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28 October, 2010

We don't need no education

The British Humanist Association is launching a campaign to persuade tell people with no everyday religious beliefs to acknowledge that fact on their census returns in 2011 – too many people select "christian" in particular, allegedly as a matter of cultural affiliation (respecting their upbringings rather than current, personal beliefs?) rather than the more accurate "no religion".

16 September, 2010

Must try harder

Wow.  That's scary.  And alarmingly familiar.

5 August, 2010

Content with a shallow identity

Khoi Vinh wishes he'd invented the Tumblr micro-blogging service, not least because he'd change a couple of key aspects.  However, I'm rather glad he didn't (dunno why; I haven't even looked at Tumblr, never mind used it), as I disagree quite strongly with his main objection.

3 July, 2010

It's not about the people

In a comment on a Bad Science article on confirmation-bias in peoples' consideration of scientific research, 'MontanaWildhack' says:

19 May, 2010

I think, therefore I'm someone else again

Yesterday, I mentioned that:

My life has changed fairly radically since November (overwhelmingly for the better, though it's been tough).

21 February, 2010

Time is relative

If it looks like a crisp winter morning, feels like early morning, passing joggers wish me a "good morning!" and I don't have anything time-specific to do until the evening, does it really matter that it's actually 12:40?

4 January, 2010

Not just for the money

I'm surprised to say it, but it's good to be back at work.

30 May, 2009

Just enjoy the books

Why do people want books signed by authors who sign lots of books?

20 May, 2009

Could have told you that

The 'waking edge' of first half-consciousness provided the following this morning.  In that instant, it made perfect sense, but I'll let you decide whether it really stands.

10 February, 2009

Who cares?

My sister's in Belfast at present, for Fellowship exams.  They're scheduled to run over a few days; K's dates were Sunday and today, but some of her colleagues finished yesterday and went out to celebrate last night, without having rung K. to wish her well, comment on the exams, etc.

8 January, 2009

If it fits

I was in Glasgow today, with an opportunity to wander around the city centre (though I was there for work and hadn't anticipated spare time, so hadn't taken my camera.  Argh!), and was reminded of something I've frequently noticed.

12 December, 2008

Need to know

I have a thermometer on the noticeboard next to my home PC, as I have a vague interest in the temperature of the room I occupy most.
My mother has a thermometer attached to the wall outside her kitchen door, as she seems to draw comfort from knowing the temperature that the inside of her house isn't.

28 October, 2008

Caps lock

I can barely imagine how I was able to write (with a pen, on paper) continuously for three hours for each of ~9 exams in 1993.  My Finals were certainly the last time I made sustained use of a pen; I sometimes have to stop and rest whilst writing even a cheque nowadays, as the unfamiliar activity causes cramp.

23 July, 2008

Cosmopolitan enclaves

It's funny that one can travel across the country, encountering the locals' different accents, mannerisms, even general appearences, yet on reaching one's destination, a university, the accents and other characteristics are as familiarly mixed (generic?) as always, exactly as at one's home institution or any other across the UK.

23 May, 2008

Little boxes

As I explained years ago, my life is rather 'compartmentalised'.

25 April, 2008

Mynydd & dale

Planning my weekend last night, it occurred to me that my mental map of the Snowdonia National Park is fundamentally different to my perception of the English Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.

20 March, 2008

Show some respect

As you may have noticed, several things annoy me. ;)
A persistant source of irritation is the behavior of Brits in public – as Jeremy Paxman has noted, there's an attitude that public spaces belong to no-one, so each individual can do whatever he or she wants without consideration of others.

5 March, 2008

Prove necessity

There's a slight problem with this article and the accompanying comments bewailing the loss of Post Office branches in the current rationalisation programme, with 'the hearts being torn from local communities for the sake of commercial viability'.

28 February, 2008

Not for me, thanks

A thread at the independent Porcupine Tree Forum, on the topic of drugs at concerts, has been running since last August, but I've only just noticed (without intending to be judgmental) that of those members whose profiles state their ages, those writing in an authoritative manner (which isn't quite the same as being authoritative) about the 'mind-expansion' offered by drugs and asserting that drugs are an enhancement to concerts, are all under 20.

14 February, 2008

Cold strikes

I've always been interested in the perception of cold (I'm easily amused).

30 November, 2007

Mea culpa

At the risk of repeating myself, the concept of 'green sins' really, really annoys me.
Speak of recycling and food miles in rational terms, and we'll broadly agree.
Speak in terms of pseudo-religious ethics, and you can **** off.

8 November, 2007

Seeking approval

Is it a sign of insecurity to begin a blog entry with a question?

How about knocking before entering one's own office?

7 November, 2007

Who's it for?

In a (long) interview with Ridley Scott for the Guardian, Stephen Moss says:

Film can aspire to be art but, equally, art must show awareness of its audience.

31 October, 2007

Milking the farmers

In an article about alleged price-fixing of dairy products sold in supermarkets, the BBC quotes an average retail price of 56.3p for a litre of milk, of which only 18.08p goes to the originating farmer.  Less than a third – pretty disgusting, really.

17 October, 2007

Semantics of stripping

[Now there's a misleading title.]

It's generally considered a bit pretentious to say 'graphic novels' when referring to what others call 'comics', as if being overly defensive.  The medium has achieved widespread recognition within the last 15-20 years as 'acceptable' for adults – it's no longer considered only for children and disfunctional obsessives.  It doesn't need to style itself as literature, because it just is.

25 September, 2007

Web is web

Somehow it feels odd to be discussing admin issues with web professionals working in very different market sectors, and finding that those sectors are fundamentally irrelevant.  Whether one is selling electricity, cigarettes, degrees or missiles* , ultimately, widgets are widgets.

14 August, 2007

Sound and fury

Anyone else think it's more than a little pathetic that certain executives need thrones; the self-affirmation derived from fetishistic assemblages of leather, steel and pneumatics?
Presumably they have to have the right car, too, with the right house, the right spouse, the right suit, even the right pen.

****ing drones....  Sometimes I think I occupy a different world.

10 August, 2007

Connection restored

In recent months, I've been experiencing a mental block.  I could easily say that "q comprises x, y and z", but in the synonymous phrasing "q ___ of x, y and z" I couldn't think of the missing word.
It certainly isn't possible for anything to 'comprise of' anything; that's just grammatically wrong.

2 August, 2007

Trade descriptions

It's funny that, year after year, one passes vehicles marked 'Motorway Contractor', yet they never seem to be any further forward with that stated purpose – the distances between junctions don't seem to diminish at all.

29 June, 2007

Life's little luxuries

'Prosperity Denial'... describes an unfounded resistance to spending money on minor indulgences, even though one's personal wealth and prosperity allow for it.
A quote from a Psychology textbook?  No, it's from 'Local Choice', a monthly compendium of adverts padded by 'advertorials', distributed ("free!") to 50,000 Lancastrians to promote local commerce and make people spend, spend, spend.  Hard-sell junk mail, really.

16 June, 2007

Scared and compliant

From a comment at The Register:

There should be a new law/amendment on broadcasting, that any statement which is intended to generate fear, or is capable of generating fear within the population without credible evidence to back up the statement made within the same broadcast medium at the same time, is classified as a terrorist act.

7 June, 2007

Stamp on it

According to a proposal by Peter Hain, a candidate for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, reported by the Guardian, "stamp duty could be switched from home buyers to sellers to help young people get on the housing ladder".
That might be a short-term vote winner, but it displays entirely the wrong attitude.

5 June, 2007

Quiet pride

Gentle, undemanding viewing, perhaps, but I can't help agreeing with the Guardian that David Dimbleby's new TV series 'How We Built Britain' is a valid "celebration of Britishness" – far more so than the laboured and grossly misguided efforts of ministers to manufacture celebration in the form of a national day.

31 May, 2007

The thrill of the chase

In 1996, Steven Wilson expressed his negative reaction to the pervasiveness of the internet in Porcupine Tree's 'Every Home Is Wired'.  More recently, particularly with the release of the 'Fear of a Blank Planet' album, he's been similarly critical of the instant gratification afforded by mp3 players.

10 May, 2007

Evidence-based government

"I did what I thought was right."

Personal moral conviction is no way to run a country.  **** off, Blair.

7 May, 2007

Wearing one's heart on one's...

Passing the Lancaster Canal at the weekend, I was reminded that a major class of names chosen for modern narrowboats seems to be 'Sanctuary', 'Mon Repose', 'My Life' and other variants on 'I-live-for-the-weekend'.  Is there a disproportionate link between owning a recreational narrowboat and being dissatisfied with ~71% (i.e. five-sevenths of a week) of one's daily existence?

1 May, 2007

Not exactly me

It looks as if I'll be attending a conference in July, on the theme of 'Next Steps for the Web Management Community'.  Apparently, there'll be "a number of plenary talks which will explore the concept of community".

20 March, 2007

Don't disable

The iconic red Routemaster London buses are still running after fifty years, though they've been withdrawn from service on all but a couple of 'heritage' routes in Central London, mainly for tourists.  As the BBC reports, certain people would like them to be banned outright, as they're incompatible with accessibility legislation.

25 February, 2007

Don't be a developer

A couple of (relatively) local news items have revealed a public tendency to jump to negative conclusions.

26 January, 2007

Spreading the holy word too far

Hang on; organic farming is about not using artificial fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and feed additives in growing non-GW produce, isn't it?  Some may consider that links into an overall ethical stance, but it's not a defining characteristic of the basic designation 'organic'.

13 December, 2006

Stocking fellas

Lingerie retailer Marks & Spencer has hired male assistants for fifty of its branches, specifically to advise male customers on their seasonal gift purchases.  It sounds like a good idea, but do you want my advice?

29 November, 2006

Scotland first, then us

Welsh nationalism is about establishing a separate sovereign country, entirely independent of England yet within the European Union and Commonwealth.  I'd better stress that it has nothing to do with 'British nationalism', which is about ethnic purity and right-wing nastiness.

18 November, 2006

..., bought the T-shirt. Er, why?

It's a bit difficult to promote individualism.  One can't exactly gather 10,000 people in Manchester's Albert Square for a rally to oppose collective action, and placards saying "Ignore slogans!" wouldn't quite work.

24 October, 2006


The Guardian reports that a 'tougher ethical code' is to be 'imposed on doctors'.  Apparently, "misbehaviour at home could mean loss of licence".

What's meant by 'misbehaviour'?  Whose definition is to be used?

13 October, 2006

More greetings than you could ever want

When buying a birthday card, do you ever feel an urge to be random, and choose a 'get well soon', 'welcome to your new home' or 'congratulations on your pregnancy' card instead?

I get that a lot....

10 October, 2006

Tempus frangit

At 'This is Broken' [16/04/08:  Site dead, so link removed] , the sink layout involving two separate taps, hot and cold, has been cited as an anomalous example of poor design, as if a combined mixer tap is the standard (with the implication that it always has been) and the alternative is an aberration.

8 October, 2006

Formal relativity

I was reminded last night that I always spoke of my maternal grandmother as 'my grandmother' or, to my mother, as 'your mother'.  I don't recall how I addressed her directly; I'm not sure used any name or title.  I wasn't brought-up to use 'Grandma', and 'Nana' struck me as childish even when I was a child; I'd ceased using it by the age of eleven.

27 September, 2006

Best days

Our next intake of first year students arrive this weekend; depending on the Colleges to which they've been assigned, arrival day will be Saturday or Sunday.  If I was a Fresher (horrible thought...), I'd definitely prefer the Sunday arrival: one day less.

21 September, 2006

Buying in

I think I've almost escaped the herd mentality, but not quite.

29 August, 2006

I knew I was going to say that

Tangentially mentioning déjà vu in the previous entry reminds me that I used to experience it (specifically déjà vécu, the commonest variety) fairly frequently in childhood and in my teens, but much less so in my twenties and into my thirties.

26 August, 2006

Scratching the planetary surface

It's a little startling to discover that people one knows and likes in one context can be nutters in another.

22 August, 2006

Casually comfortable

It's funny how financial circumstances evolve.

21 August, 2006

Hooray For Fish

'Sometimes I Like To Curl Up In A Ball', <'The Runaway Dinner', 'Dear Zoo: Lift the Flaps'.

13 August, 2006

Elitism is nothing to be ashamed of

I'm not an elitist myself, of course – some of my best friends only have one degree.

Imagine that.

11 August, 2006

Words matter too

Since you ask: no, Tina, not always.

4 August, 2006

My own business stays mine

I've just remembered something that was probably a formative event, and one reason I'm so open and trusting (yeah, right).

28 July, 2006

My favourite things

I'm slightly uneasy about 'favourites' lists, as the urge to categorise, rank & list is a stereotypically male, obsessive tendency from which I try to distance myself.  I feel the process restricts and diminishes the subjects of such lists, not to mention the cataloguers.

20 July, 2006

Wedding thought with feeling

I have the opportunity to attend a wedding reception at the end of next week.  My gut feeling, which I've decided to follow, is to not go, but I'm having trouble rationalising that, even to myself.

3 July, 2006

As seen on TV

Is that really still a selling point?  I could imagine that in the 1950s and 60s 'As Seen On TV' implied a certain glamour, even credibility (though I'm not sure of the rational basis for the latter) but I'd have thought the novelty would have worn off by 2006 and potential customers would be more self-motivated.

20 June, 2006

Why grumpy, not happy, when sleepy?

Why do I become irritable when I'm especially tired, rather than, say, overly sentimental or tolerant?  What is it about sleep deprivation that inspires impatience?

13 June, 2006

Tough times ahead?

When a colleague goes on maternity leave, what does one write in the leaving card?

8 June, 2006

Portion control

Writing about how he lost 23 kg in body weight last year, Jeremy Zawodny mentioned reforming his eating habits so that he ate until no longer hungry, rather than until full.

5 June, 2006

Earth-shattering paradox

Why is that one would hire building contractors to construct an extension?  Shouldn't they be building expanders?

Just an idle thought whilst waiting in traffic.

22 May, 2006

Best sellers

As I've said before, I don't believe in buying locally merely for the sake of supporting local retailers.  If corner shops and independent bookshops are out-competed by supermarkets and national chains, too bad; they represent obsolete market sectors which should be allowed to die if they're unwilling or unable to offer something unique.

19 May, 2006

Random queries no. 54

One of a series of genuine search engine enquiries which successfully brought visitors to the Ministry.  Can I help?

recycling - is it a good solution

14 May, 2006

Who is it for?

A bypass is a higher-capacity road diverting through-traffic out of local road networks (which tend to date from an era when two carts and a stagecoach constituted heavy traffic), hence allowing longer-distance travellers to avoid becoming delayed by traffic lights, tractors in narrow lanes, etc.

11 May, 2006

Doesn't frighten the horses

A. was wondering:

Why is women’s underwear, even the day-to-day stuff, seen as naughty and provocative, while men’s is just another item of clothing?
I'm not entirely sure that's true.

8 May, 2006


Sorry to get all wide-eyed and hippie-ish, but isn't it remarkable that we're so blasé about radio and TV broadcasts?
Every second of every day, pictures and sounds are passing through our bodies (well, their broadcast waveforms, anyway).  In those terms, it's mind-blowing; two hundred years ago it would have seemed like a bizarre fantasy, yet we accept it as entirely routine*.

Modern life does make sense.  Just don't think about it.

28 April, 2006

Just thinking

Imagine we lived in a different galaxy.

18 April, 2006

Private grief

I'm a moderator (administrator, referee & enforcer) of a number of Yahoo! Groups.  One of them, devoted to trading unofficial recordings of a certain band, is used to organise distribution of CD-Rs/DVD-Rs and to solicit off-list trades.  It's analogous to noticeboard, definitely not a discussion group – communal conversation isn't part of the remit.

4 April, 2006

Idle thought...

I really can't be bothered to wait 45 mins to cook something at Gas Mark 4.

Do you reckon a standard domestic gas supply would give me 4 mins of Gas Mark 45 instead?

3 April, 2006

Don't ask, think.

Without wishing to imply Siobhan's postings aren't all wonderful ;)  one from last Thursday (which, for various reasons, I've only just read), particularly caught my attention.  It's a follow-up to one from Wednesday, so read that too.

28 March, 2006

Dada discussion

Management World is a surreal place.  Apparently we have a bunch of architects on a hook at present, waiting to barrel in when we close the book on the pot.

10 March, 2006

How much for these warm fuzzies?

The presence of a 'Fairtrade' logo on an item pretty much guarantees that I won't buy it, for three main reasons.

26 February, 2006

It's in here somewhere...

These carbon-based data storage/display devices are great for most purposes, but books could do with a decent search utility.  Maybe in version 2.

22 February, 2006

Define 'most'

Under the headline "Most Britons willing to pay green taxes to save the environment", the Guardian reports that 63% of people responding to a recent poll would be willing to pay new taxes on goods and services that damage the environment, while 34% said they would not accept such price rises.  For the record, I definitely would support such measures*.

14 February, 2006

Herd taste - or not?

This is a bit sad: a US study reported by the BBC found that music fans are more likely to listen to a song if they think other people admire it.  People who visited a new songs website gave higher ratings to tunes which had been frequently downloaded.

7 February, 2006

The end of cyberspace?

An article in Wired acknowledges that the concept of the internet as 'cyberspace', a virtual destination where people go in order to interact with one another and computers, has become obsolete.  Development of Virtual Reality (headsets & gloves) foundered years ago, and immersive alternate realities remained in sci-fi (I don't count the recreational examples of World of Warcraft or Second Life).  The distinction between on- and offline activities is fading, and nowadays the internet is simply a facet of everyday, 'real world' life. 

22 December, 2005

Yum. Humbug.

I loathe christmas.  It's fine for small children, but I'm not a small child, and I haven't liked the standard christmas rituals of presents, food, etc. for at least a decade.

20 December, 2005

It's not all about me, me, ME

George Monbiot, writing in today's Guardian, is overtly anti-cars.  I'm not, but his diatribe touches on something about which I do feel strongly.

My personal politics can be broadly and simplistically summarised as 'individualist' – I believe that the rights of the individual take priority over the convenience of the state; that the state exists to facilitate the lives of individuals, but individuals don't exist to serve the collective.

20 December, 2005

Speed cameras work

I'm not naturally inclined to agree with arch-Green George Monbiot, but his article for today's Guardian raises two valuable points.  Though overlapping, I'll treat them as separate topics, and hence blog entries.

The first is to report that the UK Department for Transport has published the results of a study into the efficacy of its speed cameras. Admittedly, it's unsurprising that a report commissioned by the DoT supports the DoT's agenda, but the figures are compelling:

13 December, 2005

Life tip of the day

In my experience, workoholics are no better thought of than those who do a fair day's work then go home and forget about it.

Check your priorities.

12 December, 2005

Mind yer own

As Readers' Editor of the Guardian, one of Ian Mayes' main tasks is to address complaints and publish appropriate corrections.  Unfortunately, one issue seems to be especially persistent, as Mayes explains in a recap and progress report.

9 December, 2005

Tiny talk

To keep her current job, Jack has (regrettably, necessarily) sacrificed some of her principles and is attempting to engage in (or at least respond to) small talk with her office colleagues.  She speaks my mind:

7 December, 2005

I'm no economist, but...

Something's been puzzling me.  If traditional high street retailers are anticipating another very poor peak season this year, whereas their online rivals seem to be on their way to a record performance, why don't the high street chains seem to be even trying to compete?  Why are CDs and DVDs so much more expensive in, say, Lancaster's branch of HMV than from, say, Amazon?

23 November, 2005

Too young

I don't know how possible it is to really know someone one has only met via an online forum, especially someone exactly half my age and living in Wisconsin, but it's still slightly shocking to hear that someone with whom I've conversed has stepped in front of a train.

26 October, 2005

Childish bereavement

I don't know whether there's any specific reason which I've buried in my subconscious, but if I see a child accidentally burst or let go of a helium-filled balloon, so that it's lost, I feel a deep sadness, and probably more disappointment than the child him/herself.  The third frame of today's 'Count Your Sheep' makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable; depressed, with underlying anxiety.

23 October, 2005

Don't bother

A certain online music/video retailer has sent me a claim code for a £2 discount, valid for the whole of October.  That might have been a little more meaningful if it had been sent before 22 Oct....

11 October, 2005

Clean conscience

Today's Guardian reviews a range of ethical washing-up liquids.  Ethical washing-up liquids.  For ****'s sake.

6 October, 2005

A better way?

Support facilities at a certain UK university operate as semi-autonomous commercial ventures.  If, say, the English department wanted tea, coffee and biscuits for a conference, they'd have to pay Catering (via an internal transfer of funds), and indeed pay Conferences for a venue.  External organisations can use Catering, Conferences, the Photographic Unit, University TV, Graphics, the Bindery, the Print Unit, etc. too, on a more directly commercial basis.

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.

13 September, 2005

Psychology of tea

Imagine you have a little too much milk for one cup of tea, but not quite enough for two.  Do you have a good cup of tea now, containing the right amount of milk, and a bad cup of tea later, with too little, or do you have two less-than-optimal cups, each containing not quite the right amount of milk?

31 August, 2005

Seeing the sights

Curious cat, Lancaster. ©NRTIt wasn't until I took this photo that I realised that my across-the-street neighbour, with whom I've shared several staring contests, has mismatched eyes, one blue, one yellow.  Now I've noticed, via the superior lenses of a camera, it's immediately obvious to the naked eye.

That's a suitable example illustrating the effect I gain from wearing glasses.

My eyesight is pretty good, it's just that each eye focuses slightly differently (once, when extremely tired, I was able to focus on the view from a window and the glass itself, simultaneously).  The divergence is undetectable close-up, but becomes noticeable as distance increases.  It just means I lose fine details; I can still clearly see people from hundreds of metres away, but not faces from more than 40m or so.  I can comfortably drive without glasses, but it wouldn't be strictly legal (one needs to be able to read a standard UK car number plate without hesitation from 20m).

26 August, 2005

Shut up or stay at home

Paul Stokes, writing in The Scotsman, shares my annoyance at concert and cinema audiences who talk throughout performances.  The article ought to be summarised and printed on the back of concert tickets, or encoded into a text message automatically sent to anyone entering a venue with his/her phone switched on.

25 August, 2005

'S for charity

Yesterday, in one of his annoyingly penetrating, innocent-sounding questions, Jacob asked me if I'd shave off my beard for charity (hypothetically).  My instant and heartfelt response was 'no way'.
J. expressed (or affected) shock; he knows I don't particularly like beards*, so why wouldn't I exploit the removal of something I wouldn't miss?  I didn't have a coherent answer at the time, but here are a couple which occurred to me this morning.

15 August, 2005

Big Brother says I can watch 'Big Brother'

I fully support the concept of publicly-funded, public-service media, and that each household's contribution has to be verified, but it still feels odd to receive a legal document containing the statement:

Keep your validated licence in a safe place.  It is your proof that you are licensed to watch television.

13 August, 2005

Bad-weather friend

Ask me to cat-sit while you're away, or to help you move house, or call me if there's a crisis, and I'm there.

However, offer me a bottle of wine or to cook me a meal in thanks, and I'll be profoundly uncomfortable (not just because I don't drink).  Invite me to the housewarming party, and I'll make an excuse.

I wish I knew why.

11 August, 2005

Amending the fourth

I'm uncertain about this issue.  A 'devout' christian man was dismissed from his job for refusing to be available for work on Sundays.  I'm atheist, but I don't believe employers should be able to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.

10 July, 2005

Nothing to prove

Looby works in the rail industry, and mentioned that the day after the London bombings, fellow staff of Asian origin were notably absent from the staff room before their shifts, instead presumably going straight to their trains to start work.

8 July, 2005

National perspective

First: I want to stress that the following in no way diminishes my sympathy for those people directly affected by yesterday's bombs in London.

Overnight, I've received a surprising number of e-mails from near-total strangers, almost all from the USA, expressing support in my time of national distress.  Er, thanks (really; the thought is appreciated), but what?

6 July, 2005

Is it about the piece of paper?

I seem to start too many entries with "Interesting article in the Guardian...", but, well, there is.  This one questions whether it's really advantageous to require a doctorate (PhD or DPhil) as the minimum entry requirement to become a university lecturer in an arts-related discipline such as English.  It points out that a student at University College, London in the 1970s was tutored by three of the most eminent practitioners of the century, none of whom had higher degrees (except honorary ones, awarded later).

4 July, 2005

The very thought...

Anyone agree that graduates from the University's 'Innovation and Enterprise Unit' ought to be summarily culled, quite simply because of the insufferable 'go-getting' chirpiness the title implies?

3 July, 2005

Universal solution

I think I'm joking, but in the several years since it first occurred to me, I've yet to encounter a single situation, in any aspect of human existence, that couldn't be resolved by either landmines or lamination in plastic.

Neighbourhood cats fouling one's yard?  Landmines.
Office colleague suffering with hayfever? Lamination.

It's universal, I tell you.

2 July, 2005

Devaluing the language

I promise not to rant about it, but I've just read at a discussion forum that Pink Floyd reforming to appear at Live8 is 'the best news of the millennium'.

If an aging rock band setting aside personal squabbles to perform four songs from their back catalogue qualifies as the best news of the millennium, where would that leave, say, third world debt being set aside, or cancer being cured?

1 July, 2005

Do something meaningful instead

Ha!  I think I've been writing for the BBC website in my sleep, under a pseudonym!  Either that, or the author of this piece criticising the Live8 concerts has read my mind.

That's a convoluted way of saying 'I agree'.

15 June, 2005

I knew you were going to say that

I believe in telepathy.  Or rather, some means of non-verbal communication whereby one knows precisely what someone will say, a fraction of a second before he/she speaks, and which one subconsciously mirrors.

An example: I've just bought a rail ticket, and at the end of the transaction, the staff member and I said "Cheers" simultaneously.
I never say 'cheers'. It just isn't in my spoken vocabulary, and it wouldn't even occur to me to use the word.  So why did I?

10 June, 2005

Why 'stags' and 'hens'?

I've just noticed posters around campus advertising a theatre group production of Willy Russell's 'Stags And Hens'.  As usual, this triggered a trivial chain of thought: why 'stags' and 'hens'?

'Stag party' makes some sense, but 'hen party' is less intuitive.  Then again, more consistent analogies aren't entirely appropriate, either.  Stags and hinds?  Not really.  Cocks and hens?  Er, no.

30 May, 2005

A symbol of individual rights

The alert may have noticed an amendment to the main page of the blog: there's a new button on the right of the page.

12 May, 2005

Steady, tiger

Thought for the day: be open to alternative approaches, and always challenge assumptions, but having done so, you may often find the established techniques do actually work.

For ****'s sake, don't 'think different'® just to be perverse, merely to appear quirky and to convey a pathetic impression that "I'm special, me."

3 May, 2005

Gridlocked memories

a chunk of childhoodA few days ago, my mother was sorting through old boxes and found some of my childhood toys, specifically the die-cast metal vehicles.  She's repacked them for me to bring back to Lancaster (to take up my space rather than her's), and took a photograph.
For some reason, I find it very difficult to study the image – my mind recoils.  There are just too many memories here, not so much suppressed as simply forgotten until now. 

I haven't seen any of these toys for at least half my lifetime, yet I recognise virtually every item in the image, including the ones only partially visible and also including missing components.  I have almost tangible recall of every corner, every detail.  It's not that I have negative memories of the toys; so far as I'm able to associate them with any emotional response, it's slight wistfulness about childish escapism and blind terror about advancing age.

1 May, 2005

Landfill in waiting

Something that Siobhan said, which is worth repeating: if the Greens like trees so much, why do they shove so many leaflets through my letterbox?

Maybe they're trying to be helpful: they bang on about recycling, so provide an example of waste paper for the hard of thinking.

28 April, 2005

**** family values

The 'ticker tape banner' on the BBC News homepage says that a "survey suggests 85% of British parents want stronger laws on internet pornography".

However, when one clicks through to the story itself, it's more about internet-illiterate parents:

Many parents lack the skills to help their child's internet use... one in five said they did not know how to help their children use the web safely.
That identifies both the problem and solution: parents need to be better educated.  Fine.

25 April, 2005

Shoot 'em down

The BNP published its manifesto for the general election campaign on Saturday.  They waited until much later than the real parties, to release it on St. George's Day, which gives some idea of their view of non-English Brits.  The BBC attended the almost clandestine launch.
I'd like to think it inconceivable that anyone reading this blog would vote for their blatant race hate, but they've added another overwhelming reason to avoid them.

16 April, 2005

'Intelligent' design

Okay, I'm convinced.  Science isn't adequate to explain life, the universe or anything.  Religion was always right.

But which variety?  Personally, I find Norse mythology far more convincing than christian.  As Tim Kreider says:

A universe whose physical laws are predisposed to the existence of life could not have arisen by chance; only a giant and a cow can account for this.
Don't forget to read Tim's 'Artist's Statement'.

[Via Joe Grossberg]

13 April, 2005

Don't leave it too late

As I've mentioned before, another blog I read regularly is Real E Fun, an insight into the life of a non-religious funeral celebrant.

Occasionally one of Zinnia's postings gets past my guard, and I need to be on my own for a while. This was one such powerful entry.

28 March, 2005

Just park it

Petitions: why?

A couple of hundred years ago, they might have been an appropriate means by which a populace could convey public opinion to their slightly remote lords & masters, but nowadays, with saturation media coverage of even local issues and public policy influenced by polls and focus groups, I don't see the point.  I've always thought them an anachronism, but a specific example has arisen.

26 March, 2005

Really perceiving words

For those who saw 'Jaws' when it was first released in late 1975, the title itself must have added to the impact – the very thought of a monster defined by its mouth contributing to a sense of unease before the film even began.  However, I was four years old at that time, so it was several years before I saw it myself, several years over which I assimilated the title merely as a title – four letters and a typeface which represented a film.

18 March, 2005

And you are...?

I don't know whether it's an aspect of modern working practices or inherent to the industry in which I work (web admin, for the purpose of this entry), but there are people I work with, who have offices in an adjacent building, who I've never knowingly met face-to-face (and I've been in this job for five years).  We exchange e-mails, if not daily or even weekly then at least monthly, but I'm not sure whether we've even had phone conversations.

25 February, 2005

Professional or personal?

Disclaimer first: the following does not imply my personal opinion, it's just a chain of thought which occurred to me whilst cycling!

Is an employee required to support the interests of his/her employer?  Does he/she need to care about the business in which he/she works?  Are these moral issues, or matters of employment law?

21 February, 2005

Revise that ritual

In 1964, Princess Alexandra became Chancellor (titular head) of Lancaster University.  Forty years later, at the end of 2004, she retired, so Sir Chris Bonington is to be installed* as the University's second Chancellor next month.  Exactly as in 1964, there will be a service at Lancaster Priory, a procession across town, and a ceremony in Ashton Hall (in the Town Hall).  I understand there'll be a drinks reception on campus afterwards.  For those who don't know, campus is three miles (5 km) from the city centre.

26 January, 2005

I think, therefore I'm someone else

Siobhan, at Tranniefesto wrote this morning about the unfortunate necessity of writing anonymously.  As the blog name suggests, Siobhan has a specific reason for doing so, but personally I write semi-anonymously by choice.

25 January, 2005

I like photorealism

A couple of days ago, Siobhan wrote about photorealism in cgi:

The thing is, I've been watching the CGI world take little steps closer and closer to their ultimate goal - photorealism - and, I must admit, they're getting pretty good at it.
I agree, but think there's still some way to go - lighting and translucency aren't quite there yet.  I think can still recognise most cgi as cgi.

11 January, 2005

Trust no-one

Beancounters offers a parody of Kevin Smith's 'Clerks', as if scripted by BoingBoing.
It's very well observed, but I was a little disturbed to realise it highlights a lapse in my natural scepticism.

9 January, 2005

Sceptical by birth

Writing in the Guardian, Lucy Mangan has a good rant about astrology, digressing into understandable ridicule of New Age 'muck' (her phrase).
I'd be inclined to agree, if not for one consideration: I do think astrology can accurately describe a person's general personal characteristics.

7 January, 2005

Buy! Buy! Why?

I see Marks & Spencer is the latest high street retailer to report unexpectedly poor sales for the christmas period (traditionally the peak of the annual cycle).  M&S has been struggling for a while, so I wouldn't read too much into the results of that one firm, but if it is sector-wide, I start to wonder whether there's something systematic.

5 January, 2005

Fake plastic teens

The BBC reports a survey for teen magazine 'Bliss', which found that 40% of teenage girls in the UK (well, 'Bliss' readers, anyway) have considered plastic surgery.  I find that somewhat depressing, not only because it's rarely even necessary (the article is illustrated by a photo of Katie 'Jordan' Price, a once-attractive model now frankly grotesque) but because it reveals the slavish devotion of people to false ideals instilled by the mass-media, no doubt including 'Bliss' magazine to some extent.

1 January, 2005

Resolute as always

I don't make New Year resolutions.  If one feels a need to modify an aspect of one's life, and considers it important, one should act on it immediately.  If the change is considered less urgent or so onerous that one is prepared to delay action until an arbitrary date, one is less likely to have the necessary commitment to complete it.

The converse, date- rather than issue-led approach, which I can comprehend but which is alien to my nature (I'm more inclined to continual self-reflection) is to think "New Year is approaching; am I happy with my life; what do I need to change?"  This annual process may be of value, but I'd still argue that it rarely instills sufficient urgency and commitment to successfully make the changes.

I'd happily wish the best of luck to anyone beginning the struggle with his/her New Year resolutions, but if it really is a matter of luck, the long-term prospects probably aren't great!

31 December, 2004

50 things to eat

A while ago, the BBC invited suggestions for the "top 50 things everyone should try a bite of in their lifetime". Here are the results.  I've eaten all except those in bold, and would be happy to eat those too, given an opportunity.  I've added a few comments, so I hope this entry isn't as pointless an exercise as it might seem initially.

24 December, 2004

Okay, okay: happy christmas

Last night I was a little shamed by the realisation that although I don't like christmas, other adults, such as Alizon, actually do.  I knew that intellectually, of course, but somehow hadn't really assimilated or understood the fact until Alizon and Andy called round to exchange presents.  Al isn't ostensibly religious (not that traditional religion has anything at all to do with christmas as experienced  by anyone I know), she just likes the experience itself, glitter, artifice and all.  I now realise she really likes it, as revealed by the extra effort she put into my present.

23 December, 2004

christmas crackers

What the **** are they FOR?

Thank you.  Just needed to say that.

18 December, 2004

No ho ho

I'm not a particularly materialistic person*, so I'm in the happy position of not wanting much.  Those things I do want, I can generally afford to buy for myself.  I prefer to choose for myself; there are few people I'd trust to second-guess my taste.  I dislike surprises.

There are times when I find the right thing for the right person, so enjoy giving gifts, but I dislike the concept of receiving simply because one gave.  Turning it into a reciprocal debt devalues the gift, in my opinion.  If I give, it's because I want to make the other person happy; I don't expect anything in return.  It's a gift, not a transaction.

15 December, 2004

Accurate or intuitive?

I seem to have posted about Firefox quite frequently recently.  That's not deliberate - I'm no evangelist.  This entry isn't really about specific software, except as examples of more general concepts.

This afternoon I helped a colleague install Firefox.  There was a problem importing items from the Internet Explorer 'Links' toolbar' to the Firefox equivalent, the 'Bookmarks' toolbar.  Once resolved, an interesting difference became obvious.
The user had numbered a few key items, from 1 to 12, so they'd appear in a specific order in the header toolbar rather than be lost in the overspill sidebar.  In IE, the order was as required: 1,2,3,4,... whereas in Firefox the order was 1,10,11,12,2,3,4,....
Strictly speaking, Firefox was more correct, but IE was more intuitive and met the user's requirements.

15 December, 2004

Deadwing not left wing

Since it was confirmed that the forthcoming (retail edition: 21 March, 2005; special edition: earlier, by pre-order) Porcupine Tree album will be entitled 'Deadwing', and that it seems the probable cover image will be an eagle with a broken wing (its right), there has been bizarre speculation that the album will be an attack on the US political right wing i.e. the Republican party and Bush presidency.

There is absolutely no reason to believe this.  In interviews dating back at least a year, Steven Wilson (SW) has said the content will be material associated with a film he'd like to make/collaborate on, with the stated theme of a ghost story.  The track titles of the album have been well-known since June (see the 'news' page at and suggest no apparent political references.

8 December, 2004

School run 'costs lives'

And this is news?

UK insurance firm MORE TH>N...

... states that motor accidents at peak times cause 7,000 fatalities and injuries each year, including the deaths of 200 children. The insurance firm estimates that around 12 per cent of all cars on the road during rush hour are taking children to school.
In the past ten years, school runs have increased by 20 per cent, with the number of pupils walking to school falling by 14 per cent.
MORE TH>N claims that 190 deaths could be avoided each year if the number of school runs was reduced by 10 per cent, and will be passing its findings on to the Department of Transport.

4 December, 2004


I live in Lancaster.  I've been here for eleven years.  I own my own house.

2 December, 2004

Heal thyself

Last week I discovered The Literacy Site, a 'click to donate' site of the same style as The Breast Cancer Site and The Hunger Site.  A server problem prevented my access to the 'About Us' page, but it seemed a good cause, so I mentioned it in the blog anyway.  I then went on to make more general points about the types of charities I do, and don't, support.

According to precisely those criteria, I no longer support The Literacy Site.

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?

25 November, 2004

Solidarity or interference?

Neil reports that a delegation of English students plan to visit Caerdydd next week, to protest against the possibility of Welsh students having to pay top-up fees (as have already been approved for English universities).
I'm scrupulously avoiding expression of my opinions on HE funding itself, but can't support this specific action.

17 November, 2004

Blair isn't Britain: revisited

This is a follow-up to yesterday's entry, which alleged that the UK and USA aren't necessarily united in their approach to Iraq, it's merely Blair and Bush who agree; the UK population are being dragged along behind Blair, and it's unsafe to assume we really agree with him.
Jon made a useful comment on that posting, and my reply is of sufficient length to deserve a separate entry of its own.
Essentially, in explaining one aspect, I accidentally obscured another.

15 November, 2004

Aquatic credo

Pick a line, and stick to it, unless circumstances alter.  If room to manouvre becomes limited, or someone needs a little extra leeway, be flexible, but if someone butts in gratuitously, be prepared to assert yourself.
If those nearby know the path one is clearly going to take, and one can discern theirs, no-one needs to impede others.
If people are forced onto converging lines, it's inefficient for both to dodge, and preferable to be the dodged than the dodger.

I'm talking about swimming in a communal pool, of course.

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.

8 November, 2004

Listing wishes

Are 'wish lists', as typified by the service at Amazon, admirably pragmatic, or excessively clinical, shattering the illusion of meaningful gift-giving?  I can't decide.

Personally, I prefer to give what someone would really like, and dislike surprises (it's depressing to open a present and find that a genuinely well-meaning friend or relative plainly just doesn't know me at all).  In this sense, it would be great if everyone used online wish lists, yet it somehow reduces gift-giving to an impersonal near-transaction, which feels 'wrong'.

7 November, 2004

Sold out

Yes, I've bought a mobile phone.

I've never wanted one - still don't - but travelling to Edinburgh for K's ceremony a couple of weeks ago involved joining a train (in Lancaster) which my mother had already boarded in Crewe, then meeting K. when her plane from Bristol arrived later that evening.  Organising that, and possibly rescheduling to accommodate transport delays (which didn't actually occur), seemed much easier if we were all carrying mobile phones.  Likewise when meeting Helen's plane from Warszawa and coordinating onward travel.

4 November, 2004

National self-image

Growing up in North East Wales in the 1970s and 80s, the very historical walled city of Chester was only about seven miles (12km) away: a regional centre of Roman Britannia subsequently featuring the internationally famous double-decker mediaeval streets, the Rows.  American tourists were a common and distinctive sight: large people with loud shirts and voices, dressed inappropriately for the climate and confidently bewildered by their surroundings.  A stereotype, of course, and outdated (Chester's not so picturesque nowadays, either, dominated by pub/clubs and generic chain stores, and begging was a problem in the 90s), yet the same stereotyping seems valid the other way round, too: in New York, the Brit tourists are the slobs.

28 October, 2004

Goth is not just for Hallowe'en

I see from my referrer logs that a previous entry, 'Why do goths wear stripey socks?' is receiving a lot of hits at present, mostly via Google searchs for 'goth wear' or similar.

I'm presuming this is because non-goths are looking for Hallowe'en costumes.  It's kind of patronising, in a way.  For many people, goth is a way of life (an overstatement in my case), not merely an excuse to wear PVC once a year (not that it needs excusing, but that's a different matter).

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.

24 October, 2004

This is the story

The first 35 seconds of 'Some Might Say', from Oasis' 1995 album 'What's The Story (Morning Glory)?'.  Sublime.  Over the last couple of hours I've listened to this intro at least twenty times, (obsessive, me?), and the whole song three times.

For a long time, I was put-off this album and Oasis as a whole by media hype, but I finally bought it in a sale about a year ago, for 'Don't Look Back In Anger', one of my all-time favourite songs.  Hype aside, it's just a damn good album, with quality writing and musicianship, and overflowing with attitude.  It's a powerful contrast to the more intricate, occasionally even clinical music (no, that's unfair - it's emotive, just differently) I usually choose to hear.

17 October, 2004

No, I'm okay with this, thanks

I fell asleep in front of the TV yesterday evening, waking too late for it to be worth heading out to see Andy & Steve (The Ugly Jug Band) at the Golden Lion.  Oops.  Still, it means it'll be at least a month since I last consumed alcohol.
That hasn't been a deliberate abstention, just a combination of circumstances meaning I haven't been to a pub for several weeks.  I don't drink at home.  As it's gone on, though, I've increasingly realised I just don't enjoy alcohol.

5 October, 2004

Not hypocritical

Even as I was doing it, I was surprised by the apparent contradiction in my favourably quoting the following, by Bill Thompson, technology journalist writing at the BBC website:

Many would complain at first, but the benefits to the net community as a whole would be so great that it would be worth it.
In an online context, that seems to make perfect sense, but in 'the real world' I tend to take a different view; I'm opposed to government monitoring, and I'm very unlikely to support any argument based on the concept "for the good of the collective".  The state should exist for and be accountable to the individual, never the reverse.

30 September, 2004

'Security revolution'

Today's Guardian:

UK tourists to be photographed and fingerprinted as American authorities extend new airport arrivals procedures to all foreigners.
Needless to say, I'm totally opposed to this.  When I read it this morning, my gut desire was to cancel my trip to New York next month, but a) that's an overreaction, owing more to petulance than principle, and b) it's already paid for.
I'd object to the government of my own country recording my image and fingerprints - indeed, I do object to ID Cards - so I find it doubly galling to submit to the whims of some foreign regime to which I owe absolutely no allegiance.

28 September, 2004

Recycling boost - well, okay...

"UK launches £10m recycling effort", as the BBC reports.  Good news, and overdue, but I have two concerns.

26 September, 2004

The waking edge

Halfway between sleep and waking this morning, I knew how to levitate.
It's like voluntarily swallowing; one can't consciously instruct each specific muscle to act in sequence, but once the body knows the knack, it's perfectly straightforward and just happens.  I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I stood up and shifted my balance in a certain way, I'd be able to hover.  It was so obvious!
Then I opened my eyes, and it was gone.

24 September, 2004

Kicking the underdog

I meandered into the Guardian's Gamesblog a few minutes ago, out of mild curiosity.  I like SimCity (1-4), Tomb Raider (2, 3, 4, not especially 5, haven't tried 6 yet) and will probably try The Sims 2 once retailers start to offer it at a discount in a few months.  In short, I'm a very occasional gamer, so the fact that there's a 'Playstation vs. the rest' rivalry was news to me.  Resident Evil (1-3) was probably my favourite game ever, but I haven't touched a PSX since ~1998.

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.

18 September, 2004

It's no use

I've just realised I was simply born to be a goody-two-shoes conformist.

It's never occurred to me, even once, to blow through the liquorice pipe in a sherbet fountain.

8 September, 2004

Critical admiration

I posted the following at the official Porcupine Tree discussion forum a few minutes ago, but there's a wider relevance, summarising my attitude to music as a whole, so I'll repost it here.
It's in response to someone who expressed a degree of guilt at 'failing' to find the debut Blackfield album absolutely wonderful (good, but not great), unlike more 'loyal' fans.

30 August, 2004

Whose news?

This was a digression from the previous posting, but I think it deserves its own space rather than force two topics into one posting and diminish both.

I'd say the user-led approach to information provision is vital in gaining a balanced perspective on current affairs.  I very rarely read a (printed) newspaper, or watch TV news (I don't listen to the radio at all, so obviously don't hear the news there either), for two reasons:

30 August, 2004

Depth vs. breadth

To overstate the obvious, an advantage of the internet is that information provision is typically user-led.
If one wants to know the latest national news, visit Guardian Unlimited, scan through the headlines and read the stories of interest.  No need to hunt through pages of less interesting topics, no need for irrelevant sports or finance sections (unless one is interested, in which case they're there).
If one wishes to know the correct spelling or definition of a word, visit (mentally adjusting for it being American).  No need to buy a bulky paper dictionary.
If one wishes to plan a road trip, visit for directions and maps.  No need to buy a road atlas which will be out of date almost as soon as it's printed (and certainly not a CD-ROM version - now that is dead tech).
In fact, if one wants to know pretty much anything, just try Google.

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.

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.

13 August, 2004

What's in it?

Yesterday evening, as an irrelevant aside in a discussion with Jason about the CO2 circulatory system at his workplace (yes, really), I criticised nouveau-hippies for unquestioningly favouring natural remedies over prescription medicines, in all cases and without knowing anything substantial about either alternative.  Unexpectedly, J disagreed.

29 July, 2004

Psycle Path

I've just been challenged for cycling past someone a couple of weeks ago without acknowledging him.

Sorry Jim.  I'd never knowingly blank someone, but it's certainly true that when I'm on the bike, I'm genuinely unaware of other road users as individuals, they're simply obstacles.  I see a car but not the driver, or a bike but not the cyclist.  A face is only relevant in judging the focus of a road user's attention and whether he/she is a hazard; I don't see the person.  I doubt I could even comment on the colour of the car or bike as soon as it passes out of my field of view.

The psychological implications are... unflattering, but I'm just focused, honest!

22 July, 2004

Butt out

I've just bought a laptop/portable computer on behalf of my sister.  I thought spending £1,000 of someone else's money would be more enjoyable....

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.

11 July, 2004


I don't believe in selflessness.  I don't mean that I acknowledge some people are selfless but don't practice it myself, I quite literally don't believe selflessness exists; it is simply not something of which humans are capable.

I also don't mean that everyone is driven by an urge for self-gratification.  This isn't selfishness versus selflessness; I'm saying self-interest is at the root of both.  There are infinite combinations of motivations for a vast range of activities, but I believe all, without exception, may be ultimately reduced to self-interest.

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.

22 June, 2004

Literary form

Green Fairy mentions a specific form of poetry, the villanelle, and gives an example.  Wikipedia offers a full definition, which triggered a thought.

Does adherence to such a rigid form have any aesthetic merit in itself?  Doesn't it degrade writing to a mere technical exercise?  "I can write a villanelle, aren't I clever?"  Would anyone other than an Eng. Lit. undergraduate even care?

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.

13 June, 2004

Elect to think

In case anyone didn't notice, there were elections across the whole EU, this week for the European Parliament.  Many areas of the UK combined that process with elections of local councils, and London (re)elected a mayor, but here in Lancaster it was 'just' the European election.

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.

19 May, 2004

What WAS it made of?

Plasticine.  A non-hardening modelling clay I remember playing with in the Seventies.  Though the word seems to have become generic in the same way as 'hoover', it seems the original Harbutt's 'Plasticine' has declined in popularity, as a Google search found very few relevant links.  Here's oneAardmann Animations imply real Plasticine is no longer made, and they should know.  Play Doh is another company's version, seemingly going strong, but I'm specifically talking about Plasticine®.

I haven't touched any of it for literally decades, but I have a strong memory of the smell.  I've often wondered how Plasticine was made, and the nature of its ingredients, because I've always associated the smell of Plasticine with that of... sewage.  Specifically, fresh human and porcine (pig) manure as spread on fields.  Seriously; I suspect there's a chemical common to both.

Either that, or my parents had strange ideas about toys.  "Of course it's Plasticine, dear..."

15 May, 2004

Another self-referential observation about memory

In 1992 I bought a tape of R.E.M.'s 'Automatic For The People'.  I listened to it quite a lot, and associate it with a fairly happy period of my life.
For various reasons, I didn't listen to it often from mid-1993 onwards; once per year until ~1999, if that.
Recently, I took advantage of a '3-for-2' offer to upgrade to a CD copy of the album.  The odd thing is that it is instantly familiar; I can remember most of the lyrics, and as one track ends, I can anticipate the beginning of the next track before a note is played - it's as if I last heard it yesterday, not five years ago, and it wasn't even a favourite then.

12 May, 2004


Catch someone early enough, and he or she will accept anything as normal.

My paternal grandparents both died within a few months of one another at least fifteen years ago, when I was in my very early teens.  At that age, I knew very few adults, so I had no wider perspective against which to consider them as rounded individuals; to me they were merely a two-dimensional 'Nana' and 'Grandad', and any peculiarities went unnoticed.  For example, my grandfather was William, known to my grandmother as 'Mick'.  Her name was Mona, but my grandfather called her, er, 'Mick'.

Only now, in telling Helen, have I realised that might seem a little odd.  It's not that I forgot, I simply hadn't questioned it.

12 May, 2004

iPod mini colours 'show personality'

I don't have one.  Ha!

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.

26 April, 2004


I'm bad at maths.  Present me with a mathematical problem, and I tend to freeze; I just don't know where to start.  I have enough trouble changing mental gear from thought to speech, never mind from words and images to numbers.

This morning I bought two new keys for my front door.  The second was half price, and the total cost was £5.  So how much was the first?  Previously I'd have presumed there's an acquired technique of solving the problem, which I haven't acquired, so I'd give up before even starting.  Yet I suddenly realised that the total is one whole plus one half, so £5 is 3/2 of the unit price: divide by three, multiply by two, £3.33.  Simple!

11 April, 2004

Twenty-three questions

A new meme, seen at Neil's World:

1 April, 2004

Lamb sacrificed

The immigration minister, Beverley Hughes has resigned over the scandal of fraudulent immigration applications from Romania and Bulgaria.  So, the minister has gone, which plainly wipes the slate clean and makes everything perfectly fine again.  Doesn't it?

I haven't been following every detail of this issue, but I don't really see how Ms. Hughes can be considered personally responsible for the fraud, which was conducted at an operational level rather than as a matter of flawed top-level policy.  Presumably those who actually perpetrated the fraud will continue in their jobs as normal.

16 March, 2004

Least favourite word

No offence to the URL which inspired this observation (, home of the Swamp blog), but I think I've just discovered my most loathed word: guzzle.  I can't even bear to explain how the very concept repels me; there's something disgustingly bestial about it.

The word 'posh' also inspires a strong negative response, but 'guzzle' goes way beyond that annoyance; I can only describe it as a visceral repugnance.

Why 'posh'?  I associate the word with 'proud-to-be-working-class' f***wits who use it to belittle items or people regarded as 'getting above themselves'; the subtext of "that looks posh" is "who do you think you are?"
My mother uses it too.  Though I don't believe she's aware of the connotation, that subtext is all I hear.

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:

13 March, 2004

Prejudicially avoiding stereotypes

Although in themselves perfectly practical and undeniably useful, certain items imply something about the owners. Common examples are shell suits worn by obvious non-athletes, and off-road vehicles exclusively driven in an urban setting.  Two others possibly only reflect local fashions, but are items I'd never even consider owning, to avoid the risk of being classified alongside social groupings of which I'm a little contemptuous:

12 March, 2004

Gothic 'validity'

My colleague Helena, speaking about acquiring a large silver & jet finger ring, has just casually described herself as a 'gothically valid magpie'.

What's 'gothically valid'?  Who decides what is or isn't valid?  Presumably it extends to clothes; how about music? Other lifestyle choices? Opinions? Thoughts?

Maybe it's only me who has a problem with such fundamental desire to conform, but I felt my blood pressure rise at the very phrase.

9 March, 2004

Freak or just independent?

I've just completed the provocatively-named 'Are You A Freak?' Test at, which has a more sober basis in a study allegedly conducted by two psychologists in the 1970s into individuals' 'need for uniqueness'.  As OutOfService stresses, it's a real test, not a typical 'purity'-style web test.

My overall percentile score was rated as 65, indicating higher 'need for uniqueness' than 64 out of 100 people.

22 February, 2004

Pre-emptive hypocrisy

Matthew Turner points out an apparent contradiction in the dogma of US Republicans and UK 'neo-conservatives': that pre-emptive action is always correct, except when addressing global warming.
As Matthew says, the argument seems about the same:

"something terrible might happen, we're not sure exactly what and whether it will, but the risks are too great to do nothing, and history won't forgive us if it does and we did nothing."

19 February, 2004

Fat tax on burgers proposed

Whoa!  Someone has been reading my mind!

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!

12 February, 2004

Is some music 'superior'?

This topic came up in a moderately heated discussion recently: discounting outright poor playing, accidental bum notes, etc., are some styles of music 'better' than others?  The following is a transcript of my views, slightly edited for clarity.

11 February, 2004

Is 'prog' progressive?

This is a distinction of which many 'prog' fans will be aware, and particularly Porcupine Tree fans, but the subject came up in conversation at a Jethro Tull discussion group today, so I thought I'd mention it here too.

8 February, 2004

Fighting Valentine

I wish I'd thought to set up this site: anti-Valentine's online cards, ridiculing the commercialism and empty gestures society expects for 14 Feb.

25 January, 2004

Speaking of dieting

I had an interesting conversation with Andy last night, paradoxically over a rich meal at a restaurant.

To freely paraphrase Andy, and probably distort his meaning, he is annoyed by people who make a big deal of being on a diet, who pointedly stare wistfully at food whilst complaining their diet doesn't allow such 'naughty' lapses.  As Andy says, if one misses cream cakes (or whatever) to that extent, one should acknowledge reality, eat the cream cakes, and accept the consequences; if denial is such a hardship, it isn't worthwhile.

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.

17 January, 2004

Brain melting

It has been suggested that the only valid opinion is impartial objectivity. This seems to translate to an idea that having an opinion invalidates it, which forces me to conclude that the initial premise, an opinion, is by definition invalid.  But that's just my opinion, so also invalid.

Someone thinks too much.  I suspect it's me.

15 January, 2004

What does your 'friend' wear?

Some people decorate their computers; at work, Helena has a bat soft toy on her base unit and an Emily the Strange wallpaper.  My mother's base unit has a plastic cartoon mouse (you know: the symbol of cultural imperialism designed by a dead alleged anti-Semite) attached by blu-tack, and the monitor wallpaper is a photo of (ahem) me, almost hidden by as many desktop icons as she can find.  The monitor of Alizon's home PC has a purple fur trim.  I don't actually know what H. uses as wallpaper, but her PC is a laptop, so the opportunity for physical decoration is limited.

15 January, 2004

What about The Opposition?

My disregard for the Mac 'let's be friends' ethos doesn't mean I'm pro-Windows - far from it.  With each revision, Windows becomes more obtrusive and downright interfering.

15 January, 2004

The Computer is NOT my friend

Because a computer is central to my job, people seem to assume I actually like computers.  That's not the case; I have as much affection for a computer as I do for a screwdriver.  It's a tool, simple as that.  Do carpenters *like* saws?  My interest is in what I can achieve with a computer, rather than having the slightest interest in its inner workings. I have a little more interest in software, as that more directly influences what I can achieve; it is oddly pleasurable to learn something new about Photoshop, but again that's because it opens new opportunities for creativity.

14 January, 2004

The fast... and the furious

That same article I mentioned earlier discussed speed cameras, the topic that has attracted the greatest number of comments (to date) on this blog.  Most have been critical of cameras, but I don't entirely agree, and similarly disagree with the stance of the 'roads lobby', quoted in the Guardian article.
The point of my earlier posting related to the routine logging of number plates, not speed cameras themselves.

The focus of the article is:

Are speed cameras crucial to the country's road safety or a cynical ploy to extract money from the motorist and an assault on personal freedom?

My own view is broadly close to the former, and I have negligible patience with the latter.

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.


5 January, 2004

Bike okay - luckily

For various reasons, my bike (bicycle) is currently stored in my living room, and until today hadn't been used since 23 December.  I must have passed it a dozen times in the three full days since I returned to Lancaster, ample opportunities to check it over and ensure it was roadworthy for the first trip to work this year, yet I left it until 08:25 this morning, minutes before leaving.  The tyres were a bit soft, and once I was on the road I found that the gears had stiffened (okay, jammed), but it was basically okay.  If there had been something more serious, I'd have been very late for work, avoidably.  Why did I leave it until the last minute?  What does that say about my mind set?

23 December, 2003

Cover bands - not here, thanks.

We've been asked to help promote a Jethro Tull tribute band, by mentioning it at the Ministry.  Whilst I intend no criticism of a band I haven't heard, that's an important point - I don't think it's reasonable to ask us to recommend a band without having heard them first.
A more significant reason is that I just don't like the very idea of tribute bands.

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.

16 December, 2003

Bags o'bags

I'm not going to rant about extraneous packaging of groceries (not right now, anyway...)  but it does irritate me when checkout staff put my purchases into a bag without asking whether I want one.  I tend to visit Sainsburys (supermarket) by bike, carrying everything in a 40-litre rucksack.  Is it really that likely that I'd want a carrier bag too?  If there's doubt, why not ask?
I tend to buy meat 'off-the-shelf' i.e. vacuum packed, not over the meat/fish counter.  The meat is hence sealed in plastic, on a polystyrene tray.  Why, then, do the checkout staff attempt to place it in a second plastic bag, itself to go in the rucksack (or carrier bag)?
Just now, I popped out to the shop on campus, for some late lunch.  I bought a sandwich, in a rigid plastic pack, and a bag of crisps, in a, er, bag.  Yet the checkout person automatically dropped these two small, sealed items into a carrier bag.  Why?

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.

13 December, 2003

Good start to a family's christmas

Yesterday afternoon my friend A (initial changed) attended her young daughter's school nativity play.  Also present were her ex-husband (B), his new partner - and their baby.  Bringing the baby was kind of a ****y thing to do, not only hurting A but also (successfully) giving an impression of B as a great father, a paragon of family life.
The daughter (call her C) was due to go home with her father, but as they were leaving, C ran back to her mother; she didn't want to go with B.  The shared custody situation, and poor relationship between the parents, meant it just wasn't an option for C to stay with A.
This is so tragic.  As A was telling me a couple of hours later, I couldn't think of anything meaningful to say, beyond platitudes.  What can one say?  No, at the age of 4-5, C won't understand the restrictions placed on the parents.  Yes, she will blame A for 'rejecting' her.  Yes, there is a good chance that such instances will be remembered in some way, and affect their future relationship.

13 December, 2003

Getting it on for the good of the planet

I don't know if this was intended as self-deprocating levity, or their usual busybody preaching: Greenpeace have published a guide to environmentally-friendly sex.  I'm about as likely to link to the Greenpeace website as to that of the British Nationalist Party, so I'll have to reproduce (ahem) a few parts of the guide here, to comment on it.

12 December, 2003

The Gender Genie

As reported by Nature, academics have formulated an algorithm which, when applied to a block of text, can distinguish the gender of the author. It seems to be based on a weighted count of keywords in the text; for example, the total number of instances of 'because' is multiplied by 55 and added to an overall 'female' total. The final 'male' total is compared to the 'female' total.

10 December, 2003

Scary thought

Argh!  I can't feel your feet!

6 December, 2003

Change of fate & the fate of change

Corner shops, newsagents, tobacconists, convenience stores.  I don't use them.  Apparently they're a dying aspect of British culture, and must be saved.  Why?  Their day has passed, and society has moved on.  If the market doesn't support their existence, the obvious result shouldn't be postponed.

5 December, 2003

The price of fish

Every couple of years, the 'popular media' run a feature mocking celebrities and politicians for being out of touch; for not knowing the price of 'everyday' food items.  Yet the whole exercise is flawed.  Is it really surprising that the Prime Minister doesn't do his own groceries shopping?

3 December, 2003

Why buy organic?

When the price of organic produce is comparable to that of 'ordinary' food, I'll start looking on that section of the supermarket.  While there's a premium based simply on the presence of a Soil Association logo, I won't.

26 November, 2003

Follow up: Socialise, or...

In case anyone's been waiting with bated breath, the missing student has been found, at his parents' home. He's been struggling with his course, and plainly isn't getting the vaguest support from his flatmates, so ran away from it all. It doesn't look like he's returning, or if he does it's rather too late to change degree course, so he might need to take a year out and start something new next year.

24 November, 2003

So England won the rugby World Cup. And?

From the online Guardian:

Their dramatic extra-time victory over Australia in Sydney on Saturday prompted nationwide celebrations that will continue until Christmas with a series of events to mark the success.
The team, which yesterday received the congratulations of Tony Blair and the Queen, is likely to be rewarded with a Downing Street reception and a "victory tour" of the capital in an open-top bus.
Okay; fair enough.

23 November, 2003

Yay! I overtook the dishes!

I cook. It creates dirty pans and utensils. I eat. It leaves dirty plates and cutlery. I leave the dishes to soak, so washing up is much easier later.
Next meal. I wash the pans & utensils I need, and start cooking. While I'm waiting, I wash the rest of the dishes.
I finish cooking, eat, and leave everything to soak.

22 November, 2003

This Brit's home isn't his castle

In the previous post, I said:
I own my own home, but I'd argue that doesn't define the real 'me'.
That's not entirely true: it highlights a core aspect of my personality. I'm not a natural home owner. So long as there's a roof over my head, with walls & a door to keep me warm & dry and to keep the outside world outside, I don't have the slightest interest in who owns the house, and I have no interest in customising it (a.k.a. decorating).

22 November, 2003

Who am I?

On one level, I can be identified as Neil R. T., 32, brown eyes, long brown hair, short beard, a professional designer residing in Lancaster, UK. Identified, yes, but defined? Not really. Inside my head, does it matter what colour my eyes are? I'm certainly not 'Neil' - I respond to it, but don't like or use that name myself.

22 November, 2003

You what?

I was contacted a couple of days ago by someone making an excellent observation about certain lyrics in Tull's 'A Passion Play', a particular welcome contribution to my Annotated Passion Play. Having added J. Eric Smith's key points to the website, I went on to visit his.
The thing that particularly struck me was the snappy prose style of a professional writer, in considerable contrast to the obscuring precision of an ex-academic, which I'd naturally fallen into when updating the APP annotations.

19 November, 2003

If you can't not speak, stay silent

I'm not a fan of free speech. By that I'm referring to the 'right' claimed by some that they can say whatever they like, irrespective of whether that hurts or insults the listeners. There's something deeply childish about that attitude, analogous to not being toilet trained - wanting to relieve one's self, so leaving a steaming pile in the middle of the floor.

12 November, 2003


A few years ago, it was usual to go to a pub at least four night per week; not drinking heavily, but it was just the way to spend time, socialising with same group of 8-10. It's difficult to pin down exactly, but perhaps around the time most of these friends turned thirty (when I was about 26), that practice tailed-off; it rapidly dwindled to just Fridays, and occasion Saturdays, and more recently it's not even every week, very rarely with more than 4 other people.

6 November, 2003


Not much to say about this article discussing hyper-realistic digital human models, other than to offer the link and mention it's a subject that's interested me for several years.

1 November, 2003

Happy New Celtic Year!

I hope everyone enjoyed Samhain - not Hallowe'en, that's the christian attempt to hide and suppress the earlier celebration with the contrived All Hallows Day. In fact, the BBC reports that even mainstream christian groups now go out of their way to force bogus christian meaning into the traditional, secular version of Hallowe'en - pumpkins carved with bible messages, 'Saints and Sausages' or 'Saints and Superheroes' (something of a mixed message there, too) parties.

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.)

3 October, 2003

Link of the Day

It's link of the day at User Friendly (itself highly recommended) really, but it's worth mentioning here too.

Battleground God - 17 questions which help determine whether your view of religion is rationally consistent, irrespective of whether you're a believer or atheist.
I'm not sure I agree with all the questions, particularly their wording and the logical inferences drawn from the answers, but it's interesting.

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