Thursday, 31 March 2011

Politics: On Holiday

Politics is moot when one is on holiday - and one is...

So, there won't be any politics related post today. Sorry.

Normal service resumes next week...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Science: I Name Thee...

An interesting article on the BBC news site about how military operations are named...

Now, everybody should already know that D-Day is not, in fact, and opposite to popular misconception, a name for a military operation. It simply denotes the day when one is supposed to begin. That one was known as Operation Overlord (or Neptune). It should also be obvious that the names are chosen at random, or at least as random monikers that will specifically not be easily associated with their content. But what did surprise me was that both UK and US military actually use computer programs for the purpose. And also that the US even have a set of rules (PDF) to follow. As well they should since operations Killer and Masher in Korea and Vietnam respectively, while most definitely not relating any operational secrets, are really too revealing as to other things that may go on - and the most unpalatable ones (if anything done in war can be). So, next time you are asked to fund (or endure) a military operation, rest assured that its name will be carefully chosen not to offend your sensibilities.

And that can only be a good thing, as hurt feelings are the most painful, aren't they...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Food: Taste Of Sweden

Sadly, taste of Sweden for me is still only one of interminable business meetings...

Yes, you guessed it right: my business trip, the one mentioned yesterday, is to Sweden. Stockholm, to be precise. Only I never really had time to explore either the city or its cuisine. And I've been here three times in as many years. The grand total of the sightseeing time: 2 hours. On a very cold, very windy, and very cloudy March day. My experience of local cuisine? Nil. But, this time I have at least tried to come up with a menu of Swedish food that I think I'd enjoy on a lucky day I can spend some "quality time" in the country:
  1. Köttsoppa
  2. Gravlax
  3. Pyttipanna
  4. Ostkaka
Now, if only there were a restaurant serving all of the above...

Monday, 28 March 2011

A Five Minute Update From Stockholm

As you may or may not know, today (and tomorrow) I'm in Stockholm. On business...


And what you see in the photo above is the view I have from my retro, yet comfy, seat in the hotel bar. I feel transported to circa 1972. It feels quite good. It'd feel even better if I had a bit more time to wander around the town. But, as I mused already (or will mused shortly), business travel is not what it used to be. It's not necessarily bad (although it sure can be), just not as glamorous as it used to be. No time to idle when somebody else pays for it. Which I guess is OK when you're the one paying for it. But I am not, so I am not complaining. The beer is decent (British, I really don't like the local fare), and the people even more so. Nice to see in flesh those who you otherwise only hear on the phone, or worse, just exchange e-mails with. All in all - good. Especially when the sun is shining. Even if you can't spend a lot of time in it.

And now, off to dinner. The business sort.
Only with really, really nice people...

Business: Travel

No link to anything here today as I'm on a business trip...

Still, a few words on the subject won't hurt. At least they'll pass away what little time one has to oneself on business trips these days. Which, incidentally, is exactly what I want to talk about. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the "good old days"™ when business travel was actually fun (unfortunate both to remember those days and for being old - enough). But, instead of telling you how it was I will tell you how it is now and by way of example. This is how my previous business trip went: go to work as normal, taxi pick-up from office at 3pm, airport, 2 hour flight, run to catch the next one, 1 hour flight, check into hotel around 1am, sleep, all day meeting, beer, shower, dinner, sleep, all day meeting, taxi pick-up from office, airport, 1 hour flight, run (a little slower) to catch the next one, 2 hour flight, get home around 10pm, kiss wife, sleep, go to work. Fun, eh? This one is ever so slightly better, but only because I insisted on flying out on a Sunday, effectively ruining the weekend for the sake of actually being awake through all of the all day meeting on Monday.

And to think there was a time one actually looked forward to business trips...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Religion: A Hollow Victory?

A very interesting, if unsurprising, result of a recent poll by British Humanist Association (BHA)...

I say "unsurprising" because it is obvious, even to genuinely religious people, that a huge number of those who will tick the "belong to a religion" box are not in actual fact religious. Rather, they are merely stating the fact that their cultural (and possibly other) traditions stem from, or have been historically moulded or influenced by, a religion of one kind of another (mostly Christian in these parts, but that is beside the point). So, again, the UK 2011 census questionnaire got it wrong, at least in part, by not following up "do you belong to a religion" with a "are you religious" question. So, again, faith organisations all over Britain will rejoice in receiving more funding than they really should if their respective faiths were judged by actual believers, and not by people who can vaguely trace their identity to a particular religious institution (rather than religious belief). But, I think that this victory whatever spin churches put on it, and whatever amount of resource is wasted in perpetuating their misguided and false claims, is a hollow victory, and we - as human race - should take pride in more and more people seeing the world as it is, rather than as purveyors of binding fairy tales would want them to.

And as for me, I'm off to tick my "have no religion" box on the census form. What will you do? It's not too late...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Religion: Outed!

As you may have noticed that I have just joined the Out Campaign...

Yes, that's what that "scarlet A" just to the right is for. And yes, this is yet another of excellent things Richard Dawkins is doing as he tries to help people save themselves from themselves - and all those religious and "religious" organisations which can only have their own guild interests at heart (for a very good explanation why this is the case go read the excellent Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer). Not yours, not of their chosen deity. Themselves. Their jobs, really. So maybe as part, or a follow-up to the Out Campaign, we should start organising institutions to help those priests and theologians who are left jobless as people realise how much wool has been pulled over their collective eyes throughout history. In any case, don't be afraid to make the world know you reject being lied to, and join the Out Campaign.

As I also tweeted, it is never too late to join the Out Campaign...

Technology: Where There's Will...

It seems that for a dedicated hacker even meagre dubmphone (aka "feature phone") can be a target...

As the article above explains (do read it, I'm not going to go into details here) using nothing more than a malformed text message (SMS) it is possible to do serious harm to a mobile phone (notably, smartphones seem to be largely immune). The best that can happen is your call drops and/or your mobile resets. Worst case (as described in the article), your phone goes into an endless - and unrecoverable - reset loop. Scary. Good that I've ditched dumbphones years ago (as have most people I care about). But is this surprising? No, not really. For someone steeped deeply into the mobile phone industry it is in fact quite heartening. Heartening because the weakness described here is a result of overzealous programming aimed at shielding user from just such malformed messages, rather than the sloppiness usual in the security lapses used on the desktop. And smartphones, for that matter. Don't read this as "smartphones are safe". Au contraire! They tend to be as vulnerable as desktop computers. It is just that their vulnerabilities lie at the top of their software - the operating system (i.e. Android, iOS, Symbian, ...) and not in the underlying bits which actually make phone a phone - and about which nobody cares much these days. But luckily, that bit is still built like a tank.

Yes, sometimes it feels good to be a part of an unappreciated branch of software engineering...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Beer: Oscars

Apparently, the Brewing Industry International Awards are considered beer Oscars...

And, according to a little piece in Four Shires Magazine, Hook Norton brewery pretty much cleaned up with Hooky Bitter winning gold for bottled beer, Double Stout silver for dark ales, and finally Hooky Dark a bronze in the cask ale category. What can I say other than well done Hook Norton? Well, as a matter of fact, there is a couple of things. First, I'd like to say that I have sampled all three of these beers and can only wholeheartedly recommend them, and commend the judges on their good taste. They are (the ales, not the judges) something I actively look for at beer festivals.

The other thing, as you can see, deserves a separate paragraph because it actually has almost nothing to do with beer. This is to express my anger and loathing towards the rag mentioned above the web site of which is designed in that stupid way that prevents right clicking and copying of text. For one, preventing me fro right clicking means I am prevented from accessing any browser functionality thus accessed - including things that have nothing to do with the actual web site I'm on. And then making fair (re)use of content - as in copy a bit and comment on it - more difficult than necessary is just plain evil. Therefore, as a small way of retaliating, I do not provide any links to it. I even considered not mentioning the rag's name at all.

So, to sum up, another well done to Hook Norton, and shame on you, and woe betide you, stupid Four Shires Magazine...

PS
After all the well dones, I do have to say that Hook Norton's own web site could do with a re-design and, more importantly, more details about their beers.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Politics: Unpopular And Dangerous

A small business interest group is urging the UK government to meddle with some taxes. Again...

This time the proposal is actually sensible, although most people (especially with their consumer hats on) will not really like it. In the spot-light - again - is the VAT exemption for small value items delivered from the Channel Islands. Yes, that's the one where a CD you order from Amazon is delivered to you from Jersey at an exorbitant postage price - borne by Amazon, but nevertheless outrageous - so you can have your ears tickled for less. A tax loophole the size of Jersey if ever there was one. To make it clear where I stand on this: if the exemption were meticulously applied only to produce, and companies, from Channel Islands then I could see the point to the whole scheme. Island life is expensive enough as it is, and islanders generally deserve some breaks. However, for Tesco, Amazon, and the likes, otherwise based and fully established elsewhere to be allowed to rob your and mine budget (and that's where your healthcare and suchlike comes from) is truly criminal, and a savvy citizen should oppose it.

So, George Osborne, take note and can or repair Channel Island VAT exemption...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Science: Required Watching

It may be a bit too scatological for non-Japanese sensitivities, but this nice cartoon does better job at explaining what goes on at Fukushima right now than almost any other news report I have seen. Enjoy:



Oh, and don't forget that The Register also provides most excellent coverage...

Science: Extraordinary Evidence?

A very good piece in Psychology Today about general standard of evidence science requires...

It starts by quoting the famous Carl Sagan's coinage that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". And you'd be excused for believing it to make sense. After all, it is intuitively "clear" that the more amazing the fact or theory the more amazing should both the explanation and the proof be. Only, as our Scientific Fundamentalist (aka Satoshi Kanazawa) points out, does not, in fact, make very much sense at all. Because in science all evidence should be expected to be of exactly he same standard, i.e. of the highest scientific standard possible - which is the highest. Things don't get better than superlative (apart from the colloquial "bestest", as in "my bestest friend"). To add my tuppence, this must also apply to both scientists (and others) refuting religious nonsense, and to religious people trying to rebuke science as the only discipline capable of explaining the world. Both sides too often forget this. So, next time someone tells you there is a god, don't ask them for parting of the waters. A much smaller feat would do, as long as it is a well conceived proof and/or evidence. Equally, the next time someone proves to you that, e.g. evolution is fact, don't just tell them they're wrong because there is a god. Rather, try to actually hear the evidence and proof.

Because, after all there is (no need for a) god. And you know it, deep down inside...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Religion: Lunatism

Via Atheist Revolution comes this collection of criminally insane examples:


I don't actually think it deserves any comment...

Food: Safe (And Water, Too)

Between still breathless scaremongering (aka "reporting") from Fukushima, Japan, you'd be excused for missing the small matter of food there actually proving safe to eat...

So, no nuclear apocalypse happend, or is happening, after all. For those who are too impatient (or to lazy) to read the source material(s) here's the relevant excerpt (although reading the whole article is very highly recommended, of course):
"According to the Japanese government, the levels detected in food samples thus far would have to be consumed for a lifetime to do harm: if someone drank milk containing radio-iodine at the levels seen in the affected samples for a year, the effect on the thyroid would be the same as a single CT scan. (That would be impossible in this case as all the radio-iodine from Fukushima will have decayed away within weeks.)
...
Tapwater in northeastern Japan remains entirely safe: though today's instruments can detect extremely tiny amounts of radioisotopes, in most cases none at all could be found. A few detections of iodine-131 were made, but well within normal safe limits - such water could be drunk for a lifetime without ill effects."
So, luckily, we've had yet another case of much ado about nothing. Well, OK. It's hardly a "nothing". However, it is a great shame that even in the supposedly "scientific" 21st century we are allowing journalists only after enhancing their rags' circulation to scaremonger and thus harm the future of all of us.

I am positive that even Shakespeare, if he were around, would have be consternated...

Monday, 21 March 2011

Business: Falling Asleep At The Wheel

If you were following Indian Wells finals last night you'd be excused for being confused by some BBC reporting...

Yes, I know. If you visited the link above right now you'd be equally excused for being puzzled as to what I am referring to. Having realised this last night I took the liberty of taking a screenshot of the offending carelesness on part of the BBC:

(click on the photo for full size view)

Note the text below the image? Night shift well and truly fell asleep at the wheel. For all I know this may have been caused by the falling forehead of the sports journalist on call banging the wrong key and sending out the pre-prepared text for the wrong winner. Luckily, this silliness does not change the reality of Novak Đoković's 18 wins long winning streak, and I'm sure Nadal will also just put a wry smile on his face next time BBC interviews him.

To sum up: well done Đoković, and BBC, well, just try not to make it 18 in a row, too...

PS
If you're wondering how this is "business" news, well, BBC is in the business of giving us true and impartial news coverage (among other things), so this is very clearly a business failure for them - a bug if you want.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Religion: Addendum

In a twist of chance (not faith, not the will'o'gods) I have a small addendum to my previous post...

As you may - or more likely may not - remember, I ranted about what Americans tend to call the "separation" of church and state, but which, for most intents and purposes, just isn't. Because, prayers - of any kind - in a state institution, be it a school or a state Senate, just isn't compatible with the notion. And now, I have found a reason Americans should know and value much better than anything I may offer. It was James Madison, one of the principal writers of their own Constitution who had to say this about the usual effect of religion on state business:
In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people.
Should be plenty enough for all, not just Americans...

PS
Hat tip to one of my favourite Economist blogs, Democracy in America.

Religion: Non-Denominational? WTF?

An article about prayers in Minnesota Senate caught my eye...

Quite beside the conundrum of constitutional separation of church and state in US when confronted by the fact that there's praying going on left, right, and centre (or center, if you will) in various state institutions - Minnesota Senate included - the thing that caught my eye on this occasion is an apparent effort of Senator Terri Bonoff to not just keep the prayers, but also keep them "non-denominational". Now, I must wonder at this. Is it even possible for a prayer to be "non-denominational"? Even if we assume that a specific god's name is omitted and replaced by, say, word "god", how do we then cater for polytheistic religions? Using "gods" wont work as that would very specifically offend most monotheistic religions. So, no real solution there, if you ask me (but then, nobody really does, do they). I fear that any such attempt by Sen. Bonoff are in fact ignoring (and probably also ignorant of) any other than the three main monotheistic religions (you know who you are, I need not soil this page with calling you by names). Which is patently discriminative, at least in my book. But then again, I am yet to write one, and even when I do I doubt anyone would bother reading it, let alone paying for it.

But, to sum up: American church-state division very clearly isn't. Which is sad, if not scary...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Technology: More Keyword Goodness

So I have had another apparent peak of activity here, with the number of hits soaring...

This time I have not even went into trouble (and expense) of donating to a good cause and leaving links behind. A quick look at the page most visited yielded an answer that was as quick, and it came in two halves. Go there yourself and see if you come up with the same conclusions, one sad and the other not so much. OK. That's enough time (you could've just peeked at the URL). Of course, the sad bit is that these days everything to do with Apple seems to generate quite some commotion. Try it yourself! Especially around the times when rumour mill is in overdrive a good sprinkling of Apple, iPhone, iPad, Steve Jobs, and other related words will give you more hits than usual. The other half of the answer is even less surprising, and is as old as Internet if not older. You knew it already anyway. It's porn. Good old pornography, the main engine of Internet and its development. Something that most people have on their minds most of the time. And before you cast a first stone, do ask yourself is it really, really possible for a sad minority to generate huge majority of Internet activity. And then put that stone down. So yes, the second half of the answer to popularity is to sprinkle your musings with at least vaguely porn related keyword. Like "bondage" in this case. And in conjunction with Apple, my, was it a hit!

Now, just to come up with another good combo...



Friday, 18 March 2011

Beer: Red Nose Edition

As all in Blighty would know today is the Red Nose day...

First and foremost, have you given anything yet? If not, you are barred from reading further until you do. If you're not in Britain, go find a local charity. Today is a day for giving. And for beer, of course. What would Friday, and especially Friday lunchtime be without a good pint? So, hopefully you're not just giving, but also (par)taking. Preferably of a good real ale. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any breweries doing a special Red Nose ale - and no, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer does not count. Therefore I am left with a reasonably difficult, and much more pleasurable task of coming up with an idea for a good substitute. The problem is, as I'm writing this I am very much in the mood for a good porter, and that somehow does not fit the Red Nose day sentiment. It is just too old fashioned and serious. Therefore, I will open this up to you dear reader (or readers if there is more than one of you out there).

So, come one, add your suggestions for Red Nose day ale.
The comment box beckons...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Politics: And Science

I have recently encountered - first time directly - an argument that science cannot be split from politics...

As is usually the case, this came about via a discussion (or rather "discussion") about evolution, and the all too common accusation that it is "only a theory". Now, refuting this particular stupidity is best left to people much cleverer than I am. However, another "attack" was what really got me thinking about how difficult it is to argue with some allegedly educated and science-oriented people (of admittedly social sciences persuasion in this particular case). In this instance I have been told (and I'm paraphrasing here) that it is impossible to disengage science from politics in the sense of science necessarily having a political agenda, as it were. Now, it's easy to tack "an agenda" on evolution - especially if the facts of it make your whole belief system crumble to dust, but if that's your argument surely you can quote a similar thing for, say, theory of gravity? Sadly, apparently you can't. Lucky gravity is apparently totally blameless for any and all evil in this world and is incapable of being abused by powers of evil. The only problem is - it is, and much more than evolution! Think of all the ballistic missiles, guillotine, and even things as simple as gallows! But then, who am I to argue? After all, I only - apparently - "believe" in evolution because it fits with my world view, and am thus blind to it being "just a theory".

Sad, sad, sad evidence of how poor debate can be with some who think they think "scientifically"...

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Science: Of Far-Right

A brilliant analysis of far-right parties' strategy and tactics in The Economist...

On the examples of Dutch PVV and US Tea Party we get an excellent explanation why such political groups use just such abrasive and confrontational language which infuriates pretty much everybody else. I'd recommend you read through the original article but, in short, this is what happens. A relatively small, vaguely unpopular, and politically more or less impotent group is insulted in ways that are close to, but not quite, racist, reminding of Nazis or similar. The attacked group itself may or may not protest, but what the far-right is waiting for is for a liberal or otherwise decent majority group to call them "racist" or "Nazi". That is when they get to protest their innocence, and also homogenise their supporters (open or covert). A double-whammy, win-win scenario if ever there was one!

So, freedom and democracy lovers, next time you feel offended think twice how you respond...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Religion: And Patriotism

Instead of a rant about religion, today you get a quote from someone obviously wiser than me...
[A] lot of our current politics has less to do with actual policy disagreements than with resolving status anxieties. You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.
Replace "America" above with a nation of your choice. Then think about it. Hopefully you now realise why masses fall for (quasi)patriotic calls to arms, and "holier than thou" squabbles.

Sadly, as with religion, that way lies madness...

PS
Do note that there's patriotism, and then there's patriotism. But then, it is obvious.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Technology: Disasters

As ever the world stands agape as a disaster unfolds...

I won't even try to talk about what happened in Japan. There are better informed and better spoken to do that instead of me. And, as much as I feel I could add some calming thoughts about the nuclear disaster which is also under way, or rather not quite under way as the breathless headline writers might want to portray it, well, I won't do that either. I wouldn't be believed anyway - even if I was listened to. So, instead, I will turn my eye on another, lightly related technological mishap. As it happens, the world is so hungry for information, any information, about the nuclear part of Japan's misfortune that the fact that Guardian has linked to a World Nuclear News article on the topic, has resulted in quite a different sort of meltdown. As is usual in such cases the WNN servers couldn't cope and it took them quite a while to serve the page for my perusal. Which may not have been such a bad thing after all because, correct and balanced as it is, the article is way to jargon-laden and unfriendly to a common man that it was better left to its intended audience of nuclear experts.

The moral: beef up your servers as well as your nuclear plants...

Friday, 11 March 2011

Beer: A Day Off Recommendation

All hail a day off! My day off in this particular case...

So, today's beer absolutely has to come from somewhere other than close to home. Especially on a nice sunny day like today. Where shall it be? I think I have a couple of recommendations for those reasonably local. One will be for the quality and variety of ales you can get, the other for really enjoying the sunshine (if you can get some, that is). Both are in Guildford. The first pub, and a very nice one at that (provided you hit on it when the bar staff is not grumpy - which is, sadly, not often) is The Three Pigeons. I love the fact they seem to be able to find good real ales even if they do not bill themselves as a real ale pub. The other one, down on the river, is The Boatman. As someone rightly commented "it has probably the nicest outlook" in all Guildford. And they'll do you a real ale, too. Not too much choice, but enough not to steer clear. Looks like it has good food, too.

So, no point in holding you or rather, me up.
Very soon it's Friday lunchtime...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

An Hour Of Life Wasted

Well, to be absolutely correct, it wasn't an hour but 54 minutes and 36 seconds, each and every one of those painful on many levels... Since you probably can't guess what it was I'm going to enlighten you so you can avoid the same painful experience: former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith found it advisable - and got BBC, i.e. you and me, to pay for it - to produce and talk us through (well, not you, if you follow my advice and steer clear) a breathless hour (almost) of wide eyed (if it weren't on radio) consternation by...

Wait for it... Pornography! Wanna hear more?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Science: Ridiculous

I just wasted two minutes of my life on a stupid BBC "science" quiz...

Some of you will be delighted to know I scored a meagre 5 out of 7 (for which the Auntie labelled me "dimly lit" of all things). In my defence - as if I needed one - the questions I didn't know an answer to were where the TV was first demonstrated (in a posh department store, of all places!) and what Alexander Graham Bell originally called the device he invented (and no, I did not even think it was "telephone"). Both of these questions are highly indicative of (any)ones scientific knowledge, right? Well, even if they were, a lot of BBC's own questions were horribly wrong in themselves. Embarrassingly so, too. I mean, since when scientist discover natural phenomena? Newton did not "discover" gravity. Gravity was there all along. Newton just formalised what we already knew. And of course, same with Michael Faraday who I could be generous enough to say did "discover" magnetic induction as it is the kind of thing not so readily notice like gravity. But the point is, it is positively harmful to make people (and children especially) have such terrible misconceptions about science, what it is, and what it does and doesn't do.

So, Auntie, you were not even dimly lit: you were (way) off (the mark).. Must do better...

Science: Something For Nothing

This one, for a change, is not inspired by any recent piece of news, scientific or otherwise...

Instead, I turn my (wicked) eye to the perpetual motion machines. Of course, and it shouldn't surprise you, I am most definitely not going to suggest such a thing is possible to build - not even the one that just keeps going even if it does not do any work, and let alone the variety that produces more energy than you put into it. The laws of thermodynamics are exactly that - laws, and this is a short form entry, too. What get me thinking about this is the only thing that's perpetual about these "inventions" - the perpetual human fascination with them, and persistence in trying to overcome the basic laws of physics (a mandatory Star Trek quote: "Ye cannae change the laws of Physics!"). This would be much less fascinating if only uneducated and simple people kept banging their head against this particular wall. However, and sadly, there are plenty enough of their opposites flooding the patent offices with their valiant - if doomed - attempt. For ways in which said patent offices try to stem this tide you can do worse than reading this article (or at least this section of it). In the meantime, I'd be remiss if I didn't also point you here and here.

It's never a waste of time reminding oneself of the immutable laws of nature (and this)...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Religion: Nothing Much To Say (Part 2)

I have missed to write a few words about religion this Sunday - again...

This time I had a bit better excuses than the last time. Although, to be honest, those mentioned there still apply. One reason I can share with you here should be reasonably obvious if you also peek at my reading list from time to time. Yes, I am still busy reading Relgion Explained. It's both a fascinating and a bit tricky read - especially if you only manage short bursts of reading just before falling asleep. But a fascinating read it is, and highly recommended. I will, however, echo the author and warn people who are actually religious that they enter this particular territory at their own risk and peril. It is guaranteed not to make a pleasant reading for them, even if it holds more revelations than that ancient scripture which goes by the same name. Telling you anything more would a) spoil the fun of you actually reading the book yourself, and b) I could never do it the justice it deserves.

Oh? You're still here. Well, off you go and have a look why humans are prone to this particular ailment...

Food: It's Shrove Tuesday!

Rejoice! Today is Shrove Tuesday, better known as Pancake Day.


Have you had yours yet?

When I get to mine I'll make sure it looks just like the one above.

Bon Appétit!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Technology: It's The Big Three-Oh!

On this date exactly 30 years ago affordable personal computing was born...

Yes, it's the big three-oh birthday of that beautiful little machine that was (and still is!) Sinclair ZX81. It sure wasn't the first affordable personal computer. It wasn't even the very first one available in build-it-yourself kit form. That honour probably goes to Altair 8800, also credited with actually sparking off the whole personal/affordable computer craze that is yet to end. Why, ZX81 wasn't even the first Sinclair sold in kit for. That particular honour goes to MK14 - even if most of us would think it'd have been the ZX80 (which used to blink as you typed - literally). On a more personal note, ZX81 wasn't even my first personal computer. That honour goes to the venerable, and still beloved by all and sundry, Spectrum (basic 48k version, if you have to ask). But, not being any of these things, the ZX81 still has a place in many a heart - including mine. Oh, the magic one could wield in that 1k of memory! And to think we now find it difficult to do some things in the gigabytes we have. Shame.

But, to cut the long story short (it is much better told elsewhere): Happy Birthday ZX81...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Beer: That's A Lot Of Pints!

The Sun has revealed that British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been paying quite a lot for quite stupid little things...

The invoices leaked by a soldier working in the stored of MoD reveal little gems like paying £22 for a 65p light bulb, and £103 for £2.60 worth of screws. The current government, or rather, the current Defence Minister Liam Fox, wasted no time blaming the previous (Labour) government. Now, while this indeed is criminal waste, I wouldn't be so quick to just pass the buck to my (or rather their - I'd rather have Labour than Tories run the country) political enemies, a fair thing to say would be that every military procurement system, in all places, and in all of history (I bet Julius Caesar ranted and raved about his) is an exemplar of waste embodied. It is, in fact, the task of every government - regardless of colour and creed - to do its best to rein it in. I am sure by the time the Tories have left the office they will have left behind just such examples of waste. Of course, by that time it won't be 65p light bulbs or £2.60 bags of screws, but waste there will be, and a lot of it. Just you wait and see.

Here's hoping that at least it won't be running in billions...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Politics: Turtle(neck) Knight

According to Daily Mail, St Steve (Jobs) was snubbed for knighthood by Gordon Brown...

Now, Daily Mail is most definitely not on my list of trusted (and certainly not respected) news sources, but I can very much believe Gordon Brown crossing out Steve Jobs off the knighthood list. Daily Mail, of course, gives all sorts of (un)believable reasons why that might have been so, but whatever the reason I am very much in favour of leaving St Steve out of this particular hall of fame. I mean, he is such an arrogant person, even if very successful in many ways, that it just doesn't feel right for him to get to meet the Queen. After all, would he chose to appear before Her Majesty in his staple jeans and black turtle-neck? I just can't imagine him donning on a proper suit!

But anyway, St Steve, I still wish you all the very best in the fight for your health. When all is said and done, it is the most important thing out there...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Science: Lazy Bastards

An interesting article on sex economics in the Slate...

I am not entirely sure I buy all of it, but many things do seem to strike a note, the one that resonates. The article discusses quite a few things and is probably an interesting read in and of itself. Some things do seem fairly US-specific (e.g. the fairly long sex-less dating phase - something I don't believe happens a lot in Europe), but what I want to point out is very general indeed. To cut a long story short: when women outnumber men, and especially if they call the shots in a more general way as well, the men get more sex, more often, and more easily than otherwise. Which sounds quite good - for men. But even that is not what really caught my eye. The most interesting conclusion seems to be that in these circumstances it gets rather difficult to get men to do any work, the suggestion being that once they have all the sex they want men are difficult to motivate for any other thing. Which, on the face of it, sounds about right. Or does it?

Answers on a postcard or, if you're in the 21st century, in the comments below...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Food: Bonkers Bananas

Today we've finally seen the European Court of Justice catching, then sneezing out, the political-correctness-gone-mad bug...

On the face of it, what could possibly be wrong in reducing male/female inequality? I, for one, am all for it. However, in the views of many a bonkers person - and sadly now the European Court of Justice, too - this equality seems to be defined solely in blind(ing)ly superficial terms. To paraphrase a famous quote, every man has to donate one testicle to a woman, and she needs to return the favour by (pr)offering one of her breast - both for keeps - because on average we all have one tit and one ball. Back to a lofty matter decided by the court today, women cannot enjoy cheaper car insurance even if they are demonstrably safer drivers, nor men can enjoy higher retirement annuities even though they demonstrably die before womenfolk and so should earn more from the equal sized pot of savings. I must say I greatly enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek suggestion in The Economist article that we now need to devise a way for women to live shorter lives (they already suffer not being allowed to drive as much as they deserve).

And to think we all wondered what comes next after straight bananas...