8 December, 2009
BNF available... sort-of
The BNF (British National Formulary) is the UK's national prescribing resource; the definitive handbook of all medications available on the UK National Health Service, including guidance on prescribing, contra-indications and side-effects.
It's obviously intended for healthcare professionals, but since my sister is a surgeon I've owned hand-me-down copies for a few years.
It's not the usual hypochondriac's catalogue; one couldn't readily browse it for symptoms & 'cures', but on the rare occasions I've been prescribed medication, it's been mildly useful, even comforting, to be a little better informed.
The good news is that I've discovered that it's now available online to anyone with a UK IP address (or in certain 'low income' nations), professional or otherwise. The slightly less good news is that there's a slightly odd requirement to register with the website (by sending an e-mail requesting access to a registration form...), allegedly for copyright purposes, and access for non-professionals is limited to 30-min sessions (which, to be fair, is more than adequate). Print editions are currently £28.99, and are authoritative for six months.
9 November, 2009
The Palace of Westminster clock (wrongly aka 'Big Ben') has a Twitter feed!
[Via BongBong, er, BoingBoing.]
25 October, 2009
How well do you perceive colours? A firm specialising in colour calibration offers a quick (I was going to say 'simple', but it isn't as easy as that might imply) online version of the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test.
Four rows of colour chips are out of sequence; drag-and-drop them into the correct orders.
It might be worth looking away from the screen frequently, and taking a short break before performing a final check and submitting the test for assessment; I didn't, but spotted errors when I went back to it.
With that caveat, my first result was '8' on a scale of '0' (perfect) to '99' (poor). In addition to providing that number, the results page highlighted the tonal ranges in which I struggled, which is very useful to know.
Trying again, taking time to rest my eyes, I achieved a result slightly more appropriate for a professional web/graphic designer and amateur photographer: '0', or 'perfect colour acuity'.
20 October, 2009
Sleeping in public
Installations by Mark Jenkins. The use of mannequins in incongruous locations & poses is amusing, but the cellophane sculptures are particularly attractive.
28 September, 2009
Gå din egen väg
Erik Johansson's imagination is a strange world, but his ability to realise those images in Photoshop is possibly even more disturbing.
1 June, 2009
More street painting
Interminably circulating e-mails have made the anamorphic street art of Julian Beever world-famous (justifiably), but here's another practitioner, Edgar Müller.
27 February, 2009
Wonderful photos from inside breaking waves.
[Via the Guardian, so this is probably old news....]
15 January, 2009
What's the big one called?
Here's a useful site for walkers, discovered via Flickr, offering a large number of computer-generated panoramas depicting points visible from high ground & key landmarks.
I'm useless at naming mountains on the horizon: after 15 years I still can't reliably recognise the profile of the Lakeland Fells seen from Lancaster. I also recently made a fool of myself by 'correcting' someone's identification of Welsh hills seen from Clougha, near Lancaster: what I thought was Moel Famau, a moderate hill in NE Wales was Carnedd Llewellyn, a major peak in NW Wales. For the sake of my bruised ego, I've bookmarked this site for future use.
10 December, 2008
Survival of the least unfit
This is a really important tool: a demonstration of evolution as an abstract process, independent of real-world examples; without directly challenging anyone's religious beliefs, it simply shows that evolution works, and how it operates.
The genetic algorithm generates a simple vehicle, which then attempts to traverse a predetermined terrain. The vehicle has two wheels, a springy quadrilateral frame with cross-bracing, and two circular 'passenger compartments'. Success is measured as the distance travelled within a certain time, without the passengers hitting the ground. The terrain of the track is fixed, but the dimensions and properties of each vehicle are variable: the initial positions of the four circles (i.e. the shape and size of the vehicle) and length, spring constant and damping of the springs. In case you're unfamiliar with the principles of genetic algorithms (I was), evolution progresses by, according to Wikipedia:
The evolution usually starts from a population of randomly generated individuals and happens in generations. In each generation, the fitness of every individual in the population is evaluated, multiple individuals are stochastically selected from the current population (based on their fitness), and modified (recombined and possibly randomly mutated) to form a new population. The new population is then used in the next iteration of the algorithm.
A lesson learned very rapidly is that evolution is extremely dumb; or rather, that there is definitely no guiding intelligence: the initial parameters are set randomly, and the process doesn't 'learn from its mistakes' (i.e. establish design principles and eliminate future iterations of variants which definitely won't work). It goes without saying that an orientation placing the passengers at the bottom and wheels at the top will fail instantly, and that a 'penny farthing' can't handle rough terrain, but, frustratingly, the algorithm generates them anyway, again and again. I was careful to use 'orientation'
there, rather than 'design', as nothing is consciously planned or arranged: the algorithm itself is designed, but the output is entirely non-engineered.
Another lesson recognised rapidly but appreciated much later is that evolution is s-l-o-w. I've had an iteration running in another tab all morning, and though the line of best fit on the graph of average distance travelled by each generation is showing an upward trend, the rise is only very slight and many mutated individuals are still as wildly inappropriate as at the outset (two-seated unicycles, anyone?). In fact, the overall trend of the last twelve generations has been negative.
For a long time the seemingly optimum form strongly resembled a mountain bike, with medium-sized, equally-sized wheels and the rear 'passenger' slightly lower than the front one, like a bike's saddle being slightly lower than the handlebar. A road bike's profile, with the handlebar lower than the saddle, doesn't work. However, a much longer 'front fork' now seems to be superior – much like a classic, rear-engined dune buggy.
A less-intuitive success features a triangular frame and an alarmingly high centre of gravity. It seems to be constantly about to fall over, but every time it overbalances, a change in slope catches it. It'd probably be totally unsuited to general circumstances, but just about works in this very specific niche.
Here's another example of an evolutionary algorithm, which attempts to reproduce the Mona Lisa using fifty semi-transparent polygons. The objective was achieved remarkably well – in 904,314 generations.
[Update 11/12/08: I left a few iterations running on my office PC overnight, to see the longer-term result. Most stablised after a few hours, with no overall improvement or decline (but still with a huge amount of variability between individual generations), but one was interesting.
The algorithm wasn't optimising particularly well in the first couple of hours, but suddenly made a breakthrough – seemingly in a single generation – on which it very gradually improved for several hours. However, for some reason it went into decline over ~10 generations, its efficiency dropping to virtually baseline, before recovering to an efficiency still well below the iterations running in the 'parallel universes' of other Firefox tabs. Its current output is a very small, fast vehicle, many individuals of which perform exceptionally well, but the tolerances are tight, and are exceeded by about as many mutations as succeed, so the average efficiency of an entire generation (20 mutations) is poor.]
9 December, 2008
How accurate is your visual judgement (and monitor)? Can you locate the centre of a circle, bisect an angle and find a point of convergence?
Try the eyeballing game (Flash, but not too flashy), and see if you can do better than me. I'd be surprised if you couldn't, as it's a bit early in the day for me, I'm using a CRT monitor and perhaps I'm simply not very good at it: an average accuracy of 3.20 pixels/degrees x2 is below average.
5 December, 2008
For those unable or unwilling to listen to BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme (the smug voice of Little England) each morning, 'Platitude Of The Day' is kind enough to summarise and slightly paraphrase the daily 'Thought For The Day' slot.
The BBC's department of Religion & More Religion recognises that only those who commune with their invisible magic friend can possibly have any morality. Atheists, agnostics, humanists and other amoral non-believers are therefore excluded from the pure and godly Platitude of the Day, broadcast Monday to Saturday at 07.45 (but obviously not Sundays). For your further edification and spiritual improvement, we therefore present these concise, bite-size summaries of the wisdom of their presenters.
4 November, 2008
According to the GenderAnalyzer, the Ministry's primary author is female. That's news to me.
There's a 'correct result?' poll on the site, which reports 57% accuracy from almost 4,000 sites; not great.
6 October, 2008
As if ideas are to be 'had'
Here. Try this 'unashamedly girly', 80-page webcomic by Kieron Gillen and Charity Larrison. The latter describes Busted Wonder as "a story about what happens when foolish little girls fall in love with the fairy circus", whereas the former highlights such 'fairly hefty themes' as the nature of inspiration.
I'd particularly recommend the aphorisms in Astley's speech on p.68.
14 August, 2008
Webcomic of the day
Read the multiple-award-winning Platinum Grit. At home, though – the latest episode is arguably NSFW.
I was initial attracted by the wonderful, expressive artwork (Trudy Cooper is guest artist at Wapsi Square today), but the characterisation and magic realist story, initially co-written by Danny Murphy, are excellent too.
The comic (which is indeed largely comedic) is published in, to date, eighteen episodes, each of ~200 pages. The first sixteen are presented online in slow-loading Shockwave (you may need to download the player), whilst the remaining two are in Flash. The Shockwaved episodes are also available in print; I'm very tempted.
I'd strongly recommend reading them in order; though there are distinct threads they're not really self-contained, and one can't join the narrative just anywhere.
That single narrative is something of a problem, as the comic's moreishness far exceeds its update schedule. Episode one was published in 1994 and according to the site's forum episode 19 has been imminent for at least a year (and in 1997/8, Cooper envisaged a total of thirty episodes...). Conversely, that's something of an advantage, too, as there's nothing rushed about the artwork.
Sorry – having been at my desk and concentrating since 06:30, I'm extraordinarily tired and hence inarticulate today, so can't properly expand on why I appreciate the sexy, witty and occasionally surreal 'Platinum Grit'. I'll leave it to Cooper herself, in that 1997/8 interview:
PG is a kind of jigsaw puzzle. We want the reader to work it out, and every issue holds clues both visual and verbal. We just don't do the standard comicbook 'technique' of verbal plot expositions with a loudhailer and spotlight. With PG you have to pay attention. Readers who burn through it for a laugh and a perve at Nils' tits WILL get lost. Comics are a notoriously lazy medium, and most are at a child's level. Investing thought isn't a daunting thing, as good literature and non-commercial film leave much for the audience to think about.
[Update 20/08/08: Ha! In closing comments on June's posts as an anti-sp*m measure, I see that Sal recommended 'Platinum Grit' to me weeks ago, but I neglected to follow-up the reference!]
17 July, 2008
Miniature North West
The Miniature Earth Project is a fairly famous web video (slideshow?) representation of Donella Meadows' 1990 'State of the Village Report', exploring the demographics of a world population normalised to 100 people. It's interesting, though I'm (perhaps unjustly) irritated by the ethical/environmentalist subtexts of the parameters chosen for comment.
Maybe because it's my own home region, and maybe because I perceive less judgmentalism in it, I rather prefer a local version focusing on North West England, commissioned by the North West Regional Assembly and adopting the same visual style and range of parameters to ask "if there were only 100 people in the region what would they look like, and what sort of place would it be to live?"
Okay, the graphics are a bit pick'n'mix (such indiscriminate use of stock photography and Flash animations comes across as 21st Century clipart) and I'd dispute the implication that 78% of North-westerners are practicing christians, but some might be interested to see at least the NWRA's interpretation of the environment which informs this blog.
[Thanks for the link, K.]
23 June, 2008
See what I mean?
Last October, I mentioned my preference for of the term 'graphic novel' rather than the term favoured by enthusiasts and authors, 'comic', for the fundamental reason that the 'comics' I enjoy most aren't comic.
The same applies to some 'web comics'; perhaps not strips like Dilbert, Irregular Webcomic! or User Friendly but certainly those about people, like Wapsi Square and, in a new development, Ctrl+Alt+Del. Anyone see anything comic in last Friday's?
10 June, 2008
The duck refused medical treatment
Apparently, a regular feature on the US 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' TV, er, show is viewer submissions of bizarre newspaper cuttings. The first few in this archive of examples from 2006 (I think) were amusing, but by page four or five of the fourteen pages, I was crying with laughter.
Unfortunately, the archive seems to be hosted in an undergraduate student's University-provided webspace, which will probably expire eventually, so if you see a cutting (or twenty) you like, right-click and 'Save Image As'.
A man who spent 13 years in prison for a death authorities had attributed to a blow from a whiskey bottle has been freed, after new evidence suggested the victim was hit by a motor home instead.
Thanks to my dentist, I'm wearing my favorite jeans again.
20 May, 2008
My referrer logs report that people regularly visit the Ministry hoping to ascertain the times of low and high tide at Sunderland*, near Lancaster.
I don't think calculations of tide times are published specifically for Sunderland, but the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office's free 'Easytide' service does offer predictions, up to a week in advance, for four ports in the immediate area: Lancaster, Glasson Dock, Heysham and Morecambe.
Easytide has global coverage, so those interested in other (navigable...) locations might like to bookmark the site too. For a price, it also offers 'predictions for the past', which slightly confuses me.
*: aka 'Sunderland Point', though that's a remote headland some distance across muddy fields from the hamlet itself.
7 May, 2008
I don't have a particular problem with the revamped, very-Web 2.0 Dilbert.com site, and I like the fact that the archive has been expanded to encompass several years of cartoons rather than being limited to only those published within the foregoing month.
However, some might like to know that there's a little-publicised streamlined version, displaying just the current day's strip and access to the archive. Useful on dialup, or just to avoid the rather 'busy' main page.
22 April, 2008
Pixeloo is engaged in a project to 'untoon' famous cartoon characters: reproducing the original appearences using real-world lighting and textures (skin, hair, etc.). The results aren't necessarily supposed to look realistic, as the caricatured proportions are retained, but there's certainly something slightly unsettling about the hybrids.
At the time of writing, one can see Mario the Plumber, Homer Simpson and now Jessica Rabbit. Make sure you examine the full-size 'photos' for the complete effect, and read the follow-up posts for 'making-of' images and videos.
Why wasn't I surprised that a photo of Angelina Jolie was the primary source of facial textures for Jessica (though it ought to be Veronica Lake, really)?
16 April, 2008
Spots of rain
When leaving the house for a bike ride, or even to pop to Sainsbury's, it can be useful to know the location of the nearest rainclouds – not a weather forecast but information of where it's raining at that particular moment.
At work, I have unofficial access to decent-resolution research radar data unavailable to the public (sorry) but I've discovered that the Met Office offers a low-res (5 km) version for the entire UK, updated half-hourly, I think. One can zoom into regions, though the resolution doesn't improve.
8 April, 2008
Though I'm glad to say the spurious traffic seems to be tailing off at last, the single most popular entry in the blog deconstructs a Photoshop modification of Keira Knightley, which 'enhances' (I disagree) her anatomy for a film poster.
BoingBoing has highlighted a whole website devoted to such clumsy, improbable or simply incompetent image editing: Photoshop Disasters.
Some of the entries had me in tears. Of laughter, I think.
6 February, 2008
This book made me
One of my favourite childhood books, which still has pride of place on my shelves, has qualified as a virtual museum exhibit: the entire contents have been scanned and are readable online.
As BoingBoing says, the Usborne Book Of The Future, first published in 1979, was a beautifully optimistic look at the future (not entirely optimistic – it didn't foresee the end of the Cold War) which strongly influenced my views on technology (medical, environmental, power-generation, etc.) and many aspects of my overall character, such as my preference for hard-tech sci-fi. Some of the illustrations are far-fetched nowadays, but it's interesting to see how many projections have been achieved, if in a less grandiose manner, and how many are still valid technical aspirations.
17 January, 2008
Don't call me...
Since – well, I don't know, really; some time whilst I was away in late December – my home phone has been receiving more-or-less daily calls, all from the same number, all during office hours (when, by definition, I'm unavailable). None have bothered to leave a message, so I'm damned if I'm going to ring back.
However, after the ~10th instance, I became vaguely curious, so I used a utility others might wish to bookmark.
WhoCallsMe.com is a clearing house: post an unrecognised number to see comments from those who have encountered it before.
In my case, the caller is the retentions department of the electricity supplier I'm in the process of leaving. It seems the department has a habit of dialing several numbers and speaking to whichever recipient answers first – others report hearing general office sounds and a female voice talking to someone else. Contemptuous and contemptable.
Of course, an even simpler technique is to just type the phone number into Google; in fact, that's how I found WhoCallsMe.com.
29 November, 2007
What's it called?
Two useful links from Lifehacker:
I haven't investigated the links in depth, and suspect they may be in American rather than English, but give them a try.
Actually, that particular Visual Dictionary is rather superficial. It's worth browsing, but I don't think I'd use it when looking for something specific.
20 November, 2007
A gallimaufry of periphrasis
Neil discovered an interesting site, FreeRice: test your knowledge of English vocabulary whilst donating rice to the United Nations World Food Programme.
I may have another try when I have more time, but my initial 'vocab level' was 46/50.
4 November, 2007
What's on the otter channel?
The sea otters at Monterey Bay Aquarium have a webcam.
Just thought you'd like to know.
25 October, 2007
Shape of things to come
Wow. This is incredible: a sample of how web pages – inasmuch as the concept will still apply – will look in the future, as visualised (how did he do that?) by Dr. David Morgan-Mar, image processing researcher.
21 October, 2007
I can REALLY see my house from here
It's not news that Microsoft's equivalent of Google Maps features oblique aerial photography of certain areas in addition to the standard top-down vertical images. However, I hadn't realised that Lancaster is included in the coverage.
Blackpool is one of the examples used to advertise the facility, but I discovered that the coverage continues up the Fylde coast as far as my home town (and no further, nor further inland). It may or may not be coincidental that the University has fairly close links to Microsoft.
It's good to be able to examine locations from four sides, and the quality is excellent; I can distinguish the colour of the drain pipe in my back yard, and see that my curtains were open when the plane passed.
Click the thumbnail to make the plane fly closer, or zoom in, or enlarge the image, or something.
16 October, 2007
'A Softer World' is sometimes a bit dark, even by my standards, but I love this extension of one of my favourite bad jokes.
8 October, 2007
I suspect one might get more out of these photos by William Hundley if one doesn't initially know how they were achieved, so I'm not going to tell you; have a look at the slideshow before visiting the BoingBoing entry.
7 October, 2007
The truth is out there
In't t'Internet brilliant? Who'd have thought in 1865, when the University of Kentucky was founded, that one day it'd publish a blog exclusively devoted to moustaches of the 19th Century?
14 September, 2007
This is an incredible image, one of the best I've seen in a long while and begging to be used to raise consciousness about global warming– which is how I found it at BoingBoing.
A high proportion of Ucumari's other photos are excellent, too. I'll return when I have an hour or so, as it could take time to work through 153 pages (at the time of writing) of photos, each of which would reward slow appreciation.
14 September, 2007
"There are rare words, and there are rarer words, but only a very special word qualifies as a bona fide lost word." The Compendium of Lost Words compiles a truly sinapistic* array of the extremely obscure. I'm afraid my written style isn't adequately gaudiloquent as to convey my ecstasiation at this discovery, but I love the fact that these words exist, and that someone has hunted them down. Anyone know of others?
As Stephen Chrisomalis says, a word can't really be lost, merely mislaid, or at least one fully lost couldn't be subsequently rediscovered. However, words qualify for inclusion in the Compendium by having header entries in the (full) Oxford English Dictionary and having been used in Modern, standard English (post-1650 and not regional dialect), without appearing in their proper English contexts on any readily-accessible web pages. Alternative spellings of better-known words obviously don't count.
I did briefly wonder whether the Compendium is genuine; 'ascoliasm' in particular sounds suspiciously Pythonesque, but it's a subsection of a much larger, highly-credible site, so I'll take it at face value for now.
I'd also question the strict validity of defining 'lost' as merely 'absent from the indexed web', as certain terms may be merely 'uncommon' within certain groups. For example, as an ex-academic in the field of physical geography, I recognised the word 'hyometer' immediately, and I imagine it appears occasionally in a fairly large number of journal papers, which tend to be widely-circulated in print and online behind pay-walls.
Whatever. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to return a few of these words to genuine usage – but not merely as flosculation.
I suppose this counts as my solennial reposting of User Friendly's 'Link Of The Day'.
*: Er, no, that's 'consisting of mustard'.
7 June, 2007
And where have YOU been?
Curious about the daily life of a domestic cat, an 'owner' in Germany mounted a digital camera on his/her cat's collar, which captured images automatically at preset intervals. The results are better than I'd have expected.
30 March, 2007
Can you see your house?
This won't be of interest to everyone (then again, what is?), but Google Earth has extended high-resolution coverage of certain areas, and not only within the USA. Greater Manchester and downtown Vancouver are on the list.
This is only Google Earth, by the way, not Google Maps, though I presume that'll follow eventually.
17 March, 2007
Get away from it all
In Britain, one is never more than 11 km (7 miles) from a surfaced road, even in the Highlands of Scotland (which is where that greatest distance may be achieved). Make of that what you will.
2 March, 2007
You're missing out
Apart from 'xkcd' and 'Dilbert', which provide one-off, self-contained jokes, my taste in web comics is for ongoing serials with well-developed stories (and not necessarily any jokes). Hence, I rarely link to them, as individual episodes wouldn't be meaningful in isolation. For example, I'd love to say that Katherine's smile in today's 'Wapsi Square' made my morning, but you wouldn't understand why unless you already knew her.
Read it (regularly), damn you!
23 February, 2007
Truly wonderful awful visual puns depicting html tags in real-world settings.
14 February, 2007
Waitin’ For The Bus
A. questioned the accuracy of my statement that (it is at least alleged that) Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top owns a spherical VW camper van (a 'bus ball').
Therefore, I am happy to link to published evidence of the allegation.
Also apparently, it was made by a sculptor called Lars Erik Fisk, who also produced a spherical tractor and a spherical UPS truck.
13 February, 2007
I like this Flash timeline/clock... thing. Somehow it's a particularly good visualisation of where one is in the day, week, month and year.
The 'minutes' bar is a little unnerving, though – its inexorable creep is too clear a visualisation of passing time.
7 February, 2007
In case you missed them (I did), the results of the 2006 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are out.
Oh, and the 2006 Lyttle Lyttons.
22 January, 2007
Apologies to fans of what The Register habitually calls 'Sadville', but Get A First Life.
Don't worry, I'm not attacking Second Life myself. Personally I wouldn't choose to devote time and creativity to it, but it seems harmless and if people enjoy it, that's fine with me.
29 November, 2006
Fair of face
One of the most consistently popular entries in this site is my deconstruction of the Photoshop modifications made to a studio photograph of actress Keira Knightley for the promo poster of 'King Arthur'. Here's another set of examples of such modifications (without annotations).
Incidentally, the site requires one to acknowledge a copyright statement before viewing the images. Don't worry about it; though it's somewhat unfriendly (I'd argue it's poor design to alienate an audience so overtly), the stated terms are routine and the site owner isn't able to impose any greater restrictions than standard copyright law.
To put it another way: the site owner may wish to prohibit reproduction of images 'in any form', but there's no legal backing to that level of restriction, and 'fair use' provision still applies. I fully support the site owner's need to protect his/her intellectual property; nothing at the Ministry is released into the public domain, either, and I don't see the point of publishing under a creative commons licence. However, one can't ban fair use of content (which credits the original author), such as for purposes of review.
21 November, 2006
Small but how beautiful?
Not one for dialup, I suspect....
ResizR (I wonder how they came up with that name) does more-or-less what you'd expect: it's a single dual-function image editor allowing one to resize and rotate pictures when one doesn't have, or doesn't have time for, a full-featured editing package.
The advantage and disadvantage is that this is an online utility. It's accessible from any web browser without having to install software, but it also means one has to upload the source images in order to resize them. Personally, I'd be inclined to resize images in order to upload them, so there seems to be a potential contradiction!
I discovered this via Lifehacker, which cited the example of resizing a 3264x1920px photo to 200x117. For comparison, I happen to have a 2848x2136px image on this PC, which I know to be a 1.7Mb file. I suppose that's not too bad for a one-off via broadband, but I couldn't imagine using it regularly or via dialup at home.
Anyway; it's available, and may be of use. Have fun.
14 November, 2006
It's better now
Ahh. All's right with the world now that Microsoft have released MS Firefox 2007. Download it today.
'Cos the site mightn't be there tomorrow, after the MS lawyers find it.
[Via El Reg.]
9 November, 2006
How well do you know the corporate logos of leading websites?
I don't know whether it's good that I haven't been indoctrinated or bad that I've been unobservant, but my score was low. In my defence, I only visit three of the sites regularly, and hadn't visited two at all.
24 October, 2006
The title of this site, 'Strange Maps: Collecting Cartographic Curiosa' is fairly self-explanatory. It's a blog collating examples of odd maps, whether of 'what-if' geopolitical situations or unusual existing geography.
'Strange Maps' is only a few weeks old at present, so it's still practical to read all the entries, but my favourite is that explaining the bizarre partition of Märkat, between Sweden and Finland.
18 October, 2006
Exploding with colour
Has everyone seen the 'paint fireworks' advert* yet? The UK TV 'premiere' was last night, but it's been available on the web for a while. This seems to be the best source of downloads; try the 1280x720px (37 Mb .mov, zipped) version if you're able.
I think it's wonderful; I was grinning from about ten seconds in, and I loved the climactic rainbow effect almost as much as the closing rain of pure colour.
Like its forerunner, the 'bouncing-balls-in-San Francisco' advert, 'Paint' was done for real, on a disused Glasgow housing estate, rather than as digital effects. Don't worry, hippies: the 70,000 litres of paint were water-based, non-toxic and cleaned up afterwards.
*: If I don't specify the company and product, I'm not participating in viral marketing, right?
16 October, 2006
I haven't been a fan of Richard Dawkins' style of – I thought – stridently aggressive atheism, and I'm still not entirely comfortable with his apparent intention to teach others what to think. Evangelism is evangelism, and to be condemned, even if it's atheist evangelism.
However, there's an interesting interview with Dawkins in Salon, in which he comes across as rational and essentially respectful of individual beliefs, an approach which conveys his message very well. I wonder if my earlier impression was simply due to his words having been edited and filtered by sensationalist mass-media.
15 October, 2006
Results in 20 minutes
I don't actually know anyone attempting to stop smoking at present, but if I did, I'd recommend this list of health benefits, not least because it includes the immediate effects. Quite a motivator, I suspect.
21 September, 2006
Don't pay to complain
A number of UK companies only publicise non-geographical phone numbers for customer service; 0800, 0808, 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871 are typical. The problem with such numbers isn't just that some are covertly premium-rate (I believe 0870 is 8p/min via BT and 0871 is up to 10p/min) but that they're excluded from ‘inclusive calls’ billing packages.
The clearly-named SayNoTo0870.Com offers a database of unpublicised, standard-rate phone numbers, which might even be answered quicker.
I thought I'd posted about this before; seems not.
12 September, 2006
Might rain; might not
Today's weather in Lancaster, according to the BBC five-day forecast, will be 'light rain' with 'poor' visibility. However, though the 24 hour forecast warns of 'drizzle' between 13:00 and 16:00, the rest of the day can expect 'sunny intervals' or outright 'sunny' conditions. Visibility is to be 'moderate' until 13:00 and after 01:00, but 'good' in the intervening period.
Maybe it's better to be pessimistic and prepared than optimistic and damp, but it'd be even better to be correct. Today's entry in the five-day forecast simply isn't a fair summary of the conditions actually expected over the next 24 hours. How is one derived from the other – how can the 'average' be more extreme than any component interval?
Therefore, how could one plan for later in the week (surely one of the purposes of a forecast) if one has to presume the summaries of the expected weather on those days are inaccurate too?
I wish this was a one-off error, but it seems to be routine; I'm rarely happy to trust the BBC's web-based forecast in other than the most general terms. I have reasonably high confidence in the BBC Weather Centre's forecasts themselves, but there's something seriously wrong in the way they're translated to the web.
4 September, 2006
IQ Test 2
In 2003, the BBC broadcast/published a national IQ test, first as a TV programme then via the web. It must have been popular, as the format has been repeated for a number of other tests since then, on current events, English language and UK-centric issues. They returned to the original topic last weekend, and I've just completed the 2006 general IQ test via the website.
I scored something like 130 in 2003; more specifically, 133 when I took it again in 2004 (I'd forgotten the questions, so I wasn't really just retaking it!). This time, I scored 130 exactly, which is... consistent, and within the top 2% of the population, apparently.
Frankly, the test wasn't so good this time – the questions themselves were cryptic, and sometimes it was difficult to comprehend what was being asked, never mind which of the multiple choices was the answer. I suppose it's to be expected, but this and the flashy graphics seemed to be more for entertainment than efficient communication and hence accurate testing. Additionally, the mechanism for converting raw scores to age-weighted IQs seemed simplistic.
Whatever; give it a try.
19 August, 2006
'The Sweetest Sound' allows one to assess the popularity of one's surname by providing a searchable database of the top 55,000 surnames in the Social Security Index.
Apparently, my surname is ranked 1,470th in popularity – surprising, as it's uncommon here in the UK (2,779th in 1998 – 2,095 instances in ~60 million people).
Helen's is no. 349 in the USA, and not exactly unusual here.
[Via Sonic Chronicler.]
17 August, 2006
This is a pretty good gallery of UK crop circles (1998-date), worth seeing in it's own right, but I'm mainly linking for the brilliant name: 'Temporary Temples'.
2 August, 2006
Good guys wear black
In the spirit of this being a, y'know, weblog, I'll offer a link to a site I just visited and enjoyed.
'Serenity Rose' is a spendidly gothy comic by Aaron A: well-drawn, well-written and nicely cynical (including about 'orthodox' goths). It's not exactly a webcomic, as it's designed for the hardcopy format, but the first two 28-page issues are readable online.
Aaron also started publishing a weekly webcomic, 'Vicious Whispers', yesterday. It looks promising.
That's all. Read it.
21 July, 2006
Can you mail a blank stare?
Xkcd is "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, maths and language" all filtered though the 05:00 nihilism of a physics graduate.
The jokes don't always work (the hit-rate is rather low, to be honest), and some are downright incomprehensible to a non-mathematician or non-physicist (i.e. me), but when it works, it's one of the funniest strip cartoons I know.
[Known for ages, but prompted by Aardvark.]
6 June, 2006
Not so bad science
If, like me, you occasionally read Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' column for the Guardian, you might like to read the articles at his own site instead. Goldacre has expressed occasional dissatisfaction about copy being cut*, which can change at least the intended emphasis of articles, so it makes sense to read versions unconstrained by word counts.
If you're unfamiliar with 'Bad Science', have a look. The remit is to critically evaluate/debunk mainstream journalistic coverage of scientific research. Fact-checking of lazy, sensationalist articles on childhood vaccination, mobile phone radiation, etc., which cite unpublished research by under- or irrelevantly-qualified academics as fact would drive me to despair (as would disentangling this sentence's subclauses...), but Goldacre manages to keep it readable.
*: Whilst acknowledging it's because he submitted excessively lengthy articles!
[Heh. I'm publishing this one at 6:06pm on 6/6/06. Coincidentally.]
3 June, 2006
The Register reports that a visiting fellow in evolutionary psychology at Newcastle University had his IT privileges withdrawn for publishing an essay on 'Why vegetarians should be force-fed with lard' (a patently non-literal title) in his personal, Uni-provided web space.
Apparently, if Nikolas Lloyd had been an official member of staff, the University would have defended his right to free speech (and initially did so), but as a visiting fellow, he didn't qualify for protection under section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, and senior University management surrendered to veggie complainants.
One side-effect is that the veggies have succeeded in exposing Lloyd's views to a far wider audience than they would otherwise have received. Now that he has uploaded the 'offending' site to his own domain, hosted elsewhere, I'm pleased to link to the essay.
And no, I have no interest whatsoever in presenting the counter-argument; it's not for me to offer a right of reply here to Lloyd's content elsewhere, and I wouldn't wish to. Contact him, not me. Comments on the issue itself are welcome here, as always, but mere veggie propaganda will be deleted without hesitation.
30 May, 2006
The Ministry as a graph
As Aharef has proved by writing an applet, it's possible to analyse the hierarchical nesting of html tags in a website and visualise that structure as a graph.
Click on the image for a conceptual map of the Ministry (just the blog homepage, not the entire site) and an explanation of the layout.
28 May, 2006
Chemists have no imagination
What d'you mean, the periodic table isn't literally a table? Of course it is!
[Via User Friendly.]
19 May, 2006
Open & overexposed to the sun
As BoingBoing reports, zefrank.com has issued a challenge to make the first ever Earth sandwich, to be achieved by simultaneously placing two slices of bread on opposite sides of the planet.
It's a great idea, worthy of the League of Awesomeness, but I particularly want to point out the project's Google Maps 'hack', the 'Find The Opposite' tool. Select a location on one side of the globe, and its antipode will be indicated.
7 May, 2006
Pass the water wings
Firtree.net uses a Google Maps 'hack' to display the hypothetical effect of polar icecaps melting and global sea levels rising by up to 14m.
The underlying assumptions are a little flawed (low-lying but totally land-locked parts of Africa are shown as at risk of flooding, and altitude is the sole considered criterion for inundation, ignoring current and future flood defences), and some of the altitude data seems odd, especially in cities, but it's an interesting rough indication.
4 May, 2006
Remember Grow RPG, which I mentioned last August? There's another one available at the same site: Grow Cube.
Okay, okay; I hadn't been paying attention, so I'm far from the first to notice this – it was actually released last, er, September. Whatever; if you hadn't noticed either, visit it now.
The puzzle is the same as before: select ten items in order for them to interact in the single correct sequence, in order to make something happen.
This puzzle is midway between the fully-narrative Grow RPG and the more abstract original Grow. There is a bit of a narrative, which helps one to predict the correct sequence, but some aspects make limited sense, so there's some guesswork.
20 February, 2006
Happy sad song
Quite a while ago, I, and thousands of other readers of Neil Gaiman's blog, discovered a wonderful, near-wordless song, 'The Sad Song', by Fredo Viola.
The immediate result of that burst of internet fame was that Fredo received a huge bandwidth bill from his ISP, but it also led to work producing film music ('The Sad Song' and several of his other compositions appear in 'Man About Town'), and he performed his first live concert last month, again featuring 'The Sad Song'.
Note that all the foregoing links to 'The Sad Song' lead to fairly large downloads (10 Mb+), so don't all hit his server at once, eh?
[Via Neil G. again.]
15 February, 2006
Modernist trompe l'oeil
I wonder if these are genuine.
The premise is that they're photos of rooms painted with anamorphic patterns which seem random from most angles, but which, from specific viewpoints, reveal perfect geometric shapes. The photos from 'wrong' angles presumably would be difficult to fake (perhaps using 3D modelling software?), and hence are believable, but the fact that the rooms are so empty made me suspicious. On further examination, the rooms seem to be corridors, lobbies and other credibly empty public areas, so I'm inclined to think they're real.
Whatever; I like them!
10 February, 2006
For some obscure traditional reason, all official maps of the London Underground display anagrams of the station names. Understandably, this is rather annoying, and this map displaying the correct names is extremely welcome.
[Update 23/02/05: S'gone. Transport for London's lawyers had it removed. Various people are hosting mirrors of it; at the time of writing, this one works.]
9 February, 2006
'Literally, A Weblog' is a single-issue blog recording inappropriate (and hence frequently amusing) misuses of the word 'literally'.
Literally eye-popping and side-splitting. Well, not literally.
6 February, 2006
You shouldn't have. No, really.
This year, I remembered to write this entry well in advance, so that those so inclined can follow the link and send anti-valentine e-cards.
Beyond that, I don't think I need to elaborate on my earlier comments.
Nothing says "I love you" quite like saturated fat and slutty lingerie.
18 January, 2006
What's in a surname?
A joint project by three UK universities allows one to examine the geographical distribution of one's surname within the UK, both current and historic. The aim of the Surname Profiler is to understand patterns of population movement, social mobility, regional economic development and cultural identity, but to lay people, it's just interesting.
In the 1998 data, my surname exhibits a slight concentration ('3', on a scale of 1-6) in NW England, particularly Manchester and N. Cumbria ('4'), with lesser clusters ('2') extending across the W. Midlands and N.Wales, and in an arc around the fringes of London (the commuter belt). However, Shetland stands out with the highest possible concentration, '6'. I already knew my family name is Scandinavian, and I suppose the Shetlanders are predominently descended from Norse settlers. I vaguely remember reading that NW England was settled by Norwegians too, which might explain the slight concentration here but not in E. England, which was settled by Danes.
There are a few summary statistics, too, but I'm not entirely sure how to interpret a couple of them.
- It seems there were 2095 instances of my surname in the 1998 data (really? That seems extraordinarily low), up from 1746 in 1881, yet in terms of proportion of the population rather than absolute number, my surname dropped from rank order 2467 in 1881 to 2779th in 1998.
- My surname occurred 65 times per million names in 1881, and 56 per million in 1998.
- 99.27% of instances are ethnically British.
- My surname isn't recorded as being used as a forename in the UK (understandably).
Try it with your own name, but I'd better mention that since the site was only launched four days ago, and has been receiving media coverage
, it's experiencing high volumes of traffic – you might want to wait a couple of days.
I presume the academics have mixed feelings about this. It's great that population geography has caught the public's imagination (or at least tapped into the public's self-regard), but conversely it'd be good if the academics could gain access to their own resource!
[Update 07/11/07: Following a collaborative project, the Surname Profiler has been rebranded under the National Trust's corporate identity.]
13 January, 2006
Goatse is a web legend: a very graphic photo which unfailingly gets a reaction.
Don't worry, that link was to a Wikipedia entry about the image, not the image itself, but here's a wonderful Flickr pool showing people's immediate reactions on seeing Goatse for the first time. It's a portrait gallery of emotions infrequently caught on camera.
Tip: don't go looking for Goatse (emphatically not whilst at work!), but if you absolutely must, make sure someone's pointing a camera at you at the precise moment you hit the dreaded link.
5 January, 2006
Expensive last chance
The Million Dollar Homepage is almost full.
That was quick – in November, a friend was considering 'buying' (open-ended renting, really) a block of pixels, so I noticed that about 30-40% remained available. Now the final 1,000 pixels are being auctioned at eBay. There's no point in my linking to the auction, as it'll be a dead link in a few weeks, so I'll simply say that at the time of writing, the high bid is $38,100 (£21,662.50), with more than six days to go.
I suppose people will have to start on the Zero Million Dollar Homepage. Or perhaps not.
[Update 12/01/06: That ended-up being the winning bid amount. Surprisingly, there were no further (valid) bids. I'd expected a last-minute frenzy!]
2 December, 2005
I'm not really into the collaborative aspect of the web: I publish photos here, not at Flickr, StumbleUpon is kind of annoying, and I don't remotely support bittorrent-like p2p networking. Likewise, though I like the idea of online bookmarks which I can access from multiple computers, the publicly-shared, social element of del.icio.us doesn't remotely interest me.
Hence, I was interested to hear about LookLater, via Lifehacker. It's pretty much the same thing as del.icio.us (searchable bookmarks online), and compatible with that, but not open for everyone to see one's private bookmarks.
I'm not perverse enough to go to the effort to immediately transfer my del.icio.us bookmarks over to LookLater, but don't expect the former to receive updates from now on.
Needless to say, it's not necessarily a matter of using LookLater or del.icio.us, so the services are complementary; some might wish to have both public and private bookmarks, but, well, not me.
4 November, 2005
One more day
J. has directed me to 'The Perry Bible Fellowship' a splendidly dark comic strip, apparently updated weekly. The site design isn't great, so I would recommend browsing the archive. The PBF isn't a serial; each is a standalone 3-panel cartoon, so it's easy to dip in and read one at random.
Of course, I've just read the entire archive....
20 October, 2005
Splogs, or 'sp*m blogs', blogs set up with minimal or stolen content, merely for ad revenue or to generate traffic/pagerank for undesirable sites, have been proliferating rapidly in recent weeks, particularly at free hosts such as Blogger/Blogspot.
'Fighting Splog', a (genuine) blog set up to record one person's attempt to do exactly that, is an interesting insight into the evolution and acceleration of the problem.
In late August, the scale was such that 'Splogfighter' was able to itemise each splog he/she reported for deletion, whereas his/her current target, two months later, is for 2,000 deletions per day. That's not sp*am blog entries, it's entire spurious blogs.
At the time of writing, the blog is still quite 'young', so it's still easy to read the entire archive in a sitting, and I recommend doing so (just for interest, not practical tips).
One aspect which particularly concerns me is the possibility that if the sheer volume of splogs floods search engines, all blogs might be removed from the main indices of search engines and 'ghettoised' into Google Blogsearch or similar. There's a lot of valuable content in genuine blogs, which I think ought to be available via mainstream searches.
26 September, 2005
Are you sitting comfortably?
When I first saw this at Lifehacker, I thought it slightly more useful than it actually is, but I'll mention it anyway.
It's a site offering seat plans for a range of passenger aircraft, including airline-specific configurations. Thrilling, eh? Okay, no, but I've often wished for a little advance warning and the ability to avoid being allocated inferior seats at check-in.
For example, on Thursday I'll be boarding an Avro RJ85 to Brussels and another on to Warsaw, and now know that (presuming my choice of airline configures its planes the same way as Northwest Airlines) Row 5 may have extra legroom whereas Row 15 is at the very back, next to the toilets.
My slight criticism is that the view from the windows isn't a parameter mentioned, though it's one I value. The position of the wings is indicated on each seat plan, so one can estimate which seats only overlook the engines, and for planes with wings below seat level (unlike the RJ85, thankfully), one can guess which seats will have no view of the ground whatsoever. However, it would have been good if the site had provided specific advice.
Cross-checking against a photo of the plane, I think I'll try for something in Rows 10-14 (not 5; the engines are in the way), and Seats A or F (by the windows).
Does it matter? Yes, absolutely. I love flying, and spend every moment of the first and last ~20 mins of each flight staring out of the window; more, if it isn't cloudy. The trip out to Prague in June was slightly disappointing, as I was over the wing, without a view.
[Update 23/01/09: Seatplans.com seems better, and non- US-centric.]
19 September, 2005
Pour it through the letterbox
Aardvark has discovered the website of a remarkable (well, I'm remarking, anyway) new business venture: Petrol Direct:
... selling petrol, diesel and other automotive fuels at prices up to 40% lower than high street garages. How? By mail order, sourced from other EU
16 September, 2005
Is 'Areometer' a word?
I can't immediately think of a specific use, but I'm sure the Google Areometer is something worth bookmarking. Based on Google Maps, it allows one to plot the boundary of a polygon and discover the size of the area enclosed, in a variety of units.
5 September, 2005
As Lifehacker says, it's possible to save a little money at eBay by hunting for items with misspelled titles and descriptions. These will be found by fewer bidders, so there'll be less (if any) competition and, probably, lower closing prices.
Fat Fingers assists in that process. Type in a keyword, and the site searches eBay for varient spellings of it.
23 August, 2005
I find that one of the most off-putting aspects of participating in a sponsored event is actually asking for sponsors and collecting the money afterwards.
Justgiving handles all that hassle, leaving one to run 26 miles in a bath of baked beans, or whatever. I'm sure there must be a way to outsource that part too.
The site covers the UK and USA (and hence their banking & tax regimes), and simplifies the whole process whether one is a fundraiser, a sponsor or a charity.
No, I'm not planning to actually do anything specific for charity in the foreseeable future; I'm just passing on the link and acknowledging an excellent concept.
Okay, okay; if you want a specific example, try this one. Don't forget to sponsor her.
Just to evaluate the online donation system, of course.
3 August, 2005
In anticipation, John licked his own lips
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
But enough about Mr. Blackah.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, is an annual literary challenge to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The quote above was Dan McKay's winning entry in the 2005 competition.
Regretably, the BLFC website is a navigation nightmare, and I don't have time to explore the labyrinth right now, but the related Lyttle Lyttleton contest (same principle, but entries need to be brief) has a much more readable site – have a look.
Incidentally, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was the original perpetrator of "It was a dark and stormy night...", in 1830.
28 July, 2005
Poke a patient penguin
Go on, he won't mind.
20 July, 2005
It's made of cheese
If anyone's tiring of Google Maps and Google Earth (been there, done that), it's been taken a stage further. To commemorate today's 36th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when my namesake (yes, I was named after him) made his giant leap for quoteworthiness, Google Moon has been launched.
I don't know whether it's a permanent feature, so visit it while you can. Don't forget to zoom in to maximum magnification of the landing sites, for an impressive level of geological detail.
10 June, 2005
I like puzzle games.
Released in February, it's not brand new, but I've just discovered 'Hapland'. The format is a cartoon image (Flash), in which most features are clickable. The objective is to control the activities of stick men, cannon, bells, windows, etc., in a precise sequence, to eventually open a portal. I started by clicking on everything to see what it does, (though some elements do nothing unless a precondition has already been fulfilled), but then one has to reset everything and discover the correct sequence. It's very easy to get a vital lever trapped under a rock, or forget to open a window allowing the person inside to hear a (one-use) bell, or blow up a vital man (oops).
The puzzle is frustratingly unforgiving. My one criticism is that there's no 'undo': any one error ends the game, and one has to restart from the very beginning. As a couple of events rely on precise timing, this can be annoying, especially as it took me 3-4 attempts to get the timing right for the very last stage, meaning I had to repeat the whole puzzle to return to that point each time, without even knowing whether I was doing the right thing anyway. It's not too bad; the completed sequence takes about a minute to run through, so repeating it doesn't take too long.
It took me a couple of hours to solve, over most of this week, but I hear that the sequel, 'Hapland 2' is more intricate, events require tighter timing, and some of the clickable elements are barely large enough to spot. I'm looking forward to it!
11 May, 2005
This will test how you think; specifically, your ability to question the ground rules.
Try this 'ESP Test'. You'll be asked to mentally choose a card from six offered, concentrate on it, then click on any of six buttons elsewhere on the page. That will take you to a page showing five cards. The one you chose won't be one of them. Guaranteed.
The same site has a huge number of explanations contributed by visitors, but they'd all feel rather foolish if they'd spotted one simple fact.
Think about it: how could one guarantee that any one card chosen from the first page will be absent from the second?
4 May, 2005
This is science for 'real men' (yes, I think it's a uniquely male idea):
Lightning On Demand
is a volunteer organization of engineers, artists, scientists and machinists. Our key objective is to produce a controllable discharge of lightning at the greatest physical scale imaginable using modern technology.
The primary project is to construct a huge twin-tower Tesla Coil, but I discovered them via a side-project: the Taser cannon. That's Taser cannon, a 30-barrel monster firing 110kV, 15,000 amp plasma. Damage to the target "can vary widely", but Wikipedia records that though a typical stun gun fires 200–300 kV (for skin penetration), a 0.06 amp current is generally fatal. It's probably enough to say that most spectators experience discomfort from the plasma explosions.
22 April, 2005
The red-headed Beatle of 1,000BC
A few months ago, random browsing discovered 'Superdickery.com', a gallery of Superman comic covers depicting paradoxical behaviour – mainly Superman torturing or killing his supposed friends. At the time, there were about a dozen examples, but I've just visited again, as the site is User Friendly's Link Of The Day, and discovered that the gallery contains hundreds of covers.
Some are stunningly bizarre (Lois Lane killing Superman by playing a Kryptonian xylophone, anyone?), but the main impression received from seeing so many in one place is of sheer repetition – Superman must really dislike Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Batman, et al., and how many times has Lois been married?
20 April, 2005
Don't forget your thermals
This is an interesting read, if you have quite a bit of spare time: guidance notes given to those about to work at US research establishments in Antarctica.
This was found via Joe Grossberg, who noted that there are two ATMs (cashtills) at McMurdo Station, and seemingly limited spending opportunities, but the vital piece of information I very carefully noted is that:
If you try to manoeuvre a Weddell seal into position for a photograph, you are breaking the law.
1 April, 2005
Quench your thirst for knowledge
In full awareness of the date, have a look at the latest 'release' from Google.
Google Gulp is:
... a line of "smart drinks" designed to maximize your surfing efficiency by making you more intelligent, and less thirsty.
Oddly enough, many elements of the site, particularly the FAQs, seem to be clever satirical references to other Google activities over recent months. Surely not. For example:
4. What if I don't want to use Auto-Drink™?
No problem – simply turn off Auto-Drink™ on your Google Gulp preferences page.
5. Well, shouldn't Auto-Drink™ be default-off?
You mean we should cripple a perfectly useful feature just because of a little bad PR?
Though that doesn't go far enough
, of course. I think retailers should be able to prevent
the bottle cap being removed at all.
23 March, 2005
NRT is having a massage
It says so here, so it must be true.
When NRT returns, would someone care to explain to him er, me, why this little utility has appeared online?
In the interests of research, you may like to have a massage too. Just edit the subdomain to anything you'd like (e.g. helen.ishavingamassage.com)
4 March, 2005
This is a seriously old website, so I suppose that there's a risk that anyone interested will have already seen it. It was 'Cool Site Of The Day' on 9 January, 1996, so be aware that the standard of web design is correspondingly dated!
It's a 'VR' (yeah, right) tour of a derelict nuclear missile launch site somewhere in the USA. Kind of interesting.
Via the main home page of the same website, there are two other underground tours, of the Paris catacombs, and of the author's basement.
18 February, 2005
Nosy neighbour tool
As reported by the Guardian, Nethouseprices searches publicly-accessible land registry data to report the selling prices of houses/flats anywhere in England & Wales. It's a free service which could be useful to potential buyers (and sellers, I suppose) investigating a specific property or neighbourhood, but as the Guardian says, it's also a gift to nosy neighbours.
For example, a house three doors from mine sold last November for £37,000 more than I paid in August 2003. Four days after I bought mine, someone bought another at the far end of the street for £1,550 more and three weeks later, another went for £22,000 less than I paid (must have needed work!). I don't know any of the purchasers or previous owners, so it's not really an invasion of privacy, but it could have been.
15 February, 2005
This strangely compulsive 'Grid Game' (Flash) [Updte 16/04/08: dead link removed.] is Link of the Day at User Friendly.
It's not a test of skill; one merely clicks on a circular tile in the grid and watches the result. The tile rotates. If either end of the curved line on the tile meets the line on an adjacent tile, that tile rotates too. The chain reaction proceeds until no lines meet. The number of interactions is counted; my 'best' was 1625. Visually, the chain reaction resembles the rules-based computer 'life' simulations of the 1980s, little clusters of activity migrating across the grid like bacteria across a petri dish.
When one starts or reset the grid, the pattern is practically random, many individual lines joining to form circles or long, composite 'snakes', with few isolated individual segments. By definition, when activity ceases, it's because there's no line linked to the last tile to move. The result is a very ordered pattern of individual segments.
Click on one of the composites and activity is likely, but it tends to be very localised and soon ceases.
Click on an individual and there's often no activity at all, as there's a high probability of there being nothing to react with.
Click on an individual in an array of identically-aligned individuals, and if they react, it's in a simple chain: activity proceeds along the line then stops. It's difficult to start, but once triggered, it goes a long way, in a predictable manner.
However, click on a composite next to an array of individuals and the brief burst of chaotic activity can trigger activity in multiple rows/columns of the ordered section, which can rapidly propagate across the entire grid, in turn triggering 'chaotic' clusters, which feed back into the 'ordered' arrays. This is a neat reminder that life flourishes best when there are balanced proportions of order and chaos!
19 January, 2005
Doesn't work for me
These people and dogs are allegedly the winners of an 'I Look Like My Dog' contest.
Am I the only cynic who doubts whether the humans and dogs had even met before the photo session? There's something too neat about it all, as if human models were chosen to match dog breeds. Of course, I further wonder whether the dogs and humans really are so similar - Photoshop allows subtle yet powerful changes.
That'd be absolutely fine for an ad campaign (which was the way the images were used), but at least to me, the (potential) lie that these are genuinely the dogs' owners diminishes any trust I might have had in the company, so I'm actually less likely to buy the advertised product than if I hadn't seen the adverts.
Not that I have a dog or eat dogfood.
12 January, 2005
Oh, come on. You can't really expect to see the Ministry in all its glory on a filthy monitor. Please clean your screen immediately, using this free utility.
7 January, 2005
Place the State
I think I must have learned something subconsciously from the Tull Tour History. I don't know how else to explain the fact that I can identify the relative locations of the US states with 90% accuracy, with an average error of 21 miles.
I wonder how many US citizens could do the same for the countries of Europe. I wonder how many Brits could, for that matter....
5 January, 2005
I think it's safe to (regretfully) say that Another Sarah has closed her blog.
If I ever need to close the Ministry (never!), I'll have to remember Sarah's sign-off page. It took me a moment to get it (say what you see...), then I realised it's perfect.
28 December, 2004
Minor curiosity: Scott Blake's Barcode Art site includes a barcode clock.
Maybe I'll have a play with it... one day.
Scott also offers a braille clock. Er....
16 December, 2004
Digging to China
Everyone knows that if you dig down vertically from the UK, and somehow avoid the molten rock, you'll pop out in Australia.
You'd better pack your water wings, in fact, as the point directly opposite us is south-south-west of New Zealand, in the Antarctic Indian Ocean.
Wendy Carlos offers a map of local nadirs (antipodes). It's striking how few places have terrestrial (i.e. on land) antipodes, rather than being opposite patches of seabed.
26 November, 2004
Look at that!
I'm not sure why, but I've always found cutaway drawings fascinating. It may be inherited from my father.
Hence, I was pleased to discover Kevin Hulsey's website, which not only displays excellent, photorealistic examples from his portfolio, it explains his (very laborious!) working methods (see the ocean liner).
25 November, 2004
Something I hadn't seen before: type a name into the search box at BirthdayAlarm.com and see not only how common it is now, but how popular it's been for babies born in each decade of the 20th century.
It's USA-based, which rather reduces the relevance to fashions here in the UK, but it's mildly interesting to know that Helen was the second most popular female name 1900-1919 and in third place for the 1920s, but had become more exclusive ;) (241st) by the 1970s when 'my' H was born. Likewise my mother, who was named towards the end of the peak of Jean's popularity in the 1940s (18th in the 1930s, 934th in the 1990s). Me? 194th in the 1970s, though I don't like my given name, so it's of limited interest.
24 November, 2004
Promote literacy for free
For personal reasons it wouldn't be fair to publicise, I already support The Breast Cancer Site, even though it's USA-specific. I noticed today that there's an associated scheme, The Literacy Site, which helps to distribute books to children (the site is experiencing server flaws today, so I don't know where the books go). Just click to send books; visitors aren't asked for direct donations.
[Update 2/12/04: Link removed; see why.]
There are a number of charities I don't support*, but literacy is an issue I personally value, and which can often be overlooked in favour of more fundamental concerns such as food and water.
*: I feel it more appropriate to give a meaningful amount to a small number of charities I particularly support, than to give pennies to a wide range of causes, having a negligible impact on any.
Hence, I actively support certain medical charities, but will almost always decline to give to charities focusing on children, animal welfare or the homeless. Unlike the categories mentioned below, I don't oppose these causes, but I do feel one has to prioritise, according to one's own conscience and concerns.
I don't support charities addressing concerns which I feel should be addressed by the state.
I never support charities with religious affiliations e.g Cafod, Salvation Army.
I don't support the objectives, and certainly not the methods, of environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace or Friends Of The Earth.
23 November, 2004
Tokyo is built over a network of rivers and waterways, which causes problems during heavy rain, especially in typhoon season. Hence, the subterranean G-Cans Project features a network of truly massive conduits designed to collect and dissipate flood waters. The largest underground waterway in the world has five 32m diameter, 65m deep concrete containment silos linked by 64 km of tunnels, 50m beneath the surface. Huge 14,000 horsepower turbines can pump water into the outlying Edogawa River at a rate of 200 tonnes/sec.
As Che, at Octopus Dropkick (found via Boing Boing) says, the images of the scheme look like something from a computer game. I think it's a combination of the slightly abstract, huge shapes, seen in slightly misty lighting, with industrial surfaces which haven't seen much wear yet - there are patches of discolouration, as might be added by Photoshop, but negligible actual damage; it's subtly too perfect.
Yet this is explained by the fact that though the project is 12 years old, it's only just finished (or is it still under construction?), so it hasn't experienced wear and tear. The images aren't photo-real CGI, they really are photographs. Impressive engineering aside, they're just great images.
15 November, 2004
This is rather interesting, not so much for the fact that it largely debunks the simplistic concept of 'red' and 'blue' US states, but for the mapping techniques used, which rescale the sizes of states according to their populations and recolour them according to percentages of electorates (at the county level) voting each way. Some of the latter cartograms start to look like psychedelic butterflies.
11 November, 2004
Real E Fun
Following Lynn's recommendation, I've just visited a new (to me) blog, and promptly added it to the blogroll: Real E Fun, "tales from a non-religious funeral celebrant", which is exactly as the subtitle suggests. A fascinating, frequently touching, view of a world few (choose to) see.
12 October, 2004
The acoustic version of Radiohead's 'Creep' accompanied by a stunning Flash movie. Watch. Repeatedly.
Via Green Fairy
(The Radiohead website is pretty good, too, if you didn't know)
15 September, 2004
There's a particularly vicious spelling test at the Guardian, containing not obscure words which might stick in the memory because they are odd, but those ubiquitous words I, and presumably most others, struggle with routinely. No matter how many times I check, I can never remember the correct spelling of 'separately'. Or is it 'seperately'? Take the test!
As it happens, I scored 21/23. Both of my failures were genuinely surprising - I was sure they were spelled differently, so I've learned something today. I wonder if I'll remember....
7 September, 2004
Blue Room escaped
Anyone who particularly liked the Crimson Room and Viridian Room online puzzles may know this already, but the next one, the Blue Chamber, which has been online for several months for those willing to pay, is now open to all for free.
My review: it's much shorter and easier than the others - if I'd paid, I would have been disappointed.
24 August, 2004
Send Cat Grey $35, and she'll send you a bunny, each soft toy uniquely designed for the customer, each uniquely wrapped. Send $35 per month, and you'll get a bunny every month.
Aww. Innit cute?
Well, no. Cat's bunnies are a bit... different. Open the package, which might be be packed in leaves, wrapped in an odd length of fabric, a placemat, joss paper or even just yards and yards and yards of string without paper, and you might find a bunny with three eyes. Or two heads. Or one head but two bodies. Or one head on one body, but the head is a real rabbit's skull. Or a head pierced by pins; remove the pins to find the head opens to reveal eyes (or teeth) sewn into the velvet lining. Or (my favourite), not a bunny, but a penguin in a bunny suit. Want!
Via Neil Gaiman, as is so much that's cool.
23 August, 2004
Best time to visit
As the name implies, the Google Best Time to Visit script searches Google description tags for "best time to visit" plus whatever the user types in. Theoretically, this should identify the optimum time to visit a tourist destination, but it's only as good as the websites Google indexes, and can be 'misused'.
For example, the best time to visit Stavanger, Norway, is apparently between May and October. I'd probably agree. However, that period is also the best time to visit Mars, so there might be a scheduling conflict.
The best time to visit H is May/June; her birthday is in there, which could be good or bad! The recommended time to visit me would be April/May. That's as good a time as any.
Apart from the comedy value, I suppose my criticism isn't entirely fair. Tourism websites are likely to genuinely state suitable times to visit destinations, so the results of a sensible enquiry should be meaningful.
21 August, 2004
Ponce de Leon
Wow. Another great posting discovered via Sal. As he says, it deserves an audience.
19 August, 2004
I suspect WordCount is already fairly well-known, but just in case anyone's missed it, here's a description from the 'About' page:
WordCount is an artistic experiment in the way we use language. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words [taken from the British National Corpus
], ranked in order of commonality. Each word is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. The larger the word, the more we use it. The smaller the word, the more uncommon it is.
Part of the fun is in the juxtaposition of words, apparently revealing hidden messages. An example given by the site is the sequence: "america ensure oil opportunity".
"Ministry" is followed by "knowing", which is rather appropriate considering the name of this blog!
The sequence "vehicles profession neil killing" might be read as a prophesy of my death, so I'm glad it proceeds: "alleged perspective".
H does better: "infection helen cleared survived".
Considering my sister is a surgeon, it's worrying to read: "experimental offences kate suspended".
Hours of fun!
12 August, 2004
You are here
Whenever I need a map of somewhere in the UK, or need to plan a route, I tend to visit Multimap, though their 'Directions' facility is poor and I've occasionally experienced problems zooming in or out of maps, so this isn't an unconditional recommendation!
One feature I'd never used is the ability to overlay the locations of schools, restaurants, etc. onto maps as clickable links to websites/directories and hence further information. Richard Rutter, one of the site's developers, has just added a new category to this functionality: weblogs.
Submit a blog's location (as a button or in a blog entry) and it will be added to the database within 24 hours. Richard only announced it today (see that announcement for further details), which might explain why I can't find any working examples yet, but this posting is both to inform people and to submit the location of The Ministry.
7 August, 2004
Make a typoPoster
The typoGenerator doesn't generate typographic errors, it accepts text submitted by users, performs a search at Google Images for those words, then uses a randomly-selected image from the search results as a background* onto which the original text is overlayed. Random image effects are added to both the image and text. The resulting typoPoster isn't necessarily readible, it's 'only' for visual effect.
* if Google finds no results for the search term, there'll be no background image, so don't input huge amounts of text!
7 August, 2004
Early memory tracer
Another from Mindbluff: a technique to assist the extraction of early memories.
For what it's worth, I 'passed'.
5 August, 2004
Impressive alarm system
Look at this image before reading on.
The bike, in Houston, Tx., doesn't have a saddlebag - the object under the saddle is a bees nest.
The image is hosted by the US Navy at their Naval Safety Center website, so is unlikely to be photo-manipulation or a joke, but a little scepticism is always advisible, and there are other examples on the website where a faked image is used to make a serious point about safety.
If you're tempted to browse the site, I'd better mention that a couple of images are genuinely disturbing, showing serious injuries and deaths.
2 August, 2004
Writing about motorways has a very limited attraction, but this page was mildly interesting, if only to me.
It seems that the M53 motorway, running the length of the Wirral, was originally designed to link Liverpool with North Wales, terminating at Ewloe. This is the, well, 'populated road junction' some 2 miles (3 km) from Northop Hall, where I grew up. Various delays and revisions meant the M53 ended at Ellesmere Port by 1972, and somehow never continued along the planned route. There's still no true motorway connection to North Wales, though the A55 expressway serves much the same purpose.
It might have been different, though. If the M53 had continued to Ewloe, that would have intersected the A55, possibly inspiring the upgrade of that, the primary through-route linking Chester and Holyhead, to a motorway.
Even with a slight revision to its route in the 1980s, the A55 passes within a mile of my mother's house, and is very audible from the garden. I can only imagine how my childhood might have been affected by living so close to a full, 6-lane, Liverpool-Holyhead motorway, and how it might have influenced the development of the whole region.
28 July, 2004
Are YOU prepared?
This week it was announced that the UK government will be spending £8 million on a Home Office awareness campaign featuring a leaflet entitled 'Preparing for Emergencies - What You Need to Know', to be sent to 22 million households, and an associated website.
The sanitised, partial information is apparently intended to tell members of the public what to do in the event of an emergency such as a terrorist attack (Don't Panic. Behave. Follow Orders. Trust the Government. The Government is your Friend. Vote for Us).
Even the government's own announcement acknowledges that the necessary measures are 'common sense' and 'instinct', so why the **** throw away millions of pounds?
Refreshingly, 'HM Department Of Vague Paranoia' has treated this with, well, rather less contempt than it really deserves, and has produced a parody website closely mirroring the appearence and subtext of the official one.
That's 'preparingforemergencies.co.uk' for the parody and 'preparingforemergencies.gov.uk' for the original. Clear? The government didn't think so, and demanded the removal of the parody. It hasn't been removed, but the letter of objection, further reinforcing the humourless arrogance of Westminster, has been added.
It's almost as if the government intended the original utter waste of public money to be taken seriously. How bizarre.
27 July, 2004
Not speed reading
Test your reading speed at Mindbluff - start a timer, read the provided text, at a natural rate, until told to stop, then click on the final word you reached.
I'm feeling rather tired today, and slightly struggled to absorb the meaning of the text, but my reading speed was still rated as between 400 - 450 words per minute, surprisingly, which is approaching double the average rate (200 - 250 words per minute).
I'll have to try it again at about 11:00 or 21:00, when I tend to be more alert (Be alert! Your country needs lerts! Sorry), as I was conscious of reading slower than usual.
23 July, 2004
They can't mean...
I doubt it's ony pedants who'd enjoy Doh, The Humanity!, a spin-off website of the Need To Know e-zine, devoted to its coverage of web pages containing typographical or silly errors.
A little more seriously, the examples of banner ads being oddly relevant to adjacent articles demonstrate why news and adverts don't always mix.
17 July, 2004
According to the 'rich-o-meter' at Channel4.com, my salary puts me in the richest 18.09% of the UK population, with 10.4 million people richer than me, 47.3 million poorer.
At 32, my salary is only marginally above the apparent average starting salary of UK graduates (okay, in SE England), so it seems incredible (literally 'not credible') that I could be in the top fifth.
Then again, the statistics are derived from Inland Revenue data, and they should know.
8 July, 2004
It's easy to mock the idea of practicing yoga with one's cat, but the videos at Yogakitty (okay, not a name conveying credibility) treat the subject as seriously as it deserves.
The sample videos seem to be in the wrong order; I think the second (5.4Mb .wmv; 4.9Mb Quicktime version available from the site) should be watched first.
28 June, 2004
The Crimson and Viridian Rooms have been popular online puzzles, but here's another.
99 Rooms isn't quite the same; it's barely a puzzle, for one thing. It's more of an atmospheric point-and-click Flash tour around the 100 rooms of a spooky derelict industrial building, finding hotspots which open doors, bring graffiti to life, and move objects. It's about the trip, not the destination, and those treating it as a race or a challenge to reach the end will be missing the point, so slow down, turn up your speakers, and admire the artwork.
25 May, 2004
Not so ghostly town
I'm disappointed to say that this story, about a motorcyclist visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, has been revealed as a fake. The circumstances of the trip are not as described, and some of the photos were staged.
Mary Mycio, writing at e-Poshta, reposted at the UER online forum:
I am based in Kyiv and writing a book about Chornobyl.
Though it was full of factual errors, I did find the notion of lone young woman riding her motorcycle through the evacuated Zone of Alienation to be intriguing and asked about it when I visited there two days ago.
I am sorry to report that much of Elena's story is not true. She did not travel around the zone by herself on a motorcycle. Motorcycles are banned in the zone, as is wandering around alone, without an escort from the zone administration. She made one trip there with her husband and a friend. They traveled in a Chornobyl car that picked them up in Kyiv.
She did, however, bring a motorcycle helmet. They organized their trip through a Kyiv travel agency and the administration of the Chornobyl zone (and not her father). They were given the same standard excursion that most Chernobyl tourists receive. When the website appeared, Zone Administration personnel were in an uproar over who approved a motorcycle trip in the zone. When it turned out that the motorcycle story was an invention, they were even less pleased about this fantasy website.
Because of those problems, Elena and her husband have changed the website and the story considerably in the last few days. Earlier versions of the narrative lied more blatantly about Elena taking lone motorcycle trips in the zone. That has been changed to merely suggest that she does so, which is still misleading.
I would not normally bother to correct someone's silly Chornobyl fantasy. Indeed, correcting all the factual errors and falsehoods in 'Ghost Town' would consume as much space as the website itself. But the motorcycle story was such an outrageous fiction that I thought the readers of e-Poshta should know.
In another UER posting, Tony Brown mentions visiting the area with Rimma Kiselitsa, the same tour guide as had taken Elena:
... one of the pictures on her original site was inside a kindergarden. It's a picture of a baby's crib, with a photo of Lenin, a child's gas mask, and some toys. These photos were 'staged' by Elena's husband. He found the photo of Lenin elsewhere, put it in the cot and placed a gas mask alongside then took a photo of it.
This annoyed Rimma immensely. She was not impressed from start to finish about Elena and her husband, as they seemed to be trying to take photos for shock value - not how the place really is. As part of my day's tour, I took over 400 photographs. I watched Rimma remove the gas mask and photograph of Lenin, and put them back in their original homes.
The reason I was told all of this was because Rimma is very annoyed about the whole affair - she's getting phone calls from movie producers wanting to make movies about this 'heroic' girl. She's getting people demanding the same unlimited access pass that Elena supposedly has. These do not exist, and she's sick of explaining it to people.
19 May, 2004
Can you spot a fake smile? Take this test at the BBC website. Note that it involves viewing 20 short video clips, each of which will take ~15 seconds to load via a 56k modem.
I correctly identified 15 of the 20 as genuine or fake smiles. I judged on instinct rather than knowing to watch for specific visual clues, but as the results page explains, there are observable indications.
The results page also makes a slightly depressing statement:
Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling.
4 May, 2004
Have a look at the website of "the most responsible, effective and respected developer of glass shard consumer products intended for adults.". Have a look at the whole site, their products, corporate views on the health risks of their products, but before watching the second of their TV commercials, follow the link on their Customer Service page.
28 April, 2004
A company offering intensive Spanish language courses in Spain and Mexico is called 'don Quijote' (website optimised for IE; content missing in other browsers. Great advert, eh?).
Weren't futility and pointless endeavour central themes of Cervantes' novel?
Considering that the fictional character Don Quijote (aka Don Quixote) is likely to be one of the few aspects of Spanish culture already known by potential clients, this seems an odd way to promote an educational business.
21 April, 2004
The Universe Within
This is one of my favourite websites, to which I seem to return every few months even though I don't have it bookmarked.
Starting from a view of the Milky Way, this java applet begins to zoom in, each successive image being an order of magnitude smaller than the previous one. The first is a view 10 million light years from the Milky Way (1023 m across the width of the image), the next is 1 million light years away(1022 m across the image), then focusing on the western spiral arm of our galaxy (1021 m), and so on.
From one light year away (1016 m), the sun is barely visible; from 10 billion kilometres away (1013 m) the Solar System fills the image. At the 1 million km mark (109 m), the Earth and orbit of the moon almost fill the view.
From 10,000 km (107 m), the applet starts to zoom in on terrestrial features, centred on the USA (surprise, surprise), specifically North Florida (105 m), SW Tallahassee (104 m), the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (103 m, or from an altitude of 1 km), and an oak tree in the grounds (101 m).
The next, (100 m) is the view of a branch from 1 metre away, then leaves (10-1 m) and a close-up of a single leaf (10-2 m is 1 cm away). Unsurprisingly, the applet continues into microscopic detail of cells on the surface (10-4 m), a cell nucleus (10-6 m), and individual strands of DNA (10-8 m).
At 10-10 m, the outer electron cloud of a carbon atom is seen from 100 picometres away; 10-14 m is the nucleus alone and 10-15 m shows a single proton from 1 femtometre away. Finally, quarks are seen from 100 attometers, a unit of which I'd never heard, but which equates to 10-16 m across the standardised width of the image.
To spell it out, the first image has a width of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 m, whilst the last, forty orders of magnitude smaller, is 0.0000000000000001 m across.
A great way to popularise science, inspiring even those who just like pretty pictures!
15 April, 2004
I'm not sure how scientific this really is (hey, it's 'PhD Certified', whatever that means), but I've just taken the 'Classic IQ Test' at Tickle.com.
My IQ score is 140:
Your Intellectual Type is Visionary Philosopher. This means you are highly intelligent and have a powerful mix of skills and insight that can be applied in a variety of different ways. Like Plato, your exceptional math and verbal skills make you very adept at explaining things to others — and at anticipating and predicting patterns. And that's just some of what we know about you from your IQ results.
I'm certainly intelligent enough to question whether one really can equate a raw IQ score to an 'intellectual type'. I think three questions tested eloquence, so the praise of my verbal skills seems unjustified.
I suspect the result is a bit flattering anyway. On the BBC's version, I scored something like 130 last year.
I've just taken it again. Though it was my second attempt, the first was about a year ago, so I doubt I was at much of an advantage. My score was 133, broken down as: Language: 11/12; Memory: 12/12; Logic: 21/22; Numbers: 9/12; Perception: 11/12
3 April, 2004
I'm recycling a reference already posted by Neil Gaiman, but I believe that's allowed ;)
This is an important link, which I urge everyone to visit.
Elena, the daughter of a nuclear scientist, lives 130km (216 miles) from Chernobyl, Ukraine. She has a 1100cc Kawasaki Ninja, and one of her favourite rides is into the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power station which exploded in 1986, killing ~300,000 (official estimate). Her photos and accompanying comments are haunting - compelling, chilling, and oddly beautiful.
There's nothing visually unpleasant about any of the images, but the juxtaposition of such personal details as abandoned family photographs with the total absence of human occupation since 1986 is unsettling, and the final few pages are genuinely upsetting.
[Update 25/05/04: I'm sorry to say this story has been revealed to be a fake.]
30 March, 2004
In case it's ever needed, there's a mirror of the Google site here.
And I do mean a mirror.
29 March, 2004
As seen at greenfairy.com: Introvertster, the online anti-social non-networking community that prevents people from ever bothering you while you're online. One can use it to:
- Avoid invites to chat, filter out annoying invitations for Meetup, birthday parties, or after-hours get togethers.
- Packet flood a friend's Internet connection making it impossible for them to send you an instant message.
- Help your friends get a clue that you really don't like people or care for idle chit-chat.
9 March, 2004
Freak or just independent?
I've just completed the provocatively-named 'Are You A Freak?' Test at OutOfService.com, which has a more sober basis in a study allegedly conducted by two psychologists in the 1970s into individuals' 'need for uniqueness'. As OutOfService stresses, it's a real test, not a typical 'purity'-style web test.
My overall percentile score was rated as 65, indicating higher 'need for uniqueness' than 64 out of 100 people.
However, when split into categories, I don't entirely agree with the interpretation:
Need to be unique 70% : You feel that you need to be a VERY unique and different.
No. This implies a strong awareness of social standards and a deliberate, even pretentious, effort to act against them, merely to be perverse. I don't acknowledge that as being in my character. My world view is my own; if it corresponds to some cultural norms and differs from others, that's simply irrelevant to me.
Need to NOT conform 69% : You prefer to conform to others' standards, but don't mind acting differently occasionally.
No. I respect the standards of others, and don't deliberately offend, but that's basic courtesy, not a wish to conform to others' standards, about which I'm simply indifferent.
Willingness to express dissent 41%: You are typically respectful when you disagree, but are willing to speak your mind if it is appropriate.
That's a fair statement.
2 March, 2004
Ever watched a TV advert and wondered about the music, even wanted to buy it?
Personally, no, but I'm not a fan of mass-media anyway.
Whatever; others might like to bookmark Commercial Breaks and Beats, the UK TV advert music database. Search by artist, company, or song title.
16 February, 2004
How wide is the world wide web?
I'm glad sites like Galumpia exist, to mediate in such vital conundra.
10 February, 2004
Which counties have you visited?
Though I immediately felt it necessary to clean up the default image, I've just found a utility which plots those counties one has visited in Scotland, Wales and England. I've visited those in light green. These are the counties where I've actually stopped at least long enough to eat, not counting motorway services (which are a kind of no-man's land), nor counties I've merely driven through.
What does your map look like?
10 February, 2004
Today I am 400 days away from being 400 months old.
On 12 March, I will be 17 million minutes old.
8 February, 2004
I wish I'd thought to set up this site: anti-Valentine's online cards, ridiculing the commercialism and empty gestures society expects for 14 Feb.
I do deplore the idea that having given one's partner a folded piece of shiny card and a quantity of vegetation, any hint of romanticism can be ticked off and forgotten for another year. It's a cop-out, and an example of herd mentality which primarily serves the manufacturers of greetings cards.
Rather than standardised tokens on a predetermined yet arbitrary date, how about something one's partner would really appreciate, at a time of personal significance - and more frequently than each February?
Thankfully Helen is similarly scornful of Valentine's Day; indeed our shared dislike for society's petty rituals is something that draws us together. Don't worry; we'll do something, just at a time and in a way of our choosing, and by choice, not external 'obligation'.
5 February, 2004
There's no way I could be described as a Green Party supporter, but I cycle rather than drive, recycle as much as the council will accept, and minimise my use of resources, so I was interested to find that the rough measure of my ecological footprint (the area of productive land and water required to support what I use and what I discard) is 2.7ha:
Food 1.3 Mobility 0.2 Shelter 0.7 Goods/Services 0.5 Total Footprint 2.7
In comparison, the average ecological footprint in your country is 5.3 global hectares per person. Worldwide, there exist 1.8 biologically productive global hectares per person.
If everyone lived like you, we would need 1.5 planets."
Not too bad, for the UK. The majority of that amount is due to the fact that I eat meat and dairy products pretty much daily, and that I buy packaged products, not necessarily produced locally, from supermarkets. To be fair, I am very aware of packaging, buy less packaged products than most, and recycle a large proportion of that packaging, so a simple division into 'buy packaged goods/don't buy packaged goods' is a little crude.
Incidentally, answering the questions in exactly the same way, but claiming to live in the USA, my footprint expanded to 11ha.
Also incidentally, my offering that link doesn't mean I support the parent organisation or recommend reading the rest of their website.
2 February, 2004
This might be superior to the usual 'what bra are you?' type of blog 'tests', or it might just be a more elaborate version of the same. You decide.
The Political Compass test asks whether one agrees/disagrees with a series of propositions about the nation and the world, the economy, personal social values, wider society, religion, and sex.
On a graph of 'Economic Left/Right' (Communism at one extreme, Neo-Liberalism at the other, or collective management versus free market) on the x-axis against Social Libertarian/Authoritarian (aka Anarchism/Fascism) on the y-axis, I score -2.50, -4.87 which makes me comparable to the Dalai Lama, as a libertarian on the economic left. Apparently. However, the missing z-axis is more important in my case: degree to which the individual cares about wider society i.e. degree to which the x and y- axes are even relevant. I'd achieve a negative position on that one, too.
Incidentally, as the site's FAQ takes care to mention, the term 'Liberal' does not refer to the commonly-understood US political definition:
"In the United States, 'liberals' are understood to believe in leftish economic programmes such as welfare and publicly funded medical care, while also holding liberal social views on matters such as law and order, peace, sexuality, women's rights etc. The two don't necessarily go together."
This is important for anyone judging me by my scores, as my views on, say, gender politics bear no relation to my views on, say, social provision.
Likewise, the terms 'left' and 'right' could be misunderstood:
"Once you accept that left and right are merely measures of economic position, the 'extreme right' refers to extremely liberal economics that may be practised by social authoritarians or social libertarians. Similarly, the 'extreme left' identifies a strong degree of state economic control, which may also be accompanied by liberal or authoritarian social policies."
That could be phrased better, but essentially means that views on economic matters are independent of social values. The same economic solution might be achived by either extreme of social dogma, and two people sharing the same social ideals might feel very differently about the role of economics in achieving those ideals. A blanket definition of 'left' or 'right' is inadequate.
15 December, 2003
What colour are you?
Okay, it's a 'personality-as-colour' test, the stuff of a thousand blogs, but this isn't as crude as the majority, using '... a lot more math' to select one of 140 possible outcomes, based on hue (how one thinks), saturation (how much one does about it), and lightness (the effect one thinks it has). I'm not entirely sure of its (pseudo-)scientific basis; the attribution of hue in particular seems arbitrary, but I was certainly surprised by my result.
I'm 'seagreen' (#2E8B57) i.e. pretty much the colour of the Ministry website - I couldn't have faked that if I'd tried!
Your dominant hues are cyan and green. Although you definately strive to be logical you care about people and know there's a time and place for thinking emotionally. Your head rules most things but your heart rules others, and getting them to meet in the middle takes a lot of your energy some days.
Your saturation level is higher than average - You know what you want, but sometimes know not to tell everyone. You value accomplishments and know you can get the job done, so don't be afraid to run out and make things happen.
Your outlook on life can be bright or dark, depending on the situation. You are flexible and see things objectively.
I'd go along with that, on the whole.
[Update 24/05/06: I've repaired the broken link, and taken the test again. The result was the same.]
13 December, 2003
Getting it on for the good of the planet
I don't know if this was intended as self-deprocating levity, or their usual busybody preaching: Greenpeace have published a guide to environmentally-friendly sex. I'm about as likely to link to the Greenpeace website as to that of the British Nationalist Party, so I'll have to reproduce (ahem) a few parts of the guide here, to comment on it.
Are you wondering what more you can do to help the planet?
You take your bike to work...
... eat organic...
- never knowingly, anyway.
... but want to do more.
At long last we have looked into one of humanity’s favourite pastimes and uncovered the passion that can make a difference for our environment. You can be a bomb in bed without nuking the planet.
They had to slip something in about their favourite nuclear bugbear; it's probably in the Greenpeace rules.
1. Turn off the lights. We all have to do our part to stop climate change, energy reduction and energy efficiency are an important part of changing our energy culture. If you want to see your partner, or what you are doing, have sex during the day.
Already my blood is boiling. Who the **** are they to tell me how and when to have sex? Could they be more intrusive?
I presume the guide was written on a pedal-powered computer, during daylight hours (no artificial lighting permitted in the office).
2. Passion for fruit? If you like to use produce to get the blood boiling, make sure it is GE-free. There have not been enough studies on genetically engineered foods to know what the effects on our diets will be, let alone the affects of using it for more intimate activities.
Okay. I oppose GM-agriculture too, partly because of the lack of research and knowledge of its consequences and partly because of the attempts of multinationals to impose GM-food on consumers, ignoring the overwhelming public opposition.
3.Oysters and other shellfish can be potent aphrodisiacs, but our oceans are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate
For shellfish? No. Fatuous argument.
5. Forget the fossil fuel based lubricants like petroleum jelly!
Okay, but for practical reasons, not environmental.
6. Have you got something more than a good time up your sleeve. Could it be polyvinyl chloride? Ditch the PVC and vinyl accessories for your playtime. Instead, opt for accessories made from natural substances like rubber or leather.
Evidently not written from experience (characteristically?). Quite apart from the huge difference in cost, the properties of the materials aren't really comparable.
7. Helping the planet can be an arousing activity. Soap up together in the shower or bath...
... to save water and create passion for more than the environment. More than one billion people do not have access to clean water, it is a luxury, and should definitely be shared with a friend.
And post the saved water to South America? Don't be stupid. There certainly are valid reasons to moderate water usage in Europe/N.America, but that's not one of them. Or are they suggesting an empty gesture, 'for solidarity'?
8. Ok, I’m not sure what you would use them for, never done so myself, ahem, but if you wanted some paddles for something other than rowing, please, for god’s sake,...
Keep your god to yourself, please.
... make sure they are made from sustainably harvested timber.
What? It's not my thing either, but this wouldn't affect my hypothetical purchasing decision.
10. Make love, not war.
Greens annoy me in exactly the same way as religious evangelists - if you believe strongly about something, that's great; good luck to you. But don't try to impose your beliefs on me - I won't play.
There's a person I see around Lancaster and the University occasionally; a work colleague of a friend, but not someone I know particularly well, nor who knows me well enough to tell me how to live, but that's exactly what she does. On meeting her, her opening words are rarely a greeting, but "You shouldn't be doing that". Maybe she (totally) mistakes me for a fellow 'believer' who'd appreciate a quick pep talk, but I find it a challenge to avoid telling her to go **** herself.
12 December, 2003
The Gender Genie
As reported by Nature, academics have formulated an algorithm which, when applied to a block of text, can distinguish the gender of the author. It seems to be based on a weighted count of keywords in the text; for example, the total number of instances of 'because' is multiplied by 55 and added to an overall 'female' total. The final 'male' total is compared to the 'female' total.
As one might expect, someone has used the algorithm to generate an online test; a 'Gender Genie'. Have a go. I tested it with a few blog posts, which overwhelmingly confirmed I'm male; some of the 'male' totals were nearly double the 'female' counts.
The 'Nature' article explains that, to oversimplify, men speak in terms of objects ('informational' style, focusing on categorisation), and women in terms of relationships ('involved' style, focusing on personalisation).
I was gratified to recognise a flaw for myself, before reading that it's something that the researchers considered too ;) The subject of the text must matter - the parameters that categorise (oops) males and females might also distinguish between factual and opinion pieces, or between narrative fiction and non-fiction; the algorithm might be dissecting the content rather than the author. Indeed, the program can tell fiction from non-fiction with 98% accuracy. However, when told the genre in advance (and hence invoking a further weighting, presumably), the algorithm separates male from female with 80% accuracy.
Having run this entry through the Gender Genie, the 'male' total is 1077 against a 'female' total of 253, defining me as distinctly male, or maybe just distinctly impersonal in my writing!
That's after I told the Genie that this was a blog entry. I'm curious about the basis of that division, as it had a radical effect on the totals. Defined as 'fiction', the totals are 'male': 577, 'female': 366, and the same as 'non-fiction': 577 to 366; still male, but by less of a margin.
Interestingly, when I tested it with a couple of Helen's e-mails, it was ambiguous e.g. 283 'male' to 291 'female'. Perhaps it's that the test text was descriptive rather than discursive, but H's degree is in linguistics; perhaps that's skewed her written style.
I know that from the age of 15 my education focused strongly on report-writing and essay-based exams in factual subjects, where the impersonal tense ("It was found", rather than "I found") was the only acceptable mode of writing; it's difficult to throw off a certain precision of phrasing.
21 November, 2003
Bloginality: the ISTP personality
My Bloginality (Myers-Briggs-Jung Type, derived from a very short test) is ISTP, corresponding to a SP personality, which is part of Jung's Artisans (Sensation Seeking) type; more specifically the Crafters or Mechanics.
Having read a bit more, via the links on the ISTP page, it seems broadly accurate, though not ideal.
28 October, 2003
It was there yesterday...
It's not as romantic as the name suggests, but The Lost London Street Index is essential reading for period/genre authors wishing to locate events in the capital's maze of alleys, squares and streets.
12 October, 2003
Lost in Translation
To the useful interior of you who she you are you translate the line? But it is the independent word, or the expression, gorgeousness with uselessness relative, grammaticale is suitably like result the frank article the length of this fact, that it is manufactured, he, the silk of the foot because totally? The excess to move that the Ing. sfilaccia of Grundnyu the letter in the language of the marcatura comes from the silk of weaveeed one is originally burnings, you, you say it, extended, he examines et/également he? With him it is the equipment in the translation of the line like and for the company of the situation, this is different and this marcatura, of that she is not Ing., who burns of nyu he, is a letter, you he somebody, that is material of the use, that produced whole number the classified zone? The shutdowns with the thing his the Grolls for and the situation of Innerens of the doubts stored with and 5 practitioners, of that 1 Tsugas, where the diverse language, introduce, repeated? It is good, his situation, of that the law that is exact and together, - it stands out of the side of multiBabel, visit that!
What I meant to say:
Have you noticed that online translation software, though useful for individual words or phrases, is spectacularly useless for longer blocks of text, incorporating proper grammar? Have you ever tried using an online translation tool to convert sample text from, say, English to Danish, then used a Danish-English utility to change it back? Have you ever wondered what would happen if one repeated that exercise for five different languages? Well, you're reading the result of doing exactly that - visit the multibabel page!
NP: Genesis, 'Live'
6 October, 2003
Degree Confluence Project
The Degree Confluence Project sets out to visit and record every point on the Earth's surface where lines of latitude and longitude intersect. According to the site, there's a confluence point (CP) within 49 miles (79 km) of any place on the planet; discounting confluences in the oceans and some near the poles, there are 13,625 to be found.
Though some seem to take it far too seriously, it's an interesting idea, and the mosaic of digital photos taken at the CPs is impressive, so I can sort of see the attraction. The hunt for the nearest land-based one to me, the last unvisited terrestrial CP in the UK, turned out to be quite a quest - read the story of the three attempts.
3 October, 2003
Link of the Day
It's link of the day at User Friendly (itself highly recommended) really, but it's worth mentioning here too.
Battleground God - 17 questions which help determine whether your view of religion is rationally consistent, irrespective of whether you're a believer or atheist.
I'm not sure I agree with all the questions, particularly their wording and the logical inferences drawn from the answers, but it's interesting.
For what it's worth, I scored above average for consistent logic, according to the creators' (no, not the Creator's) interpretation. I don't entirely agree with the sole alleged inconsistency, so would have given myself full marks ;) but I can see what they mean: I accept evolutionary theory as correct without absolute proof (no science gives absolute proof), but refuse to believe in a God without absolute proof.
Okay; put like that, I see their point, but it's a question of degree - the balance of evidence and, yes, logic, overwhelmingly supports the case for evolution, whereas the case for the existence of a deity doesn't have anything like the same weight of evidence.