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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.

5 January, 2011

Read Wormworld

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.

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.

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.

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.

16 September, 2010

Bottled inertia

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.

27 August, 2010

Don't subcontract

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.

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).

13 May, 2010

Perceptual shift

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.

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.

29 January, 2010

Good rover

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.

8 January, 2010

White over

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.

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.

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.

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.

23 October, 2009

Not tepid

The forthcoming film of Maurice Sendak's 'Where The Wild Things Are' looks good, but its author seems even better.

20 October, 2009

Strange memories

I'm accustomed to the mini-industry of gimmicks surrounding University graduation ceremonies – ties, cufflinks, keyrings, etc. – and now jigsaws?

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.

19 August, 2009

Finally revealed

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.

1 August, 2009

Joy II

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.

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).

26 July, 2009


I wasn't having a particularly good day.  Then I saw this.

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.

1 July, 2009

Not news

A newspaper's 'science' editor* makes a fool of himself in criticising real scientists' criticism of 'science' journalists.

30 June, 2009

Björn again

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.

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.

27 May, 2009

Icicles of brick

The pictures speak for themselves.

8 May, 2009

Non-constituent coordination

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,...

7 May, 2009

Times a-charging

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.

1 May, 2009


Anyone have a spare $1,000?  'Cos I want longer legs.

25 March, 2009

Poor excuse

Another example of a driver blindly following sat-nav directions rather than his own common sense has had a satisfactory outcome.

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'.

2 March, 2009

Air Wair

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.

20 February, 2009

Stay disabled

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.

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.

8 February, 2009

Well, yes

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'.

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.

4 February, 2009

Climatic heresy

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.

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.

26 January, 2009

Feeling fine

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.

23 January, 2009

Anti- anti-hype

In his Guardian column examining companies' 'environmentalist' marketing claims, Fred Pearce questions whether rail transport really is more sustainable than air travel.

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?

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

Got nothing

Nothing to say, either.

20 December, 2008

Entirely egalitarian

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.

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?

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.

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.

1 December, 2008

Not assimilated

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.

29 November, 2008

Self reflection

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.

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.

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.

19 November, 2008

Feathers ruffled

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.

14 November, 2008

Ultimate machine

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.

9 November, 2008

The ultimate

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.

3 November, 2008


I had mixed feelings about the reported ban on the use of Latin phrases by local Councils.

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'.

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.

I've 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.

10 October, 2008

Spam-free sleep

Stunning idea: a dream captcha.

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?

8 October, 2008


... is a word describing the sound of wind-rustled leaves.

Nice definition, but I still prefer 'sussuration'.

16 September, 2008

Culture crash

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'.

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.

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.

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.

22 August, 2008

Chic-chip petrology

Well, yes; obviously.  As any first-year Geology undergrad knows, ice cream is an igneous rock.

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'.

Oh dear.

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.

15 August, 2008

Scottish quick facts

All of which I applaud:

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.

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.

2 August, 2008

Too famous

Today's 'Bad Science' is particularly worth reading.

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.

28 July, 2008

Eight glasses

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.

16 July, 2008

Segfault Chicken

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?

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.

19 June, 2008

Life: for better results, wear a helmet

Adis makes an interesting argument in today's 'Count Your Sheep'.

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.

17 June, 2008

Good vibrations

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?

11 June, 2008

Delicious concept


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.

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.

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.

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.

6 May, 2008

Long lasts

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.

5 May, 2008


Quick addendum to the Phorm traffic tracking/analysis issue: even the spyware pusher's logo seems to be blatant plagiarism.

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.

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.

18 April, 2008

Ragged remains

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.

15 April, 2008

Anti-lightning shield

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.

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.

13 April, 2008

One day...

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

Germinating ideas

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.

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.

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.

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.

7 March, 2008

Due contempt

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.

27 February, 2008


A word so obvious it ought to exist, 'keming' describes the result of improper kerning.

20 February, 2008

Ban it

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.

18 February, 2008


Why do we hiccup?

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.

8 February, 2008

Must be blue paper

Here are a few techniques one can employ to improve the sound quality of audio equipment.

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.

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.

11 January, 2008

Deliberately degraded

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.

10 January, 2008

Yes, please

Sooner the better.

10 January, 2008

Useful to know

According to

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.

7 January, 2008

Uncanny valley

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'.

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'.

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.

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".

6 December, 2007

High culture

Which is the second most visited tourist attraction in the UK, after Blackpool Pleasure Beach?

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.

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").

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.

20 November, 2007

Hoard unearthed

Here's a diverting article about 1p and 2p coins, and the vague suggestion that they may be phased out.

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.

13 November, 2007

The Belgian question

Today's Guardian offers an interesting review of Belgium's current identity crisis.

8 November, 2007

Negative intelligence

Oh dear.  National Lottery scratchcards have had to be withdrawn because purchasers were too innumerate to know whether they'd won.

7 November, 2007

I happy too

I have to restrain myself from posting links to (I could easily punblish 3-4 per week), but there's no way I can avoid mentioning this one.

6 November, 2007

How pointless

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.

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.

2 November, 2007

What would happen if...?

The Guardian reports the "most bizarre tests ever conducted in the name of scientific inquiry" *.

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.

17 October, 2007

No peeking

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'.

11 October, 2007

Play-doh ad

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.

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.

5 October, 2007

Shop around

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.

28 September, 2007

Persona non grata

Well, this seems pretty clear-cut to me.

25 September, 2007

Top level domain

Is it irredeemably geeky to be impressed by the British Library's domain name?

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.

Oh dear....

19 September, 2007

Literally inhuman

This interview with a Zimbabwian government official contains some of the most chilling statements I've ever encountered outside accounts of Nazi atrocities.

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?

13 September, 2007

Eternal dilemma

Siobhan/Kisa might struggle to decide*, but which is better: Second Life or cats?

5 September, 2007

Bag of holding

Yes, I always considered this a bit odd, too.

3 September, 2007

Wstęp wzbroniony!

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.

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.

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.

21 August, 2007

Revolution imminent

I suspect this could be a step too far for some people... about 50% of the population, perhaps?

15 August, 2007

No haven

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.

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.

1 August, 2007

I'm a literalist

On BBC4 TV this evening: 'Ian Rankin's Hidden Edinburgh'.

1 August, 2007

Pathogenetic proposal potentially preposterous

So; is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?

27 July, 2007

Truth in fiction

That staple of detective thrillers, incriminating fingerprints found on a gun, mightn't be entirely realistic.

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".

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.

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.

14 July, 2007

Coded message?

Did you know that the official crest of MI5, the UK's security intelligence agency, depicts a golden winged sea lion?

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.

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

¡zO o11ǝH

.uosɐǝɹ ǝɯos ɹoɟ 'sǝpoɔ ɹǝʇɔɐɹɐɥɔ ǝpoɔıun ǝɥʇ ʍoɥs ʇ,upıp ,ǝɔɹnos ǝbɐd ʍǝıʌ, .ʇı pıp 1ɐS ʍoɥ s,ʇɐɥʇ oS

26 June, 2007

Talisman restored

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.

22 June, 2007

LOLcats do xhtml

I don't remember the last time I literally snorted tea onto my keyboard.

This did it.

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).

20 June, 2007

Disturbing thought

Brilliant comment by Ithika at Bad Science:

Did you know that if we turn off all the wifi transmitters in our schools, we will in fact be increasing the homeopathic dose of radiation?

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?

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

Daunting infrastructure

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).

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.
Nice psychology.

8 June, 2007

Wellington boots

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'.

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

Nice metaphor

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!"

18 May, 2007

Busted anyway

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.

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....

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...?

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.

24 April, 2007

christian tolerance

Just read it.

13 April, 2007

Minced opportunity

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.

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

Close, but...

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.

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.

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

Sensation inflation

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.

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.

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. Reports 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.

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.

7 March, 2007

Raise awareness

This article is about 'hypermilers' who obsessively, even competitively wring extreme fuel economy from standard cars, but a more general point is worth promoting:

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).

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.

5 March, 2007

For people what thinks

[Via Giraffobia.]

2 March, 2007

That's diplomatic

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.

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.

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.

19 February, 2007

Как можно больше краски

Russian apartment blocks.  Massive.  Brutalist.  Dull.  Grey.

Nope.  Not these, in Ramenskoye, near Moscow.

13 February, 2007

Alternative needed

It's not the first time, but it looks as if Afflecks Palace, Manchester really is under threat of closure and redevelopment.

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.

5 February, 2007

Mocking Macs

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.

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.

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.

[Via BoingBoing.]

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.

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.

5 January, 2007

Logistics p*rn

Ever wondered, whilst making an Amazon order, what the warehouse looks like?

Hmm.  Just me, then.

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.

19 December, 2006

Aren't you...?

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?

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:

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

Bank robbery?

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.

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.

7 December, 2006

Wind Up

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.

24 November, 2006

No entry

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.

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.

3 November, 2006

Shock news: Bush a threat

Was it in any doubt?

27 October, 2006

Modified GM

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.

19 October, 2006

Expressing familiarity

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

8 September, 2006

Drinking differently

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.

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.

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.

23 August, 2006


Too true....

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.

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.

9 August, 2006

Punctuation, legally, matters

The placing of a comma has cost a US Canadian telecoms company $2.13 million.

4 August, 2006

Wake-up call

Wow.  See today' comic at xkcd.

[If you have a problem with 'naughty' words used appropriately: grow up.]

2 August, 2006

Personal glass-bottomed-boat.

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.

19 July, 2006

Water waste

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.

17 July, 2006

Meta failure

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

Selling science

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.

[Via BoingBoing.]

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

Recycling police

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.

4 July, 2006

V-e-r-y interesting...

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

Bulk buying

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.

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.

30 June, 2006

Washington's hatchet

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.

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

Flag drag

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

29 April, 2006

Suspicion breeds confidence

Wired has a new blog related to privacy issues.  It's called '27B Stroke 6'.  I wonder why...? ;)

20 April, 2006

No hesitation

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.

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.

10 April, 2006

Union recognition

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

Crackpot navigation

Here's another case of drivers blindly accepting directions from their shiny new satnav devices rather than thinking for themselves.

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.

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.

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

Head turning

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

[Via BoingBoing.]

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.

4 March, 2006

Don't lose it

Gucci cuff purseBondage chic, or paranoia?

I wonder if they do an umbrella in the same style.

[Via BoingBoing.]

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

25 January, 2006

Designed for...?

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.

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

Sweet Victory

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.

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.

10 January, 2006

Beyond belief

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?"

15 December, 2005

Expectations cut

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.

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:

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

Boing indeed

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?

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

More caffeine!

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).

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

10 October, 2005

Curse struck

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'.

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.

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.

6 September, 2005

Bob's 'betrayal'

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.

18 August, 2005

Flying ants

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!

4 August, 2005

Grow RPG

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.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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

Stellar prices

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.

19 May, 2005

Bottom line

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

6 May, 2005

Not the Atoll, for once

'National Geographic' has published a swimsuits issue!?

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

Love rat

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 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.

3 April, 2005

Guerrilla non-consuming

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:

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

Hoax exposed?

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

Final images

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.

2 March, 2005

We're surrounded

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

Too much?

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.

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

Tax-free shopping

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.

21 January, 2005

No evangelists

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.

14 January, 2005

Sloppy workmanship

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

Tory hardcore

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 reports, someone bought it.
Some might find a Conservative Party website to be metaphorically pornographic anyway, but rarely literally so.

12 January, 2005

Flying crowbar

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.

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

Define 'currency'

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).

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

You wish

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

Coffee beer

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

Post early

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

Not really...

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?

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."

[From OjoHaven]

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.

5 November, 2004

For sale

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

Squashed Philosophers

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.

[Via Greenfairy]

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

Sunny thoughts

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.

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.

22 October, 2004

Uncertainty uncertain

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.

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.

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

Big gifts

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

Calm down!

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...).

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.

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:

  1. Stops forwarding 'jokey' e-mails.  Period.

  2. Reads this Guardian article on complaints received by UK TV stations about their programmes.

10 September, 2004

Blackfield T-shirts

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?

9 September, 2004

Underground cinema

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?

BBC screenshotIn 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:

Hard choices
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.

2 September, 2004

Stealth laïcité?

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.

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

Refreshing candour

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."

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.

24 August, 2004

Better weather

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.

20 August, 2004

Crass spectacle

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.

18 August, 2004

Just go!

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.

17 August, 2004

Narrative imperative

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.

13 August, 2004

That's profound

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....

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 resolved

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 '', 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

Reverse cybersquatting

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 ''.  A worthy subject, and it must have taken courage to write.

The problem is that 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.

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.

1 August, 2004

Love town

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.

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.

26 July, 2004

Five Balls

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."

26 July, 2004

Compensation (silvi)culture

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.

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.

16 July, 2004

More mapping

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.

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.

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.

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.

30 June, 2004

Parachutes advisible

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.

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.

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

Rumsfeld logic

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.

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.

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.

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).

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."

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.

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.

19 May, 2004

'Popular' film

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

Marketing coup?

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.

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.

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

Mixed feelings

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.

Isn't it?

29 April, 2004

Pet TV

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

Fossil fools

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

Steve Hogarth on the 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

Very meta

In the Guardian, three popular bloggers discuss why they write, and their views on being read.

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.

15 April, 2004

No jokes about scoring, please

Sporty boots

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."

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

How high?

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.

The beast!

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.

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:

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.

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!

17 February, 2004

Bush logic

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:

13 February, 2004

In step?

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

Parenthood? Ha!

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.

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).

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.

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.

20 January, 2004

Wrong chips

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

HOW much?

From a BBC quiz on current events over the past week (probably not permanently archived, but here's the URL, just in case):

16 January, 2004

End of the affair

In an article about the decline in ecstacy (MDMA) use in Britain, The Guardian mentions the following:

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

Press 'reports'

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:

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.


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.

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

Functional atheism

Stumpjumper, at 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.

18 December, 2003

Goodbye sunshine

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

Mixed message

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.

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:

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 ;)

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