Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Inevitable "what I should have said" post.

Welcome to the internet. A happy place.

Thank you all for the unbelievable support for my last post, and thanks to Ricky Gervais for posting the link on twitter. I was amazed that over a weekend of nearly 14,000 hits and several comments, I didn't encounter a single troll. All comments have been posted unedited.

But I reread the post and realised something was clearly missing. The campaign to get Life's Too Short pulled from the air is well organised. Many letters are being sent to MPs the BBC, Ofcom and national newspapers and I suspect that it has built up such a head of steam now that there will more publicity over the coming weeks. Even well respected members of the restricted growth acting community have suggested that this show has the potential to set attitudes back 150 years and depict all short people as circus freaks. It is therefore not appropriate to simply dismiss this campaign because a few people got nasty on a message board; what I really ought to do is explain why they are wrong.

The campaign organisers want short statured people to be able to walk down the road without being stared at, without being shouted at and abused, without being lifted up by a drunk chav on a night out. I want that for my daughter too. But what they seem to have missed is that so does Warwick Davis. And so does Ricky Gervais. The thrust of the campaign is that in portraying short people in uncomfortable and unpleasant situations it somehow validates the appalling attitudes and behaviour seen in the show. I believe they have fundamentally misinterpreted the nature and intention of the show.

Last Thursday's episode caused particular outrage. The first scene has come in for particular criticism for showing Dwarf Bowling. We are all aware that Dwarf Bowling happens, and is pretty distasteful: that's the whole point of the scene. You are not supposed to like Warwick's character. He's the sort of person who organises a Dwarf Bowling contest, and after taking a 10% agency fee says "What's the problem, he's getting paid!"
It's a common argument that was voiced often after the Rugby World Cup débâcle this year, the scene seeks to invalidate the argument by putting it in the mouth of someone you already dislike.

Every scene that has caused people to be upset has a similar underlying message, and it's loud and clear. It has been since Warwick Davis first tweeted about the show, a year ago. It has been in the pre show publicity and interviews. It was clear when Ricky Gervais tweeted a link to a letter from one of the campaigners in The Guardian.

If you are not convinced of the show's intentions, let me briefly address objections to some of the other major scenes:

"Johnny Depp put him in the toilet! People look up to Johnny Depp!" - Johnny Depp was playing a character. An unpleasant, spoiled character who you are not at any time meant to identify with. He is a dick. If you think it's funny to make someone stand in a toilet then guess what? You're a dick too.

"Helena Bonham-Carter called Warwick "it" and had him put in a bin!" - yes because HBC was portraying a spoilt prima-donna with a sycophantic entourage. It was outrageous that she called Warwick "it". You were meant to be outraged.

Warwick was disappointed to find that Tim Burton wasn't directing.

A third of last week's episode was dedicated to the message that short stature actors should be considered for roles on their acting ability alone. Why shouldn't a dwarf play Othello or Hamlet at the RSC? This is something that Warwick has been pushing for years, and yet has been conveniently ignored by the campaign.
I wrote in my last post that the words used are not nearly as important as the intention behind them. It staggers me that the intentions here are so clear and yet the campaign still seems to be gaining ground. It is important to me that people understand that although the campaign is vociferous and passionate, it is based on a serious misconception, and does not have universal support within the RG community.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not a Good Friday (part 2)

Ricky Gervais, abusing a Dwarf.

I am not a "campaigner". I was employed my Student's Union at University and the language and sycophancy surrounding some "causes" drove me insane. The pet "cause" of the Bangor student campaigners at the time was the Newbury Bypass, and not once did they ask the opinion of someone in the same office who lived in Berkshire, and that had driven through Newbury.

So being new to the world of Restricted Growth we recently joined some support groups. I was expecting useful, practical guidance on dealing with the extra challenges we and Ollie would face. Where we could get help. Where we could buy specialist equipment and toys (trikes, chairs etc). We got some very useful information, but I was not expecting the Newbury Bypass.

My wife joined one particular group on the internet before me. A few weeks ago she saw a post from somebody who had started a campaign complaining about the new Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis comedy "Lifes Too Short". Letters had been written to her MP, the DG of the BBC, Points of View, and National Newspapers. Weeks before the show aired. The irony of pre-judging the show in this way seemed sadly lost on many people, whose ever-so-sincere encouragement had me rolling my eyes.

We are film geeks. Warwick Davis is one of our favourite actors, and we had read his autobiography long before we had any medical reason to do so! When he started talking last year about his new project, and how excited he was about it, we were very pleased for him. He is a man who lives with dwarfism and all of its implications, good and bad. It has affected his life and his family in the happiest and most tragic of ways. I would say it is required reading for anyone in our position, and gives an idea of his motivation for the "Life's Too Short" project (and yes, although the humour has hallmarks of Gervais and Merchant, this is very much a Warwick Davis project). So to see a full blown campaign setting out to trash the project before anyone had even seen it irked my wife greatly, and she said so. It started very civilly, but when it became clear that there were other people who felt the same way, the abuse started.

Because the thing about some campaigners is that they steadfastly refuse to see any other point of view. And when you put a huge amount of time and energy into being officially outraged, you put yourself in a position where you can't possibly back down, and there is always a refusal to accept that support is not universal. When a group of people decide that they are moral arbiters, they utterly refuse to accept that there is another point of view. Worse is that by claiming that they have the moral high ground, they assume open season on people who disagree.

We have been branded a bad parents for daring to disagree with a campaign that we (still) think is misguided.

We have been branded cowards for doing so.

I was been branded an internet bully for standing up for myself and my family.

We were (bizarrely and incorrectly) accused of being paid by Warwick Davis.

We have been told that our views are irrelevant because we are not of short stature ourselves.
Some bad parents

In the week that Stephen Lawrence was in the news again, there was one person who tried to brand the show a "Hate Crime" and that the makers should be charged under the appropriate legislation. I found that utterly distasteful - incidentally that person has also fallen foul of Godwin's Law.

One of the problems faced by little people is that of novelty- people will stare because they haven't seen a dwarf before. It's not a surprise, because dwarfism affects only one person in every 25000. This year's TV has done great things to change that.
Boardwalk Empire
Boston Legal
Game of Thrones
Seven Dwarves
and now Life's Too Short

(although whether the last one is positive seems to be dependant on whether you like Ricky Gervais or not)
NOTE!!! these links are largely NSFW or kids. Click with care, but do watch them. The second link isn't just Boston Legal, but a montage of Meredith Eaton, and she is AMAZING!

Please, please, please use the comments section here for any questions. I will try to answer them as quickly and fully as I can. Don't worry about “saying the wrong thing”, we have come to the conclusion that the words used are much less important than the intention behind them, which will always be obvious. For those who wish to be PC the word "midget" is not used anymore among the short-stature community; it is seen as a derogatory, slang word associated with circuses and the like.

And for the record, if anyone does try and put my daughter in a toilet or a rubbish bin I will physically hurt them.

Not a Good Friday

Exactly one year ago, the Paediatrics team gave our 2 day old daughter a diagnosis of Achondroplasia. A passing comment the previous day by a midwife about "short arms" had been playing on my mind, so after I got Ollie's brother into bed that night, I hit Google. I was, at least vaguely prepared for what was to come, but my wife, who had been somewhat cut off from the real world for three days, was completely unprepared. Hitting the odds of 1:25000 isn't fair on us, or on her, but the main way I have come to terms with Ollies condition is to accept that its not predictable, preventable or treatable: we just have to get on with it.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of appointments, scheduling for appointments, Googling before appointments so we had a background knowledge of what would be discussed, family visits, banks, estate agents (we were hoping to have a third bedroom before she was born) the sleep depravation that comes with a newborn, and the emotions that come with finding out that your child will be "different". At that early stage we skimmed the RGA and LPA websites for information, and pretty much everything we found was positive, and reassuring. The potential health problems associated with Achondroplasia were flagged up calmly and we have been watching Ollie like a hawk for signs of raised intracranial pressure, loss of limb mobility, sleep apnoea, (there's a long list). The possibility of decompression surgery worries me greatly, although I see from OMIM that it's actually quite rare, and it's probably just my own fears that make it seem to stand out. I have turned Ollie into a bit of a science project. Its something of a coping strategy I guess but I find it's helpful to understand exactly what's going on in as much detail as possible, and I'm sure she will have questions as she gets older.

Emotions are funny things. They come and go. As a Father and Husband it was my job to hold everything together and be calm and practical for everybody else. For the most part I think I managed that well, but there was a point about two weeks in where everything caught up with me at once. I was eating a toasted cheese and ham pitta at the time, and it was like I had suddenly been hit by a truckload of "I don't want this for our daughter" with a special delivery of "it's not fair".
I sometimes find it hard when we take our son to the playground and I catch myself looking at little girls with long skinny legs. I suppose I should be careful not to get myself arrested, but it's nothing sinister, purely a tinge of whimsy and regret. And in any case, I'm pretty sure that Ollie already has more character than most of them!
We have been incredibly lucky in that we live near the John Radcliffe Hospital. We have had care from the most incredible team of specialists, and I am in awe of them- particularly our Paediatric Consultant, our Orthopaedic Consultant, and our Physiotherapist, all of whom have dealt with Achondroplasia cases before.

Over the course of the year it has become clear that we have dodged many bullets. I loved watching my son grow up, but it just happened. Knowing that there was a potential problem for Ollie meant that I paid more attention to how infant skills develop, and it has been fascinating. So many skills we take for granted as adults are reliant on underlying skills like sitting and standing: Early years developement in Achondroplasia can be a bit slower, low trunk strength means that while other children are sitting up and learning to use their hands, Achondroplastic children may still struggle to sit at all.

Nobody appears to have mentioned this to our daughter, who started cruising along low tables and sofas over a month ago, and is charging up and down the house on her toddle truck as I type. The determined little bugger is ahead of many of her average height peers. I could not be prouder as a father, or more more in love with her cheeky, gummy grin.
There will be a part 2 to this post later, but I am going to have to be very careful about the wording...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Open letter to my MP

Dear Mr Vaizey

I have been following the progress of the petition for a referendum on the UKs EU membership, and was extremely pleased to see it has resulted in a parliamentary debate. I am less pleased to see that the Conservative Party are considering use of a three line whip on this debate, something I would consider not only inappropriate, but also damaging to the reputation of both Parliament and the Conservative Party.

I notice from your voting record that you have never voted against the party line, may I strongly urge you to consider doing so on this occasion, or at the very least abstaining from the vote now scheduled for Monday.

There would be many advantages in allowing this call for a referendum to pass:

- Many people in this country have never had an opportunity to have their views on the EU represented by a major parliamentary party. The 1975 referendum on continued membership of the EEC was exactly a year before I was born. I am 35 years old.

- No voter has ever had a direct input into the huge transfer of power away from Westminster, as the previous referendum was over membership of a trading organisation, not a political one.

- The bill comes as a direct result of a call from a huge number of the voting public. To allow a three line whip to hold in this circumstance is a direct snub to the people on whom you rely for your continued position in parliament.

- The Conservative Party is currently in a coalition government simply because it did not garner sufficient votes. It will lose even more voters to UKIP if it blocks this chance for a referendum. UKIP would become redundant overnight in the event of a commitment from the Conservative Party to hold a referendum.

- There is an assumption that the public would vote for a withdrawal from the EU. This is not necessarily the case. If it can be shown before any referendum how our lives are improved by our continued membership, then it stands to reason that we would vote for continued membership; A vote to remain within the EU would close the debate down altogether for a generation and allow the UK to become unequivocally committed to the project.

Your back-bench colleague Mark Pritchard speaking on the Today Program this morning stated that “This is about country first, party second and career last". Please give this matter serious consideration before Monday.

Many Thanks,

Chris Brenchley

Friday, 10 June 2011

The iCloud is going to be a massive pain in the arse.

I have a family. I have an iPad and an iPhone. So does my wife. We own things together. You know, the house, it's contents, the CDs... The iTunes library. And herein lies my first problem with iCloud. All of my wife's future purchases are going to AUTOMATICALLY load themselves onto my devices. I don't want Michael Bublé on my phone thanks. And I'm pretty sure my wife doesn't want the Astronomy podcast on hers. But we will end up filling each other's 16Gb pretty quickly with unwanted presents.
The same goes for Apps. My iPhone and my iPad are very different devices for very different things. Both are used very differently from each other, and from my wife's devices. If I download an app on the phone, I don't want it automatically on my iPad. Waste of time, space, and data.
I also don't want my music purchases on my iPad. It's primarily a visual device, so I may want films on it. But I sure as he'll don't want those films to automatically download onto my phone. It will crucify my 16Gb disc space and my 3G data cap. If I use my phone as a hotspot, I don't want my iPad wasting my limited hotspot data by background synching photos and iBooks purchases over my phone's 3G, it will slow everything down massively. And if I'm abroad and switch on the data roaming for an important incoming email, I don't want to pay for the extra fluff that the phone is going to try and grab from the cloud.

Wandering around with my phone in my pocket, leaking a cloud of location (and other) data as I go is not a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Splitting what MY phone does and doesn't download from what my wife's does and doesn't download is a pain already, and we are just juggling a single mobile me account and a hotmail account each.

I also really don't understand all the hate for mobile me. It was a little pricey, but I have never had a problem with how it functions. What the iCloud will do with mail, calendar and contacts is no different. Also, if MobileMe no longer exists as of today, can I have my subscription back? (I'm be happy to pay for the 3 months I have used this year but I paid for 12)

Cloud documents is , I grant, probably quite useful- as long as my mac has access.
And the cloud backup that will synch your new phone looks very slick. The fact that a PC is no longer required may just sway me into getting my parents an iPad for Christmas.

I'm looking forward to Lion, it looks great.
And the enhancements coming in iOS5 are excellent (and with that volume button shutter long overdue) but the message from Apple to anyone making a really slick, functional app, like dropbox is - if your idea really makes our product better... We will nick it and call it a software upgrade. Apple have form with this. Look at what happened to the beautiful but ow abandoned "Classics" app and iBooks.

It might just be that I'm doing it wrong, but iCloud looks like it's going to add some unnecessary complexity to my apple family.

- Blogged from my iPad

Monday, 23 May 2011

Get over yourselves

We just watched the incredible documentary about the John Radcliffe's Craniofacial surgery unit on the iPlayer. Episode 3 "Rogue Gene" is available on the BBC iPlayer for another three days.

This particular episode hit very close to home for me. We have become very familiar with the John Radcliffe over the last six months, and this episode concentrates on Apert's syndrome which is caused by a "spelling mistake" on the FGFR2 gene. The mechanism is very similar to that which causes Achondroplasia (which effects the FGFR3 gene). Watching "the science bit" was like replaying our consultation with the genetics department.

But that's not the point.

Today, all of Twitter (in the UK at least) has been falling over itself to show how clever we all are at knowing that a certain footballer shagged around a bit.

A Footballer. Paid millions to kick a ball round a pitch.

The exceptions have been the Lawyers on Twitter wringing their hands, and telling us how we should all respect an out-of-touch Judge's rulings on an unwelcome foreign law which is clearly unenforceable. They have actually been defending this man's right to threaten with prison ANYONE caught telling the truth.


There are men in a Hospital in Oxford dismantling and reassembling children's skulls so that their brains can grow properly. These men do not seek celebrity, nor do they seek sexual partners from reality TV shows. So get over yourselves, step away from the nonsense on twitter for an hour and watch them in action. They deserve our utmost respect and admiration.

- Blogged from my iPad

Sunday, 22 May 2011


This photo by Snæbjörn Guðbjörnsson was lifted via Google images from This Site

It just so happens I have the next few days off, and I appear to have been volunteered by PRGeek as the go-to blog for information on the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland. Seeing as I got a week off work last year while half an Icelandic Mountain was floating above us, this blog is the least I can do.

I'm not entirely sure what's happening at the moment, but it's early days. It appears that Grimsvotn is larger and more powerful than Eyyafyallayokull, and is also under a Glacier. It was the glacial ice falling into the magma that sent the plumes of ash into the sky last year. But the magma is a different consistency or temperature (or something- I haven't looked hard at the geology), so the ash particles are not as fine and not staying suspended in the air for as long as last year. The weather system is also currently very different, with higher winds and more likelihood of rain which will wash the particles out of the air.

The upshot is that the ash cloud this year is likely to effect air traffic much less than last year. I suspect that there is also political pressure on the regulatory body that will prevent all out closure across Europe.

What people are after though is up to date information on what's happening, so to help with that, here are some useful links, and some people and hashtags to follow on twitter.





Twitter hashtags to look for are:

For news from the European Air Traffic Control Centre, Eurocontrol, look Here

And the latest news from the UK Met Office is Here
And for charts giving the shape of the ash cloud look Here and Here

A great blog from @hjortur : Important informaiton: How Will The Grimsvotn Eruption Affect Air Traffic? Here

And another from @eruptionsblog with information about the Composition of the ash.

The latest Update I saw was that the ash plume is at 15-17km height, and the winds are winds N to NW, (ie blowing vaguely towards Scotland) and Keflavik airport is closed. No Airspace closures are expected in Europe today or tomorrow except in Iceland.

I will try to add to the list and update information as the week goes on, but also check the twitter list that I have just set up:

- Blogged from my iPad

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Telegraph App -alling

The Daily Telegraph App was one of my most used iPad apps until last Thursday. I used to download the highlights of the newspaper as I left the house at 3am before the print version hit the shops, and I could carry the content with me to read at my leisure during the day.

Just before I went to vote on Thursday I spotted a tweet saying that the new version had gone live. I was hoping that it would be an upgrade to the previously excellent app, maybe allowing me to tweet links to the articles. The update blurb promised extra content and interactivity, so I hit the update button. To my dismay, AND WITH NO WARNING the app now demands £1.19 per day for a download, (or a £9.99 monthly subscription). As I understand it, the paid for content is not even ad-free!

The new subscription rules are even hidden on the app store details, unless you click to read "more" where you also discover in a wall of text that you can extend any subscription period by handing over your personal details and the soul of your firstborn*. Cheeky bastards. You have advertised your app as "free" when it is subscription based, hidden the details of the subscription on the app description, and expect me to trust you with my personal details?

Bizarrely, ALL of the content is available for free on the Telegraph website. I can still cache it all to read later using instapaper or similar (but it will be more of a faff at 3am).

I learned about two major news stories on Twitter. Bin Laden's death, and the Japanese Tsunami. Both stories were promulgated worldwide in minutes, and yet here is a newspaper peddling yesterday's news at inflated prices- I just don't understand why anyone would consider paying for old news anymore.

I don't understand why a newspaper would choose to alienate its online readership in this way. Lost readers more than ever represent lost influence and lost relevance to a newspaper. The Telegraph has an old and stuffy demographic, and as a result I would guess a limited future. It needs to be courting its younger (by which I mean under 50) readers, but despite my politics, I am being pushed towards the Grauniad for news on my iPad.

This situation has now been compounded by Apple, who have chosen to promote the Telegraph as App of the Week. It isn't often that a promoted app gets a barrage of angry reviews and the 1-star ratings currently outnumber the 5 stars planted by Telegraph employees by more than 10-1 (so far).

If you were a Telegraph app user before, all is not lost. Delete the app quickly, before you synch with iTunes. The old version of the app will still be there, and it still works at the moment (although it's full of ads for the new version).

If you have already updated the version in iTunes, delete that too, and you should be able to rescue the old Telegraph.ipa file from your recycle bin.

Unfortunately this will mean you have to manually manage your updates and are stuck with an "update available" badge on your app store icon which is intensely annoying.

(*ok, I made the soul thing up)

- Blogged from my iPad

Friday, 1 April 2011

Don't get Suckered in!

There are two films out this weekend, both of which had screenings in Leicester Square earlier this week.
Sucker Punch Has had some pretty damning reviews http://is.gd/cDrlW6 but the promotional budget has been huge with posters and flat-screens pumping out it's (admittedly striking) imagery all over London. It's virtually at saturation point. Now I like Zack Snyder, and I loved 300 but I'm approaching this one with caution. I will probably see it at some point, as I have an unlimited Cineworld pass, but in the wake of the opinions of a consistently accurate film reviewer it's not high on my list of must see films.

If you are planning a cinema trip this weekend, I urge you to see past the pretty posters (and they are pretty) and go and see something else instead. Duncan Jones who can be found on twitter under the name @ManMadeMoon releases his second film Source Code this weekend and it's brilliant. With all the best elements of Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, and 24, this film is clever, brilliantly paced, drip feeds the back story of Jake Gyllenhaal's confused helicopter pilot, Colter Stevens, masterfully.

You can see the first five minutes of the film
HERE but you really should go and see the whole thing. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Sympathy for the Devil

I'm feeling a little conflicted. I have spent this week doing things I wouldn't normally approve of, but I haven't really had a choice.

First of all I flew as a passenger with a certain Low-Cost carrier (lets call them AirLeary) who I vowed never to travel with. I would never have booked the flight myself, but the reason I was flying in the first place was to operate flights on behalf of the alternative (lets call these guys Green Air)- whose Cabin Crew are on strike (which I will come to) so there was no other way to get there.

The flight was a short 40 minutes, and (whilst I would never choose to fly with AirLeary) try as I might, I can find nothing to complain about. The flight departed on time, the aeroplane was new and clean, the cabin crew smartly turned out and professional, and since the seats had no pockets in the back, I had enough room for my knees.

Actually I think this is one area that they have absolutely right. No seat pockets means no space for an inflight magazine, or safety card so magazines are handed out only to people who ask for one. It keeps the magazines in much better condition, and must keep the aircraft weight down as you don't have to carry so many. The safety card is now stuck to the headrest in front of you and therefore never gets bent or crumpled. It's position means that you are almost forced to give it some attention, and while this is a little intrusive, for just 40 minutes it was tolerable. I would still not fly with them if I had an alternative, but for a short flight, they do job fine.

And so to the strike-busting. I don't know the details of the strike, it has not been well publicised in the UK as we have our own high profile flag carrier with cabin crew problems. From what I gather, though, the dispute centres around extra working extra hours, at more unsociable hours, for less money. This is not a workforce who went to their employer with unreasonable demands and threw their toys out of the pram, these are people who feel they are being treated unreasonably and unfairly, and they have my sympathy. And yet I am in effect crossing their picket line (there was no one actually picketing but you get my point).

So how do I justify this? Well, I work for a charter airline. A significant proportion of our money is made from chartering our aircraft and crew to air operators who, for whatever reason, cannot provide the service themselves. Sometimes it's due to a "Tech" (broken) aeroplane, sometimes, it's a regular arrangement for an independent travel agent, sometimes a football team playing in Europe, sometimes it's down to industrial relations.

I have a certain amount of discomfort knowing that I am playing a part in the deterioration of aircrew terms of employment which have been under constant attack for a long time now. However, the cabin crew are making their point very well. They are causing Green Air disruption and embarrassment, and imposing a financial penalty on their employer by having them pay for charter companies, which is not cheap. Despite this Green Air has a duty to it's passengers not to cancel flights willy nilly, and is making an effort to get the job done even using other people's aircraft. I hope the Green Air passengers acknowledge this and that there is a job for the Crew to return to when the dispute ends.

I wish them all luck. To the airline that needs to keep ticket prices competitive so that they manage to keep their passengers. To the Cabin Crew whose mortgages and living standards depend on fair wages and conditions. I hope you reach a reasonable and amicable conclusion, and also, since it was obvious what I had been doing at your base, thank you for not taking your frustration out on me During my flight home in uniform tonight.

- Blogged by a mercen-air-y

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Quick Distraction

Just putting the finishing touches to the second part of the snow blog, but I thought I would share some of this week's Spanish sunsets with you.

Contrail catching the sun over the French Alps, Monday night.

Sunset over Barcalona

And a little later over Alicante

The following day, sunset over the Atlantic

Last night approaching Tenerife- I haven't seen a Moon (top left corner) like this for a long time - Oh for a proper zoom lens!

Mount Teide on Tenerife to the left of the view, and the island of La Gomera on the left.

- Blogged from my iPad

Sunday, 2 January 2011

It's Snow Joke! Part 1- the Aeroplane

*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*❄*❇

❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*

So, here is a blog about my recent experiences of snow at work, but First please accept my apology for the inevitable bad pun in the title.

Ice and snow on the wings of an aircraft can cause serious problems, not so much because of the extra weight it adds to the airframe (although this can be a factor) but because as it sits on the upper surface of the wing, it can change the wing's shape (and of course it is the airflow over the specific shape of the wing that gives an aeroplane Lift).

As a result, an plane must be de-iced before you go anywhere, but a very specific, non-corrosive acetate based de-icing fluid must be used. At airports in the UK, it is applied with a de-icing rig- a tanker which heats the fluid to about 80°C while a chap braves the cold at the top of a cherry picker arm to hose down the wings and tail. This will melt the ice, and depending on the conditions give you further protection from frost and snow for a time specified in a complicated table (essentially, the colder it is and the heavier the snow is falling, the shorter the time before you have to get de-iced again). However these rigs are expensive prices of equipment and not used for most of the year. As a result most airports are equipped with only one or two units. Expect to have to wait for your turn!
A great image of de-icing from Jpgmag.com

And a Video here.

Once airborne, most modern aircraft tend not to pick up much ice, and if they do, it happens in specific places. The leading edge (front) of the wing and tailplane are most likely to be effected, and aircraft are not allowed to carry people unless they have the ability to clear that ice. On jets, some hot air is usually taken from a "bleed valve" in the engine, and directed along ducts in the wing's leading edge to melt the ice. On Turboprops (modern passenger aircraft with propellors, but more about exactly what they are in a future post) there is less spare power and heat available from the engine, so they tend to use "de-icing boots". These are hard wearing strips of rubber tubing along the leading edge which use bleed air to inflate and bulge, thus cracking any ice formed which then gets blown off in the airflow. I know what you're thinking, because the first time I had it described to me I thought it sounded dodgy too, but I have used boots on Dash 8 aircraft, and they are extremely effective.
This picture from Judith shows the boots on the wings and tail of a Dash 8

Of course the aircraft anti ice systems are not just used at this time of year. The higher in the atmosphere you go, the colder it gets- usually in quite a uniform fashion (you lose about 2°C per thousand feet) so even in the height of summer if you fly through a cloud at altitude you are likely to need some help from the de-icing system.

There are also some small operational changes that pilots will use when the weather outside is frightful. Lowering flaps later on the taxi out to the runway can help prevent snow and ice getting into the control surfaces. After you have landed and blown snow and ice everywhere with reverse thrust, the flaps might be left down longer during the taxi to stand, so that anything blown onto the flaps can fall off.
But assuming that everything else is running smoothly at your airport and you have made it aboard your plane, the most you are likely to notice is the de-icing rig and (probably) the extra delay as you wait for it to arrive at your aeroplane.

- Blogged from my iPad