Look what I found
24 February, 2011
I don't think this needs any elaboration.
22 February, 2011
Web of Science
Inspired by work on Facebook 'friendship' mapping, Olivier H. Beauchesne has derived a fascinating map of collaborations between scientific researchers.
Leading scientific journal aggregators such as Elsevier’s 'Scopus' and Thomson Reuter’s 'Web of Science' obviously provide a clear record of which researchers have been joint-authors of papers, and their locations. Plotting those location-pairs generates an intriguing map.
Remember it's 'merely' a data visualisation, intended to spark discussion, perhaps inspire someone to do something really rigorous with such information, and simply to look good. It's not, itself, a presentation of definitive data; the author was plainly startled by the suggestion that some might consider it a 'roadmap' for science/technology policy development.
Possibly the biggest 'flaw' is that the dataset, though drawn from a wide array of key international journals, doesn't include all journals; I don't think one critic's complaint that only papers published by Elsevier are shown is entirely accurate (Scopus is indeed owned by Elsevier, but claims to cover 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers), and whether that's why the Netherlands appears to be such a major hub, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Non-English journals may be under-represented, and almost certainly those published in, say, Chinese or Cyrillic character sets.
Also remember it's a map of collaboration on published papers, not a map of research intensity in individual locations – single-authored papers or collaborations between colleagues in the same institutions aren't shown. This may help explain the relative invisibility of Australia – does the geographical isolation of those researchers from Europe and North America affect their opportunities to collaborate?
5 January, 2011
Via BoingBoing, I've discovered a new online graphic novel* . It looks gorgeous and the story's very promising, but don't get too excited yet, as only the first chapter is online, and that took Daniel Lieske a full year to produce in his spare time.
One of the attractive aspects is that Lieske has used the 'infinite canvas' layout, where the entire chapter is on one web page, navigated by scrolling. I did wonder whether it'd be a problem for future publication – the sections bleed into one another and don't divide at natural page lengths, so translation to book format could be awkward. I'm not sure even a standard ebook format, still involving page turning, would work.
Then I realised that translation to hardcopy mightn't even be intended – that the nearest to book format the Wormworld Saga might ever get could be a tablet computer's app. I'm definitely not crying wolf about the death of 'traditional' books, not least because content is more important than delivery mechanism, but this could mark something of a shift.
*: Not 'comic'. Some consider the term 'graphic novel' pompous, preferring 'comic', but I frequently do use the former, for the simple reason that the best examples aren't comical or comedic. Besides, in this instance the author is specifically structuring it as a novel.
3 December, 2010
Show me the rotors
The 22,000 tonne, 'Invincible'-class aircraft carrier 'HMS Ark Royal' arrived in Plymouth this morning in order to be decommissioned, prompting the Guardian to mention a few details of her prematurely-curtailed 25-year career.
Apparently, her first role was "as a cold war anti-submarine helicopter".
30 November, 2010
28 September, 2010
This is a title
This is a link to a metatextual analysis of the template adopted by science 'journalists' inexplicably employed by such mainstream news organisations as the Guardian and the BBC.
This 'after the cut' sentence praises it.
27 September, 2010
Writing in the Age of Distraction
I've had this bookmarked since January 2009, but have only just got round to reading it in full: Cory Doctorow's tips for defeating distraction in order to write.
I tend to observe most of them anyway (in the context of photo processing as much as in writing), particularly the one about avoiding word processing packages – I don't even have one on my PC, instead writing everything in my html editor (Homesite is non-WYSIWYG), but the suggestion to stop mid-sentence is an interesting one, and it's always good to be consciously reminded of the others.
16 September, 2010
It seems the Campaign to Protect Rural England is proposing a reintroduction of refundable deposits being charged on glass and plastic bottles, in attempt to reduce littering.
I suppose it's a good idea in principle, and the very fact of proposing it raises consciousness, but I'm not convinced that it'd work nowadays. The UK has become accustomed to doorstep collection of recyclable refuse. I wouldn't exactly welcome the idea of having to store bottles separately in my small house again, and would be particularly resistant to the idea of having to take them to collection/refund locations (and that's a network that'd need to be set up beforehand) myself, without a car. I'd be far more likely to simply write-off the deposit and recycle as normal, or reduce the number of bottled items I buy. Maybe the latter is the real objective....
27 August, 2010
I don't like 'chuggers' – 'charity muggers'; the people who accost one in the street or even on one's own doorstep, attempting to obtain regular (Direct Debit) donations to charities. My primary, visceral, objection is the inherently invasive nature of the activity, but I'm also uneasy about their often aggressive, manipulative tactics. And no, that really isn't merely media stereotyping: I've experienced it myself.
It's now emerged that they're a drain on the charities, too. I've always been aware that the chuggers tend to be paid employees of agencies, often paid by results, rather than genuine volunteer supporters of campaigns, but the BBC reports that their fees are startling: it's alleged that "in some cases, it would take the average donor more than a year to cover the fee - the equivalent of about £100."
The British Heart Foundation confirmed it paid the equivalent of £136 per signature. Cancer Research UK said it paid an average of £112 to recruit each donor and in total paid face-to-face fundraisers £3m a year. Guide Dogs said it paid out nearly £2m annually.
That's appalling. I'm happy to donate to certain categories
of charities, but with the major caveat that I want the money to go to the causes themselves, with some going to administration and an absolute minimum being spent on marketing (okay, there's some value in consciousness-raising). I'm not remotely prepared to fund the fund-raisers themselves.
Uncomfortably, this makes me seriously consider whether I'll continue to support Cancer Research. Very disillusioning.
8 June, 2010
By a weird coincidence, a few moments ago I 'tweeted' (ugh) on behalf of my employer about a book published by an environmental consultant based on campus, who is also the author of a Guardian article which annoyed me this morning (actually, the article's derived from the book).
Mike Berners-Lee (it's the surname which caught my attention) claims to have calculated the 'carbon footprint' of cycling, based on the foods consumed by the cyclist. I'm not going to itemise the speciousness of the concept – my primary reaction was "get a life" – but I think it's a joke, intended to entertain hardline Greens who'd seriously consider the relative merits of dying in a bike accident versus being seriously injured (because of the carbon footprint of NHS treatment, y'see...), and only a Guardianista would worry about eating air-freighted asparagus.
Oops. Now I look again, the joke's obvious: the same Guardian series considers the carbon footprint of nuclear war. So it is vacuous frivolity, after all. That or healthy mockery of the whole 'carbon footprint' fad.
I also see that the Guardian also published another couple of extracts from Berners-Lee's book this week, one of which attempted to define the topic, including concepts of carbon toeprints and CO2e. It also mentions my key objection:
The carbon footprint, as I have defined it, is the climate change metric that we need to be looking at.
I disagree. Or rather, I disagree with the navel-gazing involved in obsessively calculating precise values – yes, I do think Berners-Lee has wasted his time – rather than broadly identifying relative impacts and, y'know, actually doing something about them.
13 May, 2010
If you have time, read this paper about 'first-person experience of body transfer in virtual reality'. Then read how Ian Sample reports it in the Guardian.
One can see how Sample obtained his material, but somehow it's an entirely different story. Peripheral elements which, admittedly, are in the paper are repurposed and, embellished by extrapolated details (the paper makes no mention of participants "gasping"), convey an entirely different interpretation of the study.
The researchers examined three key parameters of sensory feedback in VR:
- Perspective (first person vs. third)
- Movement (the avatar's head movements synchronous with the participant's vs prerecorded)
- Touch (visual input supplemented by real arm-stroking vs visual input alone)
A secondary aspect of the study was that all participants were male whilst the avatar was female. As the paper says, this was to attempt to "generate a body ownership illusion where the virtual body did not visually resemble the real body of the participants, and was not even the same gender"
. i.e. gender was used as an example
of a difference; race would have been another, potentially interchangeable for the purposes of this exercise.
Yet that's the central point of Sample's story, "Virtual reality used to transfer men's minds into a woman's body", a title somewhat irrelevant to the actual research. There was no attempt to investigate gender psychology – the experimental design didn't permit any such conclusions to be drawn. If that had been the intention, even Second Life would have been more effective, whereby male subjects could have attempted social interaction via female avatars. As a commenter on the Guardian story says:
The idea that you can tap into a woman's perspective simply by being given her body is offensive and banal.... You're far more likely to gain insight into female perspective by reading books and listening to what women have to say.
The researchers may well agree - nothing in their paper suggests otherwise.
Slightly less depressingly: isn't it wonderful that modern publishing often gives readers access to the source material behind articles, plus an opportunity to publicly challenge 'journalists' sensationalist distortions?
19 March, 2010
The end of publishing?
Two rather different views on the topic.
Using precisely the same text.
5 February, 2010
It’s always about corsets
I'm not sure who else would try, but Jean Paul Gautier has discovered that cats can’t wear corsets.
3 February, 2010
Toying with the truth
I wouldn't normally link to the Daily Mail, but it's for purposes of ridicule, so that's okay.
A couple of days ago, the tabloid ran the 'heartwarming' story of an impala caught by three cheetahs who, supposedly because they were tired and already full, played with it for a while before letting it go. Aah. How cute.
The slight problem is that the Mail only used part of the photoset and invented an entirely fictional outcome. Yes; surprise, surprise: the Daily Mail lied.
As those who have seen the final two images in the sequence published at Biosphoto will know, the cheetahs simply didn't release the impala, which was eaten.
Things like this make me genuinely wonder: what is the Mail for? Are there really people so blind as to accept it as anything even vaguely resembling a news source? I consider most mass media to be flawed, and routinely check for corroboration before accepting their interpretations, but at least they tend to be less blatent in cherrypicking evidence to manufacture falsehoods.
29 January, 2010
Oh dear. Each time I think my life is returning to stability, something random makes me all emotional again.
28 January, 2010
This metapost serves no purpose but to mildly entertain
This is a perfunctory decontextualised (and respelled) reposting of a BoingBoing link to a typical incendiary blog post.
27 January, 2010
Pride & Prejudice in Emoticons
Title says it all.
22 January, 2010
Does the Uncanny Valley exist?
Popular Mechanics questions the 'Uncanny Valley', the theory that humans can happily engage emotionally with simulated humans (robotic or CG) if the latter look rather false or perfectly human, but we respond with unease or outright revulsion if the simulations are nearly but not quite perfect.
The hypothesis is intellectually attractive, which may explain its successful propagation (a good narrative demands less proof), but it seems to have been under-researched, and most evidence is merely anecdotal. That's not to say it's bogus, of course – the effect has genuinely been reported by numerous observers – but more research needs to be done to quantify the effect and explain why. I'm embarrassed to say I accepted the standard interpretation as 'fact' a little too readily.
A new (to me) factor mentioned in the article seems to be that the sense of dissonance is only significant when a simulation is viewed remotely: CGI and video footage of physical robots can trigger the effect, but those encountering robots in person find them far more acceptable. As a commenter at BoingBoing says, the distinction may (may...) be that in viewing a CG character one notices "... the imperfections in something we are expected to believe is human/alive. Speaking to a robot, with the knowledge that it is, in fact, a robot, puts a whole different spin on things."
8 January, 2010
Seen this satellite image from NASA (republished by the BBC), depicting a totally frozen Britain? I don't recall having seen such uniform snow coverage before, from coasts to mountains.
It's very pretty, of course, but 61 million people are trying to live here....
[there's a 3Mb version of the image on Nasa's own website.]
6 January, 2010
There she goes!
I'm certainly not pro-whaling, but I can't deny considerable pleasure at the news that a $2 million speedboat, "a sci-fi trimaran with the look of a stealth bomber, fuelled by vegetable oil", operated by eco-terrorists has been effectively destroyed whilst failing to interfere with a Japanese whaling ship.
My only regret is that the linked BBC article names the disorganisation in question; I wouldn't choose to give them any publicity.
17 November, 2009
It's a little startling to discover that four of the 'worst' railway stations are consecutive stops on the West Coast mainline in NW England – in fact, after Lancaster itself (not on the list!) three are those I pass through most often.
And I wouldn't say they're that bad. The assessment must include some size or passenger-traffic threshold (sort-of; see below), as I'd rate other, smaller stations as in greater need of investment and renovation.
Then again, the very fact that these are the stations with which I'm most familiar probably defines my expectations – compared to, say, Manchester Piccadilly or London St. Pancras, I'd have to acknowledge that Preston's fine Victorian vault could do with a little work, and the facilities are a bit haphazard. Not bad, though.
Glancing through the
report by the 'Station Champions' (FFS...), it seems the emphasis was less on the physical environments and visual appeal of the stations (hence no mention of Birmingham New Street...) than functionality and passengers' expectations, particularly in terms of access, information and facilities. 'Extra retail potential' is one criterion, but not one which would remotely interest me.
The approach was to categorise stations and define minimum standards for each class; the 'National 'B' Interchange' group seemed weakest so received greater attention. Hence, other stations in categories 'C'-'F' might be 'worse' than those specified, but the report simply doesn't mention them. Perhaps understandably, press reports don't quite convey the right message (The Guardian: "UK's worst rail stations named").
Interesting claim from the report: London Victoria, Liverpool St, Waterloo and Euston handle more passengers daily than Heathrow Airport – each.
25 October, 2009
I'm not surprised to discover that David Mitchell feels much the same way about his flat as I do about my house: so long as it provides a safe, comfortable (but never luxurious) environment in which to live, I'm not remotely interested in its appearence.
Like Mitchell, I'm annoyed by my mother's eagerness to project-manage 'improvements', and her inability to comprehend* that even if I permitted it, it would be entirely for her amusement, not mine: I would not be grateful.
There's probably a link to my disdain for the Mac aesthetic: I don't want a 'stylish' house any more than I want a 'gorgeous' PC. In both cases, I genuinely prefer a 'beige box'; an unobtrusive, entirely neutral setting defined by my actions and which in no way defines me.
*: That may be literal. She seems unable to process the idea that I genuinely don't care, instead believing that I'm merely being stubbornly contrary: that I would secretly like to have carpets, lampshades and a non-purple bedroom (blame the previous owner for the colour scheme; I have no interest in changing it) but can't bring myself to abandon an entrenched attitude. Really, truly and unambiguously: I WOULD NOT.
23 October, 2009
The forthcoming film of Maurice Sendak's 'Where The Wild Things Are' looks good, but its author seems even better.
20 October, 2009
I'm accustomed to the mini-industry of gimmicks surrounding University graduation ceremonies – ties, cufflinks, keyrings, etc. – and now jigsaws?
A generic image of the Union flag, superimposed with a couple lines of text, printed onto wood then cut into 30 convoluted shapes? Why?
Is it really likely that in forty years time someone will dig his/her graduation jigsaw out of the attic and take a few seconds to assemble the totally arbitrary image, hoping to trigger happy memories?
The same company does mugs. Exactly.
27 September, 2009
Not necessarily pointless
In a rare example of a Guardian 'witty' column containing real substance, David Mitchell makes a compelling defence of academic research which, though it mightn't have clear economic value at the point of proposal, could still be of value.
18 September, 2009
Told 'em where to go
I'm partly responsible for publishing a map of my employer's campus location relative to the city and surrounding transport network. Naturally, it features useful landmarks such as road junctions, watercourses and a few prominent buildings.
Today we were contacted by an advertising agency wanting us to amend the map, adding clients' premises as 'landmarks'.
I suppose I'd give them points for ingenuity, but penalise them far more for attempting to hijack and distort a purely functional document. How useful would it be to direct potential visitors to "... go straight on at the traffic lights; keep going straight on past the [insert pub name here] 10 m later...", particularly if that pub isn't visually distinct from neighbouring shopfronts?
Thankfully, we always reject all commercial advertising; it would have been challenging to rationalise why I consider the suggestion offensive whilst remaining professionally polite.
19 August, 2009
How the 1969 moon landings were really faked. It's obvious, really.
17 August, 2009
Complacent as usual
This is the sort of thing I find so annoying about the Guardian; the reason I include it amongst my chosen sources of everyday news but rarely read the 'opinion' pieces and couldn't imagine paying for the newspaper.
The Guardian had the opportunity to interview the Norwegian band 'A-ha', but rather than send a dedicated music journalist, they gave the story to someone who'd been a 'fan' of the A-ha act/cultural phenomenon (as opposed to the, y'know, music) in the 1980s, who had plainly lost interest in the intervening years and who had no idea that the band had reformed in 1998 and has been active for the past decade; she was expecting a tongue-in-cheek revival of Eighties kitsch but was surprised to encounter serious, philosophical musicians disinterested in pop culture.
The specifics are of limited relevance – I was barely aware of A-ha, too. My annoyance is with the fact that yet again a 'journalist' based an article on, even revelled in, her ignorance of its subject. How can fundamental incompetence be a selling-point?
And don't get me started on spoilt urbanites whinging about the inconvenience of gulls....
[Not that the Guardian's the worst for publishing vacuous commentary – far from it.]
1 August, 2009
When I mentioned the 'JK Wedding Entrance Dance' YouTube video last week, I was a little concerned that it'd be removed, as its soundtrack uses a copyrighted pop song without permission.
However, it seems the artist and record company were surprisingly sensible, successfully monetising the unexpected exposure. Partly via a 'click-to-buy' link added to the page, the song has reached no.4 on the iTunes singles chart and no.3 on Amazon's 'bestselling mp3' chart, over a year after it was first released.
Many have questioned the suitability of a song by a musician guilty of domestic violence (I don't; it's simply a good accompaniment to a charming video, and the wedding party had no responsibility to choose something more 'worthy'), and the subsequent boost to his bank balance, but part of the married couple's response to the meme (over 13 million views at the time of writing) was to launch a website soliciting donations to domestic violence charity.
[Via BoingBoing, where a commenter offers a further link, to a CollegeHumor parody which transfers the dance to a divorce court.]
1 August, 2009
Back in their coffins?
Neil Gaiman thinks vampires are approaching a saturation point in popular culture: too many films, books and general cultural references, so it's time to give them a rest (or rather, people are likely to run out of fresh things to say about them soon, so they'll go out of fashion).
As he says in the blog entry which directed me to the EW interview, "you shouldn't be glutted with vampires: they should be a spice, not a food group."
I wonder whether this is why Silas' nature is never stated in 'The Graveyard Book'.
26 July, 2009
I wasn't having a particularly good day. Then I saw this.
Thanks, BoingBoing. Truly a Wonderful Thing®.
Pity about the mean-spirited comments on the BB post, though.
5 July, 2009
Truth? Whole truth? Are you sure?
I'm just about prepared to accept that Wikipedia is a fair starting point for casual research: a means of identifying potential keywords and topics which one could then investigate via more credible sources of validated information.
It's not itself a remotely reliable source of information. Some 'facts' at Wikipedia may be accurate, but others definitely aren't (maliciously or otherwise – honest best-guesses aren't good enough); until one can discriminate between them with 100% confidence, it's all unusable.
Hence, it's alarming to discover that the Crown Prosecution Service is instructing police officers to use Wikipedia when preparing for court cases. I wonder whether that'll be disclosed to juries, or whether information will simply be submitted as 'police evidence', a status jurors might reasonably expect to be based on forensics or other hard data.
1 July, 2009
A newspaper's 'science' editor* makes a fool of himself in criticising real scientists' criticism of 'science' journalists.
He couldn't have illustrated the laziness and silliness of his profession better if he'd deliberately tried; I can't comment on the alleged venality.
*: the person who happened to have claimed that "optical character recognition [is] the technology behind CDs".
30 June, 2009
Björn Ulvaeus, musician and, as I've just discovered, member of the Swedish Humanist Association, restates the simple principle that "religion and schools don't mix". He's not wrong.
It's hardly controversial to opine that people in favour of religious schools are themselves believers. Religion has a natural place in their homes and their children grow up with it.
And that's fine.
And, incidentally, that's my position too: I definitely don't oppose the right to practice religion in private
, 'merely' state-endorsement of religious expression in public.
But does this not make it all the more important for schools to be free of religious influence?
In a recent debate with principals from two religious schools I was accused of being driven by emotions masquerading as reason. But if we hypothesise for a moment that they are right, then surely the same is true of them. And if that's the case, who should we listen to? It is precisely to avoid such conflicts that schools should provide a safe haven from all ideologies, with the obvious codicil that children should learn as much about as many of them as possible from an objective point of view.
9 June, 2009
Free at the point of use
As always, the US National Marrow Donor Program is seeking potential donors of bone marrow. One statistic surprised me, but another was incomprehensible.
Firstly, it's reported that 70% of patients with leukemia, lymphoma or other diseases do not have an eligible donor within their own families so depend on the registry of unrelated donors.
Secondly, in the USA donors have to pay to donate.
This literally challenges my ability to comprehend how their healthcare industry functions. How could a $52 fee be anything other than an obstruction to saving lives? How could a nation operating such a system claim to be civilised?
For key social groups such as low-income immigrants, who may be of particular value to the system (donor compatibility is often related to race), that fee might be prohibitive. Even for wealthier potential donors, it may be too-easily used as an excuse (including to oneself); a commenter on BoingBoing's report of a special 'free offer' mentions not being able to afford to be a donor whilst a student.
Please consider joining the British Bone Marrow Registry. It's free.
27 May, 2009
Icicles of brick
The pictures speak for themselves.
Okay, a little explanation might help. Rather than the aftermath of an ice cream fight in The Cavern, Liverpool, the photos show the bunker in which the Russian army tested a variety of napalm. The resulting high temperatures caused the brick walls & ceiling to melt then resolidify as an inverted forest of stalactites.
8 May, 2009
A Guardian article about the proposed Severn Barrage includes the (partial) sentence:
The National Trust, RSPB, WWF and the Anglers' Trust, which together represent at least eight million people,...
Really? I'm not a member of any of those organisations, but would, hypothetically, consider joining the first two in order to gain free/cheaper access to their properties and could imagine donating to the third*, but my giving them money certainly wouldn't mean they'd represent me. I really don't think it's reasonable for a journalist or pressure group to automatically equate 'membership' numbers with the size of a constituency – some members might support the organisations' campaigns, but many more might be, like me, simply buying products/services.
Evaluation of competing designs for tidal power schemes in the Severn estuary is important and contentious, so such logical flaws are unhelpful distractions.
*: Only after all medical charities had been wound-up, their work complete. Humans first.
[Title by H. Apparently, linguists will find it witty, but I'm afraid it eludes me.]
7 May, 2009
The Guardian reports Rupert Murdoch's plan to charging for online access to his newspapers' websites. As if 'The Sun', 'News Of The World', 'The Times'* or 'The Sunday Times' were worth reading at all. I didn't think I'd ever agree with Murdoch on anything, but anything which discourages readership of sensationalist lies is to be applauded.
To restate one of my core principles: I will not pay to access content online, under any circumstances – I'll simply visit a free source of the same or comparible content elsewhere. It seems I'm not alone, as 88.4% of respondents to a Guardian poll say they wouldn't pay to read newspapers online, either.
I'm slightly surprised to hear of Murdoch's plan, as this has been tried before, unsuccessfully. For example, 'The New York Times' operated a paid-subscription model for two years, but dismantled it in 2007 citing diminished opportunities for displaying adverts to casual visitors. Is Murdoch suggesting that online advertising has declined to the point of relative insignificance, and that it's potentially less lucrative than selling content directly to a considerably smaller audience?
* That's 'The Times', of course, not 'The London Times' or 'The Times Of London' – worldwide, there's only one daily periodical simply called 'The Times', and it's not based in New York. Though a rather better newspaper is.
1 May, 2009
Anyone have a spare $1,000? 'Cos I want longer legs.
I know; BoingBoing's mistaken and these leg extenders plainly have the cloven hooves of a satyr, but still: WANT!
25 March, 2009
Another example of a driver blindly following sat-nav directions rather than his own common sense has had a satisfactory outcome.
After following a narrow, steep track, plainly not a road despite the spurious assurances of his sat-nav unit, to the very brink of a cliff in Todmorden, W.Yorkshire, a driver has been charged with 'driving without due care and attention'.
23 March, 2009
With a Fabergé egg on top
Dodgy line spacing on the V&A website has conflated two exhibitions, on 'Magnificence of the Tsars' and 'Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones' into something slightly absurd and somehow more tempting than either: 'Magnificence of the Tsars Hats'.
10 March, 2009
What is science?
Whilst avoiding anti-religious rhetoric, Greta Christina* addresses '10 Myths and Truths About Atheists'.
I recommend reading it, whatever your personal beliefs, but I'll highlight the paragraph which had greatest resonance with me:
Science isn't primarily a set of theories and facts: science is primarily a method, one that sorts good information from bad, useful theories from mistaken or useless ones. Science is a method for perceiving the world that relies, not on authority and intuition, but on rigorous examination of evidence and a willingness to question any theory.
*: How's that for an example of reverse nominative determinism? An atheist writer called 'Greta Christina'?
2 March, 2009
That's one thing to do with an unwanted pair of Dr Martens, I suppose.
24 February, 2009
Memory of a... you know; orange thing with fins
In an article alleging that online networking sites such as Facebook damage users' attention span, the Guardian's journalist & subeditors use the phrase 'attention deficient' in the subtitle, then 'attention span in jeopardy' in the photo caption.
The first paragraph of the main text is:
Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity, according to a leading neuroscientist*.
Paragraph four helpfully repeats that, nearly verbatim, in case you, er, weren't paying attention:
She told the House of Lords that children's experiences on social networking sites "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity".
Paragraph five begins:
Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy,....
And ends by mentioning 'attention-deficit disorder'
, repeated in paragraph six, in case you, er, weren't... weren't....
What was I saying?
*: The "leading neuroscientist" is Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, about whom Ben Goldacre at Bad Science says:
It is my view that Professor Greenfield has been abusing her position as a professor, and head of the Royal Institution, for many years now, using these roles to give weight to her speculations and prejudices in a way that is entirely inappropriate.
We are all free to have fanciful ideas. Professor Greenfield’s stated aim, however, is to improve the public’s understanding of science: and yet repeatedly she appears in the media making wild headline-grabbing claims, without evidence, all the while telling us repeatedly that she is a scientist. By doing this, the head of the RI grossly misrepresents what it is that scientists do, and indeed the whole notion of what it means to have empirical evidence for a claim. It makes me quite sad, when the public’s understanding of science is in such a terrible state, that this is one of our most prominent and well funded champions.
20 February, 2009
On Monday, Peter Horrocks, the head of the BBC's multimedia newsroom, sent an internal e-mail to TV newsreaders asking them to read out telephone numbers and internet addresses featured in broadcasts, rather than simply say "you can see the number/address on screen now", for the simple reason that the blind and partially-sighted can't access the information visually.
This seems entirely reasonable and utterly uncontroversial to me, but the e-mail, leaked to newspapers, has triggered a deeply disappointing micro-scandal, in which a simple technique to accommodate a significant minority of the population – without even inconveniencing the sighted majority – has been condemned as 'political correctness gone mad'. I wouldn't have expected that even from sensationalist journalists*, but the comment threads on the newspapers' websites, and accompanying Horrocks' response, overwhelmingly agree.
This isn't 'political correctness', which is usually defined as a petty-minded attempt to avoid giving offence where none exists. It's a straightforward means of providing information. Simple as that. What's the problem?
Bizarrely, some have dismissed the practical aspect as irrelevant, attacking the 'real reason' for the policy: that, allegedly, it's not about genuinely helping people, but merely a fear of litigation. I'm not sure how the commenters have access to Horrocks' 'true' thought process, nor why his inner motivation is relevant, but even if he was merely doing his job in protecting the BBC, that would have been entirely appropriate. Accessibility legislation does exist (DDA 1995 & SENDA 2001 in particular), and if a public-sector broadcaster willfully excluded a section of its customers it would, rightfully, be liable for prosecution.
The particularly disturbing aspect of the press/public response is that people want to deliberately avoid helping people, to avoid being seen to be helping people. I don't think that's hyperbole: commenters genuinely seem to want the vision-impaired to muddle-along rather than oblige sighted TV viewers to hear a URL being read aloud: a 3-4 second imposition into their busy, busy lives. Oh, the hardship.
*: Amusingly, one critic was Emma Hartley, the Daily Torygraph's style guide editor and author of 'Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?'. An experienced expert on disability and social policy, then. ****ing hack.
13 February, 2009
It had to happen
Given that corset-wearers (under the age of 70, anyway) and sci-fi fans tend to be overlapping subgroups, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would produce a corset based on a Star Trek uniform.
[If the Etsy link has expired by the time you follow it (I don't think it's permanent), try the BoingBoing article instead.]
8 February, 2009
An article entitled 'Women's Liberation Through Submission: An Evangelical Anti-Feminism Is Born' begins:
Six thousand evangelical women gather to support biblical womanhood, and hear from theological leaders about the great influence wielded by 'a woman on her knees'.
I may be reading that in a way entirely different to the author's intended meaning....
[Via the Bad Science sideblog.]
8 February, 2009
He's got a bike
A car insurance firm alleges that there has been a 29% increase in road accidents involving cyclists in the past six months, largely due to cyclists being unqualified (a company trying to ingratiate itself with customers by criticising non-customers? Surely not).
Bad Science explains why this is blatently untrue.
6 February, 2009
Knowledge hole filled
David Morgan-Mar explains black holes, and the theory that the universe may be finite.
... and how feature-film soundtracks are carried on 35 mm film.
4 February, 2009
I have extremely limited patience with those who deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change ('global warming', or AGW, though that media-friendly term is too simplistic), but that's primarily for their irresponsible 'carry-on-as-if-nothing_is-happening-la-la-la' attitude. It doesn't mean I'm some sort of believer in AGW, and everything is open to question (just not flat denial): it could be that climate change is natural variability.
Here are a few points to consider, though it's also worth considering that they're the arguments carefully selected by one person with a thesis to sell, some are irresponsibly ludicrous, and though 'lone voice challenging the establishment' is a romantic idea, it's usually wrong.
Before accepting any of Solomon's allegations, I'd need to see peer-reviewed, published data replicated by other researchers, rather than assertions: I'd be vastly more confident about meta-analysis of multiple studies than one or two anomalous, attention-grabbing studies which 'disprove' the rest. If "a study has shown..." that's not good enough for me.
If a majority of studies conclude that AGW exists, that doesn't mean it's a conspiracy, and I am predisposed to 'believe' them – on a balance-of-probability basis, not faith – but models are frequently revised as new factors are identified or their significances realised. Climate change is undeniable, but its causes are open to scrutiny. Let's avoid entrenching positions, on either side.
But in the mean time, it's only prudent to assume human activity is artificially affecting the climate, and act responsibly. We can't wait for 100% proof/disproof, and the 'proof' side currently carries a lot more weight.
30 January, 2009
Not so innumerate.
This* clock is for 'those people that paid attention in [maths] class all the way through college' – not me, then. It replaces each numeral with an equivalent notation, presumably impenetrable to the non- numerically-trained.
So why can I readily interpret five? Okay, two are web-related ('3' as a Unicode entity, '11' in hexadecimal), but still: I'm surprised.
*: The link doesn't look permanent, so if you're reading this a long time after it was posted, you might like to try BoingBoing's coverage instead.
26 January, 2009
BBC home editor (what; interior designer?) Mark Easton finds it "alarming", "deeply disturbing" and "one of the most troubling findings about my homeland that I have ever read", but I positively welcome the ESS finding that levels of 'trust and belonging' among British under-50s are the lowest in Europe.
The researchers suggest that the scores* may be "the result of the development of a highly individualistic culture in the UK". Excellent, though Easton chooses to paraphrase that as "we are in danger of becoming the most selfish nation in Europe". How he can equate 'lack of trust' with 'selfishness' rather mystifies me (ah, yes; he's paid to sensationalise), but as an individual, can interpret it as he wishes whereas I, as an individual, can reject his opinions. That's kind of the point.
*: Visit the 'National Accounts of Well-Being' source website and look at the figures, rather than relying on the very misleading graphic accompanying the BBC article. In the image, the colour coding implies that the UK's score for the 'under 25' age group is in the region of <1 (out of ten) whereas the highest, Norway, scores around 10. Yet those scores are actually 4.23 and 5.78, respectively (where '5' is calibrated to be the European average), and for 'all ages', the UK scores 4.73, comparible to 4.76 and 4.81 for Poland and France. Hardly an extreme difference.
23 January, 2009
In his Guardian column examining companies' 'environmentalist' marketing claims, Fred Pearce questions whether rail transport really is more sustainable than air travel.
Ultimately, he says it is, but in a way which needlessly over-emphasises the contrary arguments and utilises bizarre fallacies (okay; maybe non-sequiturs rather than outright fallacies). The overall effect is of a sensationalist attempt to generate false controversy.
- He explicitly compares the 'per passenger' efficiency of half-full trains against full planes, a strange assumption which doesn't reflect my own experience.
I don't know which section of the West Coast main line Pearce frequents, but across North West England I've had to stand more often than I've had plenty of room: a (perceived) average occupancy of nearer 110% than 50%. In contrast, I think I've only seen the 'commuter' Manchester-Brussels flight completely full once, and my mother & sister's favoured means of travelling from Manchester to Plymouth (a three-stage flight via Bristol & Newquay) is apparently under-used.
- He criticises Eurostar for being powered by electricity from French nuclear power stations. I'd regard that as the ideal power source and not remotely reason for corporate embarrassment.
- It's a bit disingenuous to simply compare carbon emissions on a like-for-like 'grammes of carbon dioxide per passenger per km' basis, as the nature and locations of the emissions are so different.
Those criticisms aside, I do agree with Pearce's call to increase electrification of the UK rail network from the current mere ~33%, thereby reducing use of diesel locomotives and >25% of emissions. Of course, that'd only be meaningful with electricity from nuclear sources, supplemented by 'regenerative braking'.
Disclaimer: I am not now, never have been and do not wish to be 'Green', and have no intention of avoiding air transport – when rail is impractical.
17 January, 2009
Unicorn chaser, please
This has to be the most repugnant 'food' I've ever encountered (in writing!).
How did anyone discover this to be (allegedly) edible at all, never mind a local delicacy?
Via BoingBoing, which describes it as 'maggot cheese that tries to eat your eyes'.
30 December, 2008
Name the species
I know the idealised form of a high-fashion model differs radically from the shape of an 'average' woman, but what is this... creature, seen in H's travel reading (and subsequently online, obviously)? It wouldn't be out-of-place in a 'Star Wars' cantina or clone factory. Very strange proportions.
25 December, 2008
Nothing to say, either.
20 December, 2008
Considering registering on the Royal Opera House website? Have a look at the 'Title' dropdown menu before deciding whether you're really a member of the target audience.
[Via Bad Science's sideblog.]
19 December, 2008
The University's particle physics group have been putting the finishing touches to a £500k, 6 ton particle detector which begins its journey this week to UK and European labs, before being shipped out to Japan in 2009.
How could anyone avoid
detecting a 6 tonne particle?
17 December, 2008
Band promotion simplified
Struggling to get your music out to an unsuspecting but possibly adoring audience?
1. Find a random Wikipedia article.
That's the name of your band.
2. Similarly obtain a Random Quotation.
The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.
3. Go to Flickr's 'explore the last seven days'
The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
Put it all together: that's your debut album.
Surprisingly, it works very well, making one wonder whether this is a common strategy, particularly amongst post-rock bands.
For example, the best album you've never heard of is 'Watching TV By Candlelight?', by Settlement Hierarchy. Excellent cover image, too. Pre-order the CD now!
[Via the Porcupine Tree Forum]
16 December, 2008
Thanks for preventing cold toes
Y'see, the more I rant about individual rights here, the less I drive H. out onto the street.
Er. That didn't come out quite right.
2 December, 2008
I learn something new every moment
Intuitively, the wind blowing against mountain ranges must have some impact on the Earth's rate of rotation, but I thought it'd be barely measurable, never mind significant.
Seems not: according to the BBC (I know, I know; according to real researchers who a BBC journalist claims to have quoted accurately, if you prefer), the wind is responsible for thousands of nanoseconds per day of variation in the Earth's rotation rate. Not much, but enough to prevent rotation being useful in calibrating measurement of time; GPS needs consistent accuracy of within 16 ns.
1 December, 2008
I really wish Sheffield researchers hadn't attempted to make a summary of their work more readable by substituting the sociological term 'anomie' with the more colloquial 'loneliness'. They're not synonymous.
Anomie is a sense of 'not belonging': isolation from a nominal social cohesiveness. I certainly feel anomie – I recoil from the very idea of 'belonging' to anything – and wholeheartedly welcome the social fragmentation alleged by the Sheffield report. I don't give a damn about my immediate neighbours. My friends and family, physically located across the entire planet, are of immense importance to me, but I feel absolutely no affinity with the total strangers who happen to reside in the same street as me. They're irrelevant.
Loneliness is a more loaded term, strongly implying discontent with unwelcome isolation. I don't experience loneliness.
Needless to say, the BBC pounced on the sensational interpretation, saying that the UK 'has become lonelier', as if it's a less happy place than it was; they even speak of 'the health of a community', producing maps and tables purporting to rank regions 'by their sense of loneliness or social fragmentation'. To repeat: loneliness and social fragmentation are entirely different concepts.
This is assuming the academics' alleged indicators are valid: they weren't assessing something as nebulous as 'cohesion' directly, but measurable surrogate factors such as the number of non-married households, one-person households, houses rented from private landlords and people who moved into their current homes within the last year. Do these really indicate decreased community cohesion? Home ownership is a peculiarly British obsession – does it follow that nations such as Germany, where rental is more common, have less 'healthy' communities? What's the relevance of marital status? Or, to follow the BBC's loaded argument, are non-married people lonely & bitter?
An associated article asks whether Britain's communities are 'dying'. I don't know; I don't find the data compelling. But I ****ing hope so.
29 November, 2008
It's fairly obvious, really: novelists are often able to report the thoughts of their characters, but it's extremely rare for a novelist to accurately depict those thought processes in a realistic way.
That's the central thesis of a fascinating lecture recently given by Will Self as part of BBC Radio 3's 'Free Thinking' festival: 'Naturalism and Sanity: Is the Mind Really as it's Portrayed?'.
It's fascinating not because Self is 'right' but because of its subtext: don't seek the comfort of social homogeneity; think for yourself.
26 November, 2008
A Conservative party spokesperson apparently considers that "most people" will see guidance that nurses should avoid casual use of endearments when addressing elderly in-patients as "the world having gone mad". Well, I'm certainly not 'most people', and fully support the amendment. Calling an incapacitated near-stranger "dearie" is belittling, and I would find it objectionable.
Of course, as a nurse established a more personal relationship with a patient, phrasing may evolve, but that can't be forced, and starting with over-familiarity causes avoidable problems. If the patient objects, it sets up an tension in the relationship, whereas if the patient doesn't object it reinforces an inappropriate power imbalance.
I have great respect for nurses, but fundamentally they're there to assist and administer, not to control; they're not authority figures and their relationship with elderly patients (or patients of any adult age) shouldn't automatically be that of a parent-surrogate and child.
25 November, 2008
Surprisingly, we agree
It's not often that christian bishops speak for me, but I wholeheartedly support the Bishop of Reading's call for people to resist the commercialism of the coming month and only send cards to those one genuinely wishes well.
Prune your christmas card list. Don’t write 'must see you this year' on your cards unless you actually mean it. And if you don’t mean it, why are you sending this card at all?
Pity about the Guardian's reporting (inspired accompanying photo
, though), which headlines the article with a seemingly fabricated and loaded quote, to which commenters have responded predictably. Very lazy.
19 November, 2008
I doubt any city would welcome the appropriation of its emblem by a commercial company, but when that emblem is as iconic as the Liver bird, and the city happens to be Liverpool (the people of Liverpool are... different), I really don't see it ending well.
It seems the football club is actually trying to register its specific rendition of the emblem (as a trademark – let's not confuse this with a copyright issue), rather than every graphical represention of the bird, but I'm not sure whether that'd be workable. Maybe if it's only in conjunction with the club's name or initials.
14 November, 2008
What a brilliant idea: a mobile treadmill. All the benefits of a gym running machine, but outdoors, with the stimulus of changing scenery.
Why has no-one thought of this before?
14 November, 2008
Up a bit
The highest point in the Maldives is only 240 cm asl, meaning the nation can expect total inundation by sea level rise.
So it's going to move.
12 November, 2008
With the pickiness of a connoisseur, Simon Pegg explains why zombies don't run.
He doesn't mention the lack of oxygenated blood, though.
9 November, 2008
Until it was mentioned by CNN (via BoingBoing), I had no that a US National Toy Hall of Fame* existed, but I love the fact that the collection includes a Cardboard Box and now a Stick.
*: that's a museum of toys, not a tiny building one can play with.
3 November, 2008
I had mixed feelings about the reported ban on the use of Latin phrases by local Councils.
When used to obfuscate or to inflate an impression of authority, perhaps artificial usage of 'impressive' terms should be avoided, but the examples in the BBC article are already as thoroughly embedded in standard English usage as loan words from Norse or Norman French – they seem entirely reasonable. There is an extent to which a listener has to take responsibility for comprehension, and language can't be dumbed-down to the level of the pathologically ignorant. If, as the Plain English Campaign claim (in praising the ban), certain people genuinely confuse the Latin abbreviation 'e.g.' with the word 'egg', they have greater problems than communicating with Council staff with 'crystal-clarity'.
2 November, 2008
Remember the Chinese restaurateur who inputted the name of his business into an online translator and innocently used the result ('Translate server error') on his sign? It seems Abertawe Council learned from that mistake, and asked a Welsh speaker to translate a sign 'manually'.
Hence, they sent the English text ('No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only') by e-mail, and printed the response ('Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i'w gyfieithu') on a road sign.
Unfortunately, that translates as 'I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated'....
A commenter on Boing Boing's republication of the story makes an excellent point, though: if the recipient is employed to translate text for those unable to read/write Welsh, why is his/her out-of-office reply in Welsh-only?
27 October, 2008
Just realised: I'm married
Though at least we don't use the default iconset.
23 October, 2008
Why I'm elitist
Well, one reason, anyway.
ranted written about the spurious 'democratisation of intellect' before: the idea that the barely-informed opinion of a lay newspaper reader is precisely as valid as the proven outcome of rigorous research by trained experts. Wellington Grey eloquently puts it into the context of political elections.
22 October, 2008
Now there's something you don't see every day
Two fire crews used a chocolate-covered camera and a vacuum cleaner to try and locate missing Fudgie at six-year-old Zoe Appleby's home in Dunbar.
Eye-watering. Unfortunate name for a hamster, really....
[From the BBC.]
10 October, 2008
Stunning idea: a dream captcha.
I used to wear an anorankh partly in mockery of over-serious goths, and I happen to be wearing a "Skulls! Skulls! Skulls!" t-shirt today, bought for much the same reason. I even own a 'Save The Trees' T-shirt to seriously **** with those who know my opinions on environmentalism. Hence, I'd certainly consider buying something to tease pseudo-hippies too.
Incidentally, I can confirm that the quality of Topatoco T-shirts is excellent, unlike the (attractively designed and marketed, but appallingly printed) disappointments from Red Bubble.
8 October, 2008
Feeling under the weather
I'm not entirely sure how I ended up on the home page of the Chicago Sun-Times, but having done so, I discovered that the weather there today is 'grumpy'. Was that determined by meteorologists or psychologists?
The weather is reported to have had 'a shower early this morning' (damned paparazzi...) and will buck-up to become 'Mostly sunny and nice' tomorrow. 'Nice'? Highly objective, eh?
It's easy to mock folksy reporting of everyday minutiae, but remember: this is an opinion-forming source of information for millions of people: if it dumbs the weather down to 'grumpy', how is it interpreting (as opposed to simply conveying) more complex issues?
8 October, 2008
... is a word describing the sound of wind-rustled leaves.
Nice definition, but I still prefer 'sussuration'.
16 September, 2008
I was slightly startled to belatedly discover Roland Barthes'* writings on cultural mythologising extensively cited in a Guardian criticism of car-fetishists' TV show 'Top Gear'.
Even the least critical admirers of 'Top Gear' tend to dismiss it as escapist TV, "just a bit of fun", but as Moran (and, indirectly, Barthes) say, its creation of a fantasy world where "speeding motorists [are able to] innocently enjoy the aesthetics of speed away from the prying eyes of government busybodies" is dangerously insidious. It's hard to deny that the actions of comedic TV presenters in controlled circumstances inform opinions about behaviour on public roads, with anyone who cares about road safety dismissed as 'joyless'.
I won't rebut the usual arguments against speed cameras (that drivers should be able to decide sensible speeds for themselves, and that speed cameras aren't the panacea for all road safety issues) yet again but as always: think about your sources of information; recognise propaganda as propaganda.
*: Who, incidentally, was killed in a road accident.
13 September, 2008
Just having a laugh
A couple of weeks ago, the BBC reported the distribution of 'Britain's happiest places'; rural Wales is merriest, apparently, and Edinburgh's to be avoided. Except it's utter rubbish.
Of course. These pseudo-scientific non-stories are nothing new, and generally best ignored, but this one actually debunks itself:
the team from the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester stress that happiness is more a product of personal circumstances than physical location. The variations they uncovered between different places in Britain were not statistically significant.
Not statistically significant. Therefore, the distribution reported was a result of pure chance: random variation.
Yet the BBC still ran the story, on the website and TV. Partly in response to Bad Science's coverage, a number of people wrote to challenge the editorial decision, and were told that it doesn't matter; it was only a light-hearted piece.
That's fine: news reporting certainly doesn't always need to be deadly serious, but it does need to be true. There may well be a place for a little light-relief, but a world-renowned news broadcaster really shouldn't be blurring the boundary between fact and downright fiction.
[Update 24/10/08: A complaint to the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints has been upheld. The web-published article is to be amended, so if you read it now, it may seem rather innocuous; if you're interested, the original version is archived
12 September, 2008
Reversal of fortune
I'm not sure what caused me to read as far as the sixth paragraph of a Guardian article about the US presidential election, as I don't remotely share the paper's political leanings and I find the domestic politics of some distant nation deeply boring.
However, I did, and this was the paragraph:
David Cameron knew that he would never be Prime Minister until he had killed the urgent hatred of the Conservative party in liberal England. A measure of his success is that hardly anyone now is caught up by the once ubiquitous feeling that no compromise is too great if it stops the Tories regaining power. Hate can sell better than hope.
Uncomfortable but true. I'm still rather unlikely to vote Tory, but no longer find it inconceivable, whereas there's absolutely no way I'd consider voting for the party of ID cards and the illegal Iraq war. Distaste for the Labour Party (and the Greens, needless to say) determines who wouldn't
get my vote, but I'm less sure who would.
[Don't worry. I tend to avoid party-politics here, and don't plan to change that personal policy. In this instance I'm more interested in the psychology.]
1 September, 2008
Less... er, fewer problems
A leading supermarket chain is to reword signs directing customers to checkouts accepting '10 items or less', as many people i.e. those with a basic command of English, feel it should be '10 items or fewer'. The amendment sensibly dodges the issue altogether, instead stating 'Up to 10 items'.
I wonder whether rivals will do likewise.
28 August, 2008
Warszawa's wild side?
Bizarrely, the Guardian recommends that visitors to the Polish capital cross the river to the truly old (as opposed to reconstructed in the 1950s) district of Praga, passing the 'stack-a-prole' high-rise developments to experience "the real Warsaw". After dark.
Look; I wish the local tourist board well, and hope they're able to rehabilitate the area one day, but as recently as 2005 I found even the wide main streets genuinely scary at night, and H., a Warszawa resident, wouldn't even dream of visiting alone.
From a cosy office in Central London, it probably seems dreadfully exciting to direct the mildly adventurous to trendy, 'undiscovered' parts of Eastern Europe, and no doubt it sells newspapers, but it seems a little irresponsible to instill a false sense of security; Praga mightn't be as bad as its reputation, but nor is it 'theme park bohemian' – a bit edgy but ultimately safe. Some areas are little-known for a genuine reason.
(Click the image for an enlargement.)
22 August, 2008
Well, yes; obviously. As any first-year Geology undergrad knows, ice cream is an igneous rock.
Except when it's metamorphic.
16 August, 2008
Don't live in glass houses
An advert in the local free paper claims that a firm specialises in installing 'the next generation of conservatories: orangeries'.
I've visited orangeries, in Warszawa and Paris. They're huge pavilions in the grounds of royal palaces. They're not merely extensions to the semi-detached homes of middle-class little-Englanders. How pathetic.
15 August, 2008
Better on paper
The BBC website's 'month without plastic' project offers useful information about the plastics content of typical drinks containers, and possible recycling opportunities. It's surprisingly optimistic.
For example, the lacquer protecting the inside of a soft-drink can from the corrosive sugar solution is no barrier to recycling the aluminium itself, and the furnace used to burn off the plastic is partially powered by the resulting gases.
Much the same happens with plastic- or aluminium-coated paper/cardboard packaging: the coatings partially fuel the processors. Unfortunately, the nearest such large-scale industrial plant is in Sweden, though a British equivalent is planned.
Few councils accept these coated cartons via doorstep collections, but many – 85%, apparently – do accept them via 'neighbourhood' recycling points. Tetrapak offers a map of such locations; there are five in the Lancaster area.
15 August, 2008
Scottish quick facts
All of which I applaud:
Fifty-two percent of all marriages in Scotland in 2007 were civil ceremonies, rather than religious weddings. The absolute number was 29,866, compared to ~40,000 pa in the 1970s.
Almost half of the 57,781 births in Scotland in 2007 were to unmarried parents.
The Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King's Guard resides at Edinburgh Zoo, and is in fact a penguin.
13 August, 2008
I'm a little uncomfortable around obsessives, most prosaically those who indulge an urge to list, rank and hence stultify their enthusiasms: the comforting categorisation becomes the activity, rather than enjoyment of the subject itself.
I've been known to partially participate, including here, but if I do, it tends to be in the form of, say, 'an arbitrary number of musicians whose work I appreciate, in no particular order', not a ranked 'top ten favourite artists'. I simply don't see value in that: it'd only be of applicable to me, at the moment of compilation, and the ludicrous idea that I like Bass Communion 'twice as much as' Porcupine Tree or 'four bands ahead of' Pink Floyd is not something that interests me.
5 August, 2008
It's just a caffeinated beverage, FFS
According to the BBC, an over-ambitious attempt by the Starbucks coffee empire to colonise Australia has failed: 61 of 85 shops are to close.
Starbucks mystifies me. Its publicity, and even third-party coverage such as the BBC article, speaks of the Starbucks 'experience':
[In the USA] it represents this "third place", which is not home and not work, but somewhere to hang out, according to Mr Edwardson.
"The coffee experience is two things," says John Roberts from the University of New South Wales. "Firstly, it's the product and the taste and secondly the place and the service."
I just don't get it. Coffee is a drink (which I don't especially like, and to which I'm very mildly allergic), to be consumed between or during other activities; a means to an end, but not itself an objective. I can understand that some people regard spending time in a coffee shop as analogous to frequenting a pub, but that's not really about the product, and the sheer preciousness
of places like Starbucks infuriates me.
**** the blend and presentation; it's a drink
: a mundane delivery mechanism for caffeine and water. It's not even a special
drink: mass-production and global homogenisation are considered virtues, so that a Starbucks coffee in Singapore is comparible to one in Seattle – or Slough. Anyone who seriously cares about subtleties of crema in such circumstances really needs some perspective. It's fast food, not fine wine.
I've visited Starbucks precisely twice, in Barcelona and Paris. On neither occasion was it my choice, and on neither occasion did I play the pathetic customisation game. Coffee. Black. One sugar. That's as complex as I need.
Besides, life's too short for mere 'hanging out'. Anyone who has time to kill needs more caffeine.
2 August, 2008
Today's 'Bad Science' is particularly worth reading.
No, don't give up after a paragraph or so, thinking you see where it's going. Yes, Ben G. predictably demolishes a predictably bogus 'silly season' story from the mass media which purports to present a scientific equation for 'fame'. Keep reading to the end, though.
That's the most important point about these pseudo-science articles. Anyone who devotes a moment's thought to such topics as 'statistical determination of the happiest day of the year' understands they're just a bit of fun; no-one's seriously mislead, right?
Maybe, but such rubbish over-cultivates people's healthy scepticism, and a potential belief that genuine science is like that too: self-important boffins in white coats inventing spurious equations from arbitrary assumptions; mere conjecture imperfectly dressed-up in jargon. If that promotes the idea that evolution or global warming is a matter of opinion, and that anyone's opinion is a valuable as anyone else's, then yes, pseudo-science is actively harmful, and must be challenged.
31 July, 2008
Refuse (in multiple senses)
Trying to reuse plastic carrier bags can be annoying, as they're too easily torn¹. Amanda L at Etsy explains a simple technique for turning the flimsy bags into more robust sheets of plastic which might be used to make items from shower curtains to cushion covers (or, indeed, better shopping bags): fuse multiple bags with an iron.
Envirohippies might like to remember that heating an iron and releasing toxic fumes probably wouldn't suit their morals as much as reusing the unmodified carrier bags until they fall apart then simply throwing them away, but I see greater potential in making an attractive material than in 'doing the right thing': adding value rather than making something righteous. Commenters at Etsy suggest interweaving strips of different-coloured bags before fusing, or incorporating leaves, feathers, etc. between the layers.
1: That said, the ones I use occasionally² display the logos of Sainsbury's christmas season 2005.
2: I do my usual weekly shopping by bike and rucksack, but every 4-6 weeks A&A are kind enough to give me a lift so I can obtain bulkier er, bulk packs of, say, 18 toilet rolls or 48-72 cans of Coke in 2-3 boxes. I do that week's ordinary groceries shopping at the same time, obviously, so take carrier bags.
28 July, 2008
As a regular reader of Bad Science, I'm obviously reluctant to republish nutritional advice from a national newspaper, but this piece from the Independent, questioning the myth that humans need to drink eight glasses of water each day, seems okay.
To summarise: the recommended quantity is arbitrary, dating from 1945 (hardly the result of cutting-edge research, then), and is frequently misinterpreted. Fluid consumed within food does count towards one's nominal liquid 'ration', as do such drinks as tea and coffee. It is not necessary to drink a certain amount of water as water.
So all you people who are never more than a metre from a silly little bottle of water are merely victims of packagers' marketing. Don't.
16 July, 2008
I suppose it's usual to type text into an online translator and have no idea whether the result is accurate – obviously it's in a foreign language, and if you understood it, you wouldn't need a translator, right?
Yet if the output was to be used for something as important as your restaurant's sign, wouldn't you double check it? After all, it could be a mistranslation, or even a flaw in the software. You wouldn't want to end up with a restaurant called, say, 'Translate server error'.
3 July, 2008
The diamond age approaches
It seems to be compulsory to mention Neal Stephenson's novel, so I'll get it out of the way immediately, and merely note that the technologies he mentioned might be that little bit closer, according to this Smithsonian article about the production of cultured diamonds.
In addition to a detailed overview, the article discusses both the impact on jewel cartels of cultured diamonds indistinguishable from mined stones and, perhaps more significantly, the industrial applications of large diamonds grown in specific shapes, even sheets.
19 June, 2008
Life: for better results, wear a helmet
Adis makes an interesting argument in today's 'Count Your Sheep'.
A punchline of the webcomic strip is "What's the point of living if they only make you think about the alternative?"
I don't agree – to consider the possibility of death isn't morbid, it's invigorating, making one value now. And take reasonable care.
18 June, 2008
Scale of the problem
Contrary to marketing claims, 'ethical' fairtrade and organic goods are still failing to make any genuine impact on the UK's mainstream retail market, partly because retailers aren't reinvesting excessive prices in developing products people actually want.
A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, reported by the Guardian (ordinarily a bastion of slacktivist propaganda, I'd have thought) found that:
- Almost half of 4,000 consumers questioned said they were unwilling or unable to pay more for environmentally sustainable food and consumer goods.
- On average,
suckers shoppers paid 45% more for 'environmentally friendly' and fair trade goods.
- Shoppers said they are only willing to pay a premium of about 20% for greener products.
- Organic and fair trade products only have a 4% share of the total UK retail market.
I hope it's clear that I oppose two specific schemes (organic agriculture and Fairtrade) and self-satisfied Green rhetoric: more meaningful, more rational measures such as reduction of packaging do have my support.
17 June, 2008
Men – 'real men' – buy ultra-razors with uncountable tiers of blades interspersed by curious lubricating and/or moisturising strips, which are marketed as military technology and remove every hair on one's face at the merest hint of follicle cell division. So what's the female equivalent in pointlessly-overblown toiletry-related gimmickry?
Battery-operated, vibrating mascara (sorry; "TurboLash All Effects Motion Mascara™").
I can't deny wondering about the shape of the casing, which might permit, y'know, other uses.
11 June, 2008
Yes, with two 'a's, and real pandas.
9 June, 2008
Of the people
It seems that in the Swiss system of government, the President of the Confederation is only elected for one year, after which the Vice-President is promoted, and so on. Hence, a fresh photo of the Federal Council needs to be taken each year.
As Worldman observes, the results tend to be austere, but this year's is a little different.
The image depicts about fifty people (I haven't counted), nominally representing the diversity of the population. Only eight people are looking directly at the camera: the Council members.
I can't decide whether this is contrived to the point of cynicism, but nor can I deny that I like the gesture.
30 May, 2008
Here come the big boys
A council somewhere in southern England has had the odd idea of displacing loitering teenagers from a park by making the layout less attractive – making steps shallower to discourage their use as seats and removing handrails to discourage leaning – thereby probably exposing the council to health & safety complaints, never mind blatent discrimination.
The part which amused me wasn't the issue itself, but the comments thread on the local newspaper's article. Residents, councillors and teenagers had been gently bickering in an entirely predictable manner for a fortnight until the story reached the attention of BoingBoing's global audience today, at which point the quality of articulate argument suddenly went stratospheric, transferring to an entirely different league of discourse (and spelling). Hilarious.
Just before publishing this, I refreshed the paper's 'comments' page to read the latest wonderfully cutting contributions, and discovered that the most recent 11 comments have been deleted. Despite the page featuring the usual array of 'Share This' social networking links, it seems non-locals aren't allowed to play.
15 May, 2008
Oh dear. I suppose he was provoked, but I don't really see how this academic at a certain university could claim ignorance of one of the more extreme consequences of Data Protection rules.
It was repeatedly made extremely clear to me, both in my web publishing and College tutor roles, that staff cannot confirm whether an individual is a member of the University, even to that person's parents, without express permission.
I frequently receive requests for individuals' e-mail addresses, and can only volunteer to "forward the enquiry to someone who may be able to help" – I certainly can't reveal an address, but nor can I say I'll pass the message on to the named person, as that'd reveal whether there is such a person.
Still; it must be an extremely slow news day if the Guardian feels able to promote their rehash of the THES story via their home page's news 'ticker'. I suppose the sensationalist effect they intended was 'regulations gone mad', but I fully agree with the rules.
The student is an adult, and as such the institution's responsibility is to him, not to his mother.
This instance may have been relatively trivial, but the principle is a valid one: what if the student had been at university against his parents' wishes, or was deliberately estranged from his parents and did not wish them to know his whereabouts?
[Update 29/05/08: I suppose I should have been more sceptical: the THES is the Times Higher Education Supplement, so it's to be expected that the 'journalists' exaggerated the true situation. The professor received a standard letter reminding him of "the need for regard to student confidentiality", but no disciplinary action was even considered.]
12 May, 2008
Glad to hear it
This BBC article is fairly interesting, I suppose, but doesn't quite live up to it's headline.
Look, I'm 36, but there are some things one just doesn't grow out of.
6 May, 2008
Thanks to Ben Goldacre, I'm more than a little sceptical about the reporting of hard-science research by the mass-media, to the point where I read a headline and automatically dismiss the parascience* story as, well, a story, misunderstood or tweaked by a non-specialist journalist for sensationalist effect. I'd like to think that's an overreaction, and one merely needs to take care, preferably using press articles as a means of discovering interesting research papers then drawing one's own conclusions from them.
This brief article in the Guardian does look like pseudoscience: long-legged women and men with long arms may be less prone to Alzheimer's. That's an attractive suggestion, as I could certainly be described as 'gangly' and fear dementia more than death; H. could consider it reassuring, too. But is it true?
Quite possibly. Ian Sample (who holds a PhD in biomedical materials – I checked) seems to have interpreted the source paper's abstract reasonably (I can't get to the full text, and doubt I'd understand it), and the research does indeed relate limb length to risk of dementia: the former is considered an indicator of early life environment (nutrition at formative ages).
Excellent! <Waves considerable arms in the air.>
*: From Charles Darwin's Blog:
What now appears is – if I may coin a phrase – parascience. It does not deal with the raw work of our noble trade, but its applied results in society and the environment. It leaves the impression that science comes from a Magic Results Machine.
5 May, 2008
Quick addendum to the Phorm traffic tracking/analysis issue: even the spyware pusher's logo seems to be blatant plagiarism.
As a commenter on the Register article notes, they'd also need permission from the font designer to use that typeface. I wonder if they're applying the 'presumed consent' argument to that one too.
Not that it matters: "bad" Phorm will probably change its name to escape its bad reputation (again...) soon. Pity about the damage done to "good" Phorm's name and branding, though.
1 May, 2008
Cognitive heat sink
For a few days, I've been noticing references online to the compelling concept of 'cognitive surplus', so have taken the time to investigate the source: Clay Shirky's presentation to a Web 2.0 conference last week.
To oversummarise Shirky's hypothesis, progressive automation of labour-intensive tasks at the start of the Industrial Revolution and in the 1950s (introduction of technology to the home) generated a 'cognitive surplus': whole populations suddenly had free time in which to do things other than work. The temptation has been to relax; to do nothing.
Shirky isn't the first to suggest that this may have been the underlying reason for a generation of gin addicts in the 18th Century, and why the grander social-improvement projects of the Victorian era only occurred so much later, once people found more productive ways to manage their 'leisure' time.
The 'drug of choice' in the more recent phase of automation seems to have been television: passively consumption of TV programmes rather than actually doing something – anything – oneself. Only now, half a century later, are computer-mediated communications helping a majority of the population to become more mentally proactive. As Shirky says, even sitting in a basement pretending to be an elf (via a computer game) is better than merely letting the fictional activities of Eastenders stimulate nothing deeper than one's retinas. Better still to take photographs, write blogs, make rather than watch videos; whatever one chooses: participation rather than consumption.
To be fair, that may be slightly overstating Shirky's argument, and my own: the problem isn't TV as a whole, since a reasonable proportion of broadcast output is thought-provoking and can be inspiring. It's the sitcoms, in which the information is utterly trivial and requires absolutely no mental engagement from the audience: it's a one-way flow of pap; mere time-filler.
Shirky makes the startling observation that the entire Wikipedia project, "the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought", could be repeated in the time US TV viewers spend watching adverts each weekend.
The thesis is also a powerful argument for collectivist concepts of user participation, wisdom-of-crowds, etc., from which I as an individualist recoil, but the central premise stands: switch off your TV occasionally and do something.
18 April, 2008
Didn't see that coming
Excellent! Having duly teased out the entrails of a ceremonial raven, the BBC has received the message that forthcoming consumer protection legislation is likely to replace the 'Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951)' (itself successor to the 1735 Witchcraft Act) and hence reform the occult: mediums, psychics and spiritualist healers may face prosecution if they cannot justify their claims.
[Update 19/04/08: Here's Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' opinion, which cites a wonderfully illustrative quote from the Independent's coverage:
While few dispute that there are some con men operating big money schemes, supporters say there is a genuine need to liaise with dead friends and relatives.
Prove it. Objectively and verifiably (i.e. in a way reproducible by independent researchers), prove it works.]
18 April, 2008
I noticed quite a lot of renovation work going on in the Paris Metro last month, with a couple of key stations closed outright. The Independent reports that workers are uncovering a citywide 'gallery' of advertising posters going back at least as far as the 1930s.
Unfortunately, it's a bittersweet discovery: there's no intention to save any of the attractive and presumably valuable artwork:
A friendly woman in the Metro Bus technical department said: "Yes, many of these sites are extraordinary. Unfortunately, there are no plans to preserve any of these old posters. The RATP are not poets. They are a public transport company and committed to their renovation programme."
Maybe the UnterGunther
15 April, 2008
In the New York Sun, a parent explains why she allowed her nine-year-old son to travel across Manhattan alone, using the subway and bus to get home. She also responds to those who criticised her for it.
The key part is that though she acknowledges that the horror stories her critics threw at her could have happened and the consequences could have been awful, the chances of anything actually happening were infinitesimally small. One can't live according to improbable worst-case scenarios.
As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitating – for us and for them.
The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can't do anything on his own eventually can't.
And in a follow-up posting
But here's what I've learned from all the folks who don't want to give their kids a longer leash, and send bile-filled notes instead: For some reason we live in a society that sees little difference between letting a child frolic in the front yard and letting a child frolic in front of a firing squad. It's impossible for people to calculate the difference between real and remote risks.
I'd agree entirely, and suggest that the same argument applies to air travel: a terrorist could
destroy a plane with an 'improvised' liquid explosive, but that's insufficient reason to ban all liquids from every commercial flight on the planet. It may suit a company's or government's 'due diligence' policy and need to be seen
to be taking precautions, but it's no way for individuals to live, or to run a society.
14 April, 2008
Not called killer whales for nothing
According to the Independent:
Orcas are among the fiercest animals on Earth, but in contrast with sharks and terrestrial predators such as tigers and lions, there is no record of them ever attacking people.
Doesn't that simply mean they're particularly efficient, leaving no witnesses?
13 April, 2008
I normally resist the urge to post amusing cat pictures (though I love 'em), but this one has the perfect touch of subtle surrealism; I simply have to share it.
10 April, 2008
Never mind the hippie implications; I think this is a nice idea: handmade paper embedded with live plant seeds. Imagine a greetings card one can plant.
Never mind imagine, buy one, or make your own.
9 April, 2008
Now that's effective
I don't think this needs any particular comment, but DIY shops in Northern Ireland have withdrawn mole-repelling devices from sale, since there are no moles in Ireland.
5 April, 2008
Basis of the war on moisture - feasible?
The prosecution case against eight alleged terrorists has finally revealed the nature of the threat which led to a global ban on liquids in air passengers' hand luggage.
Commenters at Bruce Schneier's blog, some of whom are professional chemists, have examined the credibility of assembling liquid explosives from the reported components, and of performing that task in-flight.
The conclusions seem to be that:
- In this instance the methodology was flawed, but it highlights a technique which others could use successfully. I'm sure there are people who'll mock this specific plot, and understandably so, but that's missing the point – the basic concept isn't ludicrous.
- That even the improved methodology would produce an explosive probably of insufficient potency to destroy a plane.
- That a minor but marginally credible risk has been massively overstated; that the handling of the risk is security theatre, more to do with authorities wanting to be seen to be doing something than about actually doing something worthwhile, but the risk itself isn't outright fantasy.
This also explains why I've been stopped by security officers interested in the number of 'AA' batteries I carry when travelling abroad (12 recyclables, for my camera), as it seems that's a way the chemical detonator could be smuggled aboard.
Ultimately, it seems to have been proved that the threat is possible. The core question is whether it's likely – whether it justifies a highly-visible worldwide 'war on moisture', or whether that policy is self-serving. That's still to be proven.
And no, I don't think "better safe than sorry" is adequate justification. By that argument, all passengers should be handcuffed and sedated for the duration of each trip.
2 April, 2008
Outside - overrated?
In a comment at Metafilter, aeschenkarnos reviews a new MMO game which isn't all that new, in fact – it may even have been the first ever, though few long-term computer users are likely to have encountered it.
1 April, 2008
Wash & go
Saving water used by a washing machine and reusing it to flush a toilet could be a good idea. Directly incorporating a washing machine into a toilet is less practical.
I don't know about other people, but whenever I empty my washing machine, I invariably drop at least a sock on the floor directly in front of the door. If that location was occupied by a toilet bowl, I wouldn't be pleased.
A subsidiary water tank and pipes connecting a standard washing machine to a standard toilet mightn't thrill design students quite as much as a gleaming combined appliance, but it might teach them something about usability.
Admittedly, the 'Washup' is only a concept piece (and an ugly one at that), but my point stands, and I reject the designer's assertion that it's good use of limited space in small bathrooms – one could save space by mounting an electric fire over the bath, but that's inadvisable too.
31 March, 2008
Certainly meeting the primary criterion for inclusion at BoingBoing ("A Directory Of Wonderful Things"), this extreme-slow-motion video of a cigarette lighter at the moment of ignition is indeed a Wonderful Thing.
18 March, 2008
More on the Embuggerance
A Guardian interview with Terry Pratchett covers a range of topics, including the essence of why I appreciate his writing:
When I chose this ridiculous world that I called Discworld, it was a reaction to how fantasy fiction had become silly. I wanted to make it real. Let's have none of that 'Belike, he will wax wrath' stuff. Let's not imitate Tolkien. Let's not get medieval on their arses. Let's set the situation and get people to act as people act – cowardly and all the rest.
However, the focus of the article is obviously his reaction to having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. One paragraph jumped out at me:
Last week Pratchett pledged £494,000 to the Alzheimer's Research Trust
. An estimated 700,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer's, but according to the trust, just £11 per patient is spent annually on research into the disease, compared with £289 for cancer patients. Pratchett told the trust's annual conference last week: "It is a shock to find out that funding for Alzheimer's research is just 3% of that to find cancer cures. Personally, I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance. I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the cure comes along. Say it's soon – there are nearly as many of us as there are cancer sufferers, and it looks as if the number of people with dementia will double within a generation."
I fear Alzheimer's more than death, quite literally. I've just set up a monthly Direct Debit to the Research Trust.
8 March, 2008
No judgement implied
I'm sure there are atheists who'll gleefully jump on this theory as vindication, and theists who'll attack it as blasphemy, but I was fascinated to read the idea that certain 'supernatural' elements of the Moses story may have been the result of psychedelic drugs.
My own view, as an atheist who's happy to accept that others choose to believe otherwise (so long as they don't impose those beliefs on me), is that the bible is just a good story, no more or less true than Classical Greek mythology. However, it's interesting that it mightn't be entirely fictional, instead being one group's interpretation of or projection onto historical facts.
[Via The Guardian, though that article is needlessly flippant.]
7 March, 2008
I believe graffiti can be an art form – I totally reject the lazy reaction that it is automatically vandalism. However, for every talented individual there are several mindless daubers and for every Banksy there's a Jan Philip Scharbert.
Who? True, his name doesn't deserve commemoration, but that's the German tourist recently caught in New Zealand in the process of tagging a glacier. Unbelievable.
27 February, 2008
A word so obvious it ought to exist, 'keming' describes the result of improper kerning.
20 February, 2008
I regard the consumption of bottled water in countries with safe piped supplies as foolish, but effectively a matter of personal choice: I wouldn't support an outright ban on people spending their money as they wish, though I would welcome a punitive price increase as discouragement, ostensibly to offset environmental costs.
However, if public bodies are spending taxpayers' money on bottled water... that's different.
18 February, 2008
Why do we hiccup?
Could it be an evolutionary remnant? Neil Shubin, quoted in BoingBoing, notes that the electrical signals triggering human hiccups are similar to those controlling gill movement in amphibians.
14 February, 2008
Control the means of production
Plaid Cymru have been criticised for mentioning it, but it's worth remembering that by paying subscriptions to a trade union in the UK, it's rather likely you're funding the Labour Party.
This is one reason I've never been a member of a trade union, though the main one is my objection to collectivism. I specifically opted-out of the Students' Union, too, so I've obviously been opposed to unionism for at least half my life. No, longer; I remember the 1984 miners' strike.
However, one point I hadn't realised, and which Plaid have now publicised, is that one can send an exemption notice to one's union, instructing them not to forward the designated proportion of one's subscription to the Labour Party.
8 February, 2008
Must be blue paper
Here are a few techniques one can employ to improve the sound quality of audio equipment.
Yes, these suggestions are purported to be serious. For further explanation, try a websearch for 'Peter Belt'.
7 February, 2008
No more tears?
There may – may – be valid justifications for genetically-modified food crops which outweigh the potential disadvantages. However, I don't think mere convenience is one of those justifications.
Yahoo! reports that biotechnologists in New Zealand, using Japanese research, claim to have produced a 'tear-free' onion. The chemical which causes the eye-watering response in anyone cutting into an unmodified onion is controlled by an enzyme; the researchers have identified the gene controlling production of that enzyme, and turned it off.
FFS – just change your onion-chopping technique, or ****ing live with the tears, as people have managed for centuries! I'm not inherently opposed to GM-foods (so long as consumers genuinely have complete choice about whether to eat them), but I really don't see frivolous comfort as a good enough reason to incur an unknown number of potential side-effects of unknown severity.
However, it has to be acknowledged (as Yahoo! does) that irrespective of the value of the project itself, it's a good consciousness-raising exercise educating the public about biotechnology. Just so long as the risks are explained alongside any breathless "food of the future" hype.
29 January, 2008
Michael Swanwick bottles fiction: he'll write a short story, seal a copy within a glass bottle, then destroy all drafts and other copies, physical or electronic. He'll then give away the bottled story, either to a friend or to be auctioned for charity.
The final recipient has a choice: to keep the object (certified authentic & unique) and forego any knowledge of the story, or destroy the object to access the content. It's strictly either/or – one can't have both.
Which would you choose?
I don't think of myself as materialistic, and am only really concerned about the intellectual & emotional content of music, films & prose rather than CDs, DVDs & books as physical objects, but in this case... I'm not sure.
11 January, 2008
Rolling Stone offers a comprehensive overview of the 'loudness war' problem whereby music producers compress recordings to increase their apparent loudness, supposedly to boost the music's immediate attraction and make it stand out from other music – which is using the same trick. The result is exhausting noise lacking subtlety.
The part which startled and deeply disappointed me was the claim that producers are now specifically mixing/mastering albums for the mp3-listening experience, meaning that those albums sound as bad in uncompressed CD Audio format (i.e. Red Book PCM) as in lossy-compressed .mp3 format.
I'm not dogmatically opposed to .mp3 and use it daily (192kbps or above sounds fine to me under normal circumstances), but I certainly appreciate the opportunity to go back to a CD for 'high-fidelity' playback. Is that being lost?
It's not all bad news, though: a number of producers, musicians and recording engineers are promoting a fight-back campaign, Turn Me Up, whereby CDs mixed/mastered with proper dynamics (and hence ostensibly quieter than their competitors) will display a consciousness-raising logo.
[The RS link is to the print version of the article, as it omits adverts* and presents the six-page article on one page. Delete the trailing '/print' from the URL if you prefer.]
*: no, only in AdBlocked Firefox.
10 January, 2008
Sooner the better.
10 January, 2008
Useful to know
According to MoneySavingExpert.com:
Amazon has a hidden price promise that if you buy something and it drops in price within 30 days you can get the difference back. That means if you did any christmas shopping there; you should check if the price has dropped in the sales, and if it has – claim the money back.
Naturally, Amazon doesn't volunteer the refund, but one can readily log in and view recent orders, checking the prices paid then clicking on item names to view their current listings.
A few clarifications:
- The policy is based on prices changing within 30 days of the despatch date, not the order date.
- This only applies to orders directly from Amazon, not third-party sellers.
- The 'Post-order Price Guarantee' policy is stated on the Amazon US site, but I can't find it on the UK site. Numerous commenters on the MSE.com article report that Amazon UK have honoured the policy, but one, 21 hours after the story broke yesterday, apparently received an e-mail denying that Amazon has a '30 day money back guarantee' (which is true – this could have just been a poorly-worded refund request).
Worth trying, and not only for christmas shopping.
7 January, 2008
I've been mentioning my interest in photorealism (especially in CGI) for years, so I was pleased to discover this fairly long article by Peter Plantec, clinical psychologist and 'virtual human designer'.
It addresses the concept of the 'uncanny valley'.
Imagine a graph of photorealism against believability. As the first increases, so will the second, the line rising towards the 'peak' of perfect reproduction, but just before that point, believability will suddenly plummet. That's the 'valley', the point at which representation approaches actuality very closely but not quite. The human brain recoils, perversely finding the result less believable than something more obviously artificial; an audience can more readily suspend disbelief whilst watching 'The Simpsons' than whilst watching 'Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within'.
Motion-captured/animated animated films like 'Beowulf' are getting better (and setting themselves especially difficult targets by reproducing the likenesses of specific people – I hadn't thought of that complication), but as Plantec says, the next stages will need to focus on extremely subtle details such as saccadic (rapid, subconscious) eye movement.
[Via Neil G.]
21 December, 2007
As Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing says:
The best thing you can hope for from taking a quack medicine is that nothing bad happens to you. The worst thing is you die. The weirdest thing is you turn blue.
19 December, 2007
Get the shopping, and get a life
I don't agree with Julie Burchill very often; in fact, her name on an article is usually sufficient reason for me to avoid it. However, we're on the same wavelength on a topic I've already, er, 'discussed comprehensively': irrational support for independent retailers (corner shops, many bookshops and record stores in particular) on merely emotive grounds and criticism of supermarkets for 'destroying small town community life'.
We don't agree on every detail: I recommend reading the article, but don't condone Burchill's throwaway nastiness about farmers – though I wouldn't romanticise them either, there are rational reasons to consider they're mistreated by the retailers' cartel, unlike merely uncompetitive small shops.
17 December, 2007
Spot the decade
Isn't it odd how 'girlie' calendars went out of fashion (political correctness gone... entirely reasonable, actually) then, following the WI's effort dramatised as 'Calendar Girls', have gradually returned? At first they were 'ironic', but some of the more recent ones I've heard about haven't even tried to disguise their nature.
Last week the local free newspaper reported (with a double-page feature, naturally) that Morecambe pubs have collaborated in a charity calendar depicting (near-)nude barmaids: not the, er, more mature ladies participating for a joke, nor male bar staff, but only nubile teens/twenties. There's a fine line between 'a bit of harmless fun' and offensive lechery – this instance seemed a little too close to tacky titilation.
Another was reported by the Guardian* : an airline has produced a calendar depicting air hostesses doing airline-y things (funny; I hadn't realised cabin staff wash or repair planes) whilst just happening to be wearing bikinis. For some reason, a Spanish consumer group has complained about sexualised stereotyping and objectification, attracting a spectacular rebuttal from the airline:
"We are just protecting women's rights to take their clothes off"
Ohhhh... that's quite alright, then. I do apologise for doubting the airline's courageous and principled stand on female emancipation.
*: Actually Reuters, but I don't know whether their articles are permanently archived.
12 December, 2007
I already know I have brown eyes
For $985 (about £5), deCODEme will analyse a sample of your genetic material, "scanning over one million variants in your genome" to ungrammatically establish your "risk for" eighteen genetic diseases and "find out where your ancestors came from".
I've no idea whether this is really backed by valid science, but what's it for?
Amusement? Kind of pricey.
Diagnosis? It seems a bit spurious, really – even if it did identify a risk, what could one do about a genetic predisposition to, say, psoriasis? At best it could identify those in greatest need of clinical screening for, say, breast or prostate cancer, but that should happen anyway, and this just feels like exploitation of hypochondriacs.
Via User Friendly 'Link Of The Day'.
6 December, 2007
Which is the second most visited tourist attraction in the UK, after Blackpool Pleasure Beach?
The Tate Modern.
According to the Guardian, anyway.
I think that's a pleasant surprise – if I'd thought to include an art gallery in the top five at all, I'd have guessed it'd be something more 'traditional', such as the National Gallery. However, presumably it means that when I get round to visiting, it'll be crowded.
3 December, 2007
I'm not entirely comfortable with the value judgement, but the following quote reflects the way I aspire to live:
Superior people speak about ideas, mediocre people speak about things, and inferior people speak about others.
I've rephrased that slightly, as "inferior people speak about people" is subtlely different, but I read it in a comment on a Guardian article (about boundaries in media mockery of celebrities). I don't know the original source.
28 November, 2007
'Pants it is, then
A certain environmentalist pressure group has been running a web poll to name a whale being tracked in an ongoing project. The shortlist (of 30 – not so short) includes 'Kigai' ('strong spirit' in Japanese), 'Sedna' (the Innuit goddess of the oceans), 'Veikko' ('brother' or 'good friend' in Finnish); oh, and 'Mister Splashy Pants' ("just too funny to leave out").
Guess which is winning, with 72% of the vote. The next most popular option, 'Libertad', has 3%.
27 November, 2007
Cultural guerrillas cleared
The UnterGunther, a branch of the group loosely coordinating Paris' subterranean culture (including the aforementioned underground cinema), specialises in restoration of unregarded aspects of France's urban heritage. In 2005-6, they covertly occupied space high in the dome of the Panthéon, with the subversive purpose of... repairing the clock.
Unfortunately, the governing Centre des Monuments Nationaux was less than appreciative, taking legal action against the UnterGunther members. That action failed last week, and the story has emerged. You might like to read both of these articles (even if the latter is from The Times* ), as they cover more than just this action.
*: Not the 'London Times', as BoingBoing cites it, but 'The Times'.
20 November, 2007
Here's a diverting article about 1p and 2p coins, and the vague suggestion that they may be phased out.
It's timely for me, as the demijohn jar I've been using as a repository for small change was finally filled a couple of months ago, and I've started to empty and bag its contents to pay the coins into my bank. I've accumulated £3 in coppers just as overspill onto my bedside table – I haven't even started on the jar itself.
17 November, 2007
Not what it's for
Am I the only one who finds this depressing? Weapons, from pistols and grenades, through machine guns to rocket launchers, for LEGO minifigs.
I've never had much sympathy with the concept of childhood innocence being sacred and to be preserved against the real world. Conversely, I don't really like to see weapons as toys, and somehow I'm disappointed to see LEGO militarised. I don't think I'm merely being politically correct, but LEGO isn't about trivialising/glorifying killing.
A LEGO minifig displaying SS insignia feels particularly wrong, and I rather recoil from the heavily-armed jihadist* .
Having said all that, the accessories don't seem to be marketed towards children, and the custom minifig pages suggest that they're primarily intended for display rather than play, but still....
[Via Irregular Webcomic!.]
*: Oops. Not a MI5-approved term, for fairly good reasons.
13 November, 2007
The Belgian question
Today's Guardian offers an interesting review of Belgium's current identity crisis.
Frankly, I don't know enough about the specifics to be able to comment authoritatively (nor judge the accuracy/balance of the article, for that matter), so I'll just refer you to the article.
That said, in principle I'm all for the dissolution of Belgium, in the same way as I'd quite like to see an independent Catalunya and actively want the break-up of the UK. All within a stronger EU, I mean – I'm talking about federalism between a larger number of independent nations, not balkanisation.
8 November, 2007
Oh dear. National Lottery scratchcards have had to be withdrawn because purchasers were too innumerate to know whether they'd won.
The objective was to find the lower temperature of two printed on the card; given the winter theme, this meant the more negative of two figures.
The 23-year-old, who said she had left school without a maths GCSE, said: "On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn't.
"I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher - not lower - than -8 but I'm not having it.
"I think Camelot are giving people the wrong impression - the card doesn't say to look for a colder or warmer temperature, it says to look for a higher or lower number. Six is a lower number than 8. Imagine how many people have been misled."
Then again, as a commenter on the Guardian's republished article
observes, one probably shouldn't expect much from someone who buys scratchcards.
7 November, 2007
I happy too
I have to restrain myself from posting links to icanhascheezburger.com (I could easily punblish 3-4 per week), but there's no way I can avoid mentioning this one.
Some LOLcat photos are digitally manipulated, but I prefer the seemingly-genuine ones (after all, there are plenty of great cat photos to work with). I can't work out whether this is a real photo captured at a fortuitous moment or a composite image, but either way, I love it.
6 November, 2007
Ever played the game whereby one is challenged to write entertainingly on a random, mundane subject? It's mildly diverting, but normal people don't get paid to do it, and people don't normally pay to have the results inflicted upon them.
This sort of vacuous fluff really, really annoys me, as does the justification that "it's just a bit of fun". Life's too short for such complacency; I begrudge the effort of moving my eyes across the text, never mind the utterly wasted time.
And no, I don't begrudge the time taken to write this, if there's the vaguest chance that it might persuade newspapers to avoid commissioning and publishing such pap.
5 November, 2007
A whole new level of pedantry
As David Morgan-Mar observed* , a 'quantum' is, by definition, "the smallest possible unit of difference". Hence, the phrase 'a quantum leap', generally understood as referring to a large change, means quite the opposite.
Well... not really. It also refers to a transition from one state to another, with connotations of 'moving to the next level' and 'setting a new threshold', so it does sort-of mean what people think.
But don't let that stop you. Next time you hear the phrase, make sure you loudly correct the speaker. Just think of the quantum leap in onlookers' admiration of you.
*: in April. It's taking me a while to catch up the 1,744 (and counting) episodes of his 'Irregular Webcomic!'.
2 November, 2007
What would happen if...?
The Guardian reports the "most bizarre tests ever conducted in the name of scientific inquiry" *.
Things like injecting an elephant with 3,000 times the human recreational dose of LSD, then watching it keel over, dead. Or grafting the front half of a puppy onto a dog's neck (alongside the existing head), then repeating the experiment 19 more times over the next 15 years.
BTW, I love the photo accompanying the Guardian article, depicting an elephant's eye.
*: Effectively reproducing the substance of a New Scientist article without the courtesy of a link back to NS. Naughty.
23 October, 2007
Give us a grin
Using a 240 MP scanner to generate a 22GB digital image, photographer/engineer Pascal Cotte claims to have made 17 new discoveries about da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa', including the history of key details.
Apparently, the portrait did once include eyebrows and eyelashes, and the iconic enigmatic smile was different in da Vinci's original, underlying composition.
Academics have expressed doubts about some interpretations of the new data – Cotte found one brushstroke implying one hair on the brow and extrapolated, and I get the impression Cotte's suggested reconstruction of the 16th Century colouration attracts particular scepticism – but the raw evidence itself is interesting.
'Mona Lisa Revealed' may offer further (possibly one-sided) information, but at the time of writing, the site's down.
17 October, 2007
By reading this entry, the owners of copyrighted content quoted below hereby acknowledge that use as fair.
On that issue, the lawyers operating the Consumer Law & Privacy blog have discovered a website with an amusingly restrictive 'user agreement'.
The presence of a user agreement at all on a publicly-accessible website is odd enough, but the text (to which, incidentally, I emphatically do not agree) wrongly alleges that:
By using this site you agree and understand that the HTML code, look, feel, content, company name, logo, text, and any likeness or derivative of such content is the sole property of Inventor-Link LLC and may not be used in any manner without the expressed written permission of Inventor-Link LLC. Furthermore, we strictly prohibit any links and or other unauthorized references to our web site without our permission.
Thereby displaying a startling lack of awareness of fair use provision. Perhaps their legal representatives could help. Apparently not
As you may know, you can view the HTML code with a standard browser. We do not permit you to view such code since we consider it to be our intellectual property protected by the copyright laws. You are therefore not authorized to do so. In addition, you should not make any copies of any part of this website in any way since we do not want anyone copying us. We also do not allow any links to our site without our express permission.
Which displays an alarming lack of comprehension of the very concept
One could suggest this opens them to a certain amount of ridicule. I couldn't possibly comment.
[Via BoingBoing. I'm entirely confident Cory et al. would have no objection to that link, but it's important to state that I did not require their permission for it.]
11 October, 2007
Anyone who, like me, loved the 'bouncing balls' and 'paint fireworks' adverts for a certain television manufacturer might be interested in the new one*, which features 200 multi-coloured rabbits in Manhattan.
Continuing the 'surely-it's-cgi-actually-it's-not' trend, the advert was achieved using stop-motion animation and 2.5 tonnes of plasticine. Wonderful.
It may be worth mentioning that there's a plagiarism allegation: compare the advert to this image by Dan and Kozue Kitchens. Credit where it's due, eh?
*: Link is to the highest-res version of the ad that I've been able to find, on the client company's own website. However, that link is likely to be lost in future updates, so you might like to try this version at Gizmodo; I presume their permalink will be more stable.
10 October, 2007
No.31 in Jonathan Glancey's series of articles on 'classics of everyday design' is about Bubble Wrap. Apparently, it was accidentally invented (as are all the best innovations) during the development of better wallpaper in 1957.
There's an obvious question, which I was pleased to see had occurred to Glancey too: so has anyone actually papered their walls with Bubble Wrap?
5 October, 2007
Given that the UK is currently experiencing a postal strike which will delay all Royal Mail post for a full week, with further strikes apparently planned for every Monday until the unions get their way, fellow Brits might be interested in the contact details of the eighteen other licenced postal companies.
I don't think it'll help with domestic post, as my understanding is that the Royal Mail still has a near-monopoly on 'final mile' delivery of post from local sorting offices to letterboxes (for now...), but it could help in some circumstances.
28 September, 2007
Persona non grata
Well, this seems pretty clear-cut to me.
An Austrian court has refused to recognise a chimpanzee as 'a person', with the corresponding legal status. Rightfully. Non-human animals are not people, irrespective of animal-rights nutters' fantasies.
As a commenter on the USA Today article says, the definition of 'person' includes the term 'rational' – which rarely applies to animal-rights activists.
25 September, 2007
Top level domain
Is it irredeemably geeky to be impressed by the British Library's domain name?
It's 'bl.uk'; not bl.co.uk (obviously), bl.gov.uk (it's not a branch of the UK government, though it is the single greatest recipient of funds from the DCMS) nor even bl.ac.uk (I thought it was part of the UK academic network; apparently not).
I don't know of any other UK domain name which omits a second-level domain; even the Queen uses the '.gov.uk' suffix.
20 September, 2007
Never thought about it
It seems like the co-host of a US talk show doesn't know whether the Earth is round or flat – because she's too busy taking care of her children, so doesn't have time to think about such trivia.
It's the second part I find more disturbing: that she's bringing up children this way.
[Edit: 13:06: H's objection was one I missed: the idea that motherhood excuses closed-minded ignorance isn't exactly a feminist message.]
19 September, 2007
This interview with a Zimbabwian government official contains some of the most chilling statements I've ever encountered outside accounts of Nazi atrocities.
To repost the same quote as Sal highlighted:
"The unpatriotic hoarding of food gives the impression that we have a problem, which clearly we haven't, except in the South African media's mind. We do not call it starving, we call it fasting. Fasting is actually good for you. Lots of famous people have fasted for the benefit of their people. Gandhi, for instance. In our case, the people themselves will be encouraged to fast, thereby strengthening themselves against the onslaught of colonial imperialism.
"We have no objection in principle to people eating. People in government all eat, but only because people in our important positions have to. What we must guard against is the belief that people have the right to break the law if they're hungry."
I can't think of anything to say.
14 September, 2007
Never too old to rock'n'roll
'Wyldfyre'. A cheesy Eighties hair-metal band? So why did I see the logo plastered across the front of a minibus of morose pensioners a few minutes ago, on my way home from work?
I almost fell off my bike laughing, but it gets better: a few moments of research revealed that 'Wyldfyre One' (!) is "a community based, demand responsive, accessible transport service providing public transport links to medical facilities in a rural area" and not, as the name suggests, something from a testosterone-fueled rawk festival.
13 September, 2007
Siobhan/Kisa might struggle to decide*, but which is better: Second Life or cats?
Cardinal Malaprop offers compelling arguments for the kittehs, but some of the rebuttals in the comments are impressive too.
*: Oh. And did, three days ago.
5 September, 2007
Bag of holding
Yes, I always considered this a bit odd, too.
3 September, 2007
The roads around St Hilary, a village in South Wales, are too narrow for large vehicles. Road signs clearly state this fact: "Unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles", in both Welsh and English. Yet satellite navigation units obviously know the local conditions far better, so drivers simply ignore the signs and proceed, becoming stuck.
Hence, Vale of Glamorgan Council has installed new signs; quite simply: 'ignore your sat-nav', portrayed as a pictogram to avoid foreign drivers misunderstanding. There'll be a 12-month trial period to establish whether drivers choose to re-engage their own spatial awareness and judgement – I'm yet to be convinced that a mildly cryptic icon will succeed where a couldn't-be-clearer textual sign failed.
2 September, 2007
The vanishing point
Though I've never seriously tried it myself, I've had an interest in 'urban exploration' (investigation of empty/abandoned public structures such as storm drain networks and old hospitals) for a while, so I was interested to read Geoff Manaugh's (long) interview with photographer/explorer Michael Cook for BLDGBLOG.
I was particularly pleased that Cook rebuffed the attempt to characterise his activities as having an environmentalist agenda, but he stresses that it isn't 'just' about the photography either (though I do feel the purely aesthetic aspect is more than strong enough to stand alone – stunningly beautiful work).
He slightly criticises media coverage of urban exploration and, implicitly, links such as this blog entry, as articles tend to be lazily superficial, treating the subject as merely 'weird' without really engaging with it. Personally, I do find it genuinely interesting, both conceptually and visually. I think I've always had a fascination with unregarded yet often spectacular voids in the urban landscape, many of which were once hubs of major activity, even extremes of human existence. That was somewhat boosted by online conversations I had a couple of years ago, after my (exterior!) photos of Lancaster's disused Moor Hospital were picked up by an explorers' forum.
31 August, 2007
You're doing it all wrong
Ben Goldacre (with the anonymous contributions of senior UK newspaper managers) offers an alternative structure for newspapers' online presences.
One point was 'just link; don't write a whole article merely paraphrasing', so I won't. However, I loved the phrase he coined to describe second-rate material which doesn't make the cut for inclusion in a printed newspaper, and which therefore probably shouldn't be considered good enough for a website either: 'Polly Filla'.
Non-Brits mightn't get the joke: Polyfilla is a paste used to fill minor cracks in interior walls, etc., whereas Polly Toynbee is an opinionated columnist who rarely actually says anything and 'filler' is, well, you get that bit.
21 August, 2007
I suspect this could be a step too far for some people... about 50% of the population, perhaps?
15 August, 2007
Everyone knows that ecological diversity around the Chernobyl nuclear power station has increased drastically since the 1986 disaster, as humans are excluded from a 30 km radius of the surrounding area and low levels of radiation have minimal effects on wildlife. Everyone knows that.
The orthodox view is that the lack of human activity (farming, ranching, hunting and logging) outweighs the risks of low-level radiation, even that "the world's worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities."
That's the narrative imperative; it makes a neat story, so people want to believe it, but according to research reported by the BBC, it's not supported by empirical evidence. The ecological effects have been "considerably greater than previously assumed".
As Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina says:
"We clearly need to be applying scientific method to ecological studies before we can conclude, based on anecdotal observations, that there are no consequences."
8 August, 2007
Oi! Let's see that rebirth certificate, pal!
From 1 September, it will be illegal for senior Tibetan Buddhists to reincarnate without the approval of the Chinese government, according to The Times.
The article doesn't specify how they plan to stop 'em.
[Via Neil Gaiman.]
1 August, 2007
I'm a literalist
On BBC4 TV this evening: 'Ian Rankin's Hidden Edinburgh'.
Has he? That's impressive.
1 August, 2007
Pathogenetic proposal potentially preposterous
So; is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?
This abstract (discovered via Bad Science, but let's not prejudge it) suggests a causal link between the first occurrence of schizophrenia and the invention of the heeled shoe ~1,000 years ago, and in the increased prevalence of schizophrenia at the introduction of mechanised shoe production.
Those sound like a non-sequiturs to me (Ben G. wonders whether it's important transcultural psychiatry research or a situationist spoof), but I'm no expert. It may be revealing that the hypothesis, which "finds support in all facts and is contradicted by none" is based on "a selective literature review and synthesis".
If it's right, Helen's really ****ed, though I'm alright: apparently "bicycle riding reduces depression in schizophrenia".
27 July, 2007
Truth in fiction
That staple of detective thrillers, incriminating fingerprints found on a gun, mightn't be entirely realistic.
According to evidence presented in Phil Spector's murder trial and reported by the BBC, usable fingerprints are relatively unlikely to be left on the shiny metal or wooden grip on a handgun; a forensic specialist says that "We only get fingerprints off guns 8 to 10% of the time".
26 July, 2007
Do not feed the squirrels
Must try this one on those people whose e-mails are routinely tagged 'Importance: High'.
I suppose it's subtler than replying with (paraphrasing!) "your priority is not necessarily mine".
[Update 01/08/07: Now I've discovered that Dilbert.com only archives strips for a month, I'd better provide a transcript for the longer term:]
Wally to Pointy-Haired Boss:
"All of your e-mails this week were marked as highest priority."
"So I spent the entire week working on the first one."
"Next week I plan to continue not feeding the squirrels by the east entrance."
[Update 07/05/08: The revamped Dilbert.com has a bigger archive, so I've amended the link; you can see the strip itself again.]
23 July, 2007
Signs of stability
I can't help thinking, admittedly without evidence, that this highlights a fundamental difference between UK and US attitudes to the urban environment.
A 1950s illuminated sign outside a 1920s car dealership in Los Angeles (a city which might be expected to acknowledge the role of the car in its evolution and everyday existence) has been designated as a 'historic-cultural monument', despite opposition to the proposal by the mayor and a councillor. Their objection was that preservation would limit redevelopment opportunities.
Compare that to the UK, where the preservation of historical buildings and even street furniture is routine and we have urban landscapes with a little more character than the average strip mall.
As I say, I'm only expressing my perception rather than anything verifiable, but I do have the impression that there's an urge amongst US planners to tear down and renew urban sites every 3-4 decades; 'new-and-improved' takes precedence over preservation of long-term heritage, and there's less of a sense of building for permanence than in the UK.
Of course 'landmark' status limits redevelopment opportunities – that's the whole point!
Actually, it isn't; apparently the designation isn't protection, but merely a guarantee that property owners, developers and city officials will have to consider the sign's role in local and national history before demolishing it anyway.
[Via Boing Boing.]
20 July, 2007
Now that's art
Damien Hurst recently coated a human skull with 8,000 diamonds, producing 'For The Love of God'. According to BoingBoing, it's expected to sell for $100 million.
Last Sunday (15 July), a replica, covered with 6,522 Swarovski (glass) crystals by an artist named Laura, was dumped on a pile of rubbish outside the White Cube Gallery, London, where 'For The Love of God' is being exhibited.
I don't deny Hurst's work probably says something, but Laura's statement has a certain eloquence too.
14 July, 2007
Did you know that the official crest of MI5, the UK's security intelligence agency, depicts a golden winged sea lion?
What? Is that some sort of message?
...represents our historical association with the three armed services.
Of course it does; of course it does. Now, what does it really
Oh, and they're pleased to confirm that they do recruit tall people. So that's okay.
10 July, 2007
Where does it go?
Perhaps attempting to address a few misconceptions, the BBC has tracked the theoretical route of household waste left out for recycling in London, Bradford and Pontypridd from doorstep, through sorting and processing, to manufacture of new items.
Although, as someone mentions in the accompanying comments, the article does read like a slightly sanitised PR statement, it's broadly encouraging.
Much of the recycling appeared to be conducted in the UK, with many of the finished products also being used within the UK, although some also ended up abroad.
On the whole, the recycling appeared to travel some miles – but not thousands, more like hundreds or even tens.
Another interesting point is the wide variety of experiences reported by commenters: councils serving two people living mere miles apart may accept very different ranges of materials (few accept plastics) and have very different collection techniques.
9 July, 2007
What a waste
I'm not going to comment on a police officer allegedly hitting a 70-year-old woman in the face with handcuffs, but it certainly seems odd that the underlying issue was that she was challenged for not watering her lawn; that residents of Salt Lake City, basically a desert, are required to keep their lawns lush and green.
6 July, 2007
.uosɐǝɹ ǝɯos ɹoɟ 'sǝpoɔ ɹǝʇɔɐɹɐɥɔ ǝpoɔıun ǝɥʇ ʍoɥs ʇ,upıp ,ǝɔɹnos ǝbɐd ʍǝıʌ, .ʇı pıp 1ɐS ʍoɥ s,ʇɐɥʇ oS
26 June, 2007
I'm not a materialistic person (no.75), but in 2004 I lost one of the very few physical objects which really mattered to me emotionally: a small Swiss Army knife. I partly explained its significance in July 2005, but I didn't mention the tough times I'd experienced and survived with that knife.
In the process of hauling my old sofa out for collection by the Council, I happened to see inside it through a tiny gap in the upholstery. So many combinations of circumstances could have prevented that, but I was lucky: there was the missing knife, which had somehow passed through an unbroken sheet of fabric and lodged in the underlying frame.
It's difficult to describe my quiet pleasure at its 'return'; this really matters to me.
However, as I said in that earlier entry, I don't think I'll carry it regularly again and risk its loss.
22 June, 2007
LOLcats do xhtml
I don't remember the last time I literally snorted tea onto my keyboard.
This did it.
Oops. That's html, of course, or perhaps xml. Proper xhtml, separating content from formating, would be <div class="kittehs">mound of cuteness</div> with 'float:right' in the css, and an entirely different joke.
21 June, 2007
Something old, something new
A charity is taking 1,000 pairs of wellington boots and 2,000 waterproof jackets to the Glastonbury festival to sell to those those people caught out by unexpected wet weather (yeah, right).
In reporting that, the Guardian mentions that the charity will also be taking 700 wedding dresses to sell on site.
20 June, 2007
Brilliant comment by Ithika at Bad Science:
20 June, 2007
Where d'you think you're going?
It seems UK immigration officials vetting tourist visa applications can be as obstructive as the USA's legendarily rude officers.
20 June, 2007
Fancy a Chindian?
If Indian and Chinese restaurants are so popular in the UK, what's popular in India and China?
This article in the Guardian is the sort of journalism I particularly enjoy: informative and unexpected, on a topic many have probably idly considered (I certainly have).
I was already aware that British 'Indian' cuisine is dissimilar to that consumed in India, but not the obvious point that the same applies elsewhere; for example, 'Chinese' food served in India is adapted to local tastes and available ingredients too.
Unsurprisingly, few nations seem to have developed their own popular variant of British cuisine.
19 June, 2007
But who is he?
Though I'm not entirely sure what she's saying, beyond the superficially obvious, Lynne Truss has a thought-provoking article in the Guardian about the difference between sparing physical description of characters in novels and exacting attention to detail in visual art.
18 June, 2007
A farm in Somerset will be occupied by about 180,000 people next weekend. That's equivalent to the entire population of the city of York* (2001: 181,131).
*: Not Sunderland (2001: 280,807), as the Guardian claims.
8 June, 2007
According to the Glasgow Evening Times, it can take council staff 45 minutes to (imperfectly) remove an illegal bill poster from street furniture. Or a few seconds to add a sticker claiming the event being promoted has been cancelled, rendering the flyposter counterproductive.
8 June, 2007
Wellington Grey, who happens to be a Physics teacher in a UK secondary school, has published an open letter to the Department for Education and a leading examinations board, protesting that the new system eviscerates his subject, essentially removing the factual, quantitative science in favour of nebulous, politicised debate, in which 'I think' carries as much weight as 'evidence shows'.
Scary stuff. There's already far too much faith-based pseudo-science in popular culture without building it into compulsory education (this is the syllabus followed by all 14-16 year-olds, leading to the standard school-leaving exams), and it's appalling preparation for those pupils progressing to 'A' Levels and university.
[Update 17/06/07: others agree.]
If that's all too depressing, have an appropriate LOLcat as antidote. Then get depressed again, as future generations won't know about Schrödinger's Cat.
4 June, 2007
Me! Me! Me!
Was I one of these 'invisible children'? I certainly identify with the behaviour patterns described, at least to some extent – I mean I think I behave that way now, though I wasn't aware of it when I was a child.
I seem to have turned out okay, anyway.
1 June, 2007
Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. "What 'pile'? It’s just a ****ing pebble!"
That applies to my daily workload, too. Many tasks are individually small, but collectively they're overwhelming. I arrived at work this morning with a clear idea of how to progress with the essential projects, but over five hours on, I haven't even looked at them yet.
I don't think I'd be allowed to declare project bankruptcy....
[Via Boing Boing.]
18 May, 2007
This story, reported by The Register starts amusingly. Apparently, a Manchester police officer thought he saw the silhouette of an armed person in a house, so called for armed backup. The ensuing raid discovered a 'life-size' statue of Lara Croft.
That's fair enough: an entirely understandable mistake with a creditable response. However:
Williams [the house's owner] was arrested at the scene and held for 13 hours. He's now been bailed on firearms offences and will find out next month if he faces further action.
And thereby a potentially positive illustration of police vigilance and professionalism is ruined by a refusal to acknowledge a misunderstanding.
Remember, in the UK, those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from surveillance and law-enforcement agencies. Right?
11 May, 2007
I seem to have been doing a disproportionate amount of tech support for friends, family and colleagues recently. I don't mind (honest!), but sometimes, just sometimes, I'm tempted....
[Update 01/08/07: I've discovered that Dilbert.com only archives past strips for a month, rather than permanently – I suppose they want to sell books. Luckily, I found a transcript of this cartoon elsewhere, so the joke isn't lost forever:]
[Dogbert is sitting at a desk with a headset on, talking to a caller to his Tech Support Help Desk]
"Try turning off your router, your modem, and your computer."
"Now try turning off your air conditioning, your lights, and your water heater...."
[Update 07/05/08: The revamped Dilbert.com has a bigger archive, so I've amended the link; you can see the strip itself again.]
3 May, 2007
Surreal units day
It's a conspiracy. Not only does User Friendly's 'Link Of The Day' offer a measure of data transfer in teaspoons per second, but El Reg reports that the surface area of the Danish national anthem is 43,094 km².
3 May, 2007
Wrap up for the beach
According to a Lancet report summarised by the BBC, light clothing is poor protection from harmful exposure to sunlight. Heavier fabrics like denim or wool are far more effective; avoiding prolonged exposure to sunlight is even better (obviously).
Now, where did I put those bike leathers...?
More seriously: oncologists agree that sunscreen should be considered the last line of defence, not remotely a solution (except in the most literal sense).
2 May, 2007
War on tourists
This certainly reflects my view.
I was very impressed by New York when I visited in late 2004, but I don't plan to return to the USA, primarily because of the treatment of foreign tourists by Immigration officials and agencies.
I'm not a humble supplicant begging leave to visit the promised land, I'm a potential visitor (with money to spend) to a tourist destination no better or worse than any other. I don't expect an effusive welcome, merely common courtesy; if I'm actively made to feel unwelcome, it's absolutely no hardship to go elsewhere.
It seems I'm not alone, either: the reported poll rated the USA as "the world's most unfriendly destination for foreign travellers" by a 2:1 margin, and the US government's obstructiveness, even hostility, has cost 94 billion tourist dollars and 194,000 US jobs since 2001.
As the quote cited in Boing Boing says, "visiting the US [has] become a hassle and that [we will] take [our] holiday money elsewhere".
24 April, 2007
Just read it.
13 April, 2007
I was mildly disappointed to discover that the 'hamster shredder' mentioned by Neil is a paper shredder driven by a hamster's exercise wheel, which feeds the shredded paper into the cage as hamster bedding.
It doesn't actually evicerate rodents, as the name suggests. That's false advertising, that is.
11 April, 2007
Didn't know that
By definition, an octopus does not have any tentacles, despite common usage of that word. Octopuses (not 'octopi') have arms (8), apparently, whereas squid have arms (8) and tentacles (2).
Life changing fact, eh?
30 March, 2007
Despite homeopathy's popularity, there is little evidence that it works, other than as a panacea, making people feel better simply because they are receiving care and attention.
That's Fiona Macrae, in The Mail, writing
about faith-based subjects being validated as genuine science degrees (BSc Hons.) by three UK universities.
A panacea: a remedy for all diseases. Excellent – I'll have some of that!
Hang on; you don't think she meant 'placebo', do you?
29 March, 2007
Really short stories
The Guardian challenged well-known authors to accept the Hemingway brief: write a compelling short story within six words. Some of the results are excellent, but as Neil Gaiman said in linking to the article, the Wired version from last year was better.
Oh; and for reasons explained elsewhere in that same entry at Mr. G's blog, I'm helping spread the word about the Twenty Worst Literary Agents (in the USA) list, as one of the named agents is being particularly litigious again in trying to suppress reasonable criticism. If that last link is dead, presume it's because of spurious legal action, and just try Google – someone else is bound to have mirrored it.
19 March, 2007
All too common
Ah, the old LARP excuse for stealing knickers.
It should be banned. Banned, I tell you.
16 March, 2007
There was a time when a sand sculpting competition would have been an entertaining experience for spectators – "Can you tell what it is yet?" Personally, I wouldn't stand and watch for two days, but I'd be interested in going along afterwards to admire the results.
Nowadays, that's not enough. Even something as ostensibly sedate as sand sculpting has to be 'extreme'. Take the annual 'Sand Blasters' competition:
Paired off into teams of two, 16 of the best sand sculptors from across America dig in to picturesque Pacific Beach in San Diego, California, for the chance to win their share of $15,000 in prize money. But there's one obstacle standing in their way... explosions!
Over the course of this intense two-day competition, five of the eight sculptures are randomly selected for complete destruction by a Hollywood pyrotechnics crew. The ill-fated blast victims then have the remaining time to create another world-class work of art.
Maybe I'm suffering a sense of humour failure, but I despair.
[Via BoingBoing, which mentioned it in the context of an excellent video showing the explosions – in reverse.]
15 March, 2007
Bad science reporting
Various media sources have been reporting the allegation that those who spend long periods at an office desk and/or computer are at greater risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) than long-haul air passengers. It's a compelling story, but unfortunately not one supported by evidence.
The study typically cited merely said that a greater proportion of patients admitted to hospital with DVT had been seated at work for long periods than had been occupied cramped airline seats. That's merely a reflection of the general population: a greater absolute number of people work in offices than fly long distances.
[I've tried to find an online example of the wrongly-interpreted story, but it seems some archived articles are being rewritten, and others might change between me offering links and you clicking through, which would make me look foolish rather than the true culprits.]
13 March, 2007
The naked ambassador
Israel has recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after he was found drunk and naked apart from bondage gear.
say he was able to identify himself to police only after a ball gag had been removed from his mouth.
Oddly, I don't recall that Ferrero Rocher
advert. I suspect I would.
13 March, 2007
Imagine you own a small amount of land, just enough for an individual two-storey house. Imagine a developer buys up all the surrounding land and wants to buy yours for the construction of a shopping centre and apartment complex. Imagine you ask for a lot of money, presuming the developer can't avoid paying.
Imagine the developer calls your bluff.
After the initial amusement, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I don't like the idea of an individual being forced to sell for a commercial development (I might regard a government project differently), but it doesn't seem the owner was unwilling to sell on principle, merely greedy, so the response may have been deserved.
[Update: The story seems to have been misreported intitially, and it seems the owner was motivated by principle, not money, after all. Apologies for propagating the error. Further details.]
[Update 03/04/07: The 'nail house' has gone.]
13 March, 2007
So long and thanks for all the pollen
Maybe Douglas Adams was only partly right on this one.
9 March, 2007
All one - in one sense
That is interesting. The standard historical view of changes in the population structure of the British Isles is one of various ethnic groups displacing others. I've used that concept myself in a politicised sense: invasions and colonisation by the Germanic Angles and Saxons drove the Celtic peoples to the margins, namely Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Man. Therefore, the modern English have no claim to a Celtic heritage, and the Celtic nations are distinctly different to England; it's one of the arguments for independence from Westminster (within the EU). I'm oversimplifying, of course.
However, the New York Times reports that genetic evidence contradicts that traditional view. It seems more likely that the entire archipelago was settled by a relatively homogeneous people migrating from Spain towards the end of the last Ice Age (during which Britain hadn't been habitable). Later incursions by the Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norse would have provided ruling elites, and hence defined their cultures, but the number of immigrants would have been small. According to the data, no single group of invaders is responsible for more than 5% of the current gene pool.
Personally, I welcome this conclusion, as it eliminates somewhat repugnant ideas of 'racial purity' from Celtic nationalist politics, though as the article concludes, "Geneticists see little prospect that their findings will reduce cultural and political differences" – as if diversity is a bad thing.
The Celtic cultural myth “is very entrenched and has a lot to do with the Scottish, Welsh and Irish identity; their main identifying feature is that they are not English.”
[Via Neil Gaiman.]
7 March, 2007
This article is about 'hypermilers' who obsessively, even competitively wring extreme fuel economy from standard cars, but a more general point is worth promoting:
It was driving his wife's Acura MDX that moved Wayne up to the next rung of hypermiler driving. That's because the SUV came with a fuel consumption display (FCD), which shows mpg in real time. As he drove, he began to see how little things – slight movements of his foot, accelerations up hills, even a cold day – influenced his fuel efficiency. He learned to wring as many as 638 miles from a single 19-gallon tank in the mdx; he rarely gets less than 30 mpg when he drives it. "Most people get 18 in them," he says. The FCD changed the driving game for Wayne. "It's a running joke," he says, "but instead of a fuel consumption display, a lot of us call them 'game gauges'" – a reference to the running score posted on video games – "because we're trying to beat our last score – our miles per gallon."
If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they'd quickly learn to drive more efficiently. "If the EPA would mandate FCDs in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight," he says. "They're not expensive for the manufacturers to put in – 10 to 20 bucks – and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display."
6 March, 2007
Silly mid-on something
I know next to nothing about cricket, so I suppose I shouldn't expect to appreciate the nuances of this report (I don't even know how I came to be reading it).
However, the combination of arcane specifics with comically flowery prose is simply... bizarre. Take the metaphors at face-value and this could be a drug-induced stream of consciousness. Reading between the lines ('cos the lines themselves don't make much sense), I think this was a boring match, so maybe the despairing journalist did turn to artificial diversions.
6 March, 2007
Borisism of the day
Thanks to Boris Johnson, writing in the Guardian (eh?), I've learned a new word today: euergetism. According to Britannica (one of only 807 instances of the word in the entire Google database), it's a variety of philanthropic benefaction.
If this was anyone but Boris, I'd think he was ostentatiously showing-off, but I suspect he was just being Boris.
5 March, 2007
For people what thinks
2 March, 2007
I'm not sure I could comment calmly on this, so I'll simply let you read it for yourself: the experience of a senior UN diplomat refused admission to the US, treated as a criminal and permanently identified as undesirable.
Here's another, similar case.
I think the part which particularly annoys me isn't the refusal of Immigration officials to let these people into the USA – it is their country, after all, and they can act on any whim they choose, so long as they don't expect any respect from the rest of the world – but the subsequent criminalisation. Having established that the victims can't enter the country, the corollary must be that the USA has no further jurisdiction over them, so has no right to:
- take me in for questioning
- search me (I objected to the strip search, they relented)
- fingerprint me and send those fingerprints off around the world
- examine for obvious tattoos and other distinguishing features
- ask me to sign a statement of wrongdoing (I declined)
- terminate my visa waiver access - from then on I need a visa [That one seems fair enough; within US jurisdiction, anyway - NRT]
27 February, 2007
Tents of despair
I had no idea that the single biggest problem for waste managers at major music festivals is the number of discarded tents to be thrown away in the post-festival clear up. The Independent reports that festivals like Glastonbury dispose of about 10,000 abandoned tents each year.
That's appalling. Presumably the ex-residents aren't regular campers, but if they're festival-goers surely they'd be able to use tents again. Even if not, the irresponsibility of just leaving entire tents behind staggers me – I literally find it an alien concept. This littering isn't dropping a sweet wrapper or cigarette butt; how could anyone even consider that it's okay to leave a tent for someone else to clear up?
I suppose some would consider public flogging using discarded tent poles a little extreme, so it's lucky that the Indy article mentions another solution: recyclable cardboard tents.
It's not a solution at all, of course. It's a capitulation to the convenience culture of disposability, and an encouragement to continue. Okay, the immediate problem has to be addressed, and the invention should help to minimise the consequences of littering, but a solution would be to tackle the abandonment itself.
Just give me five minutes and a tent peg....
22 February, 2007
Stop stalling - ban 'em
I avoid the high street stalls set out by anti-vivisectionists anyway, as I don't even vaguely condone their objectives (I totally support the use of animal testing in medical research, though not in consumer product testing) and calling animal rights terrorists 'abhorrent scum' understates my disdain for them.
However, it seems those stalls may be deceiving the well-meaning-but-deluded, acting illegally to fund illegal activities. The Guardian reports that since October the Metropolitan Police have been arresting those operating stalls in London.
It seems, and it is just an accusation, that the public are drawn-in by being invited to sign petitions, then asked to make financial donations. The petitions are then discarded and the money sent to extremists for use in illegal activities. And with animal rights terrorists, that doesn't mean hanging banners, it's bomb-making, bodysnatching, intimidation, threats of personal violence and destruction of property. Even if I agreed with their cause – and I don't – their methods are utterly repugnant.
Of course, the anti-vivisectionists claim this is a dirty trick to discredit them – and they're certainly the experts on dirty tricks.
Despite their best efforts at public surveillance, the police can't be everywhere, so if you happen to pass one of those stalls, keep walking.
19 February, 2007
Как можно больше краски
Russian apartment blocks. Massive. Brutalist. Dull. Grey.
Nope. Not these, in Ramenskoye, near Moscow.
13 February, 2007
It's not the first time, but it looks as if Afflecks Palace, Manchester really is under threat of closure and redevelopment.
The current lease on the building expires in four months, but the owner, Bruntwood, has failed to state whether it'll be renewed. There's a bit of an impasse, as Bruntwood won't commit to anything without talking to tenants (about 100 traders) effectively 'off the record' about necessary renovation work and, presumably, considerable rent increases, yet the tenants won't enter into talks until Bruntwood provide a formal statement of intent (as is required by property law).
It'd be awful if Afflecks Palace closed or was replaced by 'mainstream' retail – especially if the name was retained. It's the very heart; no, soul of the 'creative' Northern Quarter, and the whole district would be diminished by its loss or corporate dilution.
More personally, I don't visit much more than annually, but I'd still miss it; Helen has shopped there since the late 1980s, so would would be particularly upset.
Comments on the Manchester Evening News report unanimously oppose the potential loss (which is only potential at this stage – let's not overreact to a mere lack of communication), particularly the obvious assumption that individual traders would be priced out of the building in favour of ubiquitous chain stores. For once, I agree.
To quote myself, I don't believe in supporting small retailers merely to support them. If corner shops and independent bookshops are out-competed by supermarkets and national chains, too bad; they represent obsolete market sectors which should be allowed to die if they're unwilling or unable to offer something unique. Yet the traders of Afflecks Palace do provide something unique and of value, and having them in one creative community does matter.
It somewhat goes against my nature to say it, but without the support and interdependence of the Afflecks Palace community, individual traders mightn't be able to continue at all. Stalls selling, say, handmade jewellery, wouldn't have the manufacturing output to meet the sales volumes required to, in turn, pay the rent on a high-street shop. Besides, could you imagine shops like 'V 2 F' being able to find high-street retail space?
12 February, 2007
Back to school
Heh. My server logs show that one of the Ministry's most popular pages (for self-evident reasons) is being used amongst teaching materials for the 'Digital Imagery DIG3135' course at the University of Central Florida.
My more conventional academic publications have never attracted such interest....
12 February, 2007
Free house (no redecorating)
Want a Banksy mural? It comes with a free house.
As the BBC reports, the vendors of a terrace house in Bristol were frustrated that prospective buyers stated intentions to destroy the Banksy artwork (and it is art) on the end wall, so have modified the sale: they're now specifically offering the mural, via a gallery rather than an estate agent, and the house is incidental.
5 February, 2007
Charlie Brooker rants. It's just what he does. Sometimes I think his eloquent mock-outrage undermines his message, but a patient reader/listener often realises he does have a point. Ranting in the Guardian today, he writes about the new yet ubiquitous 'PC vs. Mac' Mitchell & Webb advertising campaign, and identifies the aspect I least like about Apple products: the users.
I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.
See what I mean about the ranting? However, read a bit further, and there's a slightly more penetrating observation. Mac computers and iPod mp3 players might indeed have technical and usability merits, but that's not what stereotypical Mac users really value.
Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because "they are just better". Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul - that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn't really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine.
Ultimately the campaign's biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow 'define themselves' with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that 'says something' about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality.
Exactly. That's the reason I dislike Macs – I recoil from the very idea of being defined by my choice of consumer hardware. I don't remotely care about 'cool'; all that matters, beyond any other potential criterion, is that my beige box, or black box, or any-other-colour-it-doesn't-****ing-matter-you-pretentious-****
box does what I need it to do.
4 February, 2007
What a clever ikkle bullying hack
In case you weren't aware, the Sunday Times 'outed' Abby Lee, the author of award-winning blog and subsequent book 'Girl With A One-Track Mind' last year.
'Abby Lee' is the pseudonym of someone who exercised her right to write about sexual topics anonymously in order to avoid embarrassment to herself and her family and to maintain professional credibility in her 'day job'.
The text of the odious blackmail by journalist Nicholas Hellen has been discussed at length, but Hellen's unapologetic response reveals a strange point of view:
Hellen told vnunet.com... that the very use of an anonymous writer was a publishing "puzzle".
"The whole [Abby Lee] thing was a puzzle created by the publishers, just like Belle de Jour
," he said.
"That's what drummed up the interest. What could have been the response from the publishers is 'Congratulations, you've found it out.'"
Rubbish. This wasn't some sort of 'fun' marketing gimmick or joke, it was someone's life
. I hope Lee's book deal was lucrative, as Hellen has totally ruined her previous career.
Anyone who maintains a blog under anything but his/her full, true name should consider this a warning: at least one ethically-challenged journalist considers you fair game (in multiple senses of the word), and regards it as mere entertainment to find out who you really are then publish an 'aren't-I-clever?' exposé.
[Update 09/02/07: In BBC article about Banksy's anonymity, Fergus Colville similarly says:
He's stumbled across a fantastic PR stunt. It's pseudo anonymity. It feeds the media's appetite, and until they find out who he is, they're not going to give up.
I really disagree: his use of a pseudonymous nickname is genuinely to hide his identity, not a game. I don't believe journalists are implicitly invited
to 'have a go'.]
22 January, 2007
Éminence grise (well, white & blue)
This is an interesting reinterpretation of the first 'Star Wars' film's plot, considering factors revealed in the prequels.
17 January, 2007
Women who fixate on their weight, unless we're dealing with eating disorders, are not intelligent. The real mystery is how people get away with fixating on themselves like this without relinquishing their right to be taken seriously.
That's Zoe Williams, writing
in the Guardian, and is utter rubbish.
Self-image is a right – not a sign of diminished intelligence and definitely not a betrayal of feminism. There are people who care (not obsess) about their appearences (I'm not especially one of them, but Helen definitely is) – as is their right as individuals. This is about personal self-image, not gender solidarity. No-one has a duty to be indifferent about him/herself.
Williams' argument is so fatuous I can't be bothered to articulate a full response myself, but I broadly agree with one of the published comments appended to the article. 'Manclad' said:
As a man I'll just get howled down for whatever I'll say, so I'll just say that there is a reason fat is looked down on, and even more so these days in our world of abundance, if not necessarily health – that it's a sign of inability to control desire. That there's a huge amount of pressure from mags and media I have no doubt, but the victim mentality refuses to take any responsibility for its actions. People who want to diet to look like Posh or Paris or those anorexic scrag ends [may well be] stupid [but] people who want to diet because they're worried about their health, or think dieting might increase their self-esteem may, in this unfair world, be right, and until Zoe packs on 15 stone herself she's as little right to claim the moral high ground in this debate as I do.
9 January, 2007
Writing on t'wall
This is a nice idea: use a home office wall* as a 'to do' calendar, with a greyscale grid of blackboard paint.
*: Or just a section, if you prefer, though I rather like the idea of having an excuse to paint an entire wall black.
5 January, 2007
Ever wondered, whilst making an Amazon order, what the warehouse looks like?
Hmm. Just me, then.
If only for my own interest, here's a photo of Amazon UK's warehouse in Milton Keynes on 17 November, showing a picker (presumably) fulfilling a customer order.
3 January, 2007
It's a good point
xkcd, from last week.
21 December, 2006
Wait for it...
The Guardian warns that though there is huge potential for wind power generation in the UK (more than eight times current consumption levels, from offshore wind generation alone, allegedly), which is being increasingly exploited by large-scale schemes, domestic turbines on individual houses are still at a very early stage of development.
It seems currently-available turbines are inefficient and obtrusive, which could result in well-meaning individuals installing equipment of very little use, in inappropriate locations, and becoming disillusioned with the entire idea. That'd be a pity, as it's the technology and retailers' claims which seem to be at fault, not the central principle.
19 December, 2006
The face recognition software at MyHeritage analyses a photograph of oneself and suggests a range of celebrities one slightly resembles. I haven't tried it myself, and I have no plans to post a photo of myself on the web, but Andrew Scott had an intriguing idea: what would happen if one inputted a celebrity's face?
The suitably baffling result is that Neil Gaiman looks like Neil Gaiman – but only 66%. Apparently he has almost as great a resemblance (63%) to Johnny Depp (actually, the reference photo is from precisely the same angle, which might be significant) and 58% to... the Duchess of York?
14 December, 2006
World's tallest man saves dolphin
14 December, 2006
Time for a rethink
In a review of '100 things we didn't know this time last year', the BBC points out that:
It takes less energy to import a tomato from Spain than to grow them in this country because of the artificial heat needed, according to Defra
Interesting. I tend to buy according to the 'food miles' principle: I buy local produce to minimise expenditure of resources, not merely to support local producers/retailers, but it seems that's simplistic.
12 December, 2006
More whine, vicar?
Like Oliver Burkeman, I'm a little reluctant to return to the topic of bogus newspaper reports about a 'PC conspiracy to ban christmas', as repetition could look like a conspiracy. However, the right-wing peddlers of social outrage made a few more ludicrous claims over the weekend, so I can't resist directing readers to Burkeman's follow-up to his earlier analysis.
12 December, 2006
The BBC's 'Money Programme' reports that penalty fees charged by UK banks may be illegal, and that customers have a very good chance of reclaiming them successfully.
Apparently, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) state that penalty charges have to truly reflect the cost of administering them; they can't be punitive or profit-making. Understandably, the high street banks are unwilling to reveal the true costs of administration, but experts consulted by the BBC estimate a reasonable maximum of £4.50 per transaction – the banks are charging an average of £30.
The BBC explains the procedure, including how to file a claim with the Small Claims Court. There's a fee for that claim, but note that at the time of writing, the BBC was unaware of a single instance of a bank defending such a court action, and uncontesting defendants have to pay plaintiffs' fees.
I'm in the happy position of having fairly stable finances at present, and I haven't been charged any bank fees within the past six years (the legal maximum period in which money can be reclaimed in the UK), but others might be interested, and I'm partly posting this entry for my own future reference.
[Important update 19/01/07: do not pay for the assistance of a 'claims-handling agency', even on a 'no win, no fee' basis. One should never pay any intermediary to reclaim bank charges.]
8 December, 2006
Political correctness myths gone mad
Writing in the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman investigates some of the key instances of christmas having been banned for reasons of political correctness, and finds that without exception they're either downright untrue or grossly inflated myths generated from the tiniest grains of out-of-context side-issues by those who desperately want to believe they're the victims of modern society's war on the christian festival.
A campaign which Does. Not. Exist.
I'd certainly support total public sector secularism, preventing state-funded agencies (including schools) from observing any religious festivals (laïcité), whilst leaving individuals to celebrate whatever they wish in private, but let's hear that again:
There's only one problem with the 'PC campaign' against christmas - it's pure nonsense.
7 December, 2006
According to the BBC, the UK experiences 'more tornados than any other country in the world'. That can't be right!
4 December, 2006
The unsynthesised manifold
The Plain English Campaign has awarded Germaine Greer a 'Golden Bull' award for unclear use of language. I applaud the Campaign's work to simplify official forms, but it sometimes comes across as anti-intellectual, and this is such an instance.
However, that's not my point, which is that in rebutting the 'award', Prof. Greer explains the offending phrase, 'unsynthesised manifold' and its relevance to art. Somewhat interesting, though I'm not sure I entirely agree, particularly with the original article for which she received the nomination.
24 November, 2006
Vehicle access to Corporation Street in Manchester is restricted by retractible bollards. Sensors in buses cause the metal poles to sink into the road, but they return very quickly, easily fast enough to stop 'tailgating' cars and vans. Abruptly.
[Update 6/12/06: Heh. I beat BoingBoing to this one by almost a fortnight. ;) ]
20 November, 2006
According to The Times, trading standards officers have obliged the manufacturers of 'Welsh Dragon' sausages to relabel their product as 'Welsh Dragon Pork Sausages', to make it absolutely clear that dragon meat is not actually the primary ingredient.
15 November, 2006
It was going so well...
According to the Guardian, there is to be a 'crackdown' on commercial use of personal data obtained by deception. The mayor of London also proposes to crack down on urban use of 4x4 vehicles with a £25/day congestion charge. It's even said that chocolate may have major health benefits. A good day.
But then the Home Secretary spoils it all:
Mr Reid said he wanted to give police the immediate power to close down premises being used for drunken parties, raves, brothels or other persistent antisocial activity, and to "move away from the traditional view that justice has to involve going to court".
Enforcement accountable to an independent judiciary? How quaint.
Define 'other persistent antisocial activity'. How about political protest? Should the police be able to shut down a BNP meeting without a court order, using the pretext that the neighbours don't like the BNP? How about Greenpeace? How about Amnesty International? How about [your choice of minority interest group]?
The article goes on to say the police may be given powers to shut down an event immediately, so long as a court order is obtained within the following 48 hours. What happens if, say, a protest is shut down then a judge declines to issue a court order? Too late.
Mr Reid acknowledged in his speech in Bristol yesterday that the government's renewed drive against antisocial behaviour was based on a concept of justice that many legal authorities might not recognise. "The problem we face is what I call the justice shortfall. That is, the difference - sometimes big - between what you and I think is justice, and what a lawyer or legal academic might think it is. My kind of justice is swift, effective and matches the crime," said the home secretary.
That's deeply scary, and unacceptable. Justice cannot be based on one person's opinion of 'right' and 'wrong', nor can it be based on the collective morality of a majority. There has to be protection of minority interests and a freedom to dissent.
Effectively, Reid is awarding himself extraordinarily wide powers and saying "trust me; I'm acting in your interests"
. Where does that leave those of us who don't share his interests or, for that matter, consider him trustworthy? Even if he was, what guarantee is there that the next
Government will be entirely benevolent? And the next one?
3 November, 2006
Shock news: Bush a threat
Was it in any doubt?
Disclaimer: I have no particular views on US party politics or the institution of the President, but Bush himself... that's different.
27 October, 2006
Writing for the Guardian, Jeremy Rifkin introduces an alternative approach to genetic engineering of crops. Rather than genetically modifying plants to artificially enhance resistance to pests and compatibility with herbicides, marker-assisted selection (MAS) accelerates 'classical' crossbreeding of existing varieties.
Rapidly accumulating information about crop genomes is allowing scientists to identify genes associated with traits such as yield, and then scan crop relatives for the presence of those genes. Instead of using molecular splicing techniques to transfer a gene from an unrelated species into the genome of a food crop to increase yield, resist pests or improve nutrition, scientists are now using MAS to locate desired traits in other varieties or wild relatives of a particular food crop, then crossbreeding those plants with the existing commercial varieties to improve the crop. This greatly reduces the risk of environmental harm and potential adverse health effects associated with GM crops.
promising, and could render gene splicing and transgenic crops, with the associated uncertainty about long-term problems, obsolete. That's if the big 'life-science' companies don't suppress it first, of course – GM crops are likely to be more commercially attractive to corporations.
- Rifkin seems to be primarily qualified as an economist, not a biologist. I couldn't say whether that affects the validity of his statements. Since he's been working in this field (no pun intended), I do expect he's acquired appropriate knowledge of the relevant science.
- His is a strikingly one-sided article. I'd be interested to read a counter-argument.
19 October, 2006
There's quite a strong facial resemblance between my sister and father. That's simple genetics.
Rather more surprisingly, they have very similar mannerisms, though my father was working in Norway within months of K. being born and moved there permanently when she was three.
Logically, it seems improbable that K. acquired those expressions and behaviour patterns by observation, as she simply had few opportunities. I'd rationalised it as her having been disproportionately influenced in the brief periods that they were together (probably totalling a fortnight per year until she was about twenty), and that the father-daughter link was more intense than she'd ever admit. I know I've occasionally picked up influences from a similar level of 'exposure', though I suspect I've assimilated them and they're less recognisable.
To an extent, I think I'm right, as there can't be a genetic basis for specific word usage (K. definitely acquired "fair dos" from our father). However, research reported by the Guardian suggests that facial expressions may be physically inherited. Children born blind, who therefore can't mimic observed expressions, do display 'the family frown' (negative reactions are particularly apparent, for reasons explained in the article).
I'd considered that counter-intuitive, though it could be (and has been) argued that expression of certain emotions could be critical for survival, so has been 'preloaded' into newborns by evolution.
17 October, 2006
Manipulating the manipulated
Here's an interesting 'time lapse' video documenting the production of a photo portrait, from the model sitting down for makeup to the finished image appearing on a billboard.
The starting point seems to be artificially low, with unflattering lighting, and the end point is distorted slightly further than would be normal (also note that the camera lingers on the former whilst the latter is moved away before one can study it, except with freeze-frame), but still, it's a reasonable illustration of the general point.
I'm not sure how I feel about this manipulation (of the image and the viewer. The digital work plainly goes too far, rendering the subject inhuman, but I can't honestly say I object to the results achieved using 'real world' cosmetics and techniques. Perhaps it would be ideologically correct to prefer the unmodified appearence of the natural woman* but, frankly, I don't.
[If the direct link doesn't work, try this, or this Flash version.]
*: no, that's unfair; Dove's 'Campaign for Real Beauty' isn't about rejecting cosmetics.
12 October, 2006
Electricity has no colour
Claims about companies' 'carbon neutrality' may require a pinch of scepticism after Scottish & Southern Energy failed to prove, to the satisfaction of the Advertising Standards Authority, that its tree-planting scheme would absorb as much CO2 as that generated on behalf of households using its 'green' electricity tariff.
4 October, 2006
It's the way they tell 'em
Compare and contrast.
In an article entitled 'Higher pay for long service ruled illegal', The Guardian reports that:
Employers cannot lawfully pay some workers much higher salaries than others solely on the ground of long service.
However, it will not have an effect on women taking maternity leave, despite some reports last night that the ruling would leave women who took time off after having a baby with no right to claim the same pay as male colleagues.
The court's decision is a victory for Bernadette Cadman, a principal Health and Safety Executive inspector who took her case to an employment tribunal.
However, under the title 'Higher pay for experience 'valid''
, the BBC reports
exactly the same story as:
Employers have welcomed a European Court of Justice ruling which they say will allow companies to continue to reward workers for long service.
The court rejected an appeal by health and safety inspector Bernadette Cadman that it was wrong to pay more to male staff who had been in the post longer.
Ms Cadman said that because women were more likely to have breaks from work, this amounted to sex discrimination.
In its general ruling the court said experience was an acceptable way of setting somebody's pay.
The truth is probably somewhere between the two, or in the raw facts presented within the interpretation. It certainly reinforces the importance of checking at least two news sources.
19 September, 2006
Wired has collated and ennumerated a few causes of death in the USA, to give some perspective on the statistical risk of terrorism.
One rather conspicuous comparison: in the 11-year period 1995-2005 (i.e. including the WTC/Pentagon attacks), 3,147 people were killed by terrorism, whilst 3,949 were fatally shot by law enforcement officers.
[Via Boing Boing.]
9 September, 2006
As a teenage, my sister was fascinated by spiral staircases (any psychoanalysts reading this?). I quite like them, too.
This one has to be the best ever.
From the associated blog entry (otherwise about secret rooms):
Millionaire Scott Jones hired a craftsman who spent 15 months constructing what may be the fastest and most elegant indoor slide in Indiana. This mahogany slide is 17 feet tall, has a 13-foot drop and a 270-degree turn.
[Via Sal; distracted by the excellent fetish-inspired Russian matryoshka dolls
[Broken link amended 21/05/08], I nearly missed his previous posting, about the slide
8 September, 2006
No smoking, no jukebox, sells as much coffee as a specialist coffee shop. It sounds as if a JD Wetherspoons pub is my sort of place i.e. not really a pub.
Seriously; I'd welcome the idea of a space to socialise without alcohol being an integral part of the experience.
Heavy drinkers would loathe the idea, but that suits me too.
5 September, 2006
Though I certainly didn't wish him harm, I share Germaine Greer's views on the death of "21st-century lion-tamer" Steve Irwin.
29 August, 2006
Tea healthier than water - official
Drink water and you'll replace lost fluid. Drink tea and you'll replace fluid and gain health benefits from the ingredients.
Allegedly. I can't deny a sense of déjà vu in this BBC article, which reads a little like a 1920s newspaper report on the health benefits of smoking. However, it does make sense and fits my own circumstances – it's comforting to have preconceptions supported.
I won't bother to paraphrase the article; read it for yourself, over a nice cup of tea.
24 August, 2006
The BBC reports that a poster depicting singer Britney Spears naked and pregnant has been banned from the Tokyo Metro, as it's considered 'overly stimulating' for public display.
A censored version has been permitted, which obscures everything below her elbow. So bare breasts (covered by her hands) are fine, but a moderately distended abdomen isn't? Titillating good, maternal bad? Interesting.
23 August, 2006
22 August, 2006
There's popularising science, and there's popularising science....
To give a flavour of it, mathematicians favour an analogy involving a sheet of rubber and a noose.
21 August, 2006
We ask for your support
I've discovered this a few days late, via Language Log; I hope no-one was relying on my information and hence travelled under-equipped.
The new US TSA 'Prohibited Items' list (updated since this entry was first posted) states stated:
We encourage everyone to pack gel-filled bras in their checked baggage.
. You too, Mr. Bush.
[Update 25/8/06: Great news! Winning the War On Moisture, the TSA has decided gel bras are no longer explosive. Oh well; pack one anyway.]
10 August, 2006
Shock news: women like shoes
What a pointless, self-evident article. I don't mean that the premise itself is self-evident – it's an unsupportable stereotype, anyway – but that the article doesn't say anything, merely recycling pseudo-facts and decontextualised statistics.
A training exercise, perhaps? Dunno why the BBC actually published it.
This Financial Times article is a little more substantial, discussing the role of architects in aesthetic shoe design.
9 August, 2006
Punctuation, legally, matters
The placing of a comma has cost a US Canadian telecoms company $2.13 million.
I won't bother to paraphrase the article, but this is a matter of one sentence in a contract:
[The agreement] “... shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
One company interpreted that as meaning conditions would be fixed for five years then the agreement could be terminated with a year's notice, whereas another company, the courts and anyone with a reasonable grasp of grammar interpreted it as meaning conditions would be fixed for five years unless the contract was terminated with a year's notice, at any time. The subclause "and thereafter for successive five year terms"
, delimited by the commas, is clearly parenthetical.
[Via Neil Gaiman.]
4 August, 2006
Wow. See today' comic at xkcd.
[If you have a problem with 'naughty' words used appropriately: grow up.]
2 August, 2006
If you don't have a spare canopy from a jet fighter (oddly, some people actually don't), you might be interested in spending $1,459.95* on a 4m canoe made from the same polymer.
Obviously, it's transparent, so would offer wonderful views of approaching rocks, shopping trolleys in the Lancaster Canal, etc. I suppose it could be used in more picturesque locations, perhaps to watch wildlife.
*: Plus postage, of course.
19 July, 2006
According to the BBC's usage calculator, my household (i.e. just me) uses 86 litres of water; the UK average is 115 litres per person per day.
Forty-four percent is accounted-for by my toilet; if I added a brick to the cistern I'd be able to reduce that. Showering accounts for a further 35%, running a tap for toothbrushing 7%, manually washing dishes 8% and my washing machine consumes 6%. I don't have a dishwasher, a car to wash nor a garden to water, and none of my taps drip.
I ought to get a water meter. On the basic 'rateable value' billing system, I must be seriously overpaying for my domestic water supply.
17 July, 2006
For the past couple of hours, I've been trying to access a page on the Guardian's 'Been There' travel site. Each time, the page appears perfectly, and I start reading, but then it flips to an error message: "sorry we can't load this page; please try later" (paraphrased).
Grr! The only thing broken is the error message itself!
15 July, 2006
Heh. I've been on both sides of this one, so I can sympathise with the scientists wanting credibility and the promotions people wanting dramatic images. I'm still not sure of a good solution, but yes, coloured photographic filters have had their day.
12 July, 2006
You can't say that here
The Guardian has an interesting article about cultural differences in swearing. It may be stereotyping, but apparently the worst Scandinavian obscenities invoke the devil, the worst swearwords in the UK are sexual, and the worst insult to a French, Spanish or Italian man would be about his mother.
6 July, 2006
It's slightly regrettable that it's considered necessary, but I applaud the decision of the local council in Barnet, London, to make domestic recycling compulsory.
As the Guardian reports, a 'recycling assistant' accompanies the door-to-door collection team, observing the contents (or lack of them) of recycling bins and contacting residents, initially to persuade, though persistent failure to recycle could lead to a £1,000 fine. That's under section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1990 – I hadn't realised that enforceable legislation on recycling of waste had existed for so long.
Big brother? Nanny state? I don't think so. I believe this remains within the reasonable range of state intervention for collective benefit, without unduly restricting individual rights.
4 July, 2006
I wonder if Helen needs a Freudian slip.
Damn. Too late. Dunno what that says about me.
4 July, 2006
Widest web page in the world
Eleven miles (17.7 km) of horizontal scroll at 72dpi.
It's a scale model (classic-style, not quantum!) of a hydrogen atom. If the single electron is represented by one pixel, the proton is 1,000 pixels wide and the distance between the two is... kind of big. And that's the radius of the atom, not its diameter.
2 July, 2006
If eBay was a country, and membership was citizenship, it'd be the fifth largest nation (by population) on the planet, apparently.
30 June, 2006
Chain of thought
MySpace to animal telepathy in seven steps. Go.
Charlie Brooker, author of the blog post about which I commented a couple of minutes ago wrote the (mothballed) 'TV Go Home' website, which was published by Zeppotron, the production company behind the TV series 'FAQ U', briefly presented by Karen Taylor, the no.2 result in a Google search for her name, whilst the no.4 result is an Interspecies Telepathic Communicator.
Just thought I'd use this blog as a proper web log, for once.
30 June, 2006
Too old for MySpace?
In the Guardian, Charlie Brooker has a bit of a rant about MySpace. I think I agree with him, but it does have a purpose. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the 1990s Geocities 'my first home page' has evolved into the MySpace 'my first blog'. Last year it was BlogSpot, next year it'll be something else.
Self evidently, I have some presence on MySpace, but it's primarily just a marketing tool directing 'young people' to the main Ministry site.
[Update 12:22: That was mildly alarming. I posted this entry at 10:42, and at 12:10 received a request to add Fish as a 'friend' i.e. establish a reciprocal link to his MySpace site. Coincidence, or did someone in his team visit the Ministry? Either way, sorry they (you?) had to ask – I wasn't aware Fish was on MySpace.]
30 June, 2006
The, er, Daily Mail (I know, I know) reports that the current owner of Damien Hirst's artwork 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' (a dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde) is talking to the artist about replacing both the shark and the fluid, as the inadequately-prepared former is rotting into the latter.
The obvious question is whether a new body in new preservative in the original tank constitutes the same item. I'd be inclined to say it does.
23 June, 2006
Where's my lawnmower?
We must be heading into the slow news 'silly season' if the Guardian publishes a 'special report' on items left on public transport in London, but the list (elaborated here) is amusing.
How would one get 127 kg of sultanas onto a bus in the first place, then forget them? What about a park bench?
2 June, 2006
The BBC reports research which has established that a part-time patriot mounting two 'England' flags on his (I'd guess it's mainly a male thing) car reduces fuel efficiency by 3%. If 500,000 idiots, er, drivers do so, that's an additional 2.8 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions* from 1.22 million additional litres of fuel expended during the football world cup.
Plus they look ****ing stupid.
*: What's the time interval? Per annum, pro rata? Per tournament? There's a big difference between the two, but the central point remains: each vehicle will be emitting one metric shedload of CO2 unnecessarily.
26 May, 2006
It was the egg
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The millennia-old question has finally been answered, in terms of evolutionary biology.
The logical argument is that the very first member of the species was produced from the genetic combination of two non-members of the species (i.e. the first chicken egg wasn't laid by a chicken), and that the egg in which it developed contained its unique DNA, not the unique sequences of its parents. Hence, the first chicken came from a chicken egg, though that egg didn't come from chickens.
That's a weight off my mind.
25 May, 2006
Only in Norway
Man finds badger under bed.
17 May, 2006
What found where?
No comment required.
15 May, 2006
In a (rather too) wide-ranging article for the BBC, Lisa Jardine proposes that underused churches be deconsecrated and reused for other purposes, thereby saving under-maintained buildings for architectural heritage.
It's an interesting suggestion which, incidentally, isn't inherently anti-religious: the idea is for churches with dwindling congregations (most of them, it seems) to merge where practical. If a reduced number of churches could draw respectable combined attendences from larger catchment areas, it would seem to be a better use of resources than heating, lighting and maintaining huge buildings for the sake of less than a dozen people per service.
I'm not remotely gloating in acknowledging that the UK now has far greater, er, pew-space than christians choosing to fill it. Might a little rationalisation make sense, if only for the sake of preserving the buildings themselves in alternative uses?
12 May, 2006
Worth a try?
Wow. If the research reported by the Guardian is correct, the production and use of cement-based building materials such as concrete account for 5-10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Compare that to 4% contributed by the aviation industry.
The article goes on to discuss an alternative* to cement. This, a byproduct of oil refining, seems to promise a two-fold saving: using one tonne of carbon concrete instead of the traditional variety could save 3½ t of carbon dioxide (see the text for the slightly debatable reasoning).
*: A supplement or partial replacement, perhaps, but not really an alternative, as oil refineries don't produce enough byproducts to fulfil global demand. Increasing petrochemical output isn't a (rational) option.
9 May, 2006
The next stage?
One of the maxims I repeat a little too frequently* is that if cats had thumbs, they'd be able to operate tin openers themselves, so would have no further use for humans.
Via Neil Gaiman's archives, I've just discovered that some cats do have usable thumbs.
*: Not deliberately, of course; I simply forget who I've already told.
8 May, 2006
But what if...?
Last week, the BBC website published a number of well-known philosophical thought experiments, in order to gather information on larger numbers of people than would normally be assessed.
Interesting as they are, I suspect they're a little too simplistic for the erudite readers of this blog, so try this one, originally published by the print edition of BoingBoing in the 1990s.
5 May, 2006
Totally missing the point
No superficial charm can conceal the darker truth: that tattooing is a close cousin of self-harming, and that distorted self-image, eating disorders and destructive urges are now being made manifest in the tattoo parlour. That's why numbers are booming among young women.
Quite simply, body art is a projection of unhappiness and self-loathing.
Tattoos brand you a victim, not a liberated woman.
That's from a bizarre opinion piece by Melanie Reid in the The Herald. Ordinarily I'd ignore such sensationalist rubbish, but what planet (and century) is she from?
Incidentally, '20%' in the article's first paragraph becomes '1-in-4' three paragraphs later. Inflation?
[Via the tattooed & scarified Jack at Pandemian, whose comments on the article are far more eloquent than mine.]
29 April, 2006
Suspicion breeds confidence
Wired has a new blog related to privacy issues. It's called '27B Stroke 6'. I wonder why...? ;)
There's a mock-up of a 27b/6 here (.pdf format), but frankly the author missed the point and an opportunity: the form is supposed to be far, far more convoluted and onerous to complete properly.
It's also disappointing to see from Google that several people have the wrong form altogether. It's 27b/6, not 27b-6. 'Stroke', not 'dash'.
I'm sorry, but a member of Ministry personnel has to be a bit of a stickler for paper work. Where would we be if we didn't follow the correct procedures?
Okay; much of the foregoing entry is incomprehensible unless you get the references. A 27b/6 is a form required by duct repairmen in Terry Gilliam's film 'Brazil'; it's the ultimate bureaucratic 'paperwork gone mad', and an apt name for a blog about governmental intrusion into the lives of private individuals. The primary government department in the film is the Ministry of Information, after which this website is named.
20 April, 2006
I'm torn. One one side, I don't support petitions. On the other, I think animal rights terrorists are abhorrent scum.
Hence, I'm pleased to at least help publicise the People's Petition (crap name), an online petition enabling people to express support for medical research using animals. Which I definitely do.
If you agree that:
- Medical research is essential for developing safe and effective medical and veterinary treatments, requiring some studies using animals.
- Where there is no alternative available, medical research using animals should continue in the UK.
- People involved in medical research using animals have a right to work and live without fear of intimidation or attack.
Visit the petition site to register your support
Note that this refers to minimal, essential, medical research, not for consumer products such as cosmetics – that's a different issue, which I don't endorse.
More info from the BBC.
13 April, 2006
The mettle of our money
If one ignores the implied triumphalism at the suggestion that the US one cent coin might soon be worth more as scrap metal than as currency, the BBC has an interesting article about the metallic content of UK money.
I already knew the central fact, but it still seems a bit odd: the UK's 'copper' coins (1p & 2p) are steel merely electroplated with copper, whereas our 'silver' coins (5p, 10p, 20p & 50p) are 75%, er, copper.
Incidentally, 'mettle', meaning 'inherent quality' really is a verbal coinage derived from 'metal'. Just because it's a pun doesn't mean it's inaccurate....
[Update 17/12/06: Earlier in the week, I read that it's now a Federal offence (offense, even) to melt down US coins for the scrap value, so it must be a genuine problem.]
10 April, 2006
Did you know that it's illegal to fly the Union Flag, the de facto national flag of the UK, from a civilian boat?
For an explanation, and a somewhat one-sided account of the 400-year-old design's history, see this BBC article. Then go on to read the readers' comments, and realise just how unified Brits are about national identity, i.e. not remotely.
5 April, 2006
Here's another case of drivers blindly accepting directions from their shiny new satnav devices rather than thinking for themselves.
The Guardian reports that according to the navigation systems, the tiny road across Askrigg Common in N.Yorkshire is a shortcut between Swaledale and Wensleydale. Cracking.
The 'No Through Road' sign, five-bar gate, lack of surfaced road and 30 m (100') drop on one side don't seem to be the slightest deterrents – the computer knows best, right?
5 April, 2006
Big Mother says...
Folic acid apparently reduces the risk of birth defects if pregnant women take it as a dietary supplement. Hence, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) proposes making it a compulsory ingredient of all white bread flour used in the UK.
It may mask cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency, and hence put the elderly at risk, but that doesn't seem to be considered so important. Likewise, there's an (unsubstantiated) possibility that folic acid may be carcinogenic, but that doesn't appear to matter either, as the FSA has come up with a high-profile way of being seen to be Doing Something about foetal neural tube defects. And that's what matters - being seen to be acting.
Apparently, 500-600 babies are born with neural tube defects each year in the UK, and it's almost certain that if pregnant women (or those planning to become pregnant) were to take 400 µg of folic acid per day, there would be a positive effect; perhaps a halving of the statistics.
However, up to 10% of the over-65 population have borderline B12 levels, which could become deficiency, and anaemia. I don't know the absolute numbers, but it's safe to assume that'd affect more than 600 people. In extreme cases, it could cause permanent nerve damage to the spine – mirroring precisely the problem that it's supposed to prevent in babies. Personally, I don't regard babies as so overwhelmingly important as to make the elderly expendable.
That's not counting the vast majority of people who are simply unaffected by the core purpose: the non-pregnant, including the male near-50% of us who, by definition, can't give birth.
All this seems to be an excellent reason to publicise and promote the use of folic acid supplements, in the form of tablets/capsules, for those who need them, and, as importantly, consciously choose to take them, but it's a ludicrous justification for medicating the entire population.
The article does mention that folic acid may also be advantageous to those at risk of cardiovascular disease, so there may be a wider benefit, but again, that's a reason to promote use of supplements by individuals, not to engage in compulsory mass-medication.
I don't like the cliché 'nanny state', but for once I do think it's applicable.
24 March, 2006
Writing about the wall
Banksy, my favourite street artist (not that I can name others, to be honest) writes in today's Guardian about the zero-tolerance approach taken against 'graffiti' in Melbourne ("proud capital of street painting with stencils" – and from Banksy, that has to be meaningful praise) during the Commonwealth Games. It's an interesting article, and well-written.
24 March, 2006
Cooking for real people
Why not try The Confabulist's ostensibly simple roast duck recipe?
[Via Al (no web link, but I'd love to see one).]
21 March, 2006
Lashings of ginger beer
'Five Go Off In A Caravan', 'Secret Seven Win Through', 'Five Have A Wonderful Time', 'Secret Seven Fireworks', 'Five Get into a Fix', 'Seven Planned Terror Campaign'.
Surprisingly, one of those isn't an Enid Blyton novel.
21 March, 2006
A gothic future
Though all the usual 'eyeliner & Sisters Of Mercy' clichés are mentioned (and the accompanying sidebar is just pathetic), the underlying point of a Guardian article about 'goths taking over the establishment' is compelling. In a PhD study, Dunja Brill of Sussex University found that Goths are disproportionately successful in future careers.
"Most youth subcultures encourage people to drop out of school and do illegal things," she says. "Most goths are well educated, however. They hardly ever drop out and are often the best pupils. The subculture encourages interest in classical education, especially the arts. I'd say goths are more likely to make careers in web design, computer programming... even journalism."
I won't simply paraphrase the whole article, but it suggests that "goths tend to be the weirdo intellectual kids who have started to view the world differently"
, which has implications for future life.
Unfortunately, the article is slightly diminished by Dave Simpson's perception of 'goth' as the 1980s variety, dominated by the look and music of that time, not now (I suppose he can only comment on his own experience, but it's a significant omission), and his suggestion that goth is solely a teenage subculture. To his credit, though, he makes a point of distancing contemporary goths from Marilyn Manson (Brill mentions an academic paper which 'proves' that) and Satanism.
Ciar Byrne, in The Independent takes a less nostalgic approach, quoting Brill's points that Goth is a contemporary lifestyle, that it's not merely for teenagers and that it's more individualistic than communal, all of which match my own perception.
20 March, 2006
Potential parlour game
Al sent me these photos via e-mail a few days ago, but it's taken me a while to find a website offering them.
18 March, 2006
Everyone knows the optical illusion in which the silhouette of a vase simultaneously appears as the profiles of two faces. How would you like a 3D, real-world version, a 'pirolette', customised to your own face? For less egotistical proud parents, the original idea seems to have been to record a child's facial profile
8 March, 2006
As Designboom explains:
People's ideas about what looks cool changes as their lives progress, and with the commodification of subculture into the mainstream it seems that for many people tattoos are just one more status symbol to buy.
Fair enough, but why tattoos of designer chairs?
[Via Boing Boing, which seems to admire the idea.]
4 March, 2006
Don't lose it
Bondage chic, or paranoia?
I wonder if they do an umbrella in the same style.
2 March, 2006
CD hole closed
Thirteen months (to the day) after I mentioned it, it's been announced that mail-order shopping via Jersey, hence avoiding VAT ('sales tax'), is to be restricted. UK retailers such as Tesco and Asda, who effectively just use Jersey as a mailbox, are to have their export licences withdrawn within a year. They won't be able to simply transfer operations to the neighbouring Guernsey, either, as that island has said they're unwelcome.
Jersey-based businesses that buy stock in Jersey and store it there before selling it, such as Play.com, will still be able to operate. Last year, I noticed that Amazon Jersey was trading as an independent affiliate of Amazon.co.uk, which presumably also avoids the latest restriction. I don't know (or care) about HMV.
Not that I've tried the Amazon service myself; when I investigated it last time, it didn't seem to be significantly worthwhile.
1 March, 2006
Athanasius Kircher & his musical cats
Athanasius Kircher was a 17th Century polymath who published over forty books, leading research into subjects as diverse as Egyptian heiroglyphics and plague-causing microorganisms. That's all trivial in comparison to his description of the cat piano.
Look at the cat on the far right.
24 February, 2006
Making the commonplace exclusive
I don't have much to say about this one: an interesting, if rather long, account of the very successful marketing of diamonds – effectively manufacturing a market – by the De Beers cartel.
[Via Boing Boing.]
14 February, 2006
Get a dog instead
Who cares whether it's possible? Why would one wish to train a cat to give a handshake? It's not a toy. If you want a handshake, get a dog. If you want stinging lacerations and cute rows of stitches, feel free to annoy the cat.
The associated tip about 'how to cool your cat down in the summer' similarly fails to understand cats:
Is your cat always laying down in the summer, not playing because it's too hot? Well, now your cat can be cooled off and playing in no time.
A cat is not a toy, existing solely to satisfy an owner's whims for empty amusement. It it doesn't want to play, leave it alone.
[Via Lifehacker, which unaccountably seems to think furry handshakes are a great idea.]
12 February, 2006
Shock: Garfield interesting!
I don't know who noticed it first, but someone's realised that if one removes all the animal comments (i.e. Garfield's lines) from 'Garfield' cartoon strips, an entirely different, somewhat darker interpretation often emerges. As Neil Gaiman says, each is "transformed into a perfectly paced, rather sad strip about a man whose life is wasted and a cat who says nothing."
I don't think it works in all the examples provided at Truth and Beauty Bombs (especially not the first six, which were chosen to demonstrate a different point), but those in which Garfield doesn't react visibly either, in which it seems Jon is talking to a normal cat, are excellent.
To paraphrase a comment at T&BB, sharing conversations with a sentient, witty person who happens to occupy a feline body is one thing, and a comic strip that's rather too bland for my taste. However, if it's just an ordinary cat, there's a whole new level of pathos, and a bleaker atmosphere. Many of Jon's comments become rhetorical and self-reflexive, even despairing.
10 February, 2006
Heard of the Red Crystal?
I've just learned, via an aside at BoingBoing, that in December the states party to the Geneva Conventions on international law agreed on a new symbol, the 'third Protocol emblem' or 'Red Crystal' to denote neutral humanitarian aid organisations. It serves the same purpose as the existing Red Cross or Red Crescent, as an internationally recognised symbol of mercy, but has the huge advantage of being politically and religiously neutral.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement treats the Red Crystal as a third emblem, rather than a replacement for their existing ones, but I hope that it does replace them in the long term.
In the mean time, the two earlier official symbols can still be used alone, or can be displayed within the hollow centre of the Red Crystal. This also offers a useful 'loophole' whereby national aid groups, whose culture-specific logos aren't recognised by the Geneva Conventions (such as Israel's 'Red Star of David'), can subsume their emblems into the Red Crystal for wider applicability, without the Geneva Conventions endorsing their individual legitimacy.
3 February, 2006
Talking up talking down
The BBC reports that Barclays Bank is refitting signage in its branches to make them more 'customer friendly' by replacing 'jargon' terms with colloquialisms.
Hence, 'Bureau de Change' will become 'Travel Money' and 'ATMs' will become 'Holes In The Wall'. What's wrong with 'Foreign Currency' and 'Cashtills'? It's a reasonable objective to make banks a little less formal and forbidding, but it's essential to retain a sense of sense of professionalism, implying efficiency and financial probity. That's compromised by hideously patronising signage which suggests the bank is run by and for obsequious children.
26 January, 2006
Ameliorating the inevitable
CNN reports that a Mexican government commission plans to distribute 70,000 maps showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in the Arizona desert to minimise deaths amongst those illegally crossing the US border. However, some in the USA feel it'll encourage and assist illegal migration.
It's an interesting dilemma. I can see the objectors' point, but if migration is going to happen anyway – and I think one can assume it will, irrespective of 'assistance' – isn't it a good idea to make it as safe as possible?
This is directly comparible to making contraception available to teenagers – does it encourage underage sex, or address the consequences of something that'd happen anyway?
[Update: 22:18: Again via Cartography, it's reported that distribution of the maps has been put 'on hold' by the Mexican government, not due to pressure from US authorities but because the maps could help violent anti-immigration groups to locate the likely migration routes.]
25 January, 2006
I'm not going to keep bashing 'intelligent design' (not least because it's far too easy), but John Chambers at MIT has applied the ID nutters' own arguments (including the one about the eye) to reasonably conclude that if humans were designed, it was to facilitate the existence of giant squid, Architeuthis dux.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn....
20 January, 2006
The words 'slippers' and 'stainless steel' rarely coincide; the addition of 6.3" heels doesn't make the concept much easier to comprehend. How much would they weigh? (Oh; 1.3 kg each – less than I thought).
[Via BoingBoing and Fleshbot, which points out that one couldn't even adorn them with fridge magnets.]
13 January, 2006
There are times when I wish New York was a little closer. Digital artist Ray Caesar has an exhibition there, which I'd like to attend.
Though those accustomed to 3D digital art are unlikely to be fooled, the immediate visual impression could almost convince one that his images are paintings. I love his attention to detail and the consequent richness of his images: slight freckling in skintones, intricate patterns and even surface texture in silk brocade, and tiny quirky details in odd corners.
The subject matter is wonderful, too: fragile, doll-like figures rendered deeply sinister by a combination of surreality and subtle eroticism (though there's no sense of sexualising children!).
I forget where I read it, but a fellow admirer once said the images are so tactile one wants to touch everything, but with a constant fear that one might be about to lose a finger.
There's an immediate similarity to Mark Ryden's work, but it's somehow distinct: more delicate and precise, and much darker, with less kitsch humour. Ryden's images are 'real' paintings, too.
Incidentally, by 'real' I mean analogue, 'brush-on-paper'; I don't regard digital art as inferior.
11 January, 2006
Another nail into ID
Scientists have finally found an explanation for the way bees fly (and Yahoo! has finally reported it – the Guardian ran the story six weeks ago).
It was long-believed that there was no rational explanation for the fact that bees can fly at all, and hence that they must be the product of 'intelligent design'. Wrong.
Note: 'intelligent design' itself is wrong: creationism claiming fake respectability through bogus pseudo-scientific theories.
You may believe I'm wrong, and 'ID' is correct. That's entirely your right.
However, don't bother telling me via my Comments form – I will not give 'ID' cultists screen space. That's entirely my right.
10 January, 2006
There's a good article in today's Guardian, offering a brief yet fairly wide-ranging overview of memetic theory and atheism (and related topics), as formulated by Richard Dawkins.
Beyond a recommendation to read it, there's no point in my making further comments.
6 January, 2006
It's out there
In the Guardian: 'why sci-fi gets aliens wrong'.
5 January, 2006
Joke of the day
I wouldn't ordinarily link to a 'blonde' joke, but this is too good to miss.
16 December, 2005
Thoroughly caffeinated, thanks
In another food-related article in the Guardian, the ultimate response to the question "do you have any decaf?"
Ah, those five little words that mean so much. Specifically, that somewhere along the way you have dropped your guard and become involved with the kind of po-faced gimp who thinks that ingesting a few micrograms of the mildest stimulant know to man is akin to injecting eight gallons of crystal meth into your eyeball and following it with a heroin chaser.
"I'm sorry," you reply. "I only have beverages whose raison d'etre has not been removed in order to accommodate the self-indulgent witterings of morons. Would you like some water instead, or will its reckless combination of hydrogen and oxygen induce some kind of convulsion?"
[I just found it amusing, okay? I'm not really mocking decaf drinkers.]
15 December, 2005
I'm only a third of the way through my typical day, but I think it's safe to allocate my 'disillusionment of the day' award to the Guardian, for teaching me that supermarket premium presliced ham isn't remotely as it seems.
Most supermarket ham sold today, including premium ham, is formed or reformed ham. Formed ham is muscle meat from the leg bones. It is chopped and passed under needles which inject it with a solution of water, sugars, preservatives, flavourings and other additives, or put into a giant machine resembling a cement mixer and mixed with a similar solution. The process dissolves an amino acid called myosin so the meat becomes sticky and, when put into moulds, comes out looking like a whole piece of meat.
If the ham is to be presented as a traditional cut, a layer of fat is stuck round the edge of the mould to make it look as though it has been cut off a whole leg.
Reformed ham is made from chopped or emulsified meat which is not necessarily all muscle meat. Scraps left over from making formed ham may be used in reformed ham.
I knew about the latter variety, but I thought premium ham was 'genuine', sliced from whole meat. To artificially add an outer layer of fat strikes me as deceit, though I suppose it does make the ham look better on the plate, rather than solely being a means to sell the product under false pretences.
I'm kind of disappointed, but still, challenging assumptions is good, so I'm glad I read the article.
6 December, 2005
Attractive gift idea
Ideal for that precocious 10-year-old nephew: a N45 ('highest grade') neodymium magnet. Don't let his mother read the sales copy:
Warning! These are absolutely not toys and can be very dangerous! Keep away from children – these can easily crush fingers! We cannot be held responsible for injury or damage caused by these powerful magnets.
Uses include magnetic steering of nuclear particles in homemade accelerators, levitation devices, magnetic beam amplifiers, scrap iron separators, etc.
Beware – you must think ahead when moving these magnets.
If carrying one into another room, carefully plan the route you will be taking. Computers & monitors will be affected in an entire room. Loose metallic objects and other magnets may become airborne and fly considerable distances – and at great speed – to attach themselves to this magnet. If you get caught in between the two, you can get injured.
Two of these magnets close together can create an almost unbelievable magnetic field that can be very dangerous. Of all the unique items we offer for sale, we consider these two items the most dangerous of all. Our normal packing & shipping personnel refuse to package these magnets – our engineers have to do it. This is no joke and we cannot stress it strongly enough – that you must be extremely careful – and know what you're doing with these magnets. Take Note: Two of the 3" x 1" disc magnets can very easily break your arm if they get out of control.
We can only ship these magnets by ground UPS – they cannot be shipped via air as it will interfere with the aircraft's navigational equipment.
Hmm. Okay. Better wait until he's eleven, then.
29 November, 2005
Church and state
The unfortunately-named (for the context) Irishwitch offers an excellent (is 'very excellent' a valid construction?), non-confrontational (unless one is seeking offence) explanation of why the 'persecution' of christians by modern US society is a myth, probably arising from a genuine misunderstanding.
Please take it at face value, and ignore the fact that the article appears at an otherwise politically-partisan site which I wouldn't normally promote.
24 November, 2005
Fairies stop work
So reports the Times.
[Via Neil Gaiman.]
18 November, 2005
Have you seen the TV advert for... well, I can't name the product, so the ad failed, didn't it?
Anyway; the visual is of thousands of coloured balls bouncing down a street, presumably in San Francisco. I'd presumed it was done digitally, and have been studying it from a technical point of view – do those shadows match up properly?
Via Boing Boing, I've just discovered that they did it for real – 250,000 coloured balls really were released (by air cannon and earth-moving equipment) down a closed block (and I mean closed – the storm drains were covered and nets caught the balls) of Leavenworth St., San Francisco.
A real-world stunt? That's cheating!
13 November, 2005
Bring your own bubble wrap
In such a stereotypically litigious nation as the USA, how could the Nelson Rocks Preserve, offering access to rock climbing and scrambling – inherently dangerous activities – exist?
Under the protection of this splendid disclaimer.
11 November, 2005
New drugs you could be using
I'm not in the habit of recommending prescription medications, but trust me, you need Panexa.
Read the summary carefully, then ask your doctor how to obtain large quantities.
[Via Sal. Thanks, mate – that's the best thing I've read in a while.]
9 November, 2005
I presume US 'Coca Cola Classic' is what we know as basic 'Coke' here in the UK. Whatever; it'd take 323.06 cans to kill me.
So says Energy Fiend (via User Friendly).
Likewise, I presume 'Brewed Imported Tea' is standard UK tea (a little milk, one sugar), of which I could apparently consume 183.07 cups before expiring. Define 'a cup'. The same job would be done by 95.51 cups of instant coffee. Good thing I rarely drink it.
If you'd be fascinated to know the caffeine content of a startling number of beverages, this chart will blow you away.
31 October, 2005
Out Of This World
One for Marillion fans ('Out Of This World' inspired the hunt for and recovery of Bluebird K7):
Gina Campbell, daughter of Donald, who died attempting the world water speed record on Coniston Water in 1967, wants his jet-powered craft, Bluebird K7, to be fully restored to a pristine 'pre-run' state. However, the Lottery Heritage Fund, the only credible source of funding, is insisting that it remain in a partially-damaged 'post-run' condition, as the crash is the most important aspect of its history. It's an interesting difference of opinion; personally, I agree with the funding body.
Tony Jones, of the HLF, said a full rebuild would lose the boat's history.
He said: "We don't think people want to see a replica-like Bluebird they want to see the original that Donald Campbell had his triumphs and tragedy in."
I can appreciate Ms Campbell's unique attachment to the vessel in which her father lost his life, but her threatened response to public funding being withheld seems rather petulant:
"I can have her encased in concrete and put it back in the lake, or we put it on eBay and sell it to the highest bidder.
"It will not go on public display as it is, I will not allow it."
"I want her to look shiny, bright, engineering perfect."
I rather hope her bluff is called, and Bluebird
is bought by someone who then performs the partial renovation, hopefully with HLF assistance.
Incidentally, some might like to visit the website of the Bluebird Project, which documents ongoing work. The 'Retro Diary' page provides a very... technical account of the recovery of Donald himself.
27 October, 2005
No family ties
Maybe it's something do do with fragmented modern families, or the increase in people living alone, but thirty years ago, would many people consult a book, or nowadays a website, in order to learn how to tie a tie? Traditionally, wasn't it a family responsibility to convey that knowledge?
My father did teach me to tie a basic knot when I started secondary school and hence wore a tie for the first time. However, it was very basic, suitable for an eleven-year-old, and asymmetrical, so it's not great that I still use it now (more or less annually), over two decades later. I'll have to try that website's Windsor knot.
Of course, it could just be that ties aren't so universally-expected as they once were.
25 October, 2005
The other Ministry
Every few months, I receive enquiries clearly intended for the UK Government's Ministry of Information, rather than this privately-owned website*. Problem is, there is no such government department: this website is named after the fictional Ministry in Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil', probably my favourite film.
It really mystifies me that people make these mistakes. If a web search accidentally brought someone here, a moment's glance would reveal that it was an error. Plainly, people simply can't be bothered to look at even a single page of the site before blindly sending an e-mail: "There's an e-mail address – any e-mail address; that'll do." It's rather depressing.
However, the UK did have a Ministry of Information (presumably a propagandist's euphemism for 'Ministry of Propaganda') until 1946, when it was rationalised into the Central Office of Information (COI). Its most obvious role was (is) in producing public information films on health, safety or welfare issues.
The BBC recalls those films, though there's at least one error in the article ('Rhubarb & Custard' was a wobbly hand-drawn animation, not cut-out), and I really disagree with one point:
'Charley Says' worked because kids watched them and thought they were cute little cartoons'Charley Says'
was terrifying! Even as an adult, those profoundly unhappy faces, the menacing cat and the sinister messages make me shiver.
I'd say that's a common trait of the public information films I recall: they all take the tone of "if you do 'X', this is what'll happen, and that'll be Bad."
If an advert or drama adopted such crude (and, okay, effective) shock tactics, there'd be complaints, but I suppose the COI isn't chasing customers or ratings.
*: I also receive occasional messages from US christian pseudo-spammers who read 'Ministry' as a religious reference. Those e-mails are fun....
25 October, 2005
Self-determination for cows
There's an odd article in the Sunday Times, about automatic milking stalls which allow cows to wander in and be milked at times of their choosing. It's suggested that cows are sufficiently intelligent to use the equipment themselves, and the robotic system requires no routine human intervention.
Sounds good and, paradoxically, more natural, as cows are milked up to six times per day rather than twice. Unfortunately, it's being marketed by hippies:
Supporters of the system say it not only saves time and money but shows 'respect' to the cows by allowing them to manage their own lives.
"The cows set their own agenda," said Neil Rowe, manager of Manor Farm in Oxfordshire, which has switched to the system. "It’s about autonomy, it’s about enrichment, it’s about stepping back and allowing the cows and the system to develop a relationship."
Excuse me whilst I vomit into this self-sterilising bucket.
Then again, maybe they're hard-nosed industrialists only masquerading as fluffy hippies:
John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University, said the system indicated a basic intelligence in cows. "Most cows adapt to it very quickly," he said. "Although you will find a few cows who can’t be bothered, and they have to be culled."
Right. No coercion, then.
[Via the Guardian Technology blog.]
24 October, 2005
How about 'Higgins'?
There's an interesting detail in the BBC's report of Hurricane Wilma crossing Florida, which mentions another tropical storm, designated 'Alpha'. That name was applied because the US National Hurricane Center has already used the 21 names pre-assigned for storms this year, so has had to start on the Greek alphabet. This year's has been the most active Atlantic hurricane season since 1933.
14 October, 2005
It says here
The Guardian published circulation figures today illustrating the market shares held by the major 'quality' ('non-tabloid', though a couple are actually printed in tabloid format nowadays) UK newspapers. The absolute numbers fluctuate month-to-month, of course, but I found it interesting to note the relative ranking.
In September, the Daily Telegraph sold 904,283 copies (33% of the total), compared to:
The Times: 699,425 (26%)
The Financial Times: 438,538 (16%)
The Guardian: 404,187 (15%)
The Independent: 262,552 (10%).
Kind of scary, considering the degree of political bias (in either direction – left-wing is as bad as right-wing, to me) exhibited by some of these papers.
A total of 2.7 million is pretty low anyway, considering a tabloid like the Sun sells 3.3 million per day (tabloid sales figures).
10 October, 2005
Good news: the new 'Wallace and Gromit' film, 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' has entered the US box office chart at number one, having taken $16.1m (£9.1m) in its first week on release.
Bad news: Aardman Animations is in tatters. A major fire this morning totally destroyed the company's 'entire history'.
"For us, it held everything we had done since day one. Everything from Morph to Creature Comforts to Wallace and Gromit was there. It had all the film sets, the props, the models, everything. It was very important to us. We used it for tours and exhibitions. It really is a bit of tragedy. It's turned out to be a terrible day."
6 October, 2005
Even darker than you thought
The Emma Peel-era of 'The Avengers' was one of my favourite TV series in the late 1980s*, and not solely for the leather catsuit. The quirky combination of sci-fi, suspense, mannered wordplay and, okay, Diana Rigg in a leather catsuit, all fascinated me. However, I never thought to question the title – why 'The Avengers'? Few episodes seemed to be particularly about vengeance.
*: i.e. I'm not old enough to remember the first time it was broadcast, in the mid-Sixties.
5 October, 2005
I blame the parents
I don't dislike children, but I'm not-so-secretly pleased that I rarely actually encounter any. Still, I can certainly identify with Charlie Brooker's annoyance at 'polite' society's unquestioning indulgence of the annoying little ****s.
Brooker proposes distress flares, but I still think my universal solution applies.
21 September, 2005
The power of play at work
Oh, ****. No.
21 September, 2005
Shape of change
There's an interesting article in today's Guardian, alleging that the female waist is in decline; not getting smaller, but less distinct. In Western Europe, typical (human) female proportions seem to have become more like those of males. Since the 1950s, the waist-hip ratio has gone from 0.7 (supposedly an aesthetic ideal, genetically-programmed as sexually attractive) to more than 0.8. It's 'blamed' on changing nutrition and stress.
As Alizon said (pers. comm. ;) ), it's not entirely new news: clothes (and body image stigma) are still sized according to a system devised in the 1950s whereas shapes have changed fairly radically. It's self-evident that overall sizes have increased, and that applies to males too, but I hadn't consciously appreciated that female proportions have changed so much.
A secondary question is that if the link from the Guardian home page to the article hadn't been illustrated by a corset, would it have caught my eye? Those hardwired imperatives still apply....
6 September, 2005
I don't like to say 'I told you so', but I thought Live8 was a pointless distraction from doing anything real – gross slacktivism – at the time, and as George Monbiot reports in the Guardian, many of those directly involved in the aid efforts it claimed to support are equally contemptuous of Geldof's self-promotion.
I have heard similar sentiments from every African campaigner I have spoken to. Bob Geldof is beginning to look like Mother Teresa or Joy Adamson. To the corporate press, and therefore to most of the public, he is a saint. Among those who know something about the issues, he is detested.
18 August, 2005
NASA has released a simulation of 24 hours of air traffic over the continental USA.
I'm afraid it's a 13Mb download, but if you can wait, it's interesting to see the dense stream of flights to Europe 00:00-05:00 and from Europe 15:00-20:00, the continent-wide lull at 07:00 and the vast increase in mid-afternoon traffic. The latter is very much like insects emerging from a nest, much as Boing Boing described it.
17 August, 2005
Looking in the wrong place
Google Maps has mislaid my home village!
Here, the village of Northop Hall in North Wales (pop. ~2,000) comprises the small streets around the words 'Village Road'. The larger cluster of streets next to the words 'Northop Hall' simply aren't part of the village – that's the Wepre housing estate, on the edge of Connah's Quay. Wepre Lane, linking that estate and Northop Hall is indeed only a tiny lane with passing places and no pavement (US: sidewalk); few would imagine walking along it or consider it internal to the village. I've enhanced the colour of the accompanying image, to emphasis that Google displays two distinct built-up areas (where a single house qualifies as 'built-up'!), not one. Hence, it really is incorrect to characterise Wepre as part of Northop Hall.
This might seem trivial, but I'm protective of my roots!
Actually, now I look at other areas, Google Maps is pretty poor about labelling villages or areas within towns. In the Lancaster area, the hamlet of Caton Green is labelled 'Brookhouse', whilst Brookhouse is unmarked; it's implied it's part of Caton (pragmatically, that's true, but not literally). Similarly, the Fairfield/Abraham Heights/Marsh area of Lancaster itself is labelled 'Aldcliffe', really a hamlet some distance from the city.
This is unfortunate. The display technology is stunning, but if the map data can't be relied upon, what's the point?
4 August, 2005
User Friendly's 'Link Of The Day' is a new (to me – it's been out for a month or so) Flash puzzle.
At the start of Grow RPG there's a green globe with a demon on one side and a knight on the other. There are eight items to place on the globe: trees, a vault, a sawmill, rocks, treasure, a castle, water, and a tower. Each time an item is placed, it may react with something already placed, upgrading it. Unfortunately, the demon won't wait until everything is in place, and attempts to interfere from the start.
The objective is to place everything in the one correct sequence which raises every item to its maximum level. The knight will then begin his quest to travel across the globe and slay the demon.
Eight items gives a limited number of combinations, further reduced by a little lateral thinking. For example, if the completed tower needs to be four storeys tall, and adds a storey each 'turn', it obviously can't be placed later than fifth.
It might be worth keeping a note of sequences already attempted, as one is unlikely to get it right first time!
This 'RPG' version is a reworking of the original 'Grow', which adopts the same concept but with twelve items and no narrative, providing many more possible combinations and arguably less entertainment; I haven't got very far with it, and don't feel the same inclination to try.
2 August, 2005
As it says on the button
Noli Novak is a fantastic illustrator, whose work regularly appears in the Wall St. Journal.
She's also a musician. See the 'Bios' page (fourth button) of that site.
9 July, 2005
This is jaw-droppingly vile: Fox News presenters have said that the London bombings were a good thing, as they return attention to the 'number one issue', warmongering, and put trivial stuff like, oh, global warming and African aid 'on the back burner'.
To use multiple deaths as political capital is repugnant, but to use those 50+ deaths as an excuse to ignore literally millions more, and to belittle the future viability of the very civilisation you so desperately wish to defend (by destroying others), is beyond obscene.
Brian Kilmeade and Stuart Varney: you are ****ing scum.
5 July, 2005
Cutting it again
There's an interesting article in the Guardian about Swiss army knives, particularly the effect 9/11 had on the Swiss companies producing them.
With the introduction of air transport regulations, 40% of the world market suddenly vanished – not only were fewer people carrying theirs, but I hadn't realised that a significant proportion of sales were via airport duty free shops and even onboard planes. One producer, Wenger SA, went under, but was bought by the other main company, Victorinox, which has somewhat reinvented the product and survived. One particularly successful model has 1Gb of USB storage, and there's a blade-free air-travel version.
I used to carry a small Swiss army knife everywhere, for years. I found it in the sand on Vigdel beach, just down the Jaeren coast from Stavanger, Norway, so it was as much a mental link to that place and time spent with my father (who, in case that sounds maudlin, is alive and well!) as it was purely utilitarian.
Unfortunately, I lost it last year, and though I replaced it with one objectively better-suited to my requirements, I still miss the old little one; standard Swiss army knife red, but with the (then) logo of the Rogalands Avis newspaper replacing the usual Swiss flag badge. I hope someone found it, and uses it.
The particularly annoying part is that fear of losing it means I no longer routinely carry the new knife anyway.
[Update 07/06/07: Found it!]
2 July, 2005
Check your cupboards
Who knew that whilst honey pretty much never goes off, domestic bleach only keeps for 3-6 months?
Real Simple lists the 'real' lifespans of foodstuffs, cosmetics and household goods.
Just don't blame RS, nor me, if you're poisoned by 23-month-old lipstick.
30 June, 2005
'Doh, The Humanity!' caught a story at ICWales in which a report about the death of TV legend Richard Whiteley has been dropped into a news article about plumbers being poor value-for-money. ICWales will probably correct it at some point, so see 'Doh' for the archived error.
However, the really surreal part is the juxtaposition of either story with a sidebar poll 'Do you eat blackcurrants?', to which, at the time of writing, 27% have responded 'don't care'.
30 June, 2005
That's the name, always has been, always will
Did you know that "the Southport Visiter has been serving the community since 1844 with local campaigns, a bumper leisure guide and page after page of Southport [a town just north of Liverpool] news"?
All without spellchecking its own name. No typo - it really is '... Visiter' on the masthead.
Maybe there's a historical reason for the title. I'll let you know, if they respond to my e-mail.
If anyone's wondering what 'bumper leisure' involves, it's a fine example of a vocabulary unique to UK local newspapers, in which any member of University staff is a 'boffin' (one of my least favourite words) and a pub brawl (with or without boffins) is a 'fracas'. An extraordinarily abundant fracas would be 'bumper'.
[Update 4/7/05: As suspected, it's historical. The Senior Assistant Developer of their website tells me that 160 years ago, the correct spelling was 'visiter', and the newspaper retained that name, even when the spelling fell out of favour.]
24 June, 2005
Didn't know that
Quorn, the mycoprotein meat substitute authorised for human consumption nineteen years ago (Nineteen years! I remember its introduction, though I think I've only ever tried it twice) is apparently derived from a sample of North Yorkshire soil.
9 June, 2005
Say it with stats
It's hardly news that statistics can be misquoted to convey any chosen message, but here's an example. It has been reported in a local free 'newspaper' (really just advertising and 'taster' articles borrowed from a real newspaper produced by the same publisher) that:
Train users want industry bosses to spend money on getting trains to run on time rather than invest in safety improvements.
... 45% of people would rather catch a train on time than worry about how safe it is. Just 21% said train and rail companies should spend money on safety improvements as a priority.
I suspect those last three words hint at the true interpretation. I can quite imagine that the survey, for IMechE, asked people to choose their single highest priority for investment, and found that 45% value punctuality most whilst 21% rank safety highest.
Yet that's their first priority, not their sole concern. I'd be very surprised if people were specifically asked whether they'd want improved punctuality at the expense of safety. Nor do I believe that people were asked outright whether money should be spent on safety, to which 79% said 'no'.
I may be wrong, but this looks like a lazy journalist has just used statistics entirely out of context to support a sensationalist fiction. Of course this is very rare, and no reputable newspaper would print such a story – right?
7 June, 2005
Oh, the irony
Media.teletipos reports (in Spanish) that Plaça de George Orwell in Barcelona is heavily protected by CCTV cameras.
23 May, 2005
Really integrating transport
One of the better ideas for reducing traffic in the Lancaster area is a tram/light railway network. It's still only at the stage of Greens talking about it in local newspapers (though one of them is a professor of transport geography), but here's something planners might like to consider.
In Vienna, materials needed to maintain the tram system are transported by the tram system, in container cars. There's a proposal to use the same technique to carry goods for local companies, transport refuse, and even carry post.
Manchester already has trams, of course, so it'd be great if this could be investigated.
22 May, 2005
Last month, Aardvark mentioned he'd witnessed a grown man having a near-tantrum in a toyshop after being refused permission (by his wife, not his mum!) to buy some Lego.
Purely by chance, I happened to find the same 'Star Wars' sets on the Lego website, and I'm certainly with the 'mean' wife on this one. The Lego Death Star II set may result in a model 25" (65 cm) tall, but I won't be first in the queue to spend £250 on a knobbly grey ball when it's released in September. Likewise, at £74.99 (£99.97 RRP), the Lego Millennium Falcon tests the limits of disposable income, though admittedly it looks a lot better value than the relatively featureless Death Star II.
This isn't the Lego of my childhood. Standard 4x2 bricks and roof tiles can't have been anything like as expensive, but one can be creative with them – Lego shouldn't be about following instructions to manufacture one specific model, which, having made that effort, one is unlikely to disassemble and use the pieces for something else.
Then again, I recall the dark ages of Lego. Are there green bricks nowadays? There weren't when I was a child. I predate minifigs, which themselves predate grey as a Lego colour. I had (actually, have) a minifig-scale castle, but it's bright yellow, as grey bricks hadn't been introduced at that time (1977/78, I think).
19 May, 2005
Did you know that in 1963 provision of toilet paper to the entire British Government (not only Parliament but also the Civil Service including embassies abroad) was the direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Stationery Office?
Did you know that it took a bureaucratic battle lasting eighteen years to convince the procurement authorities to switch from 'hard' paper to 'soft', and why?
Do you realise that means that as recently as 1981 the administrators of the United Kingdom were wiping with shiny paper (think: fax roll)?
That explains so much.
19 May, 2005
Add your own title
Thankfully, it's been a while since I last posted about novelty lingerie, and it's not a trend I plan to resurrect.
But... how about a theremin bra?
[Just in case anyone's unfamiliar with the musical instrument, here's the Wikipedia entry.]
18 May, 2005
Anti-chicken or hostile to the egg?
Neil refers to an interesting entry in the Observer blog. Last year, MORI conducted a poll to investigate the role of newspapers in forming public opinion. The Observer commented on the statistic that readers of The Sun and The Star seem to think (recent) immigrants account for 25-26% of the UK population, whereas the true figure is 7%. The implication is that those papers' editorial policies have grossly skewed public perception.
MORI's own article about the survey is even more interesting. Apparently, readers of The Guardian tend to hold views most consistently different from the national average (The Observer is effectively 'The Guardian on Sunday', so it's unsurprising they didn't mention that part).
This is a little worrying, as two-thirds of Labour MPs are reported to be regular Guardian readers – a majority of the members of the governing party, supposedly representing the interests of their constituents, are likely to hold views differing from those of their constituents. That in itself isn't startlingly surprising, of course – privileged MPs and unemployed chavs are unlikely to have much in common, to pick an extreme example – but the nature of the difference and its apparent cause are slightly unexpected.
Another noteworthy conclusion was that those who read no newspaper at all are likely to be much closer to the average view on all issues, whereas readers of particular papers show wide variations.
The implication is that the 'uninformed' are less influenced by the agenda of opinion-formers, but remember that this poll specifically related to newspapers. I don't know whether MORI filtered-out the complication, but newspapers aren't the sole mass medium – non-readers might be TV viewers or radio listeners, and absorb influences via those routes.
I also wonder whether MORI isolated those like me who don't read newspapers, watch TV news nor listen to the radio, but obtain current-affairs information solely from websites (including that of the Guardian). A different article in the, er, Guardian quotes other recent survey data saying that that 44% of US news consumers visit a net portal at least daily, whereas only 19% read a daily 'dead tree' newspaper.
17 May, 2005
No, YOU roll over and die
I'm a little hesitant to give these frothing lunatics the status of 'people', but if only to shame them, here goes:
The Observer reports that when he attended a meeting to demonstrate that medical science (which happens to have involved animal research) has brought the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease under control, a 63-year-old retired naval engineer (i.e. the recipient of the technology, not even a researcher) was drowned out by a cacophony of pure hate from anti-vivisectionists.
"I wanted people to see how a person can benefit from animal experiments," said the Oxford surgeon Tipu Aziz who operated on Robins and spoke at the debate. "That is why I asked Mike to appear at the debate. I am now very sorry I put him through that horrible ordeal. To these people, Mike's existence is a refutation of their core beliefs. They say animal experiments do no good. Then Mike stands up, switches his tremors on and off, and their arguments are blown away."
Free speech is one thing, but the tactics of these freaks can only be described as terrorism (though disgusting, this example is mild compared to their usual death-threats and violence), and I genuinely feel their organisations ought to be banned, in precisely the same way as Irish paramilitaries. Whatever the merits of their opinions, their methods render their words invalid.
17 May, 2005
Wouldn't know 'truth' if it...
I'm a little hesitant to give these people any screen space at all, but if only to ridicule them, here goes:
According to a report in christianity Today, yoga is to be avoided because its spiritual basis is "antithetical to god's Word". Readers are warned against anything, well, Hindi.
Numerous christian women have told Laurette they decided to quit yoga after learning about its Hindu roots.
"There's nothing wrong with stretching and calming down one's breathing. But yoga isn't really about that; it's aimed at transforming human consciousness to experience the Hindu god, which is a false god."
Care for a side order of religious bigotry with your bizarre, specious arguments, anyone?
"If there's nothing in your mind, you're open to all kinds of deception."
Well, you said it.
16 May, 2005
Mystery 'piano man'
Wow. Stranger than fiction:
A man who has not uttered a word since being found wandering and confused has stunned care workers by giving a virtuoso piano performance.
9 May, 2005
Did you get my best side?
This is a little creepy.
Someone has overlaid a number of photos of a Brazilian teenager at her birthday party, aligning them so that the position of her head is the same in each image. Viewing them as a rapid animation* reveals that her expression doesn't even slightly change from photo to photo; her rictus grin and 'deer-in-the-headlights' stare are constant.
BoingBoing has the source images, diminishing (but not eliminating) one's suspicion that it's a Photoshop hoax.
*: This link is to an animated .gif – other sources might refer you to a lower-resolution Flash movie with loud music – just thought you ought to be warned!
6 May, 2005
Not the Atoll, for once
'National Geographic' has published a swimsuits issue!?
I grew up with 'National Geographic' – my mother still has custody of the family's library of about twenty years of issues (1980-84, 1989-2003, and odd issues going back as far as 1968), and I still read them occasionally. I remember reading 'World', their magazine for children, when I was being home-schooled in Norway in 1978.
The 'NGM's articles on geography, anthropology, zoology and archaeology have always been interesting, and accompanied by stunning photographs. They've always been populist, in a good way, but swimsuits?
My world has just shifted, but I don't suppose it's as bad as my first impression presumed; the 'christian Science Monitor's review of the special edition (which was actually released in 2003) is fairly favourable, and the project makes some sense.
5 May, 2005
Don't look a gift snake in the... ow!
The BBC reports that a child opened a box of breakfast cereal to find a two-foot (funny, I though snakes had no legs) live snake inside.
Ms. Willett, who was eating breakfast with her son at the time, said she first thought the snake was a free gift.
I reckon it was a spoiler tactic by a rival company, maybe even a notorious Kelloggs Corn Snake.
2 May, 2005
For personal reasons I won't go into: WANT!
28 April, 2005
Lowest possible common denominator
I'm not entirely sure why I found the animation on the Willflashforcash.com home page so hilarious. Maybe it's because that's my eighth squirrel of the day.
27 April, 2005
Can't be too careful
This sequence of photos shows that when two penguins were transported via Denver International Airport, security officers obliged them to waddle through the metal detector arch. In case they were carrying concealed weapons. Right.
Sorry to say it, but "only in Fortress USA"....
22 April, 2005
Baby Las Vegas
Boing Boing reported that Las Vegas celebrates it's centenary this year. For some reason, I was surprised – I find it difficult to think of whole towns, never mind cities, being so young.
By comparison, Liverpool will formally be 800 years old in 2007, and Lancaster's been big enough to be termed a 'town' for a millennium or more (not officially a city until surprisingly recently), a smaller settlement for at least a couple of thousand years longer.
Suspicious minds: there's no subtext to this posting; it's just an expression of surprise!
11 April, 2005
No strings attached
It's going to take a short while for me to catch up on my regular blog reading (I do have the odd bit of paid work to catch up too!), but I've just learnt something new. It was posted at English Cut on 1 April, though there's an assurance it's not a joke.
Incidently, English Cut is the blog of Thomas Mahon, bespoke Savile Row tailor, and a fascinating insight into that seemingly exclusive world.
3 April, 2005
The Guardian offers ten self-empowering tips for UK consumers. One I'd like to highlight, as it's been denied to me in the past, relates to rail tickets:
If you buy a train ticket and then decide that you don't want to go after all, you have the right to a full refund, minus administration costs. Take it to the ticket office or travel agent where you bought it within 28 days. (This applies even after the journey time, as long as the ticket is unused.)
More interestingly still, if you turn up for your train and it has been cancelled or delayed, you can take your ticket to the ticket office and get a full, on-the-spot cash refund. (Should anyone dispute your right to this, cite the national conditions of carriage section E, clause 25, paragraph a.)
30 March, 2005
Stranger than fiction
Rummaging reports a... startling story. Imagine being told that the pacemaker you've just had installed, which you're literally trusting with your life, was bought on eBay. Imagine then being also told it's stolen property.
27 March, 2005
According to the coats of arms on their packaging, Weetabix Ltd. hold the Royal Warrant to supply breakfast cereals 'by appointment' to HM the Queen, HRH the Prince of Wales and HM the Queen Mother – who died two years ago.
I knew it was a publicity stunt. I reckon she has a discreet little bungalow somewhere, which she shares with that nice Mr. Presley.
4 March, 2005
A Canadian couple were killed when the tsunami hit Thailand in December. However, their photos of the approaching wave have been retrieved from their camera. I suppose this could be considered slightly ghoulish, but CNN has published them.
3 March, 2005
LA disnae like death ray
The parabolic front face of the $274-million Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, USA happens to resemble the Solar Furnace in Odeillo, France. As the name suggests, the latter can focus sunlight into a power density of 12 MW/cm², whereas the former is accidentally having a similar (but lesser!) effect, giving passers-by sunburn, heating the pavement (US: sidewalk) to 60°C and gently cooking residents in nearby buildings.
The LA Times reports that some of the more reflective panels are to be dulled (matching other parts of the building, incidentally), hopefully minimising the effect, contrary to the wishes of a non-resident who puts architecture ahead of humanity, suggesting locals should "get shades".
The big question is why the design firm of eminent architect Frank Gehry didn't spot the problem in the first place.
Pauline Saliga, director of the Society of Architectural Historians, said she doubts that the changes will drastically alter the hall's look, though she was surprised the original designs didn't consider glare as a possible problem. She pointed out that Gehry had to rework another landmark building, the library at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, after snow and ice slid off the curvy, stainless steel roof and crashed onto the sidewalk below.
"Even great architects make mistakes with materials and designs," she said. "I think you just have to admit it and you have to be pragmatic about it and alter that design if necessary. Architecture is a functional art form, so it really does have to function."
[Via Boing Boing.]
2 March, 2005
I've learned something else today.
I knew that the national boundary of a coastal country extends halfway to the coast of a neighbouring coastal nation, or 200 miles if there isn't a neighbour within 400 miles. However, I didn't realise what that looks like, in the case of UK territorial waters.
That's a lot smaller than I thought. (As the sailor said to the cartographer. Ahem.)
28 February, 2005
Last week, Boing Boing posted a link to the website of a collector. The main page showed the owner's 'Magic Roundabout' cereal toys collection, neatly arranged on shelves, in groups of common colour. It went on to show his collection of decanters. And his butterflies. And lanterns. The visitor could keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling, the collections becoming larger and larger, though the objects themselves were little less prosaic. Halfway down the very long page, respect and mild amusement at the variety of collections began to turn darker, somehow.
Anyone can accumulate quite a large number of, say, interesting bottles; picking one up on holiday, receiving another from a friend, and so on. However, when a collection of children's annuals running into the hundreds, on purpose-built shelves, lies alongside a collection of thousands of figurines on closely-spaced shelves covering the entire wall space of a large room, and when these are only two of many, many disparate collections (there didn't even seem to be any collective theme or comprehensible connection between the subjects), it all becomes a little unnerving. By the end of the page, it was downright scary.
I genuinely don't want to mock someone's hobbies, but I'm afraid this made me profoundly uncomfortable. I struggle to regard obsessive collecting, an essentially self-serving pastime with no discernible purpose (beyond the amusement of the participant, which is absolutely fine with me), as healthy, and this example went way beyond normality.
Apart from changing the tense, for a reason which will become obvious in a moment, I composed the foregoing paragraphs last Thursday, but I wasn't happy with the wording, so postponed publication. Whilst unable to deny that his website made me fundamentally uneasy, and wanting to write about that, I didn't wish to belittle the way someone spends his time.
It seems that other commentators were less circumspect. As a follow-up post at Boing Boing explains, the owner has shut down his website, due to critical e-mails and online discussion. I think that's really sad, and this action is plainly the result of anguish I wouldn't wish on anyone, but if I'm brutally honest, I'm obscurely glad it's gone.
I don't really understand obsession with material objects anyway, though it could just be that I'm not a 'things' person, but my discomfort in this case is more concerned with the mindset itself: the compulsion to acquire, organise, catalogue and display, and to keep doing so to an extreme degree. To be a little melodramatic, one can't help wondering whether he's struggling to sublimate and suppress some other compulsion.
As a more general point, I do find obsession, on any topic, to be a disturbing trait. I suppose I can see that tendency in myself (though nowhere near this level), a topic to which I may return.
28 February, 2005
What are they trying to say?
According to the Guardian, Bournemouth University (where?) has manufactured two artificial mass graves to help train those investigating crimes against humanity. Fair enough, but why did the Guardian subtitle the story "Special Report: University administration"?
10 February, 2005
Vupplopp? That'll be in soft furnishings
Somehow, I think of Ikea customers as too genteel and image-obsessed for rioting, but the frenzy at the opening of a new store in London must have been scary (and, from hundreds of miles away, several hours later, slightly comical).
Bargain-hunters abandoned their cars in heavy traffic on nearby main roads, then trouble broke out when queue jumpers got into the store ahead of people who'd queued patiently for six hours. Alarmed staff closed the store, but the queue charged the doors.
The store is now closed indefinitely.
For ****'s sake, people. It's cupboards and chairs.
6 February, 2005
He IS Dave Gorman, you know
My absolute favourite 'documentary comedian', Dave Gorman, has a webcam!
1 February, 2005
Thou shalt not pass - oh, okay
'Link of the Day' at User Friendly is a high-altitude glider project which has performed test flights near Vancouver, Canada.
Because of this location, the glider had to be retrieved from an island across the US border ("hey mister, can we have our ball back?") after the problematic first flight in June 2001. Even several months before 11 September, US Customs made fairly thorough checks before allowing the team to enter the USA. However:
The border crossing back into Canada consisted of a big red sign at the end of a deserted marina slip, with a 1-800 number. We called the number from a cell [phone!] and they 'let us back in' over the phone.
31 January, 2005
Warning: ice on road
Waves breaking on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, create spray. In January, subzero temperatures mean the spray hits nearby objects and freezes. And accumulates, resulting in some beautiful photographs.
[Via Boing Boing.]
28 January, 2005
A new (to me) feature at Amazon UK is that some (only some) items can now be ordered from the Jersey subsidiary of the company. The advantage of doing so is that UK purchasers won't be charged VAT.
I can't help wondering whether this is exploiting a loophole which the Inland Revenue or Customs & Excise will close eventually, but there may be savings whilst it lasts.
On further examination, perhaps not. Such orders count as 'Marketplace' transactions, treating Amazon Jersey as an independent affiliate, not a branch of the main company. This means postage charges apply to each individual item, and can't be combined - two items, two postage charges. Orders don't count towards 'Special Delivery', either (purchases at the main site with a combined total over £19 qualify for free postage).
This means I probably needn't have mentioned the opportunity. For example, were I to buy the 'League Of Gentlemen' live DVD at Amazon Jersey, it'd cost £5.63 plus £1.24 for delivery, whereas the normal Amazon UK price is £6.97 with free postage if combined with a further £12.03 of items (not a problem!). A saving of 10p is of limited interest, especially if the tax authorities do impose import duty, as Amazon admit could happen.
21 January, 2005
Like Ian Anderson, "I have no time for Rolling Stone" (first line of 'Mother England Reverie'), but my respect for the mass-market music magazine has been boosted slightly by their refusal to accept an advert for a new, youth-orientated edition of the bible:
"We are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages."
There's a time and place for religious recruitment (to any religion, this is not
a specifically christian issue), but this isn't it.
[Update 26/01/05: Bugger. Rolling Stone caved in. The ad will run in February. Not that I was going to anyway, but I won't be buying the magazine.]
14 January, 2005
I wonder what Creationists will make of this.
When the Cassini probe captured images of Iapetus, one of Saturn's moons, on 31 December, it found that 'your-deity-of-choice' has forgotten to file off the casting line.
12 January, 2005
The local Conservative Party Association in Delyn, Flintshire, N.Wales (UK) i.e. the constituency where I grew up, and in which my mother still lives, allowed its domain name registration to lapse. So, as Politics.co.uk reports, someone bought it.
Some might find a Conservative Party website to be metaphorically pornographic anyway, but rarely literally so.
The Association is buying the name back, but:
... has asked police to launch a probe to ascertain who was behind the hijack and take action over the 'deplorable' pictures.
Er, the name lapsed. Anyone can buy it, right? What 'hijack'?
12 January, 2005
Ralph C. Merkle, son of the project leader* of the truly chilling Project Pluto, republishes a 1990 article about the US scheme to produce a supersonic low-altitude missile in 1957. This wasn't a cruise missile as we'd understand it now, but a locomotive-size ramjet powered by an unshielded nuclear reactor, able to drop multiple nuclear warheads anywhere along its flight path. Passing at near-treetop level at Mach 3, those on the ground (including in friendly countries on the way to its Soviet targets) would have been deafened by 150 dB, and received a radiation dose sufficient to roast chickens.
I mention it because it's simply a fascinating article, about the age of 'heroic', state-sponsored science, combining the grand and the improvised: the US government bought a whole aggregate mine just for material to build concrete walls at the test centre, whilst ordinary mothballs were used as spacers during reactor assembly; they evaporated after having served their purpose. It also reveals that a porcelain company owned by a certain Adolph Coors, commissioned to manufacture ceramic fuel elements able to withstand the reactor operating temperature of 2,500°F, later became a brewer.
*: Incidentally, when diagnosed with liver cancer, Ted Merkle became impatient with medical technology, so invented his own prototype CT scanner. In those days, project leaders led projects.
11 January, 2005
Bad weather leaves mud on road
Impressive as an event, but also a damn good photo.
That's obviously not to make light of the storms in California, which have resulted in several deaths.
10 January, 2005
How many Air Miles do you have squirreled away? From the Guardian:
According to a new analysis by The Economist magazine, the global stock is worth more than $700bn (£370bn), more than all the US dollar bills in circulation, and streets ahead of Britain's £42bn of notes and coins.
Personally, I'd define the success a 'currency' by its rate of turnover, not its reserves - these figures refer to the quantity of unredeemed
Air Miles, which is less impressive.
[Via Boing Boing.]
7 January, 2005
Nicely shot in the foot
The Guardian reports that the BBC and Ofcom (the broadcasting regulator) have received a total of 19,500 complaints about a programme to be shown tomorrow i.e. which, by definition, the complainants haven't seen (a minority may have seen the stage version - though I doubt it - but not the TV edit).
At Chortle, the writer of the show, Stewart Lee refutes some of the more ludicrous claims of the frothing protestors:
"Apparently it includes 3,168 F-words. Who has had the time to count this? Have you any idea how long it would take to sing 3,168 F-words? There obviously aren't 3,168 F-words in it, there couldn’t be that many in two hours even if that was the only word which was sung.
"I also read that there are 297 uses of the word 'c*nt'. There are in fact only seven - three as a noun, and four as an adjective."
He also criticises the BBC's attempt to sensationalise the broadcast - a fair point.
It's alleged that christians have orchestrated a campaign of complaints. Surely not.
At least they've given the broadcast a bit more publicity, so it hasn't been a complete and utter waste of time, resources and self-righteous indignation.
[Update 10/01/05: a follow-up story in the Guardian mentions that by the time of the broadcast, the BBC had logged about 50,000 complaints, many using a suspiciously similar form of words. The controversy boosted ratings to an above-average 1.8 million viewers.]
26 December, 2004
Pickets to pledges
Here's a clever idea, turning anti-abortion protesters against themselves.
Supporters of US Planned Parenthood clinics pledge to donate 25c - $1 for every protester who arrives to picket. The more picketers, the more money the clinics receive. A clinic in Waco, Texas has received $18,000 to date.
In very real terms, protestors are actively supporting the clinics by their very presence. Knowingly, too: the clinic displays signs: "Even Our Protesters Support Planned Parenthood", which also indicate the latest financial total, so protesters know how much money they are making for the affiliate every time they show up.
[Via Boing Boing.]
16 December, 2004
What were they thinking?
Perhaps it was accidental: "we already produce a foot cream called 'Foot ReliefTM', and this is a hand cream, so...". If that's the case, everyone on the brand name approval panel needs to be paid a little less money until they pay a little more attention.
Perhaps it was deliberate; a mildly sensational name might attract attention the product wouldn't otherwise have received (hey, I'm mentioning it, aren't I?). It's good guerrilla marketing, and the marketing manager deserves a raise.
"Grow with Aveda." Indeed.
11 December, 2004
It's a depressant, it's a stimulant. The BBC reports company owner Alastair Hook as saying that a glass of coffee beer is relaxing, but that each glass contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, so those who drink five or six might have trouble sleeping. But would they be sober enough to drive?
3 December, 2004
According to the Guardian, postal industry watchdog Postwatch recommends that people use second class stamps to send items through the UK mail in time for christmas, right up until the last posting day. Past experience has shown first class post to be less reliable.
This doesn't mean second class is faster, of course, just that the claimed delivery date (third working day after posting) can be relied upon, whereas the Royal Mail has a rather more patchy record (30% failure) for meeting the first class delivery date (next working day after posting); it's simply not worth paying the extra (28p vs. 21p) for a service which will probably take just as long.
28 November, 2004
Browsing at BlogExplosion, my attention was caught by comments by Caitlin at Cat Out Loud, about two groups that, on reflection, do seem to be contradicting themselves:
Vegetarians who eat Tofurkey at Thankgiving. And anti-fur people who wear fake fur.
If killing and eating animals disgusts you and is morally wrong, how creepy is it to mold vegetable protein into the memory of a tiny turkey, in order to imitate the taste of the dead turkey on a few million other tables?
And if you think wearing dead animal skin is morally wrong, why would you want to look like you were wearing dead animal skin?
This is the second draft of this entry. In the first, I agreed with Caitlin, with the caveat that we might be missing something. Since writing that, I've considered it in the shower, and concluded that we're failing to distinguish between cause and effect.
It's quite conceivable that someone might like the appearence and sensation of fur without approving of practices in the fur industry. If it's possible to reproduce the favourable result whilst eliminating the negative source, why not? Solidarity with a fuzzy bunny? (Wrong fuzzy bunny. Ahem). If the manufacture of fake fur can eliminate the (alleged) need for genuine fur, great; buy fake fur. To reject fake fur because it reproduces the real thing seems needlessly ascetic.
Likewise, it might be asked why one would buy veggie bacon, which is supposed to look, smell and taste like the real thing, if the real thing is supposed to be distasteful or offensive. However, if the odour and flavour can be generated independently of the more usual source, I don't really see a problem. If you think fake bacon adequately reproduces the essential characteristics, go for it.
I don't especially like the look and texture of fur clothing - shiny & black do more for me. ;) That's taste, not morality, though - I have no qualms about buying and wearing leather.
I eat meat. If I had to kill for food, my only concerns would be practical, not moral.
26 November, 2004
Does it make you happy?
On this, Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the US year (day after thanksgiving), The Pure Investor Blog offers a good... well, tirade about excessive commercialism:
Spend your money, I don't care. But next time you want to engage in some onanistic whining about how rough life is just remember this day. The calendar gave you a day - a whole day - to spend with those who matter to you. It's given you a day to reconnect with the kid of yours or to cuddle your wife in the morning or to give your soul some nourishment through a book or quiet or a vigourous walk in the park and you - you - decided to go shopping!
21 November, 2004
How long has that been there?
A chance comment in a posting (on a different subject) at Neil's World suddenly made me aware that Google has a built in calculator, and more usefully, a units converter. Type '2 pints in litres' into the search box just like any other enquiry, and the result will be provided (rather than web pages containing that search term, as I'd half expected!).
Slight warning: the non-metric units seem to be the US ones, which aren't all the same as the UK versions. Take care!
No doubt it's been available a while, and I simply haven't noticed, but others might have missed it too, so I thought I'd mention it here. I'll probably use it at work or from computers other than my own, but I have the excellent Calc98 on my home PC, and recommend it to others.
18 November, 2004
There Ain't No Sanity Clause
Church leaders in Cambridge are apparently 'furious' that veteran punk band The Damned have been invited to switch on the city centre's christmas lights. As the BBC reports:
Reverend Dr Peter Graves, of Wesley Methodist Church in Cambridge, said: "We should not give a major function over to a group that goes out of its way to deny what christmas is about."
As if activities in any UK city centre in December have the remotest relevance
to any religious festival other than shopping.
16 November, 2004
Is that you, Ron?
A certain fast food company seems to be testing new varients of their usual mascot/'spokesperson' in Japanese TV adverts: female and male (links updated 29/03/06).
Hey, sex sells, and it's less scary than the clown.
[Via Boing Boing.]
14 November, 2004
A perverse language
The sentence: "He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas" contains seven spellings of the 'ee' phoneme.
Conversely, there are nine pronunciations of the letters 'ough' in:
"A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."
9 November, 2004
Alone in a crowd - please
In describing interactive viewing/interpretation technology used at an art gallery in Firenze, Italy, Ben Hammersley mentions disadvantages of giving visitors handheld devices or audio commentary players. One of his points surprised me:
... it usually distracts people from each other, ruining the social experience of a museum visit.
Er, good? I certainly welcome anything which decreases my awareness of others in the room; I'm there for the art, not the company.
Even if I visit with my mother or Helen (few others seem to share my interest), we tend to separate and view alone, occasionally meeting briefly to draw the other's attention to items of particular interest. I can honestly say it had never occurred to me to act otherwise. The secondary aspects, of travelling to the gallery, meeting for a 'half-time' drink in the café and discussing the art afterwards, are indeed social, but not the primary activity, of focusing fully on the artwork.
[Update 18/11/04: It seems someone else at the Guardian agrees!]
5 November, 2004
The University's internal newsletter occasionally lists old or surplus equipment for sale to staff. Today's offers a:
Rapier with 30" throat clearance.
A compelling mental image, it's actually a band saw.
5 November, 2004
This looks interesting: the key texts of prominent Western philosophers, "condensed and abridged to keep the substance, the style and the quotes, but ditching all that irritating verbiage."
I haven't read any yet, so can't comment on the quality, but it's an excellent idea.
5 November, 2004
Random vicarious observation
Last week, Lynn discovered that the red Highland cattle of a million Scottish touristy publications are a relatively recent invention. Naturally, the species is black, but the Victorians liked the anomalous red ones, so bred them selectively.
Well, I thought it was mildly interesting.
25 October, 2004
Clair, guest blogging at Bacon, Cheese and Oatcakes:
Have you ever noticed that when you're reflecting back on days gone by, there always seem to be more sunny days than rainy ones? The memories that are most easily recalled, those that float to the surface of the pond that is your brain, are often the happy ones.
Um. No. Sorry.
Maybe it's because I used to be a geomorphologist, specifically studying hillslope erosion and sediment transport by rainfall and hence streams - no rain, no work, so the sunny days were the less interesting ones.
Maybe it's because I cycle daily, and being soaked to the skin has a greater impact on the memory than being lightly toasted by sunlight.
Maybe it's because I dislike bright light, so a majority of sunny days tend to be spent indoors with the curtains closed.
Or maybe it's just the way my mind works.
25 October, 2004
Less holidays, please
As reported by the BBC, the TUC is lobbying for additional UK bank holidays (is 'bank holiday' a UK-specific term? Statutory public holiday, anyway). At present, the European average is 11 public holidays per year, whereas Northern Ireland has ten, and both England and Wales have eight. The Scottish total isn't reported, and I can't remember their dates. The result is that there's an unbroken period of 117 days between the August Bank Holiday and christmas.
Today is the start of the autumn half-term break for schools; a poll for the TUC found that 40% of 20,000 people would like this to be a bank holiday.
"If this Monday were a bank holiday, millions of hard-working families would be able to spend a day with their children during half-term without taking extra leave," said Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC.
This illustrates one of the main reasons I disagree. I don't have or particular wish to encounter children, so don't require a compulsory holiday at the convenience of parents. Likewise, I'm non-christian, so don't want compulsory breaks coincident with festivals of no relevance to me.
In Europe, only the Netherlands has fewer public holidays, but workers there have a higher allowance of annual leave. That's the better model. I'd much prefer to see all UK public holidays abolished, with that number of days transferred to our annual leave allowances, to be taken at times chosen by the individual (and employer). Hence, theists would remain able to take leave for their religious festivals without their schedule being imposed on practitioners of other religions and atheists, and parents could be off work during school holidays whilst others could take breaks at times of our own choosing i.e. specifically when children are in school.
I presume there'd be a need to divide such additional discretionary breaks over the year rather than let people take one single extended holiday - personal and corporate health could suffer if employees were at work for 10-11 months non-stop then absent for a continuous period of 4-8 weeks. I'm sure a workable system could be devised - quarterly leave, perhaps?
22 October, 2004
The BBC claims to report that according to research sponsored by Nokia, "home phones face an uncertain future" - fixed line home phones could become scarce as more people use a mobile phone for every call they make or take.
Research sponsored by Nokia. The mobile phone manufacturer. Hello! What conclusions should one expect from such a report? I don't doubt the raw results, collected by pollsters Mori, but subsequent interpretation for publication is rather likely to favour the client's intended message.
I say 'claims to report' because the sensationalist first couple of paragraphs aren't entirely supported by statements made later in the same article, such as that:
Home phones were used for longer calls but conversations on mobiles tended to be shorter, between mobiles and to friends.
In the UK 69% of those questioned said they turned to their fixed phone because it was still cheaper to use than a mobile.
However, when pressed few could say with accuracy how tariffs on fixed and mobile phones compared.
I don't even see how that final statement can be interpreted as a sign that fixed line usage is bound to cease, but that... extrapolation is
made in the article.
The sidebar of the piece offers a quick (unscientific) poll of readers, which at the time of writing suggests that 59.25% of people responding (admittedly, a self-selecting sample) would not give up their landline phones for mobiles.
Needless to say, I'm one of them.
21 October, 2004
Neal Stephenson speaks
Just a pointer to an interview at Slashdot of one of my favourite authors, Neal Stephenson.
Reading the first page of his 'Snow Crash' was a minor orgasmic experience (see the fourth paragraph here). I've just discovered his latest paperback, 'Quicksilver' (not latest book; the sequel, 'The Confusion', has been out in hardback since April and the closing volume of the Baroque Cycle, 'The System of the World' is just out in hardback) was released a fortnight ago, so I'm off to Amazon!
It's an long and wide-ranging article. I may return to examine individual topics, time permitting (each question and answer would fuel a blog entry of its own, particularly his discussion of 'popular' vs. 'literary' authors), but for now, please read it.
20 October, 2004
More TV - or rather, less
A new tool has been invented. The 'TV-B-Gone' universal remote serves one simple purpose: it turns off almost any television.
When activated, it spends over a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, the most popular brands first.
This will be of tremendous use in waiting rooms, bars, even elevators and urinals, according to the Wired
article - public locations where advertisers and purveyors of audio-visual 'wallpaper' attempt to impinge on one's consciousness.
20 October, 2004
No more trashy broadcasting! Please!
Stranger than fiction, but simultaneously so mundane no-one would bother to invent: a TV in Oregon is reported to have spontaneously started broadcasting an international distress signal.
Detected by satellite and triggering a full response from search & rescue, the air force and police, the TV can no longer be used, on pain of a $10,000 per day fine.
[Via Boing Boing]
16 October, 2004
Turn off, tune out, get something done
This blog posting at Critical Section is over a year old, yet it's still as relevant as when it attracted so many page hits that the site fell over.
E-mail is undeniably useful, but a new message arriving at an inopportune moment can break concentration almost as much as a phone call or a visitor. A massive advantage of e-mail is that messages are stored until it is convenient for the recipient, not the sender. Conversely, most modern e-mail client packages include a notifier (a sound or a popup) which gives immediate notice of a new message arriving. In a situation requiring uninterupted concentration, these objectives are in conflict.
Hence, the article advocates the recipient taking control: don't run your e-mail client continuously, or if you must, turn off any instant-notification alerts. The latter is preferable, as there's less temptation to switch to a closed package to see if anything's arrived.
The author, a software engineer, estimates that he works optimally in three-hour blocks of undisturbed concentration. He checks his e-mail first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the afternoon. For those three-hour periods, no e-mail.
This might be totally inappropriate for those in more customer-responsive roles, but I can certainly identify with the need to concentrate fully on coding a new web page or, particularly, designing new graphics. Inspiration rarely strikes when one has to redirect a prospectus request, change a link on an existing page, or delete a 'jokey' Powerpoint attachment unopened, all of which could easily wait a couple of hours.
It's also made me consider my own actions. I like the staff in the Graphics Unit, so if I have an enquiry (perhaps once per month), I tend to pop downstairs in person, and combine the official business with more general conversation. It's useful to maintain personal and professional contacts, valuable information which mightn't arise in a single-issue e-mail gets exchanged casually, and I rarely receive an impression that I'm interrupting (if I do, I leave; that's understood and no offence is taken). On reflection, I can't be helping their immediate productivity, even if they're unaware of that themselves, so I'll need to be more selective.
The article goes on into other aspects of productivity which I won't reiterate here, but which I recommend reading.
[Via Boing Boing]
15 October, 2004
A linguistics topic brought to my attention by H, though I see Green Fairy posted about it last week: a discussion at Metafilter about concepts and nuances of meaning particular to certain languages. An example I like is that the Japanese distinguish between 'there' (where you are) and 'there' (where neither you nor I are).
The title is a Norwegian example: 'koselig' means more than 'cosy', in ways that don't really translate to English.
'Schadenfreude' is a little different: a concept which does exist in English, without a specific English word (though, as I've just demonstrated, it does appear in an English (well, American) dictionary).
13 October, 2004
Why I'm feeling dog-eared
According to Neil's top-secret algorithm, I'm 230 dog years old.
No wonder I've been tired and absent-minded recently.
4 October, 2004
In't Google brilliant?
Someone at User-Friendly posted a question:
Why is colonel pronounced with an "r" even though there isn't an "r" in it ?
I thought this was going to annoy me, but a simple Google search for 'pronunciation colonel' presented the answer in the top result
PS If you're new to UF, don't worry about the cartoon not making sense in isolation - you need to have read the back story.
1 October, 2004
Be the first on your block (or in the world for that matter) to privately own a modern Zeppelin NT.
For a mere $10 million, one can buy
a 230' long, eight-ton 'sky gem' which:
Can comfortably accommodate 11 pipers, a couple of lab assistants, a pilot, and a flight attendant (15 total).
Pipers? Lab Assistants? Eh?
[Via Boing Boing]
29 September, 2004
Top choir in Lancaster
This week's Citizen (local free newspaper) advertised the visit of a South African choir to Lancaster's Ashton Hall:
The internationally acclaimed Drakensberg Boys' Choir have performed at the Vatican in front of 25,000 people for the Pope and at Disney's Magic Kingdom.
So they've performed at the world headquarters of a religion, and at a theme park.
Sometimes these entries just write themselves.
28 September, 2004
There's a common stereotype that the British have a tendency towards understatement. Maybe, occasionally, though I don't know whether that's as accurate now as it once might have been.
In my opinion, those with a true gift for moderation are Scandinavians, especially when commenting in the media. There's a wonderful example in a BBC story today.
Kiruna, in northern Sweden, is experiencing severe subsidence due to iron ore mines beneath the town (city?). There's a plan to relocate the town centre, which will invove loading entire houses onto trailers. The town hall will have to go in six pieces.
And the comment from Lena Johansson from the local tourist office?
"Yes, they have to move the town a little bit."
23 September, 2004
A conference in Manchester has heard the suggestion that illicit file sharing of music should be legalised but taxed, a surcharge on internet subscription fees being shared among artists whose music is being downloaded. For a moment, I thought that membership of file sharing networks, and hence specifically those people downloading albums would be taxed, but it seems the proposal is to tax all internet users through their subscriptions to ISPs, irrespective of whether they personally are downloaders (aka freeloaders...).
As technology journalist and author Andrew Orlowski is quoted in a BBC report:
"I do not have kids and I do not have a car but I do not have any objection to paying for roads and schools because it is better that they are there rather than not."
That's an entirely fatuous argument. Roads and schools are essential aspects of society, and do need to be funded by all rather than by the most direct beneficiaries, but file sharing is a luxury, a privilege for which the individual should pay, not a right, funded by the whole of society.
I like lobster. Others may loathe the very idea of eating 'giant lice'. Should there be a surcharge on everyone's water bills, so I can eat lobster for free?
NP: Amplifier (Amplifier, 2003) - on a legitimate CD.
21 September, 2004
New Haynes manual
I wrote this entry on 1 February, but for some reason I neglected to publish it until now. Did I forget, or blot it out?
Following on logically from the Haynes manuals 'Man' and 'Baby', the eminent (world's leading?) publisher of owners' workshop manuals for vehicles has released its sex manual, seemingly adapting the standardised repair manual format (safety, problem solving, etc.) to the er, different context.
20 September, 2004
What's the point?
According to the Guardian, more than a third of the waste paper and plastic collected in the UK for recycling - 200,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish and 500,000 tonnes of paper/cardboard per year - is sent 8,000 miles (13,000 km) to China.
If 25,000 tonnes of used plastic bottles are collected each year, and 10-15,000 tonnes go to China, there has to be a negative effect for the UK recycling sector. I don't have a problem with the socio-economic aspect. If foreign recyclers can genuinely outcompete UK firms, fine; I'm no protectionist. However, that's not at any cost. If foreign firms cut costs via exploitative labour practices or polluting industrial processes (small, low-tech Chinese recycling firms have been known to burn plastics and contaminate rivers), it's not genuine competition, and is unsupportable.
The aspect which makes me despair is that the very idea of exporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste for processing thousands of miles away goes against one of the most fundamental objectives of recycling: to minimise usage of resources.
It may make greater financial sense to send a shipping container of plastic to China than to Scotland from England, as a UK plastics recycler says in the article, but there are more costs than money itself.
For one thing, consider the quantity of fossil fuels required to power the ship. A secondary problem is that plastic bottles are a low weight, high bulk commodity, so each container and hence each ship carries a surprisingly low mass of plastic; long-distance transport is one of the less efficient parts of the entire recycling process.
Once processing is completed, what happens to that plastic? Does it make sense to transport it all the way back to Britain, either as pellets for UK manufacturers or in consumer goods made in China? Or should it stay in China for domestic use? The latter might seem sensible, but that leaves the UK as a net exporter; we still need plastic for packaging, so have to make more, at further expense of energy and (non-renewable) raw materials. Is that really recycling?
I'm beginning to rant, so will stop. Read the article, which covers several other aspects I haven't mentioned.
14 September, 2004
P'd off in Borsetshire
These are probably going to become the stuff of annoying e-mail circulars for years, but it might break the chain if everyone reading this:
- Stops forwarding 'jokey' e-mails. Period.
- Reads this Guardian article on complaints received by UK TV stations about their programmes.
10 September, 2004
Special T-shirts have been made for tonight's Blackfield show in London, featuring the album cover artwork on a sewn patch stitched onto a plain black shirt. Last night, Steven Wilson HQ announced that a few are also available to buy by mail order. See that site for ordering details (it's PayPal only).
I'm never quite sure whether it's worthwhile to repost such news. Firstly the number of readers who might be interested is regretably small, and secondly those who would be interested probably visit SW HQ anyway. Any thoughts?
[Update 14/09/04: My T-shirt arrived today. The album cover image presumably prints better onto a white T-shirt, as that's what was done, then the square of white material was stitched onto a black shirt. 'Patch' implies finished edges, but they're not, and I suspect they're going to fray. That's okay as some sort of artistic statement, but not ideal for the longevity of the shirt!]
9 September, 2004
The bone-lined catacombs under Paris are officially off-limits to the public, but a recent police training exercise found something odd in the 190 miles (300km) of tunnels: a fully-equipped cinema, complete with an electric-powered screen and a bar, underneath the Trocadero complex.
Read the BBC article. Another, in The Guardian, has greater detail.
Stranger than fiction, indeed.
[Update 12/09/04: Guardian interview with the people who erected the cinema.]
6 September, 2004
Are you sure?
In case the extracted screenshot is unclear, the third-ranked headline on this morning's BBC News home page was "Public 'want higher smoking age'". As the summary explains (emphasis is mine):
The legal smoking age should be raised to 18 to stop young people taking up the habit, a BBC poll suggests.
However, a prominent item in the sidebar says:
A BBC poll suggests the public can't make up its mind over health.
If you follow either link, you'll find both articles do indeed refer to the same poll.
This means that the BBC ran the sensationalist tobacco story in a priority position on the home page in the full knowledge that the latter conclusion undermines the former, and without mentioning the potentially unreliable nature of the poll in the tobacco article itself.
Good headline; don't question whether it's meaningful.
6 September, 2004
Don't even think about parking
The BBC reports that a Swedish man, Krister Nylander, has been issued with a £90 fine for illegally parking in Warwick, UK for three hours on 22 June. All the information on the ticket is correct, including the make of the vehicle and the licence plate number.
However, the vehicle is Mr. Nylander's snowmobile, which has not left his farm in Bollstabruk, 205 miles (342 km) north of Stockholm. Mr. Nylander has never visited Warwick, in any vehicle.
I'll let you read for yourself about the Manchester traffic warden who gave a parking ticket to a rabbit last year.
Incidentally, in case these freak instances give the wrong impression: ordinarily I support parking fines, and in the rabbit incident, I do think the owner deserved prosecution. If anyone doesn't want a ticket, don't park illegally. No, not even for a moment or to unload - no parking means none. None means none.
Something else in the Warwick article was new to me: that there is a company which pursues UK parking fines awarded against foreign vehicles. I'd always presumed such cases were just allowed to slide.
2 September, 2004
Thirteen local education authorities (LEAs) in England (not the rest of the UK, yet) started an experimental reorganisation of the school year today. Hundreds of schools will operate six terms, rather than the traditional three terms. Most other English LEAs seem likely to follow in September 2005.
This might seem a trivial change, as the three terms have always been divided into six half-terms, but the new ones are of standardised length and the intervening holidays have been revised to provide fortnight-long breaks between two autumn terms of seven weeks duration and four spring terms of six weeks duration. The summer holiday will be about five weeks long.
That's reading between the lines of an earlier BBC report, but I suspect two holidays, presumably the first and third spring breaks, would need to be only a week long if that figure of a five-week summer is correct.
Significantly, the spring breaks will be fixed rather than varying to accommodate Easter*; when Easter happens to fall during the new term times, it will just be marked by a long weekend. I'm particularly pleased with this, as it breaks the overt link between the education system (state) and the christian festival (church) without denying practitioners an opportunity to mark the occasion as they wish. Personally, I wouldn't give special treatment to any religious festivals (or equal treatment to those of all religions, not merely christians; just preferably none (vive la France!)), but this is a workable compromise.
*: The Council of Nicaea issued the Easter Rule in 325, which states that 'Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox'.
However, the 'full moon' in question is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon, and which doesn't necessarily occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical 'vernal equinox' is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.
But you knew that, of course.
27 August, 2004
Funny old (small) world
As Rhys observes, nowadays we think nothing of exchanging e-mails etc. with people on the other side of the planet, but are suddenly impressed when internet communication is with someone local.
Humans are parochial creatures. I think it's hardwired into us.
That's Rhys, who lives about 30 miles (50km) from my childhood home. Wow.
26 August, 2004
In attempting to say something meaningful about the GCSE results, out today, the BBC's education correspondent Mike Baker begins by quoting a colleague:
"When you have a news editor standing in front of you demanding a story, you have to find one."
He goes on to talk down the implications of the results in a year-on-year trend. That's barely rational behaviour for a mass-market journalist. Well done!
26 August, 2004
Politics and the countryside
In an article about the balance between urban and rural socio-economics, and hence UK politics, the BBC makes a rather challenging statement that:
Farming is no longer a major element of the UK economy.
No evidence is cited, though.
I'd suggest that many of the alleged incompatibilities between government approaches to urban and rural areas are dominated by a small number of high-profile issues (hunting in particular), but this must be compounded by a fact I hadn't appreciated: as shown in the BBC's graphic, the Conservative party dominate rural constituencies (the majority of England, by area; the article says Wales too, but that's sloppy journalism and the Tories hold no Welsh constituencies, so far as I'm aware) but are virtually unknown in the cities, and vice versa for Labour. This means the usual bipartisan political battles become characterised as 'urban vs. rural' conflicts artificially, perhaps by journalists seeking a novel angle.
As a whole, I do feel the article has an over-emotive editorial bias, but a sceptical reader will find several points of interest, which one can interpret for oneself.
I agree with one statement, if not in quite the way the author implies:
But only 2% of the population, according to a recent poll, believe pursuing a fox hunting ban is a good use of government time.
Agreed. Just ban it, and move on. Endless, circular debate is pointless; the issue has already been decided. The author seems to suggest the topic is a poor use of parliamentary time, so it should just be abandoned, whereas the topic is fine, the endless obfuscation and delaying tactics are the waste.
24 August, 2004
The BBC has announced that it is incorporating video gaming technology to improve the realism of its TV forecasts. Rather than being represented by single abstract icon covering a 200-mile swathe of the country for eight hours, as one might uncharitably describe the current arrangement, the weather forecast for a region will be shown as a more compelling animation, realistic weather conditions overlaying accurate topography. Rain will be generated in 3D so that it actually looks like real rain, and as clouds sweep over the country, shadows will be cast on the ground. Very impressive, and there's more worth reading in the article.
The Guardian also reports the development, and includes one thought-provoking section:
The BBC Weather Centre hopes 'weather blindness' - sitting through a bulletin but wondering at the end what the weather is going to be - will finally become a thing of the past.
Distractions such as isobars and warm fronts, or 'graphic clutter' - too many symbols in too small a space - will be replaced by a realistic landscape swept by sunshine, clouds, or the forecasters' favourite, 'a rumble of thunder'.
The forecasters themselves will not be swept off their position as some of TV's best-known icons.
However, for me, the presenters are the most distracting element, and I do find my attention being drawn to the person presenting the forecast at least as much as the weather itself. I don't know whether it's a deliberate policy to choose and develop distinctive 'characters', but in a way, anonymous drones might interpose less between the information and audience; that'd be less entertaining, though, and I suspect that's a major consideration.
A few semi-random thoughts about presenters I notice, in order of distraction. Criticisms are affectionate ;)
Helen Willets - born in the same place as me (we graduated in the same year too, irrelevantly), and I don't like my home accent!
Jo Blythe - the others I'm mentioning are all BBC broadcast meteorologists*; I rarely watch ITV's forecasts, though I will single out Granada's Ms. Blythe as particularly distracting. Ahem. (Digression: is it a bit scary that someone is archiving screenshots of her?)
Alex Deakin - slightly aggressive East Yorkshire accent and manner.
Rob McElwee - just odd (in a good, mildly eccentric way)! Some of his colleagues seem manufactured, but he's genuinely lived.
Carol Kirkwood - smiley to the point of implied mania.
Michael Fish - has been broadcasting weather forecasts for longer than I've lived (since 1971). No-one will ever let him forget that he not only failed to forecast the massively destructive (18 deaths, 15 million trees lost, £1.5 billion in insurance claims) October 1987 'hurricane', he specifically said it wouldn't happen. To be pedantic, he was right - it didn't literally meet the definition of a hurricane.
*: The BBC staff are all fully-qualified meteorologists, not 'merely' presenters, and their forecasts are their own.
20 August, 2004
I have no desire to link to the official website of the Olympic Games, but if I did, I couldn't. Or rather, if I wanted to link to it, it's claimed I'd have to:
Send a request letter to the Internet Department stating:
- Short description of site
- Reason for linking
- Unique URL containing the link (if no unique URL than just the main URL)
- Publishing period
- Contact point (e-mail address)
I'd also allegedly be restricted to:
Use the term ATHENS 2004 only, and no other term as the text referent
So MonkeyFilter's chosen googlebomb
of 'crass spectacle
' is totally out of the question.
The key error behind all this is stated on the 'Hyperlink Policy' page of the Olympics site (also the source of the above quotes):
By introducing a link to the ATHENS 2004 official Website on your site you are agreeing to comply with the ATHENS 2004 Website General Terms and Conditions.
That is totally untrue, and has no legal merit. The internet just doesn't work that way. I can link to any website in the world; no permission is required from the owners, who have no rights to impose conditions on me. For the record, I do not agree to comply with the ATHENS 2004 Website General Terms and Conditions
. If the owners wish to block traffic received via my link, that's their business, but they can't stop me placing the link in the first place. Tim Berners-Lee
was talking about this as long ago as 1997
I'm talking about text links to a website, using whatever wording I choose (unless it's libelous, which is a different issue). If I linked using a trademarked logo, that might be different, but I'm pretty sure the legal issue would be the use of a copyrighted emblem without permission, not specifically the use of it as a link.
For a moment I thought this bogus restriction was just a publicity stunt, but this is the Olympics, which already has saturation coverage, so I think it's a genuine, misguided, and unacceptable attempt to control the activities of parties over whom the owners don't have any influence.
18 August, 2004
Adrian Ramos, artist of the excellent Count Your Sheep daily web comic, tends to include a few comments with each strip. I found myself disagreeing with the sentiments expressed in today's, but also identifying with the comments to a disturbing extent.
I have this thing for travelling. Basically, I've lost my taste for it, because I've never gone anywhere. Growing up, I was never able to take advantage of the travelling opportunities that I had, which weren't many to begin with, while I saw almost everyone I knew pack up and leave. With time, I learned not to dwell much on it. So, I simply say I lost whatever taste I may have had for it once, because honestly, you can only wish to someday eat lobster for so long, before you realize that you're standing in a field of corn.
I really, really must take a holiday.
Like Adis, I was unable to afford to travel in my teens or even throughout my twenties, and childhood holidays were always to the same 2-3 places. Those constraints are no longer an excuse, but I still haven't travelled anything like as widely as my friends. Last year, I took over a week less leave than my annual allocation allows; this year it seems I'll lose closer to a fortnight.
In writing this, it occurs to me that I've never been a tourist. Of the restricted number of places I've visited, it's always been to work or to visit people, so I've lived as/with a local. I've never, ever been into a travel agent to book a holiday; it's always been flight-only, with accommodation already arranged and daily expenses handled as they arose.
A new leaf may need to be turned.
17 August, 2004
Sometimes science fiction achieves reality by increments; tiny advances, each mundane or only of interest to techs, gradually coalesce and suddenly a new technology is ubiquitous.
Just occasionally, there's a spark of excitement about the process, and a sense of wonder at the outcome.
Spacecraft powered by solar sails have been a staple of sci-fi since 1924, according to the Guardian. Nowadays, rocket launches from Florida, French Guyana or Kazakhstan are routine, rarely even receiving TV coverage, so it's just so much 'cooler' that the launch of the first ever 'space sailing ship' will be from a Russian nuclear submarine, the furled sails replacing the rocket's cold war warhead. A second ex-military rocket will take the craft, 'Cosmos 1', to an 'altitude' of 800km, completely outside the Earth's atmosphere.
Here, the array of 15 m silver sails can be opened for maximum effect in the near-vacuum. The pressure exerted on the sails by the sun will be miniscule, accelerating the 100 kg craft by a barely measurable fraction of a millimetre per second, yet there will be negligible resistance to forward motion, and acceleration can continue as long as the sails are in sunlight. Within a day, it will be travelling at 100 mph, in 100 days, up to 10,000 mph - without having to carry expensive rocket fuel.
Solar sails are, for the moment, the only hope for interstellar missions. Although far slower than a chemically powered rocket, a space clipper would continue to accelerate as long as there was sunlight. Craft like Cosmos 1 could reach Pluto in five years. The fastest orthodox mission planned so far would take nine years.
13 August, 2004
In a moment of stress, Green Fairy realised that:
... Google has completely replaced my mother.
Because in that five seconds after having stepped on that wasp spent reflecting that I'd never been stung by anything before and what was I going to do about the pain besides cutting my foot off, my first coherent thought was "wasp AND sting AND sole of foot". Not, as undoubtably it would have been once not so long ago, my parent's phone number.
11 August, 2004
Children's walking myth challenged?
I don't often quote the University's own press releases, but this one is worthy of debate.
The popular notion that all modern children are chauffeured around by their parents and never walk has been overturned by new research....
I'd have to question whether that really is an accurate statement of 'the popular notion'; it seems a bit absolutist to say "... all modern children... never walk... has been overturned...", particularly considering that the research seems to refer to all journeys, not just those to/from school (which is the way I read it initially). You might like to read the full article; I'm just going to comment on the one aspect with which I have any interaction: the morning 'school run', which coincides with my ride to work.
... walking still accounts for 60% of all trips by 10/11-year-olds in the Lancaster/Morecambe and Manchester/Salford urban areas.
I don't doubt the raw evidence, just the interpretation. This is the one age range of school children which I would expect to walk to school.
They're at primary schools, which tend to be more numerous and closer to pupils' homes than secondary schools drawing pupils from larger catchment areas.
They're also the older children at primary schools (in the UK, primary education is from age 5 to 11, secondary education is 11-16/18), so will tend to be those showing greatest independence ("I'm a big boy now, I don't need to be taken to school."), and most likely to receive parental support in doing so.
It's the younger children who are more likely to be taken to school by protective parents (and the perception is indeed that this tends to be by car); also older children (11-16) who need transport to secondary schools further from home.
The study also found that, despite a predictable increase in car use, walking and buses remained important in the case of 17/18-year-olds and accounted for over 75% of all trips in each town.
Sorry to be pedantic, but Manchester, Salford and Lancaster are cities, and Morecambe could be defined as either a town or part of the city of Lancaster. I suspect this may be relevant to the results, and commuter towns or rural villages might demonstrate a different pattern.
Whatever the data, it's unrealistic to deny that there are congestion and parking problems around schools at 08:45 and 15:30, and that morning traffic as a whole is appreciably lighter during school holidays.
Maybe some of the holiday reduction is due to commuting parents staying at home to spend time with children.
Maybe a majority of pupils do walk, and a relatively smaller number of cars delivering/collecting pupils have a disproportionate impact.
The central point is that a significant, some might say excessive, number of children travel to school by car - maybe not a simple majority, but more than enough to be a planning issue.
9 August, 2004
Oddly happy today?
An Environment Agency study reported by the Observer suggests that so many people are taking the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) nowadays that it is detectable in rivers and groundwater, even in drinking water.
Of course, a conspiracy theorist would treat this as confirmation of a Government scheme to medicate the entire population....
I'm joking - right?
9 August, 2004
I'm pleased to say this issue seems to have been resolved: Katie Tarbox has publicly apologised to Katie Jones for the massive inconveniences caused by the former's book being entitled 'Katie.com', the domain name of the latter's entirely unconnected website. The book is to be re-released and retitled 'A Girl’s Life Online'.
5 August, 2004
Neil Gaiman has already mentioned this, but I suspect it's an issue which would benefit from as much publicity as can be mustered.
In May 2000, the autobiographical account of Katie Tarbox's seduction by an online paedophile was published in the USA under the title 'Katie.com'. A worthy subject, and it must have taken courage to write.
The problem is that Katie.com is a pre-existing domain name owned since 1996 by an entirely different Katie, a chat site proprietor in the UK. With the book's publication, the website received some 100,000 visitors per day and Ms. Jones was swamped by unwanted e-mail, often harrowing accounts of molestation and rape.
Katie.com used to house Jones' CV, pictures of her young son, and a link to her professional site. The increased attention, including "... the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people..." meant that content had to be removed for the safety of her business and family. Quoted by the Guardian in August 2000, Jones said:
"Now the domain name is always going to be associated with this book. It's not mine any more, it's theirs, and they didn't even ask me if they could have it."
also covered the story, and the fact that when Jones' lawyer, Jonathan Taylor, contacted the publishers (who had been the determining factor in the book's title):
In reply she got a strongly-worded letter from a leading freedom of speech lawyer retained by Penguin who said Ms Jones had no case.
The Guardian again:
Jones and Taylor both feel they're at the mercy of a large multinational publishing concern with unlimited resources. "If somebody wrote a book about dodgy booksellers, and called it 'Amazon.com', they wouldn't stand for it. They have huge resources and I don't have any," Jones said. "I have every sympathy with this girl; clearly something awful happened to her. But at the same time, that doesn't justify them using my domain name, whether it was her doing or the publishers."
This was bad enough in 2000, but the reason Neil G. mentioned it (also Boing Boing) was that more recently Katie J. has been contacted by an (allegedly) aggressive lawyer currently collaborating on a project with Katie T., effectively demanding that she surrender (sorry; 'donate') the domain name to them. Not only has the domain been hijacked by default (each time the book is mentioned in the media, unwelcome site traffic and e-mails peak again), there's now an attempt to formally take it from the rightful owner.
I can only sympathise with Katie Jones, and hope that negative publicity for the publisher and this lawyer might persuade them to act responsibly. After all, their cause is commendable; it's just their behaviour which is totally unreasonable.
See, yes, Katie.com for more details, an open letter to Katie Tarbox & Penguin, and updates.
4 August, 2004
Children behaving yes, outrageously
Read this article (it's in the Sunday Times, so the content isn't overly surprising), then read Green Fairy's response [Update 16/04/07: that link has expired, so I've redirected it to the 'new' home page]. As usual, I agree entirely. Even reading the Sunday Times piece infuriated me; to have been on the train must have been awful, and the complacent misattribution of complainants' motivations has to be challenged.
To summarise: the article's author travelled from London to Cornwall in a crowded train, accompanied by:
offspring aged six, four and 18 months, our nanny, a car seat, a buggy, a violin, a computer and six bags. Seven, if you count the picnic.
The children were noisy. For five hours
Two women complained about the author's total lack of consideration in allowing the noise to continue virtually unchecked, and, the point of the article, were branded as 'child haters'.
Yes, it's public transport. One can't expect silence, but it's common decency to avoid being unnecessarily noisy. Yes, young children can be noisy, but for a parent to not even attempt to moderate their shrieks is unreasonable. Yes, if there's a designated carriage in which children can behave 'normally', families with young children ought to occupy that rather than one where everyone else is trying to get to their destinations in as non-violent a mood as possible.
"Squealing with delight", indeed.
1 August, 2004
According to statistics reported by the BBC, I work in "the best place to look for love in England and Wales". Analysis of the 2001 Census shows that 93% of adults in the 'Lancaster University' electoral ward are single.
It's a University. All first-year and some third-year students live on campus, the staff don't. Not so startling a statistic, then.
A related article, quoted in a 'Ten Things' round-up of the weeks news, states that:
According to the last census, anywhere with 1,500 residents or more, and bigger than 20 hectares, is an urban settlement.
As a letter to the BBC website observed, that phrasing means 'Wales' qualifies as 'urban'. Even rewording it to specify 'individual settlements'
rather than 'anywhere'
, that's a strange definition. I grew up in a village with a population of around 2,000, and certainly wouldn't call that urban.
This may explain, and partially discredit, an earlier BBC report about the Census, which stated that:
According to the 2001 census, nine out of 10 people in England and Wales are living in urbanised areas.
28 July, 2004
Buried in the sand
I'm not sure I understand the central premise behind this BBC article: scientists wish to develop ways to store (sequester) carbon dioxide underground to allow exploitation of 'abundant' UK coal deposits.
Sequestration involves trapping CO2 as it is emitted, and storing it in huge reservoirs underground or beneath the sea. It is already being used in Norway, where the carbon helps to force oil out of partly-exploited fields.
Okay, but that's petroleum: liquid and gas. I don't understand how gas injection could assist the removal of solid coal. Am I missing something? Is the journalist?
I thought the intention was to use CO2 to pressurise and drive out coal gas from unmineable coal deposits; indeed, that impression was confirmed by a quick Google search for 'carbon sequestration geological'. The US Dept. of Energy says:
Coal beds typically contain large amounts of methane-rich gas that is adsorbed onto the surface of the coal. The current practice for recovering coal bed methane is to depressurize the bed, usually by pumping water out of the reservoir. An alternative approach is to inject carbon dioxide gas into the bed. Tests have shown that CO2 is roughly twice as adsorbing on coal as methane, giving it the potential to efficiently displace methane and remain sequestered in the bed. CO2 recovery of coal bed methane has been demonstrated in limited field tests, but much more work is necessary to understand and optimize the process.
Great; good idea. Yet the graphic accompanying the BBC article indicates that purified CO2 will be forced into water-filled permeable rock (e.g. sandstone) beneath impermeable strata preventing the gas from escaping; not into coal at all, and with no indication that anything would be extracted. Why?
[Independent energy consultant Dr. David White] said there was enough space beneath the North Sea to store Europe's carbon emissions for a century.
Is that it? Mere storage? Surely not! A subheading in the article also says:
Burning coal underground
Though no other hint of that possibility is even mentioned in the text itself.
On another matter, the article reports pessimism about the prospects for renewable energy policy in the UK:
They say the other priority [after CO2
sequestration] should be to build a new generation of nuclear power plants to meet demand for power.
The scientists, speaking at the Royal Institution in London, said plans for renewable energy use were unrealistic.
Speaking at a briefing on the future of energy at the RI's Science Media Centre, Professor Ian Fells [chairman of the New and Renewable Energy Centre, Blyth, Northumberland] said he thought it would be 'hellishly difficult' to persuade people to invest in nuclear power, but he did not know how the UK would manage without it.
"I can't believe the UK will ever get far beyond generating 10% or so of its energy renewably - and that would be a heroic effort."
Professor Fells said the UK was now emitting as much CO2 as in 1997, and he put the chances of reaching the government's target of cutting emissions by 20% by 2010 as "slender, to say the least".
He thought the UK should aim for an energy mix where coal, gas and nuclear power each provided 30%, and renewables 10%.
26 July, 2004
I have a low tolerance of hippy s**t, but this one just about gets through the filter:
"Each of us is given five balls. One is rubber and four are glass. The rubber ball is work. If you drop it, it will always bounce back. The other four glass balls are family, friends, health and integrity. If you drop them, they are shattered. They won’t bounce back."
Unfortunately, Rebecca went on:
"When teabags are met with hot water, they don't break. They have integrity. Rather than contract, they expand and release their full flavour."
Which isn't so good.
NP: Porcupine Tree, London 30/11/03
26 July, 2004
This is a depressing story in the Guardian: to avoid the slightest conceivable risks, or even inconvenience, local authorities are sanitising urban green spaces to a ridiculous extent.
There's little point in repeating large chunks of the article; just read it.
25 July, 2004
The story of The Story Of O
To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the powerful 'The Story Of O', The Observer offers (I could have said 'submits'. But wouldn't) memories of its author, Dominique Aury (writing as Pauline Reage).
It's difficult to explain my feelings about the book - it's simultaneously compelling and repellent, fascinating and not at all offensive, in my opinion.
Incidentally, I think it's safe to say the sequel is dispensible, unless only as a curiosity.
19 July, 2004
Tilting at windmills
In his column in today's Guardian, Roy Hattersley has come out as a supporter of wind farms, for aesthetic reasons - irrespective of the economic considerations, he quite simply likes the way they look and interact with the countryside. Not the most public-spirited argument, but valid.
I won't elaborate on whether I agree (in this posting, anyway), but Hattersley makes a couple of interesting observations about rural development. They're not necessarily novel, as I've held similar views for at least a decade, but I've never really articulated them myself.
First, they have not been blessed by antiquity. Anything that is old - no matter how ugly - we revere. Watch the heritage programmes that fail to enliven our television viewing and you will hear paeans of praise for the most ghastly buildings whose only merit is their decrepitude. Wind farms commit the unpardonable sin of being built on land that has 'remained undisturbed for a thousand years'.
The disturbance should be judged on its merits, not its age. Quarries that cut great gashes in the hillside look romantic a hundred years after the workings are abandoned. But, before the wounds heal, they are a visual tragedy. So are the prefabricated hutments that replace stone byres and barns half their size. They would offend the eye wherever they were built. If wind farms appeared in towns, they would be said to enhance the urban skyline. They are offensive because they are built in the country.
The country is where a basically urban people believe they can find nature. And the second misconception that prejudices us against wind farms is the notion that nature is something that is untouched by human hand. Men and women are part of nature, too. Bishop Heber - who told us, "Every prospect pleases and only man is vile" - was a rotten theologian. If God made the hills and rivers, He also made the wind farms. And He made them beautiful.
Apart from the religious allusion, I couldn't agree more. Those who complain most about rural development are at best naïve romantics, at worst selfish luddites who'd like their little corner of England (since I'm addressing sterotypes, I might as well characterise them as 'little Englanders' rather than Brits) to emulate some pre-industrial idyll which was pure fantasy centuries ago.
Have another look at these photos. I'd like to think others would agree that engineering structures have a grandeur of their own.
16 July, 2004
The Guardian offers more detail on a topic I mentioned a couple of weeks ago: the revolution in the way the UK has been mapped by the Ordnance Survey, and the possible uses of the toids system.
14 July, 2004
Viking discovery - shhhh!
Aftenposten reports that when a landowner in Norway discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old (i.e. Viking-era) pier off land in Frosta, Nord-Trøndelag, rather than thanking him for reporting it to archaeologists, the authorities hit him with a bill for Kr 100,000 (£7,850 or US $14,550) to secure the area. On appeal, that was reduced to Kr 40,000 (£3,150), as 'the landowner's contribution towards excavation costs'.
That's awful, and can only discourage others from reporting archaeological discoveries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Norwegian landowners are already less than diligent in reporting finds (a number of inscribed stones have been spotted in farm walls) but this could lead to the deliberate concealment or even destruction of relics.
This is the sort of thing I do think should be funded by the state, and this stance is particularly surprising in Norway, where the state is considerably more interventionist in daily life (high taxation for impressive social provision) than here in the UK.
One complication might be ownership of any discoveries. If the landowner had found Viking jewellery at the site (thought to be part of a ferry terminal built for dignitaries), and was permitted to keep it, there might be a case for demanding a contribution to archaeological costs. In the UK, I believe the state would bear all such costs, but the law of treasure trove means that valuable finds automatically belong to the nation, not to the finder or landowner.
12 July, 2004
No stopping 'No Stopping'
This is a slightly odd story, reported by Manchester Online on Friday, which I hadn't had a chance to mention until now.
Motorists and traders were left puzzled by the overnight appearance of bogus double yellow lines on a busy industrial estate.
The illegal lines were painted along Orchard Street in Charlestown, Salford.
Signs showing drivers could stop for up to three hours vanished.
Alarmed at the restrictions, businesses contacted Salford council to complain as the area is a popular rest stop for long-distance lorry drivers.
They were told neither the council nor the Highways Agency had authorised the double yellow lines or removal of signs.
Note for non-Brits: a single yellow line painted along the road next to the kerb indicates that parking is prohibited during working hours. Double yellow lines indicate an area where parking is completely banned at all times.
There has been a long-running argument between a catering van which parks on the street and a firm in nearby offices, but the company obviously denies all knowledge. Assuming that's true, my immediate thought was that this was a semi-random prank; someone had 'borrowed' a sub-contractor's paint rolling equipment and just happened to have chosen this street to try it out. However, it has emerged that double yellow lines painted on the opposite side of the street, a restriction drivers have been observing for months, are bogus too.
The council has sent workmen to burn the false lines off the road, and are investigating, with a view to possibly prosecuting someone for 'for defacing a public highway'.
There's a story behind this somewhere....
10 July, 2004
A little pessimistic?
The Citizen, Lancaster's free weekly newspaper, has launched a new column, sponsored by a local firm, devoted to reviewing Indian restaurants in the area:
'Russ's Curry Trail', in partnership with Elite Pebbledashers "over 30 years experience"
Someone has a sense of humour, or an unhappy memory.
5 July, 2004
Not merely because it's there
I can really identify with the first part of Dea Birkett's article in today's Guardian, in which she discusses the differing approaches and motivations of travellers. Some prefer to 'hang out', getting to know a certain area and people well. Others "strike out, eager to reach the next night's camp... miles covered are the measure of a journey's worth."
By extension, the objective of the first type is to qualitatively understand, both the visited location and ones self, whereas the latter group are more interested in quantitative cataloguing and conquering of obstacles.
It's not difficult to see where this is heading: though I definitely rank myself in the former group, Birkett is writing about the differing sensibilities of female and male travellers.
In a way, the stereotype is simplistic, and there are exceptions (my sister has visited many more destinations than me, and I suspect there's an element of 'ticking off' places, visiting for the sake of visiting), just as masculine and feminine characteristics form a spectrum, not moieties.
For example, whilst I seem to feel the more 'feminine' motivation for visiting somewhere, the stereotype would imply I'm interested in meeting and understanding people, which is only partly accurate, as my character tends to be a little more abstract, even clinical; I seek to understand, but not necessarily empathise, or at least not on the superficial level of making casual acquaintances.
A further example of the disparity: in the first sentence of that last paragraph, I can't decide whether the word should be 'feel' or 'experience' - subtly different. If I'm honest, I think I mean both, or something between.
NP: Bass Communion 'InteractiveDJ Mix' (2000)
3 July, 2004
Busy with his money games
Interviewed by the Sunday Herald at the end of May, Ian Anderson gave some insight into the financial side of Jethro Tull.
The article is primarily concerned with another of his well-known interests, salmon farming (not salmon fishing, as is typically misquoted by journalists with preconceptions of how an aging rock star should spend his time), mentioning that he has recently reduced his involvement in the industry. His revenue from salmon farming and processing fell from £2.4 million to £278,382 over the year. However, as the final third of the piece discusses, touring and recording with Jethro Tull (and 'solo') has always been his priority.
The activities account for the bulk of the £1.8m gross profit in the Ian Anderson Group accounts. He and his wife Shona, the sole shareholders and directors, shared a £500,000 dividend and emoluments, excluding pension contributions, of £850,954. A modest pre-tax loss of £5806 was booked for the year but the balance sheet shows shareholders’ funds stand at £3.2m. Income included a payment of £209,517 following one of the rock group’s regular checks on its flow of royalties.
Anderson says: “The likes of Jethro Tull are going to get around £2m a year in royalties and now and again you may audit your record company and get another payment on top. Whenever we do an audit on record companies it seems that they owe us money, not the other way round.
“While we have seen a drop in record royalty income of 20% in the last five years, the touring business has held up. Allowing for inflation we are just about on an even keel, as we have been in the last 20 years.”
30 June, 2004
Aftenposten reports that a base jumper was rescued from a cliff in Rogaland (my father's home county) on Monday.
Kjerag*, overlooking Lysefjorden, has a vertical drop of a full kilometre (3,300'), so is one of Norway's most popular base-jumping areas, but it seems this jumper hit the mountainside and was stranded 350m (~1,100') above the fjord until a rescue helicopter arrived.
The final paragraph of the article was worded well:
Base jumpers lately have been fined and ordered to cover the cost of rescues after taking part in the extreme sport. 'Base' is an acronym for "Building-Antenna-Span-Earth," from which participants jump, preferably after first becoming accomplished sky divers.
"Preferably"? So those who hurl themselves from high places without parachutes aren't really base jumpers, after all?
*: There's a photo of the cliff at Gard Karlsen's site.
24 June, 2004
The BBC reports that the annual cost to the UK popuation of funding the Queen is 61p per person. That's drastically less than I'd thought, and though I'm no monarchist, don't begrudge that amount.
23 June, 2004
Mapping the 21st Century
Fairly old news, just found:
According to the Guardian, The Ordnance Survey, the UK's official mapping agency is already the world's leading cartographer (I'd agree), yet it has relatively recently moved into a new league of detail and precision.
Rather than the traditional technique of dividing the UK into 230,000 grid squares on paper map, Britain has now been digitally mapped as one continuous unit; it's the difference between raster (areas containing objects) and vector (the objects themselves and their locations in 3D).
A total of 440 million (and counting - there are 5,000 alterations or additions each day) landscape units have been recorded, each with a 16-digit toid number. These aren't only the topographic units I remember from University (stream meanders, breaks of slope, etc.), but also individual features such as speed bumps.
This goes beyond merely locating items (to within a metre) for presentation on published maps, it includes associated parameters of use to national/local government and the emergency services in more ways than mapping alone. For example, the height of each low bridge is recorded, and a brick building is distinguished from a glass office building.
There's also the temporal aspect: the database is continually updated, so 99.8% of changes can be incorporated within six months. Construction projects can be logged whilst in progress, then resurveyed on completion.
Update 16/07/04: More on the same subject.
21 June, 2004
It's finally happened
I've been waiting for this for years, and when it finally happened, I didn't even notice for a further week.
The 25th annual Man versus Horse race was held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys (also home of the World Bog Snorkelling Championships) on 12 June, and for the first time, a human won.
Huw Lobb completed the 22-mile course (over farm tracks, footpaths, open moorland and tarmac) in a time of 2:05:19 hours, winning £25,000, as the 1979 prize of £1,000 offered for the winning (human) runner increased by £1,000 each year it went unclaimed.
The fastest horse achieved a time of 2:07:36 hours.
21 June, 2004
Look at me!
There's a mildly interesting article in The Times about introversion. Though it gets sidetracked into criticism of 'Big Brother', it partly gets past the relatively obvious observation that society favours interaction, and hence extroverts. It also refers to an article I mentioned here back in October, which is probably the best I've read on the subject.
Incidentally, that's 'The Times', not 'The Times of London' or 'The London Times' - where did those metrocentric and just plain bogus titles come from, and why are they perpetuated, particularly in N.America?
The title is 'The Times'. It just is. It's a national newspaper covering the entire UK, not merely London.
17 June, 2004
Did you know...?
... that more than 130 million copies of the Ikea catalogue were printed and distributed last year, which is rather more than the bible? That's according to the Guardian, and presumably they took it from Ikea's own press release, but still, I'm mildly impressed.
17 June, 2004
Again, Terry Jones has applied the reasoning behind US foreign policy (specifically, the new definition of 'torture') to a more domestic, cosy Middle-England setting.
16 June, 2004
In other US legal news...
... the definition of 'fresh vegetables' has been modified to include chips (US: fries). A 2003 ruling by the US Department of Agriculture has been reaffirmed following a legal challenge to it in Texas.
The USDA argues that the process of coating or battering a vegetable does not change the end product; rather than being a processed food, chips are still fresh.
From the Guardian:
"While plaintiff argued that batter-coated french fries are processed products, they have not been 'processed' to the point that they are no longer fresh," the agriculture department's lawyers argued. "It is still considered 'fresh' because it is not preserved. It retains its perishable quality."
This... interesting logic even extends to frozen chips. Evidently the USDA doesn't regard freezing as a mechanism of food preservation.
Never mind 'fresh', I'd question whether frozen chips are 'vegetables', and would have doubts that they entirely fit the definition of 'food'.
This change coincides (and it must be coincidence, right?) with the fact that the french fries industry reported a decline in consumption of 2.4% over the five years to 2001.
16 June, 2004
Swearing in schools
It seems US children start their school day with a pledge of allegiance to 'one nation, under god'. I'd have major problems with the concept of the pledge at all (the state should serve citizens, not vice versa), but in particular applaud the attempt by a pupil's father to remove the religious reference. I strongly feel religion has no place in schools, other than as an academic discipline, to be treated impartially.
The legal argument was that the phrase contradicts the first amendment of the US constitution, which guarantees that government will not 'establish' religion, i.e. separation of church and state is fundamental to the constitution, but is being ignored.
Unfortunately, the attempt to sue institutions such as Congress and the President failed on Monday, when the supreme court dismissed the challenge. This wasn't on the merits of the issue itself, but for the technical reason that the father hasn't established the legal right to speak for the child. Nicely dodged, your honours.
At least this leaves the opportunity for someone else to try....
Incidentally, the Guardian's reporting of the story prominently stresses the father is an atheist, which might partly explain why he took offence at the wording of the pledge, but it's not strictly relevant, and this shouldn't be dismissed as an attack on religion itself, just its suitability in a compulsory part of the school day.
15 June, 2004
Saturnalia at the Girls' Grammar
Ahem. Not literally.
Professional astronomers, science teachers and artists are collaborating in the SpacedOut project to build the world's largest scale model of the Solar System. Eighteen sites across the UK will host metre-high sculptural representations of the Sun, planets, asteroids, centaurs, TNOs and Halley's Comet. Centred on the Jodrell Bank radio telescope observatory in Cheshire (the Sun), the scale is such that Saturn just happens to be here in Lancaster, at the Girls’ Grammar School.
It's a great idea to popularise astronomy and give people a comprehensible idea of the true distances involved, though I have to question the definition of 'scale model' - the distances are to be represented (at 1:15 million), but not the sizes of the entities. At 1:15 million, the Sun would be something like 100m across, according to The Register.
Three months after the official launch of the project, the website is some way from completion, which isn't exactly encouraging, but it's one to bookmark and check occasionally. Everything should be in place by Science Week 2005 (11-20 March).
14 June, 2004
Smiling at sheep
The BBC reports that researchers have found that sheep are able to recognise emotions in facial expression, not only in their species but also in humans.
In 2001, Cambridge University's Babraham Institute discovered that sheep can recognise 50 individual sheep faces, even those differing by less than 5%, and can remember them for two years. The more recent study found that they can distinguish between a smiling human face and an angry one, and between the face of a sheep when stressed (insert joke here) and when calm (i.e. a sheep which has just eaten).
I found this via Neil, who comments "still no cure for cancer", but this isn't 'merely' self-serving research (with which I wouldn't necessarily have a problem anyway), having relevance to autism, schizophrenia and prosopagnosis, which renders sufferers unable to recognise faces. There are also implications for animal welfare.
A related article about the 2001 research goes on to mention that whilst goats, cattle and horses are probably able to recognise faces too, dogs and cats have poorer visual systems so may not share this ability.
4 June, 2004
Troglodytes attack Castle
Like her or not, one has to acknowledge the late Barbara Castle, Blackburn's MP for 34 years and a MEP for a further 10 years before being ennobled as Baroness Castle of Blackburn, was somewhat more influential on defining modern Britain than the average MP. As Transport Secretary in the Wilson governments, she introduced the breathalyser, the 70mph speed limit and legislation eventually leading to compulsory seat belts. As Social Services Secretary, she was architect of the Equal Pay Act and introduced Child Benefit. She remained an active politician until well into her eighties, particularly campaigning for the rights of pensioners. As a BBC obituary said: "... one of the most impressive politicians of her generation."
As the Guardian reports, Blackburn's (Labour-controlled) council wanted to honour her with a statue, but Conservative councillors are less than receptive to the idea, ludicrously dismissing her as 'just another MP'.
"It's over the top," said Colin Rigby, the leader of the Conservative group. "She's already got a nice little bit of dual carriage-way named after her. We've got enough memorials to MPs."
'A nice little bit of dual-carriageway'? This isn't about party politics, it's an acknowledgement of high achievement. Perhaps the statue should be in Westminster rather than in her constituency, for her contribution to national and European politics - I have no idea whether she served the local community well whilst focusing on wider issues - but for some minority-party nonentity to indulge such petty vindictiveness is appalling.
2 June, 2004
Watching paint dry
This may well be the only post I make about 'Big Brother', and it's a suggestion to watch something else instead:
Forget Big Brother. Watching Paint Dry
is the new reality show. The first reality show to do exactly what it says on the tin.
Every day a different kind of paint will be put on to a wall. Confirmed contestants include; matt, silk, gloss, satin, vinyl, eggshell textured and smooth masonry - all of whom are eagerly looking forward to their first brush with fame.
Watch the action here every day via video link-up and vote for your favourite paint. The show will run for eight weeks and the results of the daily paint votes will be will be announced at 5pm every day. Plus there'll be a special 'Emulsion Show' every Friday when the paint with the least votes will leave the programme and head back to the DIY store.
Or then again, perhaps not.
28 May, 2004
Police have 'right' to take DNA
The Citizen (Lancaster's free weekly newspaper) reports this as local news, but I presume it has to be nationwide: new rules allow the police to take DNA samples and fingerprints from anyone arrested, whether or not they are subsequently charged.
Quite apart from the the issue of treating the wrongly arrested as criminals, as always I object to government agencies having any personal information 'just in case it becomes handy in the future'. If there is a specific investigation for which information is required, I'll consider providing it, so long as a) I retain the right to refuse, and b) it is destroyed afterwards, but I'm not prepared to contribute to a permanent database facilitating blanket monitoring of the populace.
In the same article, a spokesperson of Liberty implies that the DNA data ultimately could be passed on to other agencies such as the NHS or medical insurers; I'm unconvinced that this is a realistic suggestion, but one has to consider now how data might be used in 10-20 years.
27 May, 2004
Did you know about triclosan?
Chopping boards and other utensils, impregnated with an antibacterial and antifungal agent. This seemed a really good idea to me, so I keep meaning to buy them when I replace my current ones. It's certainly a selling point.
Or it was. A passing comment in a Guardian article led me to Google and a Nature article from as long ago as 1998, plus an associated BBC report – I don't know how this evaded me until now.
It seems that the antibacterial agent in question is triclosan, sometimes marketed as 'Microban'. Never mind 'seems'; I know it is, as such items are sold by e.g. Sainsburys as "with Microban" i.e. it's a promotional point, not a reluctant admission.
The problem is that triclosan, also widely used in toys, washing-up liquids and toothpastes for obvious reasons, and cosmetics for less obvious reasons (as a preservative), is effectively an antibiotic, the indiscriminate use of which could cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop. It has also been measured in human breast milk and fish, demonstrating its capacity as a biotic contaminant (worrying, though there's no scientific suggestion that once there, it's in any way toxic).
So, not one for the shopping list after all. I'll also have to research which toothpastes contain triclosan. Apparently they're the majority in Britain, though not universal. Check the ingredients lists before buying!
Incidentally, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is another ingredient of toothpastes and shampoos to be avoided, which I did know about (why is there a foaming agent in toothpaste, and why use a chemical which degreases and dries the skin in a dandruff shampoo?). It's almost amusing that a side-effect of SLS, mouth ulcers, could be partially counteracted by an antibacterial/antifungal agent such as, er, triclosan.
19 May, 2004
This brief article in the Guardian summarising the current top five films at UK cinemas ends with an odd statistic:
'Troy', managed to make it into ninth place on the chart despite only being screened at previews at a single London cinema prior to its full release this Friday.
Box office receipts from a single cinema can put a film into the nationwide top ten? How can this be representative, and in any way meaningful?
18 May, 2004
Bob Dylan has appeared in TV advert (his first ever) for Victoria's Secret.
Bob Dylan, respected symbol of the 60s/70s counterculture.
Bob Dylan, 63 years old next Monday.
In a lingerie ad.
I don't know what more to say. Just read the article.
"Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you"
Bob Dylan, 1965, 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)'
I don't have an inherent problem with the company or advert, and I'm certainly not a Dylan fan, but there is an uncomfortable hint of hypocrisy about the whole thing.
[This is old news, apparently - it seems the advert was shown in the USA last month.]
13 May, 2004
Power of abuse pictures
Writing at the BBC website, award-winning photographer and documentary filmmaker David Modell explores the particular, destructive power of the pictures of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, explaining that the photographer was not merely documenting the degradation, but was complicit in the abuse, and actually part of the torture.
Quite apart from his central message (which I don't mean to diminish by quoting the following section in isolation; indeed, please read the article, Modell makes a fascinating general point about the medium of photography and photojournalism.
The language of photography has, again, proved its power.
The person who said that "a picture is worth a thousand words" was wrong - they missed the point. Photography is a language, a form of communication in its own right that doesn't bear comparison with any other. There is no form of words - even if describing the horror these pictures reveal - that could have elicited the kind of response felt when looking at them and the political shift that will follow. A photograph speaks to all of us regardless of culture or spoken language.
There is a synchronicity between the nature of a still image and the way in which we remember events. Memory itself is constructed through frozen moments in time and so a photograph slips serenely into our minds and is retained. Moving images can never be this potent. We cannot retain and carry with us a video-clip in the same way. We cannot have a two-minute news report always available in the top drawer of our minds ready to be glanced at, at any moment.
6 May, 2004
Organic? No thanks.
The subtitle is over-emotive and the tacit approval of GM agriculture shouldn't go unquestioned, but otherwise I agree with every word of this article in the Guardian.
If people want to pay inflated prices for organic food that makes them feel good about themselves (in a psychosomatic sense), that's their business, but I won't be joining them, and utterly reject the ethical, health and environmental claims made for the industry.
30 April, 2004
According to Deutsche Welle, Poland's planned restriction on economic immigration from the current EU won't apply to nationals of Eire and the UK, countries which have not imposed barriers on the movement of workers from the new EU member states.
Which makes Helen's status as a Warszawa resident more secure. Good news.
29 April, 2004
Okay, the BBC is a public service broadcaster, but a dedicated station for pets? Not about pets, for them. As the Guardian reports (link requires free registration):
The interactive TV service will consist of a looped series of images and sounds, including clips of snooker balls rolling across the green baize, frisbees flying through the air, cat toys and cartoon characters such as Top Cat. The service will also offer clips from more traditional TV fare, such as EastEnders, Neighbours, The Muppet Show and Animal Hospital.
A week-long trial of the digital station is advertised as research into the types of TV programmes, sounds and images to which animals respond; the BBC are targeting dogs, cats, birds and even fish.
Though the immediate reaction to this story might be incredulity, it does seem interesting.
27 April, 2004
I rarely agree with the proselytising of George Monbiot, but in this article at his website, republished by the Guardian, he does reflect my own view, for once: that in underplaying global warming as mere speculation, mainstream journalists are doing absolute harm.
In reading the article, remember Monbiot is hardly a dispassionate observer, but is no less reliable a reporter, and is rather more qualified in the subject, than the average TV or newspaper journalist.
26 April, 2004
Marillion on BBC News home page
They really do have a gift for finding odd angles for promotion.
h even has his face on the BBC News home page, the day after Marillion registered their first top ten (no.7) single in the UK since the Fish era, 16 years ago.
However, that's not the angle: h is featured in the children's news section. Under the headline 'Rock Dad', h's children, Sofi and Nial are interviewed about him.
This article is part of the BBC's 'Press Pack' scheme, whereby children can submit their own articles for consideration by the BBC's editors; not exactly aimed at bands wanting publicity, but all credit to them for ingenuity! Also shamelessness, but whatever works....
NP: A Perfect Circle, 'Thirteenth Step' (2003). New favourite album.
23 April, 2004
It's okay, they weren't Americans
Credit for this observation has to go to Neil Turner, who noticed that on the day about 3,000 people died in a train explosion in N.Korea - if that's true, it's the world's worst ever rail disaster, killing about the same number as died in New York on 11 Sept, 2001 - the BBC's lead story was that the UK Prime Minister had changed his mind about holding a referendum at an unspecified point within the next year.
Double standards, anyone?
22 April, 2004
A real barrier to spam?
There's an interesting idea in the Guardian, suggesting a way to combat spammers: introduce a charge for sending e-mail.
My immediate reaction was very negative - I'm not prepared to pay an arbitrary financial charge to a government agency or commercial company, and there are both administrative/technical issues and moral ones of social exclusion.
Yet I read on, and found that an elegantly simple solution was proposed: rather than invoke a financial charge, slow down the process of sending an e-mail by forcing the computer to perform an additional calculation, such as generate a digital signature before sending each message. For individual e-mails, this might manifest as a pause lasting under a second, but when multiplied to the volume of a spammer's mail shot, a million individual pauses would make the exercise far more difficult.
20 April, 2004
Psst... want some chocolate?
From the BBC:
More than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate, a survey has found.
It also showed that 34% of respondents volunteered their password when asked without even needing to be bribed.
A second survey found that 79% of people unwittingly gave away information that could be used to steal their identity when questioned.
Why bother with firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption, etc. when users make a nonsense of it all?
I sometimes wonder whether there's an over-reliance on the array of cutting-edge protection on PCs and servers, and people feel the software will pick up the pieces whatever happens. I'm beginning to question whether that's overly charitable, and suspect that people simply don't think computer security even matters.
19 April, 2004
In the Guardian, three popular bloggers discuss why they write, and their views on being read.
My motivation is closest to that of Gregor Wright: I don't write to entertain, nor even particularly to be read at all. I tend not to write about daily events and people. That's not entirely deliberate, but if I did, I'd need to be more conscious of an audience (particularly a known audience), which might be inhibiting. I've mentioned before that my life is somehow 'compartmentalised '. Again, such barriers aren't really deliberate, but I have to acknowledge they're there, and I wouldn't feel comfortable publicly reporting, say, time spent with Helen to an audience which included friends in Lancaster or (potentially) my family; I'm different in different company.
Perhaps that needs to be challenged. We'll see.
16 April, 2004
Consider yourself disowned
The BBC reports that a man has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for slashing nearly 2,000 vehicle tyres in 10 days after being soaked by an inconsiderate motorist while cycling. The BBC's characterisation of the offender as 'a cyclist' is a bit misleading, as he certainly doesn't represent cyclists, and I have no sympathy for him; the BBC seems to suggest he was a campaigner, but 'lone nut' is more accurate. The offender's vandalism does nothing to help any alleged 'cause' of cyclists - if one inconsiderate driver made him angry, what is the relevance of 'punishing' 548 entirely different parked cars, lorries and vans? Because all drivers act identically? Untrue. This division of people into homogenous mobs of 'cyclists' and 'drivers' is not only needlessly and unproductively adversarial, it's also inaccurate - many cyclists drive too.
A fact that makes this action even more stupid is that if he wanted to act against that one driver, he could have stayed within the law. As the AA says in a supplementary BBC report, drivers who drench cyclists or other road users by driving through puddles or cause them to fall off their bikes can face a £2,500 fine and up to nine penalty points on their licences for driving without due care and attention.
Yes, there are inconsiderate drivers and inconsiderate cyclists - mutual consideration is the way forward; confrontation and demonisation are pointless. And dangerous.
15 April, 2004
No jokes about scoring, please
I sometimes wonder whether Helen takes her heels off even in the gym.
Now there's no need, as Frederick's of Hollywood sell these: ankle boots styled as trainers which just happen to have 4½" heels.
Frivolity aside, they're a nice design concept, but would anyone really wear them? More than once?
26 March, 2004
Stolen or rescued?
Lancaster's free local newspaper, The Citizen, reports that a dog has been stolen (okay; that conforms to the parochial stereotype of local papers, but The Citizen does cover real news too!). Sad news, and upsetting for the owners, but I slightly wonder whether the dog is best out of their house: the owners are a little obsessive.
The missing dog is a 22-month German Shepherd cross, but through living with two Jack Russells and over indulgent owners, she apparently thinks she's a Jack Russell too, and tries to sit on visitors' shoulders. The dogs have their own bedroom, sleeping on a king sized bed and having their own colour TV (dogs can't see TV images, as the refresh rate is wrong for their eyes, which don't see colour anyway). The owners are reported as being 'grief stricken' and 'distraught': "My wife can't eat or sleep and is crying all the time. Roxy is more than a pet, she's our child."
No, she's a dog; an animal; get some ****ing perspective. The level of pampering described/implied in the article can only be unhealthy, both for the dogs and owners.
I like dogs, though unquestioning loyalty is difficult to respect (in any species...) I'm certainly not saying they should live in freezing kennels and be fed on scraps (in fact I'm saying they shouldn't get the scraps of human food), but they're pack animals, and need to know their place in the pack order. In that house the dogs must be really confused about who's in charge.
26 March, 2004
Kind of perky for a corpse
I've just read a mock obituary for the CRT monitor, and wondered how long it will take for this apparent obsolescence to filter down to me, both at home and at work.
Then I noticed that the article is already almost three years old.
25 March, 2004
As part of an occasional series of articles promoting the role of physics in everyday life, the Institute of Physics has published a formula to calculate the maximum height of heel women can wear without (severe) discomfort or instability.
Okay, it's pseudo-science, but gratifying to see science popularised occasionally, in a way that might catch the attention of adults with negligible interest in 'hard' science. It's fairly common to direct such stories at school children or adults with a scientific predisposition, but this reaches further.
24 March, 2004
Building a better bicycle
This is a nice idea: a self-inflating bicycle tyre. Rotation of the wheels power air pumps in the hubs, continuously topping-up tyre pressure whenever the bike is moving. Excess air is automatically released to prevent the tyre from bursting, whilst an early problem of filling tyres with water in wet weather has been solved.
Currently 'only in Japan', I can imagine this sort of thing gaining global popularity.
NP: The Flower Kings, Würzburg, 1996
22 March, 2004
What a naughty boy
As reported by the BBC, a consultant brain surgeon at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham (where my sister attended medical school) has been suspended following an allegation that he took an extra helping of croutons with his soup in a hospital canteen, without paying extra.
NP: Spock's Beard 'Beware Of Darkness'.
17 March, 2004
B&B at HMP
This (also here) is astonishing.
Over the past decade or so, a number of major miscarriages of justice have been re-examined, resulting in people being released from prison terms of 15 years or more. Rather than offering apologies to the victims, the UK government sends limited financial compensation, offset against bills for food and lodging; about £3200 (nearly US$ 6,000) per year in prison. Yes, that's the wrongly imprisoned having to pay the government, not vice versa. Paddy Hill * was one of the 'Birmingham Six', spending 16 years in prison for the 1974 Birmingham IRA pub bombings. On being exonerated, he was sent a £50,000 (about US$ 91,000) bill by the Home Office.
The argument is that the innocent victims would have spent the money on food and accommodation anyway if they hadn't received them for free at the government's expense; the charge is described as 'saved living expenses'.
Even more astonishing is that this isn't a new proposal, it's established policy, which the Observer mentioned almost exactly a year ago.
*: That Sunday Herald article also mentions that though Hill received £960,000 in compensation, it took almost a decade to arrive. Interim payments totalling about £300,000 were provided - then reclaimed as if a loan, at 23% interest, costing Hill a further £70,000.
NP: Godspeed You Black Emperor!: Radio Sessions
14 March, 2004
Recycling drive 'does more harm than good'
This is an interesting article, in The Times, not normally a news source I'd recommend, partly because one needs to subscribe to access archived articles (and it isn't free), so I'll need to reproduce the main points here while it's still available. The piece was published almost a year ago, so will probably vanish soon.
Remember, this is the Times, so all outright assertions of 'fact' need to be moderated to mere allegations e.g. "Incineration produces very low levels of emissions..." should be read as "Incineration allegedly produces very low levels of emissions in certain circumstances...". Anyway; the article, from the paper's Environment Editor, Anthony Browne:
Recycling is a load of rubbish, Britain’s leading environmental scientists said yesterday.
A good emotive tabloid start: a cheap pun followed by a questionable assertion: 'leading' is subjective and unquantifiable.
Overturning decades of conventional wisdom, the scientists, including one of the Government’s advisers, said that official policies to increase recycling were counter-productive, and did more harm than good.
They also criticised environmental groups, saying their recycling campaigns were so misguided they were damaging the environment, and that much of the recycling of plastics, bottles and paper had only marginal benefits. They said more rubbish should be burnt in incinerators - words which reflected comments made last month by top Swedish environmentalists.
Okay, but strip out the sensationalist wording, and consider whether the scientist literally said this, or whether this is Browne's own selective paraphrasing of their exact words.
In a press conference at the Royal Institution in London yesterday, Roland Clift, professor of Environmental Technology at the University of Surrey, and a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution,...
Good build up: Prof. Clift, who has relevant qualifications, was speaking at the premises of a historic organisation (two invocations of 'royal' helps, too), in the national capital. Whatever he goes on to say simply must be absolutely and unquestionably definitive.
... said: “The idea that recycling is a solution to everything is not valid. Recycling glass has marginal benefit, and if you have to transport it large distances, there is no point. Recycling paper is marginal.”
True, and uncontroversial. Only the aforementioned build up makes it appear so.
Note that he says that 'recycling is not a solution to everything', rather than 'recycling is a solution to nothing', which isn't quite the way Browne presents it in the opening sentence of the article.
Britain has one of the lowest recycling rates in Europe, accounting for just 12 per cent of household waste by weight. The Government has a target to increase that to 25 per cent by 2005. But Professor Clift said: “There is a fundamental nonsense in the regulations. The target is based on weight, and gives no incentive to recycle lighter materials, which are often the best.”
So change the emphasis - which I suspect was Prof. Clift's perfectly reasonable point, rather than Browne's initial claim that "recycling is a load of rubbish".
Recycling aluminium, for example, uses just 5 per cent of the energy of producing it in the first place, but because it is so light local authorities tend to concentrate on heavier materials. Recycling paper does nothing to save trees, because all paper in Britain comes from tree plantations. “Recycling paper to save trees is like not eating bread to save wheat,” said Professor Clift.
More plastic should be burnt in incinerators to produce energy.
See what I mean about oversimplified proposals being presented as absolute fact?
I'm afraid the positioning of my annotation distorts the positioning of the original sentence in the article: I'd better clarify that it's Browne's preamble to the following sentence, not a continuation of Prof. Clift's words.
“Burning plastics as an oil substitute saves oil,” said Professor William Powrie, head of the Environmental Engineering department at Southampton University.
I'll take his word for that - it's not a subject I know much about. However, I'm certainly not aware of any facility in the UK that would currently be able to perform this function on an industrial scale.
Incineration [allegedly] produces very low levels of emissions and reduces the volume of waste to be landfilled by 90 per cent.
Sounds impressive, but is perfectly obvious. Ash takes up drastically less space than unburned fuel. And?
Okay, this is a cheap criticism: ‘landfill’ is not a verb. A professional journalist working as an 'Environment' editor should know that.
Professor Powrie said that landfill was not as bad as often thought. “Methane gas can be drawn off and burnt to produce electricity. Britain’s landfills produce enough electricity to power a city the size of Leeds.”
A misleading non sequitur. Methane can be collected and used as fuel, and there might be enough to generate the megawattage described. However, the UK currently has neither the infrastructure nor the power stations to do this.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “The most effective solution is often to reduce the generation of waste in the first place.”
This is the key point, with which I entirely agree: reuse is better than recycling, and better than both is to minimise/avoid usage in the first place.
Clare Wilton, a waste campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “....”
Oh; who cares what FoE say?
The Labour MP Joan Ruddock introduced a Bill in Parliament last week to almost double the target for recycling.
The location of this sentence in the overall story blatantly introduces a negative spin: having repeatedly proposed the argument that recycling is the wrong strategy, to suddenly introduce a contradictory statement makes it seem the Labour party is ignoring overwhelming scientific advice and acting irrationally.
Note also that though all the experts in this article are mentioned as having high academic qualifications in relevant departments of named universities, nothing is said about Ms. Ruddock's knowledge of the subject, nor that of her advisors.
I'm not defending the Labour party, nor the philosophy and implementation of increased recycling targets, but the unspoken implications in this line of Browne's piece are unfairly manipulative.
Oh, and why mention the MP's party allegiance at all, if not to make a snide point?
“It’s going further in the wrong direction,” said Professor Clift. However, he said that householders should not give up the practice of separating different types of waste. If local authorities developed appropriate policies, such separation would be essential.
27 February, 2004
Reported by the Guardian, micro-coordination is an interesting concept, which might take mobile phone usage onto the next level of involvement in Western society.
Currently, if two people need to meet, it's usual to arrange a time and location in advance, but if both parties are carrying mobile phones, it'd be quite possible to agree on merely an approximate time and a rough location, refining the details 'on the fly' according to circumstances: if a train is delayed, the meeting time could be adjusted, or if the intended café is crowded, the venue could be shifted.
The concept, formulated by Michael Kieslinger of the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, Italy, extends much further, to many other aspects of daily life, exploiting the ability for real-time updates to be made about the minute-by-minute availability of resources.
An obvious example would be public transport: if one knows a train is going to be delayed, there's no need to go to the station just yet.
Similarly, a delivery driver could contact a customer an hour or so before arrival, rather than expecting the customer to wait in all day. Alternatively, GPS tracking might allow the driver's whereabouts and updated schedule to be posted on a website, giving the customer an idea of when to expect delivery.
"We have the technology." I just wonder whether this indicates a major shift in the way society functions; reading this entry five years from now, will it be surprising that we once operated in any other way?
23 February, 2004
Names changed to protect...
The Guardian reports (as does the BBC) that engineering firm Jarvis has tacitly acknowledged that in terms of public consciousness, the company's name is now irretrievably linked with under-maintained railways and rail disasters, so is changing its name to Engenda in its dealings with schools and other public services.
That's pragmatic, and I'm not going to criticise the attempt at partial rebranding, but 'Engenda'? The trend for British firms to choose odd, vaguely latinate names is a weird one. Maybe it's meant to convey a venerable, efficient, 'classical' image with copyrightable names no-one could find offensive (and avoiding comedic alternative meanings in other languages), but I find names like Corus (British Steel, as was), Consignia (the abortive rebranding of the Royal Mail) and, indeed, Engenda, to be utterly bland and meaningless.
19 February, 2004
Mac users are wired; sorry, weird
I've explained earlier that I wouldn't wish to use a Mac, for aesthetic reasons rather than any criticism of their performance, and because I dislike the culture of 'my Mac is my friend'. The response to this hoax (original story here) illustrates exactly the sort of thing I could never buy into.
A Mac is a computer; an inanimate tool, for ****'s sake. Overwhelming emotional attachment to an object just seems unhealthy.
19 February, 2004
Fat tax on burgers proposed
Whoa! Someone has been reading my mind!
As I left the house this morning, I just happened to be thinking about the possibility/viability of people paying for medical services where their condition could be directly attributed to their lifestyle, rather than everyone paying to support the (knowingly) dangerous practices of others.
Smoking tobacco is dangerous. It is unreasonable to claim ignorance of that, yet people continue to smoke. That's their right, but I do feel that in doing so they, personally, should bear the cost of any medical treatment directly attributable to smoking. Obviously, it would be impractical to make a smoker pay for chemotherapy at the time it's required, so the only logical solution would be to tax the activities, to fund any future treatments. I'm too cynical to believe that the existing tax on tobacco products goes directly to the National Health Service (NHS) (rather, it's just a revenue stream for all Government activities), but I'll indulge a little idealism for once, in saying that it should.
Coincident with my train of thought, I see in the Guardian that a Government strategy unit is considering (not 'mooting', and certainly not 'mulling', which is a truly dreadful usage) the introduction of a 'fatty food tax' on, well, fatty foods such as burgers, cheese, crisps and whole milk. As with smokers, the obese and those with unnecessarily high cholesterol knowingly risk their health, yet those with healthier diets bear the costs of treatment for heart disease, etc.
Apparently VAT is already levied on many foods associated with obesity, such as fizzy drinks and ice cream, but burgers bought in supermarkets are exempt, as are foods high in saturated fats such as butter, hard cheeses and full-fat milk. One proposal is that VAT (17.5%) should be extended to these items, but personally I'd like to see the revenue 'ring fenced' for use by the NHS rather than, say, highways, and feel that a specific 'fat tax' would be more visible as a public reminder about the issue.
Lest this be seen as 'holier than thou' pontificating, I am directly affected by this: I eat a reasonable amount of cheese (primarily cheddar), regularly use a spread containing butter (not butter itself, but not a specifically low-cholesterol spread either), and drink a lot of full-fat milk - sometimes a pint (0.47l) per day.
Incidentally, yes, I really do think about things like public policy while I'm cycling!
17 February, 2004
This is rather old; over a year in fact, but hindsight certainly doesn't dim it's message: Terry Jones' attempt to apply the reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq to a more domestic, cosy Middle-England setting.
15 February, 2004
About time, too
From today's online Guardian:
Children will be taught about atheism during religious education classes under official plans being drawn up to reflect the decline in churchgoing in Britain.
Non-religious beliefs such as humanism, agnosticism and atheism would be covered alongside major faiths such as christianity or Islam under draft guidelines being prepared by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which regulates what is taught in schools in England.
Although some schools already cover non-religious beliefs, there is currently no national guidance for what is taught, even though all schools must provide religious education.
The draft plans being drawn up by the QCA will not be compulsory, allowing religious schools the freedom to keep devout parents happy. But they will be regarded as best practice for heads, and are likely to be followed across the country.
A spokesman for the QCA said its guidance would be released for consultation in the summer term, but added: 'It is very much the intention that young people in the context of religious education should be studying non-religious beliefs. There are many children in England who have no religious affiliation and their beliefs and ideas, whatever they are, should be taken very seriously.'
The plans risk sparking a conflict between evangelists, who want to strengthen faith teaching, and secularists, who argue it is becoming irrelevant to modern life.
'The whole thing is terribly biased in favour of religion right now - it's all about encouraging an identification with religion,' said Ben Rogers, author of the report for the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank.
'There are huge numbers of people who are atheists or whose families are atheists and who are coming into a class where their family's view is not acknowledged. You should be able to have a conversation about ethics that doesn't collapse into a conversation about religion.'
While 19 per cent of Britons attended a weekly religious service in 1980, by 1999 that had fallen to 7 per cent - prompting some to argue that RE should be scrapped as a compulsory subject. Secularists say there is little point trying to drum religion into sceptical children at school.
'We're not trying to suggest that nobody should learn anything about religion: it is part of our culture and informs our art and our literature,' said Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, which has written to Education Secretary Charles Clarke calling for atheism to be included on the syllabus.
'But if you try to teach morality through "the Bible says" or the Ten Commandments, most children won't accept it as they don't believe the religious message. It would be much better if people learned morality by looking at current examples. It's philosophy that we really want to be teaching.'
As the Leader article in The Observer says, this is most definitely to be welcomed, as it accepts the simple fact that British society has become secular in all but name, where church-going is now merely a pastime for a small minority.
No doubt this will be seen as an attack on organised religion, but it's not; religious beliefs have shaped Western society profoundly, and it remains appropriate to keep the subject in the school curriculum alongside comparable academic disciplines, such as history.
However, the impartial study of religions is one thing, and practice quite another. I'm still totally opposed to the practice of religion in schools.
13 February, 2004
Excellent quote from Ursula K LeGuin (one of those sci-fi/fantasy authors I've never felt an urge to read; nothing personal!), in a Q&A session at the Guardian:
Q: Perhaps you feel a bit out of step with your contemporaries?
UKL: Why should a woman of 74 want to be 'in step with' anybody? Am I in an army, or something?
That certainly reflects my outlook on life!
9 February, 2004
While I probably don't feel so strongly about the issue as does Julie Bindel, her article in Saturday's Guardian (seen via greenfairydotcom) does reflect my general view: parents are not inherently superior or more important simply because they have children.
Coincidentally, I was behind a car in traffic on Saturday, spotted the common 'children on board' sign in the rear window, and actually gave it some thought for the first time. My considered response was: "So?".
If it's a warning to other road users that the presence of children in the vehicle might distract the driver, perhaps it's worthwhile. However, I suspect it means 'this vehicle is carrying children, so it is more important that you don't crash into it than into a car solely carrying adults', a sentiment I don't share. As potential victims of road accidents, children are no more 'precious' than other age groups.
On reflection, this is a half-arsed blog entry that barely begins to explain my lack of unthinking automatic respect for parenthood and society's rose-tinted lip-service to to 'family values'; but it's all I have time for right now.
Note to self: is "rose-tinted lip-service" clever, or trite?
4 February, 2004
Finland has long, dark winters
... so it's unsurprising if they dream up slightly... odd means of passing the time.
29 January, 2004
Porcupine Tree & Ozrics in print
I can't comment on his writing ('cos I haven't read any), but sci-fi author Stephen Palmer's new novel Hallucinating features cameo appearences from a number of real musicians, including Ministry of Info favourites Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles).
I'm not a fan of the more fantastical, far-future style of sci-fi, but if this new one is grounded in a more realistic, near-contemporary setting, I'm tempted to try it.
More at The Alien Online, though the link onwards to Palmer's (frankly, awful) site is vague; go straight here instead.
Examine the cover image quite closely - the promotional quote, apparently from a favourable review actually says:
"Quote placed here from reviews generated in 2003" Stephen Palmer, a Magazine.
NP: Ozric Tentacles, 'Afterswish'
(1998) - coincidentally ;)
28 January, 2004
Helmut Newton to be buried in Berlin
I was sad to read that photographer Helmut Newton died in a car crash in Los Angeles on 23 Jan., aged 83.
I've always admired his work, being drawn to his combination of aesthetics and technical perfection. His aren't the warmest of images, and he attracted controversy for allegedly objectifying people, but it may even be this slight sterility that I find attractive.
26 January, 2004
More on US Immigration
The Prog Palace has an interesting interview with Martin Orford, of IQ and Jadis. They're not bands I particularly like, but the interview offers some insight into the experience of 'part-time' bands being prevented from working in the USA. The relevant section is buried about halfway through the transcript, so I've reproduced it here; I've edited out the interviewer's side of the conversation, without distorting the context.
You may have already partially answered this, but why don’t we see IQ more often in
the States? Or Jadis as well?
Martin: Well. Because US Immigration won’t let us in. We’re not allowed to come in. They don’t like overseas bands. They say it takes the work away from US bands. If you turn up to a US airport with a guitar, they’ll put you on the next plane back home. The only people that manage to do it are the Scandinavian bands, and they’ve got sponsorships from their own governments. The only way that you can play the States is to get work permits, which basically they don’t give to people whose main profession is not being in a band. Our main profession is not being in a band, so there’s no way we’re going to get work then to be in a band. The only way that we can do a gig in the States is not-for-profit. You can’t do a tour like that.
Except for possibly Libya and North Korea outside of the US, it’s the most difficult place to come to if you’re in a band. I mean, somewhere like Russia is probably a lot easier. It is the most unwelcoming place that you could possibly find if you’re in a rock band. It’s unbelievably difficult to get an overseas band through Immigration. You can’t do it. The only way you can do it is do it not-for-profit and lie through your teeth when you come in. That’s all you can do.
Nobody in the US knows about this.
Interviewer: But yet our bands can go over there and generate revenue for other countries?
Martin: Yeah. But there is a very aggressive policy to stop overseas bands from coming into the US. So that’s why we don’t come over more often. That’s why we’re playing Mexico and not the US. We can land in a US airport if we’re in transit to somewhere else, but they won’t send us on with our guitars if we’re going to a US destination.
Note that this was recorded in April 2003, well before the latest amendments made foreigners even less welcome.
NP: Marillion 20/12/90, Walsall, UK
21 January, 2004
Drivers want road test for cyclists
As a cyclist, I agree with many of the points made in this Guardian article. For a cyclist to ride without lights, or on the pavement (US: sidewalk), or ignore traffic lights, is simply illegal, never mind damn stupid and needlessly antagonistic to motorists and pedestrians.
Cyclists are road users, with most of the same rights and obligations as car or truck drivers. Mysteriously, that sometimes gets forgotten, by car drivers thinking bikes shouldn't be on the roads and should defer to other vehicles (wrong - I daily assert as much right to be there as an articulated lorry), and by some cyclists (to be fair, a tiny minority in my personal experience) thinking they have a pedestrian's right to use the pavements.
We have enough trouble from inconsiderate drivers without giving drivers a reason to think we deserve it; so long as both parties act responsibly, it shouldn't be a matter of opposing sides, just different users sharing the same road.
- If you don't have lights: get some, and either don't take your bike out after dark until you have lights, or get off and walk. An unlit bicycle is a hazard.
- If you don't feel sufficiently confident to cycle in traffic, simply don't cycle at all - the pavement is not a valid alternative. Practice on designated cycle paths or minor roads at quiet times, then main roads when you're ready.
- Traffic lights are not optional for cyclists.
I'm not sure how I feel about the titular premise of the article. On the one hand, it might deter cycle use if everyone needed a licence first. On the other hand, that might be a good idea - inexperienced cyclists can be dangerous, and are as much an annoyance to regular cycle-commuters as to any other road users. That's possibly not entirely their fault, since if they have no training whatsoever, they can't be expected to be fully competent immediately, but to use busy roads as a training ground is a bit too Darwinian!
Hence, I'd entirely support basic training for cyclists, so long as it is basic and not so onerous as to deter casual cyclists. Secondly, I feel it would be appropriate for such a scheme to be funded centrally, as a recognised budget item of transport policy, not a fee payable by cyclists.
I'd also support enforcement of existing rules - why are bad cyclists permitted to continue as they do, unchallenged by the police?
Bottom line: don't ride in a manner which damages the reputation of other cyclists, specifically me.
Oh, and try not to get yourself killed, as bad riding could so easily achieve.
20 January, 2004
This would have been a good scam if he hadn't been greedy:
BERLIN (Reuters) - German police are investigating after an angry man returned a computer he had just bought saying it was packed with small potatoes instead of computer parts.
The store replaced the computer free of charge but became suspicious when he returned a short time later with another potato-filled computer casing, police in the western city of Kaiserslautern said on Monday.
"The second time he said he didn't need a computer any more and asked for his money back in cash," a police spokesman said.
Police are now investigating the man for fraud.
19 January, 2004
From a BBC quiz on current events over the past week (probably not permanently archived, but here's the URL, just in case):
George W Bush has outlined several big ticket policies this election year. Which carries the highest price tag?
A: Moon and Mars exploration
B: Promoting marriage
C: Fingerprinting and photographing visitors to the US
The answer was C
The database will cost $300m this year and $20bn to implement fully over several years.
The president has pledged $1.5bn to encourage citizens to marry, especially those in inner city areas.
The space programme will receive an extra $1bn over five years to set up a base on the Moon and manned flights to Mars.
I answered totally wrongly, thinking the cheapest (and only worthwhile one) was the most expensive.
16 January, 2004
End of the affair
In an article about the decline in ecstacy (MDMA) use in Britain, The Guardian mentions the following:
[Discovered in Germany in 1912] "... the drug lay undisturbed until the 1950s, when the CIA picked it up for a few desultory animal tests in its search for a truth serum. How the agency's interrogators planned to determine that their dogs were telling the truth is unclear, but whatever they saw did not impress, and MDMA never officially made it to human trials. However, considering that the CIA was routinely slipping LSD into its operatives' morning coffees at the time, it is entirely possible that the first ecstasy rush was experienced somewhere in the typing pool at Edgewood army base in Maryland."
Stranger than fiction, and a very compelling image.
Another interesting point made is that:
"After 15 dizzy years in the mainstream, ecstasy is unquestionably non-addictive, and appears to be "relatively safe in the short term", according to Professor David Nutt in his advice to the home affairs select committee. In fact, though the authorities prefer not to make the comparison, roughly 20 deaths a year ranks ecstasy alongside electric blankets in a list of Britain's biggest killers."
Quick disclaimer: I've never tried MDMA, and wouldn't wish to; that type of induced mindset isn't one I'd choose.
14 January, 2004
Tunbridge Wells won't be pleased....
The Guardian takes a nice swipe at The Mail today:
"The Mail called the proposed levy an outrage, and described speeding on British roads, which causes an average of 10 fatalities a day, as a "victimless crime"."
So that's victimless? My disdain for The Mail only increases. I'd dismiss it as comically xenophobic and reactionary, the voice of a caricatured 'little England' mentality, but is seems some actually accept its editorial line as a full and fair representation of truth.
12 January, 2004
The Guardian offers a (probably) fictional summary of this week's Princess Diana conspiracy stories, as reported my the main UK (well, English) newspapers, neatly capturing the tone and preoccupations of their editorial policies and readership.
9 January, 2004
Weapons of Math Instruction
My father sent me the first couple of paragraphs of this joke several months ago, but there's more.
Irrelevant coincidence: Anders is from Stavanger, Norway, as is my father.
8 January, 2004
It's not just what, but how it's done
A second point is that for those with or without visas, the fingerprinting and photography is 'a few seconds' added onto an already unpleasant experience.
I must stress I don't have personal experience, but it's worth mentioning that Immigration officers at the main entry points into the USA have a strong reputation for being infamously rude and aggressive. From the comments on the BBC article:
"...treat you like a criminal... immigration staff seem highly trained to be rude as possible... so rude that you wouldn't want to come back."
If one accepts the necessity and legitimacy of what they do, there remains the question of the way they go about it. Other countries are equally stringent, but manage it with courtesy; there's absolutely no need to be confrontational in making reasonable enquiries. As a Canadian commentator on the BBC article said:
"Where the US can make improvements is in how these procedures are carried out. An aggressive attitude on the part of US customs officers is neither necessary or constructive. I contrast this with Swiss officials who were always unfailingly polite while they frisked me and went through my luggage with a magnifying glass. It's not what US officials do, as much as how they do it, that annoys visitors."
Another, from a frequent UK visitor to the USA:
"If anyone clears Immigration in less than an hour they are doing well. I am white, British, born and raised in the U.K. of British parents and hold a British passport. However, I have worked in Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen and Egypt and because of this have been pulled aside for more questioning on several occasions. The people doing the questioning are invariably aggressive and arrogant. You are presumed guilty and are treated in a way that would get a US criminal set free if the police had treated him the same way. I am flying into the US this Friday and dreading the reception I am going to get. Those who advocate this treatment have obviously never been on the receiving end. The average American has no idea how arrivals are treated in the name of security and are invariably shocked when I tell them."
And to finish, one from a US citizen:
"I am saddened at the steps my government is taking in the name of national security. This, like most of the 'anti-terrorist' measures enacted by the Bush administration, will do little to protect our national security and will further alienate us from the global community. We are no longer the land of the free when people are presumed guilty until proven otherwise. Fingerprinting is one more way to let foreign visitors to our country know that they are not Americans and therefore suspect. If enough Americans are treated this way when they are abroad, maybe we will finally hear some outcry against our ever-narrowing definition of freedom. If our principles of freedom, justice and equality end at our borders, how sincere is our belief in them?"
8 January, 2004
Intrusive new US visa regulations
From the BBC:
For the American Government there can never be too many checks. Air travel may now be more complex but the US administration is adamant it will not deter visitors from heading to the US.
Some, particularly US citizens, have asked what the fuss is about; it's just a matter of a few seconds, right? Unfortunately not.
The forthcoming change in US requirements means that passports obtained after October 2004 will need to contain biometric data such as an electronic record of the bearer's fingerprint(s) or iris pattern. However, the technology to record and encode these data won't enter use until mid-2005 at the earliest. This means that nationals of the 26 countries participating in the visa-waiver scheme (which is inherently racist in judging most Europeans 'safe' and those from elsewhere as automatically suspicious) will suddenly have to obtain visas after all.
This isn't a trivial matter. For someone in, say, Lancaster, N.W.England, that means a trip to London, several hundred miles away, to queue at the US embassy to obtain a visa for £67 (USA: $120). So that's an entire day and over $200 (visa, travel to London, food, etc.) spent before even starting a trip to the USA.
There's also a security concern: this will significantly increase queues at the embassy. Think about it: a US embassy, in the UK capital, surrounded by crowds of people; could a terrorist target be much more tempting? There's no way I'd put myself in that situation.
Quite simply, I don't have that much of a desire to visit the USA.
The following is a typical US comment:
"An additional fifteen seconds to have your finger prints scanned and your picture taken hardly seems an unreasonable delay to satisfy the government's need to provide security. If you are adamant that you don't want the US government knowing who you are when you enter, you obviously have something to hide and don't belong here anyway."
I don't want a foreign government - any foreign government - knowing more than the most basic details: who I am, and that I am a British subject, protected by that nation. Information required to verify my identity is absolutely fine, so I'd be entirely happy for an immigration officer to compare the photo in my passport with the face of the bearer (by eye or by biometric analysis), to check it's me. Similarly, I'd have no problem with an immigration officer checking my fingerprint against one stored electronically in my passport - so long as no record is kept.
If a computer is used to check the details on a passport against the physical parameters of someone claiming to be me, merely to prove I am who I claim to be, that's fine, but that's the limit of acceptability. If the computer goes on to research more about me or adds my details to a database, I object, and withhold my consent.
What use is to be made of that personal information? Who will have access to it? For what purposes? Where will it be stored? For how long? What accountability is there to me, not a citizen of that country?
It's not that I have anything to hide, it's that I feel no obligation to justify myself to a foreign government - they don't have the right to know, or make judgements on my lifestyle.
Another comment at the BBC website said: "if you've done nothing wrong why be afraid?", but what is the definition of 'wrong', and by whose standards is that decision to be made?
- Is it suspicious that I've visited Poland (ex-Commie, y'know)?
- Does my atheism make me questionable?
- A long (male) ponytail doesn't really conform to good old family-orientated social norms, especially combined with size 10 (US:11, Eur:44) para boots. Does that mean I have to justify myself in some way?
- In the past I've occasionally used cannabis - illegal in the USA; smoking anything seems near-illegal in California!
- I trade unofficial concert recordings (for free) which is of borderline legality.
So, does any of this (plus points I'm unwilling to disclose) mean I've done something 'wrong'?
To paraphrase an admittedly flippant point made at the BBC site: "If you have nothing to hide, get a life."
Of course, all this presumes the new measures are even necessary, but other countries don't seem to agree. As was mentioned at the BBC website:
"Now that the UK government have defended the grounding of flight 223 to Washington, and the actions of the US government in applying additional security checks, can one assume that the UK government will now place similar procedures on flights and visitors to the UK? Surely if it is essential for the US to do this, then it must be essential for us too. So why are the government delaying its introduction? And if it isn't important or an effective deterrent, then why aren't the UK government protesting against the US government's actions?"
I was 'talking' about this in an online forum yesterday, and the point came up in discussion that if (if...) this I.D. verification is okay, it should be applied by and to all nations - including US citizens. Responses were interesting. Some agreed, saying it's only fair, and (allegedly) improves security for all, but one said "they wouldn't dare" and another said "but we're the good guys". Everyone is someone's good guy, and also, almost by definition, someone's bad guy.
8 January, 2004
Google Search tips
As The Guardian notes, few people exploit the full power of Google searching, so a few tips are worth repeating. See the original article for elaboration.
- Imagine what you want - "it may sound obvious, but you have to search Google for the words that will be on the page you want, not for a description of the page or website."
- Use quotation marks.
- Use the + sign.
- Use the - sign. A particularly valuable usage is '-merchant' to eliminate vendors from a search for information alone.
- Try a wild card.
- Use the 'site:' command.
- Use the operators - 'filetype:', 'author:' 'location:', etc. These were new to me!
- The 'Advanced Search' page offers much of the functionality noted above, saving the need to memorise syntax or shortcuts.
- Other enhanced searches are being developed.
- Try a different search engine, too.
[Update 03/01/06: You might also like to glance through the 'Random Queries
' section of this site, as it includes suggestions for optimising searches.]
22 December, 2003
'The Two Towers' summarised
Following on from my criticism of the 'The Two Towers' film, there's a good parody plot summary here.
20 December, 2003
Stumpjumper, at Resurrectionsong.com introduced an interesting concept, new to me though now I've done a Google search, I see it's an established term: functional atheism, as distinct from spiritual, or 'belief' atheism.
It's possible to believe in a god yet generally live according to a secular and humanist belief system, as if there is no god. On this functional level, nothing divides a christian like Stumpjumper from a (belief) atheist like me. Each of us has our own morality, and though we'd definitely differ on its inspiration, the effect is the same. I certainly live according to a fairly strong set of personal morals, though they're not defined by any established theism, beyond the 'background level' entrenched in British culture. Likewise, Stumpjumper says: "When I decide how to act, however, I do so based on what I feel is right, not on threats of eternal damnation. Acting morally and ethically brings forth its own rewards."
Read the post; it's a good one, which I don't want to oversimplify by paraphrasing.
On a slightly different matter, Robin, commenting on Stumpjumper's post, makes an... interesting statement, that:
"Proving the non-existence of anything if pretty much impossible. You may not believe in Santa Claus, but I'd love to see you prove he doesn't exist. Atheism is the height of arrogance and ignorance. To be agnostic is to question. To be atheist is to know (what is not knowable). Atheist have much more in common with fundamentalist than with agnostics. Both are questions of faith. One is something, one in nothing. At least the fundamentalist can make some sort of case for what they believe."
Agreed; one can never absolutely disprove something, but there's always balance of probability, and pushed to it's limit, there's a gut feeling, a belief, a faith. I 'know' that there is no god. To my very core, I am absolutely convinced of that; I have no hope of heaven nor fear of hell. That's my faith, as strong, and as valid, as that of any theist. It isn't agnosticism; I don't question the existence of a god, I'm utterly certain there isn't one. It's one of the few certainties in my life. A genuine theist truly 'knows' there is a god, exactly as an atheist 'knows' the reverse; both are equally correct, for those individuals. I don't claim to have disproved god, and personally I've never encountered an atheist who has made that assertion; it is indeed a question of faith.
18 December, 2003
A remarkable story in today's online Guardian:
"Each year less light reaches the surface of the Earth. No one is sure what's causing 'global dimming' - or what it means for the future. In fact most scientists have never heard of it."
I don't have much to say about the article, beyond 'read it'.
16 December, 2003
From today's online Guardian:
"Basing their judgment on interrogation of other senior al-Qaida members, intelligence officials say it will be months before Saddam talks."
Since when has Saddam Hussein been accused of being an al-Qaida member?
Sloppy journalism or deliberate misinformation?
14 December, 2003
What's the product?
MarketingWonk reports that Kylie Minogue has appeared in another lingerie ad, this time for her own 'Love Kylie' range. The video unsurprisingly shows Kylie in a selection of bras and pants, the soundtrack being Kylie's own music. Nothing surprising there. The odd thing is that the ad is 2.5 mins long - that's not an ad, it's a music video.
So what is it really selling? If last year's 'Agent Provocateur' ad is any indication, this one will be an online hit too, presenting her latest single to an audience who mightn't ordinarily be drawn to Kylie for her music. As MarketingWonk concludes, "Viral marketing meets sex, meets subliminal messaging. That's got to be a winning combination."
14 December, 2003
Is this a good thing?
When this information was circulated via e-mail at work, I thought it had the characteristics of urban myth, even including 'friend of a friend' references, but having checked the website of the system's manufacturer, it seems true.
For much of its route through Lancashire, the M6 motorway has recently received upgraded signage, including the latest style of variable message signs. It seems these units also feature speed cameras*. These operate in a way that was totally new to me.
'Ordinary' speed cameras detect someone speeding, photograph the number plate, and the DVLA (UK Driver & Vehicle Licencing Authority) database identifies the person to whom a fine or court summons should be sent. The UK also has a 'points' system; in addition to a fine, speeding adds 3 (I think) points to the offender's licence; collect a dozen or so points, and the licence is invalidated. There are various means to resist these speed cameras, mainly involving travelling past them at legal speeds. As A. pointed out to me last night, on a motorway these cameras would be too dangerous, as drivers might be distracted by the camera flash or suddenly decelerate when they spot a nearby camera.
The new (to me) SPECS system works differently. Every single passing number plate is recorded, whatever the speed of the passing vehicle. There's no flash, and since it's a passive system, speed camera detectors won't work.
Some time later, the vehicle passes the next camera, and is logged again. The controlling computer then calculates the vehicle's average speed over the known distance between this and the previous 1, 2, 4, etc. cameras. If this average means the vehicle must have been speeding, an offence is recorded and the normal fine/points penalty is invoked.
This is quite a conceptual leap: logging vehicle registration numbers, and hence potentially logging peoples' locations at a given moment, irrespective of whether or not an offence has been committed. Logic dictates that once they're no longer needed, the data are deleted, but it wouldn't be difficult for the data to be cross-checked against a list of those the police/'security services' would wish to monitor, diverting the information to a different database.
Some would say that's a good thing, keeping suspected criminals and terrorists under observation, but the key word there is 'suspected', not proven, and there's a long history of 'the authorities' illicitly watching entirely legal dissenters - political activists, investigative journalists, even hippies.
Oh; one of those 'urban myth' details that initially made me doubt the whole story: allegedly there's no limit to the number of speeding offences that can be recorded, so if someone blasts past several monitored road sections in a single trip, multiple fines/penalty points will be incurred. There's a story of a commercial traveller who left home with a clean licence and returned at the end of the day having lost his licence, and hence job.
*: to clarify: I mean the gantries include mounting points for the SPECS cameras, in plain view, not that the signs themselves contain concealed cameras!
12 December, 2003
Nurture your CD-Rs
It seems 'mainstream' CD-R users are finally catching on to info long known by those of us who trade concert recordings on CD-Rs: that CD-Rs aren't remotely 'permanent' and need careful treatment. The claims of manufacturers (10 years lifespan, even 100 years) aren't realistic; artificial aging tests don't seem to simulate typical use & storage conditions adequately. Three points highlighted by recent online press articles are fundamental to audio trading:
Use decent discs - 'known brand' discs from reputable manufacturers are better than bargain-basement, no-name discs. Cheap discs are a waste of money and could cost you valuable data within even just 2 years. 'Own-brand' discs from supermarkets and high-street electrical retailers are similarly inadequate, generally.
Best of all are discs from known CD-R manufacturers. That's manufacturers, not retail brand names - companies like TDK are distributors who don't actually manufacture discs. The most reputable CD-R manufacturer is Taiyo Yuden, of Japan but distributed globally. I buy them in the UK from CD-R Media; 27p each (mail-order, sold in multiples of 100) for top-quality discs compares well to 17p each (high-street, sold in multiples of 100) for own-brand discs from Dixons (major UK electrical retailer).
Secondly, don't apply adhesive labels, as the adhesive can react with the data-containing dye layer of the disc itself.
Fred Langa at InformationWeek found this had caused appreciable deterioration of his archived CD-Rs.
Thirdly, don't write on CD-Rs. Surprisingly, Fred Langa didn't find problems with discs he'd previously labeled with marker pens, but his experience seems to be the exception; it's a known problem, reported as 'news' yesterday by The Guardian (I don't think that page is permanently archived, so the item might vanish). In the same way as label adhesives, chemicals in marker inks can react with the dye layer of a disc, destroying data. Markers specifically for writing on CD-Rs exist, but different CD-R manufacturers use different dyes, so I doubt the pens have been tested with the full range of disc dyes. Far safer, and simply better practice, is to write only in the clear area at the hub of the disc - it's just clear plastic, so there's no dye layer to destroy.
Quick disclaimer: trading unofficial recordings, like-for-like, strictly for no profit, amongst those who already have all the official releases of the traded artist, is very different to commercial bootlegging (selling/buying unofficial recordings) or piracy (distributing copies of official releases).
1 December, 2003
Mr Otto at the Olympics
Bruno Bozzetto's Flash animation is link of the day at User Friendly, but I couldn't resist blogging it for those poor fools who read the Ministry blog but not UF.
14 October, 2003
Caring for Your Introvert
If you want to know me better, try this remarkably accurate article. It's one of those profound pieces that seem obvious afterwards.
13 October, 2003
What to write?
William Gibson on why he doesn't write short stories:
"Good ones are to novels as bonsai are to trees. Might as well go ahead and grow the tree. It’s easier to pay the rent with trees."
Good training, though.
NP: Coldplay, 'Everything's Not Lost' (on LAUNCHcast - the first and possibly last time I've listened to an entire Coldplay song. Bland.)
11 October, 2003
That's christmas sorted, then
How's this for a paragon of taste? Either make your own, or buy ready made.
NP: Porcupine Tree, 'Signify'.
9 October, 2003
Interview with the Search Engine
I've seen this piece before, but I can't resist mentioning it here.
NP: Opeth, 'Morningrise'
6 October, 2003
Don't forget your gloves
Street (?) map of the North Pole.
5 October, 2003
Arthritis all-clear for high heels
As reported by the BBC, "Fears that wearing high-heeled shoes could lead to knee arthritis are unfounded, say researchers."
Seems Helen will be okay after all ;)