Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Food: Musings On

If you didn't know, today is the international muse about food day...

No, of course it's not. I was just pulling your leg. It was still interesting to learn two things: Google is not aware of any page with the exact phrase "international muse about food day", and the first link offered has very little to do with food at all. The former proves, for all intents and purposes, that there indeed is no "international muse about food day", the latter only that searching for a near random collection of words will produce an equally random result. Which is not very useful knowledge (neither of the two).

But still, I mused a little about the food today (I wont' tell you where exactly that happened, but I think you can guess now), mostly about all the silly dietary regimes people inflict upon themselves (and worse, usually also on their unsuspecting children). Yes, vegetarians, vegans, and even to some extent pescarians (the most famous of which - or at least the most attractive - is BBC's Susanna Reid), too.

Why exactly I find all these silly (with the exception of medically warranted ones, of course)?

It's evolution, stupid!

As most of us would realise if only we gave it a little bit of thought (not really much more than goes into deciding that all meat is bad for you - just a little bit more): a) we have evolved through millions of years in a setting that offered quite well understood mix of foodstuffs, and b) evolution is a marathon, not a sprint, i.e., a few thousands of years in which we began (over)thinking this diet thing is nowhere near enough for our bodies to adjust to any of the latest dietary fads.

The ones willing to stretch their (highly evolved and capable) brains a teeny bit more will have also looked at human digestive tract as well as some of our animal relatives' ones and figure out all the similarities and differences in both form and function.

From these three pillars it should become amply clear that our bodies are evolved to run on a mixture of foodstuffs, and that this mixture includes pretty much any food group you care to think about. For those with lack of mental energy to come up with enough (probably due to malnourishment through being, say, vegetarian) I'll list just two: animals and plants.

For those a little bit more scientific minded, let me also point you to the fact that of 21 amino acids required for normal functioning of a human animal, at least one cannot be synthesised inside the human body, and has to be consumed - from meat (or fish, I cannot be bothered to check the details right now, but feel free to use your own Google-fu).

So, essentially, at least the vegetarians are wilfully (if not consciously) depriving their organisms of an essential nutrient. Which may not be too bad for an otherwise well-nourished and already fully developed adult, but those who subject their children to this particular torture should think again. And feed them some burgers, or at least fish. Luckily for them, child protection agencies have not yet cottoned up to this fact.

To repeat, the rant above (and it is a rant) is in no way aimed at those who suffer a medical condition that indicates limiting the amount and types of food they can (or at least should) consume. I am talking about notionally healthy people who think they are cleverer than millions of years of evolution that produced them. But, having mentioned evolution so many times, I am also sure that it will eventually weed out those who are in the wrong (and I sure hope it's not omnivores!). Sadly, I won't be around to see for myself (but then, who knows!) - but neither will today's proponents of silly dietary fads.

Finally, it may just happen that science renders this whole question quite moot by providing ways to either supplement the diet of fools in ways (or by treatments) they find acceptable. Sadly, I have a feeling neither will be the case. The diet Nazis have a way about them that makes me think they'll flatly reject either - and probably quote "being unnatural" as a defence. As if humans, or at least human science was somehow magically removed from the Nature.

OK. It is here that I invoke Godwin's Law - upon myself (see the deliberate Nazi reference above)...


Monday, 30 May 2011

Religion: Stop Press!

News flash: Anglicans are now scaring people into their church...


Somehow, I don't think it'll work...

Business: Nothing To Do With

Apparently, we are a small step closer to a "brain in a jar"...

Yes, it's a rat's brain, and it's not even a complete one. However, it seems that University of Pittsburgh researchers are now able to grow a rat's hippocampus in a Petri dish and have it work it's magic for the whole of 12 seconds. Apparently, as it grows it forms some memories and can be tested almost as if it were in situ. Not exactly a "brain in a jar" of the early 20th century science fiction, but not a bad effort. And who knows, in the future even more may be possible. But the question arises right here and now: if we manage to grow brains of any real complexity, at which point do they become aware? At which point have we crossed the line between pushing the boundaries of science and creating something that can only be described as cruel and unusual punishment. I guess the question becomes much like the one of the latest one should allow for an abortion for non-medical reasons. When a "brain in a jar" becomes brain in a jar? It is to be hoped that the progress in figuring out what really goes on inside a network in neurons will be of the same magnitude as the progress required to grow a truly complex neural network, one capable of knowing itself and the world around - even if self is only a rat self, and the world around is a Petri dish (which I guess is a horrifying part of it, together with the realisation that there can be no real sex). And if you think I'm way ahead of myself, you obviously have no real sense of speed with which the science has been rushing onwards in the past decades.

And as for me, who knows. When the body fails, a Petri dish may prove to have some advantages...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Religion: Of Necessity

You could do worse of a Sunday afternoon than hop over here for some good reading...

Since today (and most other days, for that matter) I cannot match Rosa Rubicondior, here's a nice list of silly reasons people put forward to justify their faith:

  • There must be a god otherwise there would be no morality;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would have nowhere to go when I die;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would not be so special that the universe as created for me;
  • There must be a god otherwise the explanation for everything would be too hard for me to understand;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would be just another animal and I'm too important for that;
  • There must be a god otherwise my invisible friend would not be real;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would just be talking to myself when I pray;
  • There must be a god otherwise my belief in it would be wrong. (This is often referred to as ‘faith’ – I believe it, therefore it must be true.)

As silly as it is even when it is not nicely spelled out like this, I'm afraid...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Technology: Not Today

Today, I don't have much, or rather anything to say about technology...

Instead, here's a link to a nice article about music lockers, new and old. It prominently features that venerable pioneer of Internet, technology in general, and controversy in particular: Michael Robertson. Always the one to watch, Michael.

Enjoy...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Beer: How Much?!

I know, I know - griping about price hikes is a well worn theme...

And yet, I am to moan a bit today. Why wouldn't I? Am I not like the rest of us? No? Didn't think so, but it was worth a try. Anyway, I have recently been quite frankly shocked with the price of real ales. No, I do not necessarily think about the price at the pump, as it were. Yes, the pubs have become more expensive, but at least the prices of real ales there roughly track the prices of other booze, so while quite inconvenient, at least I do not feel personally cheated. However, when you move into supermarket aisles the horrible truth hits, and hits hard. From my completely unscientific sample, real ales tend to cost anywhere between 33 and 100% more than equivalently branded lager! Yes, a pint of Old Speckled Hen is infinitely better and more satisfying than a pint of Heineken, but does it really have to cost almost twice as much? Come on, I know that real ale lovers tend to be more affluent than lager loutsconnoisseurs, but surely not by that much? Even cider is not that much more expensive. To add insult to injury, the infamous "deals" tend to be few and far in between when it comes to real ales, too. And it seems very easy to maintain this horrible status quo, as real ale drinkers are not very likely to abandon their good taste just because it costs less to drink lager. Do I have any answers to this? Sure, and it is a very good one, indeed:

Drink less, or supplement with single malts... ;)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Politics: Of Shame (Updated)

UPDATE

It has now been confirmed that the person arrested indeed is Ratko Mladić, may he rot in prison for the rest of his days, and may those days be long and numerous...
_______

As I write this it is still not certain Ratko Mladić has really been arrested...

What seems to have happened is that a man, who used a name Milorad Komadić and apparently resembles Ratko Mladić and has some of his "physical features", has been arrested on anonymous tip-off. DNA testing is in progress to check if he really is the monster of Bosnia. A shameful fact is that, just like in the case of Dr Radovan Karadžić (arrested as Dr Dragan David Dabić), the bastard has been arrested in Serbia, of all places. For Serbian government(s) this is now a true Osama bin Laden moment. I can only hope, for Serbia's sake, that they handle it better than Pakistan handled its own. And I also do hope that the DNA tests prove his identity, and that it then doesn't take long before he is delivered behind the bars of the Scheveningen prison. Oh, and that the court in Hague does not again allow the trial to run for ages or, worse, allow that Mladić dies of natural causes before being sentenced. And I have not a shadow of a doubt that he has to be found guilty of a lot of very, very bad things, and if nothing else then the Srebrenica massacre.

Once that is done, will Serbia be strong enough to also have its true Willy Brandt moment?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Science: Half Century

Today is exactly 50 years since JFK asked Congress to put a man on the moon...

As is too well known this endeavour had nothing at all to do with science. What's more it didn't even require any new science. The whole shebang could and was done with humankind's knowledge as existed on that very day. Of course, there were hopes that science will get a nice little (or maybe even big) push with the conquering of places outside our little planet. And it did, but ironically this was mostly through whatever was being done in (low) Earth's orbit. Moon was, and remained, just a place we visited a handful of times and then promptly forgot, not unlike a holiday destination that has lost it's charm (hello, Barcelona). Heck, even low Earth orbit is now off limits for anyone who does not fancy riding atop a Russian rocket. Do note, there's nothing wrong with Russian rockets (although the landing is not the most comfortable there is), it's just that with the technology we have in the 21st century you'd expect more than one nation to be capable of manned space flight! And science - what about science? Would it really improve in leaps and bounds if not bounded by (low) Earth (orbit) and an odd planet (hello, Mars Rovers)? Probably not necessarily, but we'll now never know. And why should we? After all, it does seem much more important to kill each other with wild abandon, rather than pull together and finally get off into the great unknown.

Don't you think there's nothing more exciting then the unknown unknowns?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Food: Fodder (We Are)

Watch out, there's a new Big Brother about...

And no, I am not thinking of that reviled reality rumpus that one can sometimes stumble upon on TV. Unless, of course, your TV is IP enabled and you are a BT Broadband customer. Because, in that case, you do have a Big Brother, one that can (and sometimes does) keep a watchful eye over you. or at least your gadgets, the ones that you deem worthy of connecting to the Internet. As the article nicely explains, BT has both the capability to have a little check of what is connected to your home network. What's more, they also have the cheek to claim that it's for your own good. And even if no data is ever snooped on, I bet you're not comfortable with someone knowing exactly what networking enabled kit you have. And, while the article does not mention it explicitly, I bet that all the other ISPs have the exact same capability, whether they publicise or utilise it. So ditching BT in favour of someone you think you trust more may not be enough, and may not solve the problem. Worse, you may be lulled into false sense of security. Not a very nice feeling, and sadly I don't think I have a solution, either. I mean, would you give up your Internet access? The only thing that comes to mind is campaigning to bring this practice entirely into open, and then regulate the hell out of it so at least it's misuse can be punished, and everyone indulging forced to come clean. It may not be much, but it will take some sting out of someone knowing exactly what you have in your living room. Or bedroom, for that matter.

Anyone with an IP enabled sex toy? Or shall I ask BT?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Business: RIP Skunkworks

I guess it's never too late to pay one's respects...

As you can see from the linked article, Joseph Thomas West III, better know as just Tom West of the Data General, Eclipse MV/8000, better known as "project Eagle", fame, has left us forever on 19 May. You'll be well advised to run and get your own copy of The Soul of a New Machine - it is a passionate and emotional masterpiece of technology writing. Here, I will just reminisce on the "good old days"™ when real companies and real men designed their own processors (and no, Apple's A4 does not count - it is just a take on ARM), and when wondrous products could still emerge from a large company's basements. Can you imagine Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, and even Google, these days allowing a skunkworks project of the "project Eagle" kind? No? I thought not. And no, bedroom entrepreneurs of the Facebook kind don't count either. After all, even they are just a modern take on the garage beginnings of Hewlett-Packard or Apple (or Microsoft - but that was a bit different, too). So, is it a bad thing, this lack of skunkworks? Am I really calling for the industry to suddenly spring up lots of them? No, of course not. If they were universally successful we'd already have lots of them. However, I do believe that every generation needs at least some romantic story that teaches that progress, technology, and after all business, too, is not all about the final bank balance. Yes, you need that as well, but surely everyone will enjoy it, and the road to it, so much better if there is a bit of the Pirats of the Caribbean in the mix, too.

So, who's going to be our next Captain Jack Sparrow?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Religion: Excuses

A new day has dawned, at least here in Blighty, that is...

I haven't turned on the news yet, but I am quite certain that there has not, in fact, been no rapture, neither here nor there, and for any given value of there. So, unless it turns out that all the fundamentalist Christians have indeed disappeared - which would be hard to notice here in Europe, anyway - it seems that it is now time for their preachers to hastily dust off the usual excuses for why, exactly, yet another prophecy of doom/bliss/whatever has turned out to be catastrophically wrong. Catastrophically, that is, for the poor rest of us who will have to endure yet another round of religious fervour reaching crescendo, then suddenly turning into a damp squib. To give these poor souls a benefit of a doubt, though, I am happy to entertain a (happy!) thought that they have all been magically (because it would have had to have been magic) transported somewhere else (hopefully far, far away, and then a little bit further away for good measure). That would mean that we finally have this fine world left to the rest of us who seem to actually like it, including all the people that we happen to share it with. And, if god truly giveth, than all the fundamentalists of all religious colours will find themselves in that faraway place, finally alone to either squabble until the end of time or, more likely, celebrate getting rid of those pesky atheists. Sadly, I don't think any of that has happened or will happen, and we are left here on this wretched little planet to try and fight for reason and freedom. It seems that the ultimate proof of the non-existence of god is the fact that he never seems to grant his followers dearest wishes. A good fortune here or there, but never a real treat. So, to repeat myself - as I am often wont to do - if god does exist he/she/it/them must be evil. Oh, or how about the god actually being an atheist? Now that would be a turn for the books, innit?

But no, my friends, the bearded guy in the sky is not unlike a pie... In the sky...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Technology: Overload

As some of you may have noticed, I failed to post yesterday...

As some of you may also know, Saturday is supposed to be a technology post day. But, as much as I love technology (which is probably too much) I can still have quite enough of it. Never fed up, but sometimes I do want an (almost) technology free day. It just happened that that day was yesterday, and I made the best of it. This year's beautiful British weather helped to no end, and I indulged in something as opposite the technology of today as you can get. I went (yet again) to visit that marvel of stone age, erm, technology - the Stonehendge. And again it looked incredible on a perfect day for such revelry: blue sky with fluffy white clouds marching past, a wind to ruffle a hair or three, and in the centre of it all the mysterious stone circle. No, I do not go into the mystery hysteria about it, and I will even refrain from chiding the ancient Britons for wasting such time, resource, and energy on something that was most probably religious in nature. And I won't even turn this post into the usual Sunday religion bashing. Those ancient Britons at least had an excuse of not knowing any better, and just beginning to try and figure it all out. So, let's just drop all of that and enjoy the view...


As for the religion bashing, that comes in the next post...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Beer: Of High Learning

As you may have seen, I spent a day in London yesterday...

Even if it was a day off and a visit pretty much a tourist one I only stopped for one. Beer, of course. And I have a secret to share with you, in case you'd like to have a comfortable, inexpensive pint (of real ale, of course) right in the centre of London. I'll start with the less central of the two pubs I have in mind, The Lyceum. At the Waterloo Bridge end of Strand it offers two floors with a bar on each. It is usually nearly empty during office hours so it is a place of choice to get away from all those pesky tourists. It gets VERY busy in the evenings and weekends, though, so plan accordingly. The other one is right across the National Portrait Gallery and aptly named The Chandos. Belonging to the same Samuel Smiths chain it offers exactly the same liquid refreshments, prices, and atmosphere. Highly recommended at all times, but beware the after work and apres the theatre crowds. Still, only a stones throw from the Trafalgar Square you can't beat it for cheap and pleasant thirst quenching stop at a place not many tourists will go into. One thing to note about these two, and presumably other Samuel Smiths pubs, is that they offer only Samuel Smiths and similar independent drinks, and they are very serious about it. I mean, you can't even get a Pepsi or a Coke there, but only (a very decent) independent brand of cola (the name of which escapes me right now). So, there you go. Enough for a belated Friday beer post.

I hope you enjoyed it, and see you in London next time...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Politics: Mums Keen On Porn

The truth is finally out: "Lots of people on Mumsnet are very keen on pornography"...

No, I have not come up with this all by myself, just note the scare-quotes. This is straight from the horses mouth, the horse (mare?) in question being Justine Roberts the founder of that paragon of all things clean and healthy, the Mumsnet (no link to them here, sorry). She also seemed to be privy with her members' weekly schedules, too. Apparently the best time to indulge is late on a Friday night. Dunno, maybe it is for her or her members. I will reserve judgement on that. However, what I will unreservedly chastise her for is the fact that she still calls for (in)voluntary regulation of web sites some people may find objectionable (note how "some people" here actually stands in for "prudes like Justine Roberts and her pals"). And this time, for a change, I won't even chastise her for being prudish or limiting people's freedoms (which she still is, and does, respectively). I will just point out that with these statements and intents she is actually labelling her own flock as less than capable of resisting the urge to leave the Internet wide open for their offspring to access and thus learn what, until just now, they would never admit, and that is that porn is OK, and that prim and proper people watch it too. It is just that they are too much of all that to be able and brave enough to engage their own children on these matters. So, Mumsnet members, in case you haven't figured it out yet, your heroine Justine has just called you both perverted and stupid.

I know which one I'd be mad about...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Science: Too Posh? WTF?

I must say that I find the title of note about this little piece of research insulting...

Not to mention that the research itself doesn't seem to be at all about being "too posh to push". Instead, it praises the fact - and that seems to be the main aim and finding - that in the past thirty years the rate of emergency Caesareans has equalised for poor and wealthy women. It does continue to note that wealthy go and have more elective Caesareans, but it certainly does not seem to claim that this is due to wealthy women being somehow "spoilt". As a matter of fact, one researcher is actually quoted saying "this does not explain the differences seen for elective section". So where does then "too posh to push" come from then? Probably the journalists hatred of wealthy and educated is my guess. Or possibly some form of misogyny. Especially if the journalist is a women herself, and a neofeminst, too. Someone who elects to have their babies at home with the husband biting off the umbilical. But, (well deserved) insults aside, what is a take home message here? The main one, I think, is to never trust a title that a journalist comes up with. These are aimed to shock and awe, not inform.

And, EurekAlert, it's strike two for you...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Food: Porridge

So, it's porridge for the (ex?) IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, aka DSK...

For his (alleged) sins, DSK will now face some thinking time in the New York's notorious Rikers Island prison, after the judge denied him bail, even if $1 million was on offer. I must say that, for a man who was arrested hastily boarding a flight home, I agree with the judge that he is a risk in terms of scarpering. And I may even agree that for a man of his wealth and status any bail offer may be too low for comfort. What I honestly do not understand is why he has then been sent to Rikers island prison where "famous people are preyed upon". Don't get me wrong, as an alleged rapist DSK denied bail, DSK most certainly needs to be kept behind proper bars. But I am sure that, even in America, there are prisons that are safer for celebrities. From the point of view of an IMF chief, any prison cell 11 by 13 feet is message enough. It doesn't need to be in a hell hole, too. With this American attitude it is no great wonder that they had to deny bail for fear of DSK leaving the country and then his extradition being denied by an otherwise friendly state, e.g. France or Britain. European states are already growing increasingly wary of American "justice" system anyway. Just look at the case of poor Gary McKinnon. Whatever the rhetoric, the main reason UK has still not extradited him is for fear of him being mistreated along the lines of Brad Manning. After all, DSK is currently only accused, and even US justice system is supposed to work on the basis presumption of innocence. Sure, once (if) he's found guilty lock him up and throw away the key. Rapists rarely deserve better. But until then, can we please treat him in a, if not nice, then at least a safe way? Otherwise, what happens if he's harmed at Rikers Island? Even if he is guilty, it surely isn't up to a fellow convict to exact justice? So, America, do get your act together on that justice thing. Pretty please?

Otherwise, we might as well hang 'em all right now...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Business: U.S. Robots

You'd think that discovering how memristor actually works would be a Technology post...

If you don't know what one is you can quickly pop over to this Wikipedia article, and even the BBC gave it a valiant and not entirely useless go. You may also find it baffling that it was the memristor's own discoverer, Dr Stan Williams, both then and now at Hewlett-Packard, who took more than 30 years to figure out how his own discovery does what it does. But that would be a Science post. What interests me here is the apparent parallel between how a neuron works and stores information and how a memristors "remembers" past current that has flown thought it. Can we be a, not so small, step closer to computers that can be called "brains" in their own right? Something not unlike the positronic brains envisioned by Isaac Asimov maybe? Is there someone out there already warming up for establishing a overshadow-them-all technology corporation of the kind of the U.S. Robots and mechanical Men? What would be the first mass market application? Will the vacuum cleaners finally be able to really get to all those hard to reach places? Or will the nurses finally have someone to take some of the burden off their hands? Or will it be, as it is usually with new technologies, the porn industry which will really push the boundaries of possible - and cheap (at least in the long run)? Whatever it is, I hope the mechanical engineers and designers are also busy coming up with believable humanoid robots. After all, while I do not need Audrey Hepburn to vacuum my dining room, and nor do I necessarily see a point in a mechanical lover (of any physique), I think the patients do deserve not to be scared to death with their carers.

Oh, and I sincerely hope the software will have nothing to do with Microsoft...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Religion: Of A Mollusc

Probably fuelled by too much lager and too little ale I wondered about strange things on Friday...

The question at hand then is can, and indeed does, a mollusc have a religion, and if yes, what kind of religion would that be? Islam, Christianity, some pagan stuff? I have immediately rejected the obviousness of ancient Greek paganism with it's Poseidon the god of the sea (let alone the copycat Roman Neptune). Such an obvious answer to such a deep question can only be the work of the relevant molluscan deity, or at least its vicious and evil counterpart. After all, if Christian god has its devil, then why not the same for molluscs? Surely they're worthy of a bit more complex religion? Anyway, if anything, this initial musing only strengthened my conviction that molluscs do indeed have a religion. How else to explain my, usually straightforward, thought processes being led down such windy paths (unless it was the lager, of course, but I don't think so).

Now, you may wonder how my staunch atheism can be compatible with this particular line of thought.
After all am I not implicitly admitting to the truth of gods and religion by assuming that mollusc's own religion is messing with my head? Do I really believe there is a god but I just choose to deny the fact? No, no, and thrice no! You do not, in fact, need a god to exist (or a devil, for that matter) for religion to mess with your head - even if you are an atheist. This is because the very existence of the idea of a religion makes people waste their brains on thinking about it. And we all know what happens when you let your brain think about something - it runs away with it and creates a whole new world for you to get lost into. Just like I got lost in the world of a mollusc's religion. Which of course can't exist, because there is no god, of molluscs or men.


After all, if there were one of molluscs, it would probably prevent me from devouring the poor creature in front of me, irreverently disposing of the shell along with all sorts of other rubbish (used sanitary pads, beer cans, some lettuce, beer cans, broken toothpicks, beer cans, some chicken bones, beer cans, ... you get the picture). Or at least it would have punished me for being such a monster (even if I would have presumably be His creature and being hungry deserving of being fed). Maybe I would choke on a splinter from those chicken bones? Or even on a toothpick, broken or not?

Or maybe, in His infinite wisdom the mollusc god punished me in advance by making me want lager instead of ale? Now that would be one cool god! I wonder how Christians and others haven't thought of this yet? God, being omniscient, of course knows in advance that you will sin. How could he not since being omnipotent, and omniscient, he never did anything to stop you in the first place. Talk about seeing a rail crash developing and not switching the tracks! But we have established a long time ago that any such god must also be evil, so I guess that's alright. I mean, being omnipotent, omniscient, and on top of all that living forever (and a day) I think even I would get bored, and when one is bored one does stupid things to amuse oneself. Like throwing stones at birds, or crushing an ant, or kicking a cat.

Or, as we have seen, making someone eat you. Or, as we have also seen, making someone think lager is a better beverage than ale, all as a punishment for subsequently eating one's own creature who did absolutely nothing wrong. Or maybe it did. Or it would have, have I not eaten it. A double entendre, if ever there was one. Two flies with one strike, indeed. A sinner and a would be sinner at the same time. That mollusc god must be awfully proud of itself, the bastard. And I guess because I am not His creature I am also punished by having my mind messed with and wasting itself on molluscan theology. Which, in fact, only proves that a mollusc does indeed have a religion. It also proves that, as other religions, its one is also up to no good.

QED

PS
For those of you who started worrying for my mental well-being: don't worry, I have now returned to the fold, and am easing myself back with some nice Greene King IPA...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Technology: It's Life, Jim

And it's exactly as we know it...

Past couple of days have been quite frustrating for everyone using the Blogger service, yours truly included. Good Googlers apparently installed a new version on Wednesday and it promptly broke down. As I write this (on Friday, in my Google Mail - to myself) the service is still down, and any posts and comments after some time on Wednesday (including this post of mine) have disappeared, promised to return ASAP. So yes, you can still enjoy reading whatever people posted up until Wednesday, but no new posts are possible. Which is frustrating. Very frustrating if you think you've something to say, and nowhere else to say it. But if you look at some reactions it seems that on one side people are seeing this as akin the end of the world (it ain't) or at least feel that this is inexcusable and should be impossible in this day and age. To the former I can only say: get a life, but it is the latter that really go on my titsnerves (watch your language! there may be children here!). I mean, is there anything in life that is so perfect that it can't ever fail? Be realistic. Everything in nature, and human-made stuff even more, is prone to failure. You get ill and you fall and break your bones. Cars break down. Everything breaks down, for crying out loud. We can make stuff that doesn't break down often, but it will break down eventually. You may not be around to see it, but it will - trust me on this one.

Oh, and not to mention that the Blogger, with all it's failings is free...

Technology: Chromebook

A lot of recent press hasn't been praising the Chromebook...

I can see the point to their argument, too. However, I think that there's more Google-bashing for its own sake going on here than real substance. Yes, the Chromebook won't miraculously replace every single laptop, netbook, and desktop on the planet (which is what most of the criticism feels like, at least to me). It may not even replace the majority. And with the currently announced prices (and WiFi and 3G coverage) it probably most certainly can't. But IMHO, that's almost beside the point. The real question here is are there enough people, and more importantly companies, to make business sense selling them the Chromebooks. And I think the answer to that is a resounding YES - especially when it comes to companies. Some obvious examples have been mentioned, e.g. call centres. There must be enough of those to make a good business case for Chromebook. And there's loads of other scenarios that could happily see a Chromebook, limited as it is, fit the bill just nicely - and for $28 a month, too, which is way cheaper than most current options. Also remember, neither Google, nor the companies building Chromebooks have them as a sole business. What's wrong with a nice additional money spinner? Not everyone has to rule the world! And then, for people with more money than sense (like your truly here) a Chromebook can be a nice gadget to take places where you may be afraid it will get stolen. You lose the hardware (which your travel insurance should cover, anyway), but none of the data. Nice!

So, here's hoping Google doesn't give up on the idea. I think it's the right one...

Friday, 13 May 2011

Beer: I Have Sinned

I have a horrible admission to make...

Yes, in the past week I have mostly imbibed on - shock! horror! - lager. Heineken to be precise. A weak 3.8% stuff, too. In small cans. And you know what? I actually didn't mind. And, there are mitigating circumstances: it has been warm and sunny. And I only did it at home where the glass roof of the dining room makes it into a proper hot-house - even in winter. Having said that, it may also be that the last two trips down The Swan Inn put me off ale slightly. First I get a duff pint. Yes, they happily exchanged it for a goo done and took the vile stuff off sale, but trust me the taste still lingers. And then on the next visit I managed to pick an ale I really, really didn't like. Can't remember what it was now, but if I ever do I'll let you know. So maybe I have just run into boring safety of lager which, for all intents and purposes, does not differ between brands and products. However, I do intend to return things to normal ASAP. I am not that desperate.

And no, this does not call for (another) Heineken but, if Heinken made ales...

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Politics: Cross Purposes

The purpose of Osama bin Laden's assassination was clear enough...

What was - and is - not so clear is the legality of it (and I won't even start on the morality). Some (differing!) points of both law and view that may (or may not) determine this are nicely summed up here. What I find interesting in this whole mess is how US government is seemingly working at cross purposes. On one hand they are desperate to show that their action against Osama bin Laden was, if not strictly legal, then justified enough to stop either US own or international legal system asking any awkward questions.

For this, they need to continue portraying Mr bin Laden as a horrible, bloodthirsty, and most importantly, still very active terrorist mastermind. On the other hand, in order to defuse any (in any case probably inevitable) martyrdom and elevation of Mr bin Laden in the Muslim world they need to portray him as just a fumbling old man not really with it, let alone sharpmindedly crafting al-Qaeda's next move. And they are doing exactly this. All of this. On one hand issuing toe curling statement about how bad it is (was), and on the other releasing those five videos in which Mr bin Laden looks positively Pythonesque.

The obvious problem with this is that in the modern world everyone gets to see and hear both of these. And therein lies the problem for the US government, and one that is pretty much impossible to solve - mostly because it is inconceivable to come out and plainly say to the whole world "yes, we went out and killed the bastard, and to hell with law and due process". Inconceivable this is as it will require sacrificing too much of the international credibility - plus one President of the United States of America. And we can't have that now, can we? So, sadly, we just muddle on until this fades out from memory and fades into history books. And by the time the history gets to judge it's hardly going to matter.

Because, see, we're all dead in the long run...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Science: Life On Mars

OK, maybe not quite on Mars, and maybe not quite life (yet), but close enough...

A quick list of stuff that is unusual on Titan: liquid hydrocarbon rains, various surface features, and some sort of mountains and dunes - and all that is just on the surface. But now, there's even more evidence of it having an ocean - below the solid surface (original paper here, human readable account here). Of course, being serious publications (both, really) neither have mentioned anything about any sort of life being made possible by all these quirks. Yours truly, however, not being overly concerned by tarnishing his reputation (after all, to tarnish one one has to have one in the first place, and a good one at that), decided to stretch the customary Wednesday's science post into something more like science fiction. And why not. Fiction is usually much prettier than reality, plus it always stands a chance, however slim, of that same reality proving to be much weirder. So, without further ado, here's what I hope/suspect will eventually be found on Titan: some sort of life in an underground ocean fuelled by the combination of seismic energy from below, thermal energy of friction between the liquid, core, and the surface, and what little sunlight reaches that far into the Solar system.

Wouldn't that be just cool, eh? Eh?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Food: For Thought (on Facebook)

The following statistics on Facebook nearly got me off my food...

Yes, it may be a bit stale, but really I jest. I like my food more than I dislike Facebook. But one thing did really make me think about the social network that now boasts nearly 700 million users (of which none of them is me). Just have a look at this data points:

  • Average user has 130 friends on the site
  • Average user visits the site 40 times per month
  • Average user sends 8 friend requests per month
  • Average user spends an 23 minutes on each visit
  • Average user creates 90 pieces of content each month
  • Average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events

I mean, if this isn't shallow I don't know what is. Facebook purportedly "connects" you to people and gives you some "value" while it does so. But how much "quality time" can you spend when you have to share your 40 times 23 minutes a month among 130 "friends"? I'll tell you how much: 7 minutes. And that does not take into account the time required to "create" those 90 pieces of "content". I mean, giving 90 updates and/or photos out for your 130 "friends" to see is hardly "quality time" or a real contact. So, I will continue my Luddite attitude and not even attempt to take part in all this malarkey. It'll only leave more time for quality time with friends.

No scare quotes...

Monday, 9 May 2011

There Is Life After Death

The revelation in this post should more than make up for missing the regular Sunday religion bashing one.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, children and pets, there is life after death after all. Spread the good news!

Have I finally really gone out of my mind, became religious and bought into the afterlife nonsense - or worse?

Read on and all may become clear...

OK. First things first. Have you noticed a slight hint in the words I chose? After all, by now you should know that while I may not choose my words very artfully i do try and choose them carefully. So have another quick read of the first three paragraphs.

Done?

Got it?

No?

In that case I will explain...

Looking at the text above (again!) notice "life after death" and "afterlife". Despite what you may think, expect, or were conned into believing, the two do not necessarily mean the same thing. And I don't even mean the facetious interpretation of "life after death" as "some others will still be alive after you die". I do however, use "afterlife" in the sense most religions use it in: some form of continued existence after we have died.

Now, after I have (hopefully) explained my terminology, it is probably becoming obvious that I believe in one and not the other. It should also be obvious which one I consider to be a load of cobblers. Which leaves me with a task to explain why I seem to believe in the other. Oh, and if you still haven't figured it out, that other is "life after death". And yes, I mean you and me after our respective deaths.

Hopefully by now you have given a little bit of thought to this yourself. And hopefully you have also come across one other important question, the one of the life we lead before we die. And the interesting part of the question of the lives of the living is how many of them there are. The answer, if you think about it for a little while, is many. And again I am not being facetious and telling you that there are many lives of the living because there is a lot of living people, one life each. Oh no. What I am saying, and should be, or at least should become, obvious is that most living people have more than one life - while they are still alive.

How so?

Well, you may have already heard the expression that we live our lives in the eyes of the others, the people we know, and the people that know of us. But of course, it is not the eyes of the others that matter, but their minds. And it is not just our still images that inhabit other people's heads. Oh no. As is very nicely explained here, we all run active models of people we think about, and play out various interactions with them.

This should come as a surprise only insofar as it is so obvious we never consciously think about it. So do think about it now. Think about your SO. Go on. I'll bet you a dime you didn't just think about how (s)he looks. You probably thought about what they're doing, or even what they'll do when you see them again. At the very least you will have thought about them in terms of what they truly are, and what they truly are is determined by what they do and how they do it. It is an active image, and it is very much alive. And this is where the "life after death" revelation comes in. Everything I just said about your mind's image of your SO holds true regardless of whether they're alive or dead. For all I know it may even be an imaginary SO! In which case you should congratulate yourself on achieving a god-like status - you have created a new life out of nothing.

So, having realised this on the conscious level - because we all know and do it anyway and all the time - can you not see yourself that just like your dearest ones don't actually disappear completely after they die - since they are still alive and well in your mind - so you will not die for as long as there is someone who remembers you.

Oh, you wanted an eternal life after death? Sorry, that is something I cannot promise, and is not at all to be taken as granted. Not that it's impossible, mind. Just go out and do something the whole humankind will remember you for and hey presto! You are an immortal.

And you also hoped to be actually able to feel something yourself, once you are dead? Again, sorry. I can't give you that either. And I can't give it at all. Not even being the most remembered person that ever lived will help. Once you're dead, you're dead. Very dead.

Because you see, it is not YOU who has a chance of eternal existence. It is your LIFE and what otehrs made of it that has that privilege. And you know what the most interesting thing about this is? No? Didn't ring a bell yet? OK, then read on.

Don't you see a certain parallel between what I have just pointed out to you and what most religions try to tell you? How is it you guarantee yourself eternal life? By doing something extraordinary, that's how. Do something extraordinarily good and humankind will remember and cherish you forever. A heaven in disguise, if ever there was one. Do something heinous on an equivalent scale and you are guaranteed an eternity of humankind's loathing. A true hell, if you ask me. And it goes further. Even as an evil bastard there is likely to always be some who will still like you, even revere you: the devil and those who sell their souls to him. And so on. I think I could stretch this equivalence a long, long way.

So, is this little theory of mine as good as any religion's teaching of "life after death"? No, I don't think it is. I actually think it is better. Can you figure out why? Yes, it is because religions try to make you satisfy and be true to an imaginary entity who you have no chance to ever truly get to know and thus are guaranteed to spend your life painfully trying to chase your own tail. And it isn't your own tail that you should be chasing at all. Because, to guarantee yourself eternal (or at least long) life after death it is other people's tails you should be chasing. It is other people you should do right by (you do want to end up in my version of heaven, don't you?), and to do that you should study them very carefully and be really, really good to them.

Make them like you. Make them like to think about you, and they will - even after you are dead. Make them really, really, really like you and they'll think of you after you're dead even more than they did when you were still alive. And if they subscribe to the same "life after death" theory then they'll return the favour. And if everybody does the world will become a much better place.

Oh, and when they finally forget you, and they will - or they'll die themselves, don't worry because you should know (now, when you are still alive - obviously!) that you've made the world a better place. And that's more than any religion can claim. So, renounce any religion you may have and strive to have as long a life after death as is humanly (and humanely) possible!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Beer: With A Tear

It was a sad Friday last week, but I wasn't there to commiserate...

Serious cuts within Nokia were a dead certainty ever since the deal with Microsoft was announced, and especially after its market share fell below 30%. Still, the news of the whole Southwood site closure came as a shock. It really cuts very deep, not least into the economy of Farnborough. That cut is even deeper than the Get Hampshire article indicates. What they fail to note is that not only will 700 people lose their Nokia jobs, but there will also be dozens of support staff who will be left with nowhere to work (catering, security, and facilities were all outsourced). And then there are all the employees of the Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) who are currently collocated in the Southwood offices. All of them, while keeping their jobs, will have to move to a different location and that may not be in Farnborough at all. But of course, the worst is the personal effect on all the people who will be very busy looking for another job. Having been made redundant before I can fully appreciate the stress and the whole spectrum of emotions they are now subjected to. Therefore, I dedicate today's beer to all of them, and will raise it for their health and very best of luck in finding a new, and better, future.

Today's beer truly is a bear with a tear...

PS
Yes, I used to work for Nokia as well, and not that long ago. It was, and certainly still is, a very good place to work. I am deeply saddened by the difficulties they are going through at the moment. My fear is that their future is not very bright, as I do not believe Microsoft is the company to deliver a competent mobile operating system. But then, Nokia has been able to reinvent itself before, so I am hopeful...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hesperia Tower ***** Experience

Nope, the "*****" in the post title is not there to protect the children. The five stars is actually part of the hotel's name, in all their graphic glory. But, unfortunately, those ***** could have easily really stood for an expletive ("shite" comes to mind), and this story will tell you exactly why (you should think thrice before booking a room there).

For a start, just have a look at the picture to the left...

Shocking, really, and potentially in a very unpleasant and dangerous way. That's what the hair dryer power cable connection looked like - and it was in the bathroom, too, right under the (double) sink. But no, let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, I have discovered the "shocking" wiring only on our third or fourth day (I do wash my hair more often than that only I don't tend to use the hair dryer).

So, rewind...

OK. Now, again, from the top...

We arrived on an early flight for our week in Barcelona  and were lucky enough to manage to get to the free shuttle from the airport that is provided by the hotel. Lucky, since if we missed that one we'd have twiddled our thumbs for two hours waiting for the next one or, more likely, be paying some euro for a taxi. The free shuttle is a very nice thing hotel offers, no doubt about that at all. However, its schedule is severely lacking, or rather generous in its sparseness. But OK, again it is free so one can't really complain. Except it's a five star hotel, and all that...

Anyway, some fifteen minutes later, at the reception desk, trying to check in. One of us, three or four of them. All hunky dory with taking our details (although slooowly). Details taken we are bluntly told that there are no rooms available, reason being official check in is at 3pm and we arrived at 10am. Which is fine. But only provided it is accompanied by at least a feigned sympathy - and a suggestion of what hotel can do to ease our waiting. Only none of it was forthcoming. I felt we were expected to disappear from the reception until such a time they had a room for us - about which fact they apparently didn't intend to even try and inform us. Obviously time for self-initiative, and self-help. Again, in a five start hotel.

So, we politely ask they check again, and if possible give us an estimate of when a room might be available before 3pm. A curt reply is received that the hotel is fully booked and until someone checks out - which they need not do before noon - there won't be any rooms. Which is fine. No problem at all. Only we are again just left to stand there and fend for ourselves. Can we please leave our baggage while we wait? Yes, sure. Excellent. Is there also a hotel safe to put our valuables? We receive a blank expression and total incomprehension of what exactly we want and why on Earth we want it. Can't we just put a grand worth of computing equipment into our suitcase? We give up and decide to lug the stuff in our hand baggage.

So, can we possibly use the hotel shuttle to go into town and come back later when a room will hopefully be available? Yes, of course. Excellent (there's a shuttle in fifteen minutes or so). We leave the bag with, for some reason quite unhappy receptionist, and sit in the hotel bar for a coffee. Luckily, I also go back to reception to ask when we can get the shuttle back from the town only to find that we can't. You can take the shuttle into town, but you can't ride back to the hotel - you have to make your own way. Strange, but true. In a five start hotel.

OK. We manage to get into the shuttle. Yes, manage. Exactly sixteen seats, no standing. If you don't get a seat you wait for the next one. In an hour or two. Or take a taxi. Or a metro. Did I mention the hotel is 10km outside of the centre of Barcelona?

Fast forward through a nice walk though the city, a quick drink or two, a 25 minute metro ride back to the hotel. Action restarts at exactly 2.58pm...

Hello, we are so-and-so, and there should be a room ready for us by now. We did leave our number (taken down reluctantly if I remember correctly - as if receptionist pay for the calls themselves and so don't like dialling international mobile numbers), but nobody called. Sorry sir, but there is still no room available. And that is where we suddenly started asking ourselves what sort of a hotel this is. With disbelief I say, still politely  but with quite some force, that since check in is from 3pm I now expect a room to become available in the next two minutes or we'll expect compensation. Magically, the computer now says "yes". Interesting. But at least we got our room.

Sadly, throughout the ordeal that lasted almost five hours the hotel staff never once even hinted at anything they could do, maybe a tiny bit above and beyond, to make our wait more comfortable. Nope. The only thing we got was not very helpful, and at times not very polite, staff unwilling to even try and depart from some internal process they have obviously been drilled for. And that at a five star hotel. And yes, I know I keep repeating that as some kind of mantra, but I do believe that higher class of hotel is not necessarily distinguished by how it looks (although that is important, too), but how friendly and helpful staff are. And in a five star hotel (the highest official rating available) one does have the right to expect to get more than one usually expects (and often is pleasantly surprised) in a local Travelodge.

Even more sadly, the check-in experience wasn't just a matter of reception staff having a bad hair day. Oh no. There was more, even if we quickly started trying to avoid any sort of hotel service so we can fully enjoy the lovely city of Barcelona. For example, in the hotel bar it is necessary to sit at the bar itself or the first row of tables that are clearly seen from behind the bar, as otherwise it is anyone's guess when - and if - one is going to be served. We never really tested this to destruction, the first two times giving up after 15 and 10 minutes respectively, and then - if we really, really, really, wanted or had to have a drink at the hotel - making sure we sit at the bar or in that high visibility row of seats. Next, the hotel also boasts - and loudly in all promotion material - a top floor, glass domed posh restaurant. A very expensive one. Which is closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. As is a mid-floor cocktail bar. Which had the cheek to charge 18 euro for the privilege of watching a football game - on TV. Yes, even if you were the guest of the hotel. Ridiculous!

And then there's hotel pool and spa. Which is not, in fact, part of the hotel, but as a guest you can have the privilege of paying extra (e.g. 12 euro for the swimming pool and gym - per person, per go) to use the local gym and spa which just happens to be adjacent to the hotel (and can be accessed through the corridor to the back). And even if you are happy to pay, and pay on top of those 12 euro, you are handed the list of services (massage, etc) - in Spanish. By a receptionist who surely must know you are not Spanish as otherwise why on Earth would you be speaking English to her. They did not have a copy in English, apparently. Useless.

I'll cover the state of disrepair of the room towards the end in a handy pictorial (but do hop over to the top for the "shocking" bit). To end the main body of this (almost horror) story I'll tell you that on check out when we returned to reception to collect our baggage, I had the ticket ripped out of my hand without a word or even a glance by a receptionist, then presented with my bag by having it dropped in front of my feet again without word or a glance. In a five star hotel! Unbelievable. And do note that - unlike the hotel staff - we have maintained very British level of politeness (and, by necessity, stiff-upper-lipness). We never gave any reason to staff to treat us anything less than politely since we treated them with respect and politeness throughout. I was actually shocked by this last experience with the bag, and so much that I forgot to comment about it until we were safely on the plane back to Blighty!

Anyway, there you have our Barcelona NH Hotels Hesperia Tower ***** experience. The lesson learned? Never, ever go back there. Not even if it were free. Not if it were the last hotel on Earth. And possibly avoid other NH Hotels, too. From what I've seen, and from my long experience of large companies and corporations, the problem must be systemic. It must be either the Hesperia Tower management that's at fault or NH Hotels management - or both. Or rather, through poor management of NH Hotels poor management was put in place at Hesperia Tower, resulting in lower echelon staff running the service as they see fit - which is usually, if unsupervised, in a lazy and self-centered, rather than guest-centered way. Sad, sad, and thrice sad.

And now, to ease you out of this long rant, here's the promised pictorial, with brief comments and explanations. All photos were taken in our room. None of the photos have been retouched, and of course, none of the damage was caused by us (and sloppy workmanship couldn't have been anyway). So, with no further ado ladies and gentlemen, I give you the horrors of room 2311 of Hesperia Tower ***** Hotel in Barcelona, Spain:

The first few photos are of sloppy workmanship and damage in the otherwise very stylish (but also mildly inconvenient to use) bathroom. At least it was cleaned really nicely every day, and new towels put in (although an option to reuse them would have been nice, too).

One thing I did not manage to capture is how the a slit in the shower cubicle floor which doubled as a plug hole was rather poorly executed so that dirty and grimy bits of waste were clearly visible from quite a few angles. Not good for sensitive stomachs.

Top to bottom: make-up mirror console should have been screwed, not glued in, or excess glue wiped off; rubber along the shower glass doors not only did not run the full length, but was also left hanging, it would have been better to cut off the hanging bit; the soap holder in the shower seems to have been used to hold gold bullion, again this should have been fixed.


And these are from the room itself, again showing damage that could - and should - have been repaired. After all, we also learned that we were in an "executive" room, so it should have been even better than the average room in the same hotel.


Again top to bottom: a door stop which obviously took more abuse than it was designed to handle; scratched bathroom cabinets, plus some dust - obviously bathroom wasn't cleaned quite so well as I first thought; a lamp shade that wouldn't sell even in TK Maxx for two quid.

And now a twenty-first century treat: a hotel information system that isn't. A step by step guide to your stay:

Very nice indeed. Let's see what the "experience" has to offer:

So far, so good. Let's now see how to "enjoy" our stay:

Oops...

So, there you have it. Hesperia Tower ***** experience in both words and pictures. Really, NH Hotels, one expects something a lot better than this from a five star hotel. And if you need to have a look how things should be done, do hop to a Hilton Ras al Khaimah four star hotel in, say, Dubai. Yes, four star. We've been - and we thought it was actually a five star hotel. Heck, I even thought it was again this morning and had to check. Before I sign off I'll give you just one example from that hotel: we had a 5am shuttle to the airport on our way back; the manager was up and handing out fresh fruit juice, while bar staff were serving cold buffet breakfast for half a dozen of us unfortunate enough to book ourselves on such an early flight. Oh, and after the visit I was politely asked to fill in a satisfaction survey which I did, and then got a personalised e-mail from the manager to thank me and address some comments I had. And that was a service with one star less than in Hesperia Tower. Truly mind boggling.

OK. Enough for now. Until the next holiday...

Politics: AV, AV, AV

Yes, it's the polling day in Blighty today...

Have you cast your vote yet? I have, first thing this morning. If you haven't, there's still plenty of time - 12 hours from the moment I am posting this to be exact. And yes, I have voted YES at the AV referendum (and for the Liberal Democrat in the local elections). Sadly, it seems that AV is going to be the losing option (just like the Lib Dem candidate in a staunchly Tory area I live in). Or maybe not. Maybe if you go out and vote (yes, of course) it may swing the result. Don't get conned by those first-past-the-post proponents who tell you that AV dilutes the one-person-one-vote principle. As a matter of fact, there is no worse system for spoiling one-person-one-vote than FPTP. How else to explain a majority voting for one party while the other one gets absolute majority in the legislature (see what happened in Canadian elections just the other day)? True, alternative vote does not fix the problem fully. If you want your vote to really count (as part of block of votes of people who share your views) then we should have switched to a fully proportional voting system where X% of the vote gives a party X% of the seats (or close enough not to make a difference). AV is a kind of a half way house between FPTP and proportional, but in my not-so-humble opinion it is the change in the right direction. Oh, there'll be more coalition governments, but it was never a given that that is necessarily a bad thing.

So, go out and vote for AV. Now. I mean it. NOW!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Science: In Good Stead

We are all too painfully aware how little average person knows about science...

In fact, and worse, it is not so much that an average person knows little about science as how little science an average person knows. Here I certainly do not mean deep and arcane branches of science like quantum mechanics, molecular biology, or clinical biochemistry. What I have in mind are centuries old friends of basic Newtonian physics, Mendelian genetics and suchlike. I should have really included Darwin's theory of evolution, but that is such a touchy topic that it's best left out of what I intend to be a brief and non-confrontational post. And, to boot, these topics are not very difficult to grasp either. I am sure an average person is perfectly capable of understanding them. What seems to be a problem is twofold. For one, there is this received "wisdom" that science is hard and not something and average person is capable of handling. Then, possibly more importantly, there is general unawareness of potential usefulness of basic general science in everyday life. And it is useful, and often in unexpected places. I'll give just one example: if you need to move a carpet a few inches on the floor using only one foot (e.g. you're holding up a table that sits on it with your other three extremities), do you push or pull? I won't even go into the waste that goes into filing - and then rejecting - patent applications that try to beat basic laws of thermodynamics (e.g. generating power by making water flow through a thinning pipe). So what is to be done? I think that early education must not just feed science to pupils (even if in funny and interesting ways). There should be a parallel effort (maybe even as a separate subject) to show children where in everyday, ordinary lives application of scientific knowledge can benefit them. Oh, and make basic science compulsory - and tested - throughout schooling.

Now, if I could only remember enough science to skip having to vacuum this Saturday...

Food: Belated

Yes, I know. I missed my usual Tuesday's food post...

But, as ever, I have an excuse: I was too busy. Surely most of you know how it is coming back to the office after almost two weeks' holiday. A mountain of e-mail, and only a bit smaller amount of chats to have with colleagues - not least about the holiday just passed. Which is not to say that I only ever blog from the office. I don't. Honestly. But yesterday I was also way too busy at home - not least with enjoying the nice food and drink of home. As you may remember Barcelona left me wanting in terms of both food and drink. Happily, the service has now resumed as usual with all the different things offered by Blighty. I haven't yet ventured as far as a pub or a restaurant, but I think the time is right to do one or both today. In that vein here's my recommendation: gorgeous Indian food in Paprika, and a pint (or three) of a lovely guest ale at the Prince of Wales. A very British choice. No question about it. But at least here I can choose both cuisine and drinks to suit, rather than be limited to what Barcelona had to offer - which was not a lot.

Here's hoping next trip doesn't leave me wishing for fish and chips...

Monday, 2 May 2011

Business: As Usual?

So Osama bin Laden has finally been found and killed...

A true victory for US intelligence and ground troupes. A sea burial is also a nice touch. Let's just hope it was done in the Muslim way so as not to unnecessarily anger even the ones who otherwise might not have supported bin Laden. Which brings me to the thorny question of what happens next. Will this really be a great defeat of Al-Qaeda? A beginning of a new wave of reprisals and radicalisation? Or will it really be business as usual (a business angle after all)? I mean, BBC itself uses the phrase "[b]in Laden had approved the 9/11 attacks" (emphasis is mine). Not planned or organised - "approved", presumably somebody else's plans and organisation. Will that somebody else (or, more likely, those somebodies) continue to do more of the same? What good is guerilla movement if it falls apart when a leader dies?

Oh, just to make sure it's clear: I'm not in any way supporting Muslim (or any other, for that matter) radicalism and especially not terrorism. What I am trying to warn of is the danger of complacency - believing the credits will roll "The End" now that Osama bin Laden is dead. I'm sure the security professionals know this already, but I also think that the media should (gently) point out to the masses that a great battle might have been won, but that the war is still on. One more thing: yes, I said "war", but this again does not mean that I necessarily subscribe to the way current US "war on terror" is being or has been conducted. "Hearts and minds" seems to have been sadly neglected in favour of guns and mines. But that is maybe a topic for another day.

Today, I fear, is just a blip in (terror) business as usual...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Religion: Too Nice

No, of course religion ain't too nice. Matter of fact, it ain't nice at all...

Am I too nice then? Nope. Wouldn't ever be so presumptuous. I mean, would a nice person drop in on a Catholic mass in Barcelona proudly displaying their "Good without God" BHA badge? 'Course not. So, it's not me being nice, let alone "too nice", today. So what is it then? It's the weather, stupid - to abuse a well known phrase. So, I won't bother myself too much about religion today. Or anything else serious, for that matter. I think the order of the day is a slow walk to a nice The Swan Inn pub, right at the foot of the Farnborough airport runway, and then - also slowly - imbibing on some nice real ale. After all, it's been way too long since I had one. The one meagre Greene King IPA I found in the fridge last night when I got from the airport doesn't count. It's good, and it did sate me, but something much nicer is needed right about now.

So, fare thee well blogging - welcome a real ale in the sun...