site write to me so I can refer you - we'll both get Amazon vouchers.)

5. Rega and Paraplegics

In Switzerland you can offset charity donations against tax. Fine, but I wasn't interested because I already did the microfinance stuff. But my students persuaded me to join two more charities: Rega and the Paraplegic Society. 

Rega is the Swiss air rescue service and costs just 30 francs a year. If you fall down a mountain they'll airlift you out. But the really cool thing is that if you're a member and have a serious accident on holiday, they'll send their amazing hospital plane and fly you back to Switzerland.

The Paraplegic 'deal' is similar (45 francs a year). If you get paralysed they'll give you 200,000 francs to buy wheelchairs and stuff, and give you all kinds of advice and help.

So - if you have an emergency you get taken care of, and if you don't have to use their service you're helping people who do. And you can offset the whole thing against your taxes. Sign me up!

6. Rolling Jubilee

This is the kind of thing I really like, which makes me wonder if I'm actually a communist. Rolling Jubilee is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, but instead of just being against something, they actually have a concrete way to make things better.

Because financial markets resemble the mind of Lewis Carroll on LSD, it is possible to buy other people's debt for a dime on the dollar. If you owe someone a hundred dollars, I can pay that person twenty dollars and now you owe ME a hundred. The person who sold me the debt is happy because it doesn't matter how much money he loses - the government will bail him out.

So the Rolling Jubilee people buy debt. Having bought it, they simply abolish the debt. Voila! You are now debt free.

As of right now, they have canceled 8.2m dollars of debt from donations of 400k.


I've only made small donations to that. If there's ever a British one I might do more. But mostly I just like the concept and the ten francs I would have wasted in Starbucks gets the shit leveraged out of it. In a good way.

7. Kickstarter

I haven't supported a Kickstarter project yet, but I'm sure I will. It's a way to finance projects, such as a new video game. In return, you get varying levels of stuff depending on how much you've pledged. For example, for 25 dollars you might get the game (when it's finished) plus a poster, while for 100 dollars you get that plus the soundtrack plus they'll name a character after you.

I feel like a lot of the guys behind the project are people like me, and I can totally imagine doing a Kickstarter project one day. If I could get X thousand pounds I could take time off work and write Robots vs Vampires, thus instantly making society 5% better.


Conclusion
If corporations are going to be total dicks, then where possible I will not give them my money.
If there are people who need my money, and they make it easy for me to give it to them, and they are doing something ethical or creative or interesting, they can have it. Especially if I get something in return.


Links:
My comics website
My Kiva team
Deki
Rega
Swiss Paraplegic Foundation
Rolling Jubilee
Kickstarter




Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Draw Something Skills

There is a smartphone game called Draw Something. I'm sure you know it and have played it. I'm also sure that you will soon be in awe of my Draw Something skills.

Here's a gallery of some of my drawings. Look upon my works and despair!


Early Work
I started by drawing simple things until my technique improved. Example: sheep; fart.





Artistic Maturity
Having mastered the touchscreen interface, I was able to produce stunning renditions of famous people and places.



Social Comment
Soon, making great art wasn't enough. I began to use the game as an opportunity to communicate with my audience.

The game told me to draw the word 'funeral' for Cecile to guess. So I drew her funeral.


Party time!

Cecile didn't like that and was mad at me for a whole weekend. Then she decided she wanted to be friends again and sent me a sickeningly sweet text message saying that she valued my friendship a lot and wanted to us both to work harder to stay friends.

Fortuitously, Draw Something gave me the word 'vomit' to send to Cecile, so I was able to reply visually.


beep - new message from Cecile "Let's be friends!"

A week later, she forgave me again.

Next I had the chance to subtly suggest to my friend Heidi that she ate like a pig and was gross. I had to draw the word 'fondue' for her, and sent her this:


Heidi getting fondue all over herself like she's trying to absorb cheese through pores in her skin
We haven't eaten together since, but I'm sure she was happy someone helped her correct her misbehaviour.

If I continue with my development as an artist, surely it won't be long before people are paying thousands of dollars to play Draw Something with me. I'll keep you posted.
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Thursday, November 01, 2012

I Bleed Assassin's Creed

or
How to Assassinate Your Friends

There is a small box in my flat which can turn a nerd into a ninja. The box contains a video game called Assassin's Creed.

A few months ago all I did was play and talk about Assassin's Creed and its sequels. The games involve a lot of sneaking around, hiding in crowds, and getting close enough to a target for an undetected kill.

Playing the game led to real-world changes in behaviour. After playing the first game, I stopped carrying coins in my pocket to minimise the noise I made walking. By the time I'd finished the second game every building in Zurich became architecturally fascinating - anything can be climbed.


With my skills, any building can be climbed

After completing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, I realised I had become a stealth master. A ninja.

I arranged to meet Cecile. She was waiting outside the hotel near my flat. I used the pillars in front of the building to get closer to her, and when she was distracted by the noise of a passing child, I joined a pocket of people heading her way, snuck up behind her and freaked her out. 

Sneaking up behind my best friends and scaring them became my new hobby. I tried to photograph the results for your amusement.

Like this:


Anna preparing lesson

Shocked Anna
Now, while you can clearly see that she's startled, what you can't see is her patting her chest as though her heart's about to burst, and calling me a jerk and a moron and trying to hit me.

Instead of moving on to a different project, like a socially normal person, I decided to invest in one of these:



A head-mounted HD camera!
I put it on and waited for an opportunity to film an 'Anna-sination.'
Sadly the results were poor and I had wasted 35 francs. But then I got an iPhone and could launch sneak attacks anywhere, anytime.


Here are some videos displaying my ninja skills.


Video 1 
Synopsis: Anna is trying to talk to her boss in German. I scare her. She instantly switches to English to swear, and then calls me 'Stupid English'.
video

Video 2
Synopsis: Cecile thinks she is safe because she is at work. She isn't. "Where were you hiding?!" Upside down on the ceiling, like Batman. True story.
video

Video 3
Synopsis: My brother has come to Zurich and we're meeting Anna for lunch. I see them heading to the restaurant, and my Assassin's Creed training kicks in.
video




Assassin's Creed 3 has just been released. Let the ninja training recommence!
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Swiss Army Knife (1)

21 functions
What can the Swiss Army Knife tell us about Switzerland? Thanks to a generous student I finally own one. It has 21 functions and by trying to find a use for them all, maybe I'll learn something about Swiss culture. Or maybe I'll just make up some outrageous lies and pass them off as fact.

Function 3 - Corkscrew
On their eighth birthday, Swiss children are given a basic Army Knife with eight functions. Every year their godparents give them a new one with nine, ten, eleven functions and so on, and by the time they retire, the Swiss are proficient with a 65-function knife.

Not me. I'm a total spastic. I did manage to get the wine out of this bottle, but not the wine stain out of my Transformers pyjamas. 


Function 2 - Small Blade
I almost never use the CD drive on my Macbook because God gave us wifi and USB. The other day I tried to insert a CD but there was a wall of dried plum blocking it. I used the small blade to push the CD in. Success!

What's this about the plum? Sigh. What happened is explained by the fact that Swiss companies leave fruit lying all over their offices to keep their workers healthy. I often steal some and then forget it is in my bag.

The plum in question disintegrated over a weekend and was sponged up by my Apple. The damage was limited to messing up the CD drive and to turning off the power LED on the front - the latter being a considerable improvement as I like to sleep in the dark.

The Swiss have the highest per capita spend on corporate fruit in the Western hemisphere, and the lowest rates of absenteeism. Coincidence? No.

 Function 13 - Scissors
In Zurich you recycle cardboard by wrapping it in string and leaving it on the kerb. I normally use big scissors to cut the string, but look: my Army Knife has scissors, and they cut through string like an elderly Frenchman cutting in line in an onion shop.

These cardboard pickups are one part of Zurich's impressive 21-point waste management policy. Recycling is taken very seriously here. There's no space for landfill because all the spare land is being used to store gold, to build unused holiday homes for rich Arabs and Russians, and to construct a gigantic statue of Roger Federer, the base of which will be bigger than seven Wimbledons. With incinerators costing a fortune to build and run, there are very strict rules about what can be put into household waste.

Like everything in Switzerland, this seemingly liberal, progressive way of doing things has a dark, sinister side. The police have special teams of garbage inspectors who sort through people's garbage to check for rule breaking, such as bunging batteries in a bin bag. Typically migrant workers from Sri Lanka, the teams wear shiny easy-wipe plastic coats and when a misdeed is detected, forensic specialists are called in to establish the identity of the perp. Minutes later the police arrive at the miscreant's door and cart them off for re-education. The worker who found the mistake is rewarded with a three-week visa extension and a morning off.

Further, neighbours inform on each other with gruesome glee, sickening to watch. If you want to have a chilling, horror movie-type experience, go to a bottle bank in Zurich on a Sunday and start dropping bottles. Wait a few seconds until the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and then slowly turn around. At least six people will be taking photos of you or recording you on their iPhones. And their smiles will stop you from sleeping for weeks.


Part Two
Part Three
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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Flab Loss Mastery


Andrew Girardin's Flab Loss Mastery
Part One

Flab! I have flab! Flab has turned my six-pack into a one-pack and made my chin a double. This is the result of four years of gluttony, sloth, and complacency.

Gluttony in terms of unrestrained consumption of pizza, beer, wine, chocolate, and muffins. Sloth in the sense of sitting on my arse eight hours a day and crying off sport at the drop of a hat. And complacency; above all, complacency: 'It'll be better next month when X happens;' 'Next week I'll do X and lose X kilos.' 

Of course, in the real world, X equals ZERO.

But I recently came across the concept of 'internal fat'. A reporter in a BBC documentary had an MRI scan and was told he had 5 litres of internal fat and that his organs were 'swimming in fat'. The guy wasn't even overweight. That sickening image zapped the complacency out of me like a preacher zapping homosexuality out of a gay.

Another motivating factor was a comment from a footballing friend. His doctor told him he needed to lose '50,000 calories'. This was a big 'aha!' moment for me. Putting weight loss in those terms is genius. I did a calculation and realised my friend needed to lose 150 calories a day over a year. He could exercise a bit more (30 minutes a day would do it) or eat less (one muffin a day? one slice of pizza?). EASY.

So it was time to lose the flab, write a blog about it, and become the number one motivational speaker in the world on the subject of flab loss. "If I can lose eight kilos in two years, so can YOU!"

My Lifestyle and Why Change is Hard
My schedule makes it hard to eat well. I work lunchtimes and evenings so I often have to grab whatever grub is to hand, which means sandwiches and muffins. I hate cooking and never get bored of pizza. I live one minute away from a Domino's.

I do a bit of sport, but a more honest appraisal of my activity shows that almost my whole life is spent in bed or hunched over a keyboard, like some slowly-fattening Phantom of the Opera.


If he sits there all day, every day, he'll end up with my stomach. Poor guy
I have a sweet tooth and like a cold beer after a hard day's educating. I have little to no self-discipline. If I buy one beer, I'll drink one beer. If I buy four beers 'to last me two days' I'll drink three and restock the next day.

Starting Point and Aim of the Project
I'm 183cm (6 foot) tall and my peak weight was a grotesque 90.5kg (14.25 stone/200 lbs). My weight mostly fluctuated between 87 and 89kg.

I want to get that down to 80 by the end of the project, or at least reduce my belly flab to where I no longer have the urge to google 'discreet liposuction for men.'


The Girardin Method for Flab Loss
Stage One - Baby Steps

1. From couch potato to exercise bike potato

If you mention weight-loss to people (don't, is my advice, but we'll come back to that when I write 'Andrew's Eye-Catching 10 Rules of Flab Loss') they will offer all manner of unsolicited advice. One of the least obnoxious things is 'get off the tram a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.'

I like that kind of thing because it establishes the right mindset and it's easy and free, and becomes a routine you don't think about. In my case, what I did was stand up in class where possible (burns 50 calories an hour more than sitting) and move my exercise bike in front of my Xbox.


Exercise-box 360

Now that playing video games is an essential part of my fitness project I don't feel guilty about wasting my life shooting aliens in the face and it's a trillion percent less boring than standard exercise.

2. Easy, sustainable improvements in diet

One day I went to my local supermarkets and forced myself to walk around all the aisles looking for stuff that I might be able to wedge into my diet.
It was productive. In the two main supermarkets (Migros and Coop, for my Swiss readers) I found veg-heavy ready meals and ready-to-eat salads. The ready meals have 400 calories or so, about half as much as a pizza. The salads have 250 calories. Here's the inside of my fridge after shopping:


Salads, grapes, and enough vegetables to test a brain damage drug
There are about 9 meals there with the total calorie count of 3, maybe 4 pizzas. They're tasty, too, and there's almost no preparation needed. At most you need some olive oil and a frying pan.

3. Better snacking

Snacks are the devil. I tried switching from evil muffins and cheesecakes to healthier things like dried fruit (yes I know they have calories! Shut up! I know! I know the same things as you! I'm saying they're better than processed shit! They have nutrients! Just let it go!).

I experimented with snacking on dried banana and cherries during lessons. It was okay - they taste quite good but you can't scoff them down because of the calories so it's a bit unsatisfactory.

The dried fruit thing didn't stick. Something about it didn't sit right with me. Looking back, though, I think it was helpful to have them around, since my snacking is way reduced now.

The best snacks are no snacks. I tried to stop having muffins and cheesecakes every day. The Girardin Method encourages 'one treat a day'. On a given day I could either have a muffin or a Chai Tea Latte or a beer. 

It was moderately successful. I've had one slice of cheesecake in about four months and very few muffins. Also, when I do have a dessert or snack I enjoy it more because it's a treat.

4. Drink fewer chai tea lattes and more water

You might have read my Starbucks post and wondered about me drinking so much Chai Tea Latte. There's a Starbucks right next to my school and one near my flat, so the temptation is strong. Financially there's no point getting a small one (called a 'Enormio' in Starbucks jargon) so I always get the biggest (the 'Agamemnon'). It's a lot of calories, so reducing Chai intake was part of the project.

I stocked up on water and tried to cut down on Starbucks, reducing my consumption by at least half and taking maybe 1000 calories a week out of my diet.

BONUS: Water is far cheaper, too, since I can steal it from corporations I work at.

5. Fall in love

Falling in love, AKA being temporarily obsessed with some chick, helps in many ways. You have less appetite and can walk past muffins more easily.
My latest outbreak of bad-chemicals-in-the-brain was well-timed since it helped me stop boozing at home at a critical point in the flab loss programme. Instead, I moped around the streets of Zurich listening to The Smiths. Moping burns 50 calories an hour more than doing nothing, plus I wasn't drinking. Bonus!

"But Andrew, I don't believe in love. This doesn't help me!"
Don't fret. You can replicate the symptoms of love by staring at this Russian girl.
















 Results: Is it working?

Yes! Using the Girardin Method I just dipped below 85kg for the first time since records began (i.e. 2010), a couple of people asked me if I had a wasting disease (high five!) and if I scrunch up my stomach really hard, you can sort of imagine where a six-pack would be.

If this seems positive and upbeat, it's because I'm writing it in the same week as I hit my target. But it took ages and ages and ages to lose the weight. Really, a long time.

NEXT - I'll report on my attempts to go from 85kg to 80, and summarise with one of those '10 Rules' posts that bloggers love.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

True Love: The Fair Affair

A true story of love
Written by Andrew Girardin. Art by Gonzalo Muñoz





In the real story, she emptied his bank account and flew back to Russia, too.
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