Thursday, 30 June 2011

Politics: Of Higher Education

Reportedly, Labour considers current proposal for higher education reform as a "complete shambles"...

Now, I'm the last one to wholeheartedly embrace every single bit of what (mostly the Conservative part of) government is proposing, but one particular bit of the reform seems like an obvious winner and if Labour are against that bit as well then their whole attitude towards this issue is more about being seen as anti-government then being pro-student. Wow! After this monster of a sentence, here's the bit I particularly like: apparently, the employment track record of various courses is going to be made public. If you ask me, when I was a prospective student, I'd have killed for such information. Surely it is good for prospective students to guide their choice of where to spend their tuition fees by which course gives them the best chance to repay them as quickly as possible? American universities face similar reforms and students are increasingly able to avoid degree mills, which many online graduate schools are considered, and spending their money on degrees that will result in gainful employment. Surely it is also good for universities. Even the bad ones. It might just be the kick up their arse they needed to up their game - or abandon useless courses. What everyone needs is not more universities at any cost, but more graduates who are actually useful to both the economy, and by extension, themselves. And in the somewhat longer run the whole university ecosystem, too. So Labour, pull out the finger and try to come up with something that's actually a reasonable policy and not just "we don't like the evil coalition" moan. Otherwise you'll only preside over a decade of Conservative governments.

And we don't like Maggies offspring, do we now...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Science: Of Green Energy

Very interesting find in Newcastle...

No, it's not beer. We knew about that already. What has been found deep (miles deep!) underneath the venerable city is hot water. Hopefully a lot of it. Because, if there's enough, it can be used to heat most nearby buildings in a very cheap, and very clean way. A side effect of the drilling exercise is also quite a lot of other scientific finds from various fields: geology and archaeology to name just a couple. But there's a wider thing to be noted here. Surely with the advances in deep drilling technology it will become increasingly possible to tap into energy of the Earth's core by literally tapping into reservoirs of hot water deep within the crust. Not to mention that one does not necessarily even need water to be present deep down. We can always pump down some of what we have in abundance above the surface to be nicely heated and the heat used where it can do useful work. As far as I understand there are plenty of sites where this could be done given adequate technology at an adequate price. But, for whatever reason (cost?) this particular way of producing clean energy gets nowhere near the coverage of solar, wind, and even tidal power. For what it's worth, my personal feeling is that geothermal will eventually trump them all.

Here's raising The Dog to seeing geothermal shine in my lifetime...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Food: Wedding Cakes

Quite interesting article in The Economist on marriage statistics...

Apparently - and surprisingly, at least to me - better educated (and thus also better off) wed more and stay wedded longer. This, of course, boosts their wealth even more. By contrast, precisely those who are by definition much worse off, seem to shirk marriage. Not only that, but they also tend to claim they "do not believe they can afford it". Strange, to say the least, and quite contrary to what one might expect if people were rational agents. Which they aren't, of course. But one would still expect people to behave in adaptive way, and when you're strapped for resources the adaptive thing to do is to find a willing partner to pool resources with. Even just sharing residence must yield great savings. Strange.

The more I think about it, the more I think about that "can't afford" statement. Could it be that the society has become so infected by the need for grandiose weddings that the fact one cannot have a wedding cake posh enough, and the reception glitzy enough, prevents people from even trying? Or are under-educated so under-educated that they cannot see savings even in the simple case of marriage? What can be done to change this? Mind you, I think marriage in itself is not necessarily the only solution here. There's really nothing wrong with people just living together. This is about efficient use of scarce resources which will eventually greatly benefit any children, or even just partners' pension funds.

Research project: is this also the case in UK and Europe?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Business: Of Arse Covering

Microwave ovens have been with us for too long now...

No, I do not mean too long for our (or their) own good .I mean too long as in long enough for supermarkets to figure out at what powers the darned things come. In the decades that I've been acquainted with the life or at least time saving device I've only ever come across the 600, 800, and say 1000W variants. And yet, most of the ready made meals you can get in the supermarkets give cooking advice for 650, 750, and 850W models. Now, if one knows how the microwave oven goes about heating your food, and is also familiar with the volume of the food at hand, with a moderate amount of maths knowledge one can adjust cooking times for a 600ml of soup from 3.5 + 3.5 minutes in an 750W microwave to the 3.75 + 3.75 minutes required in the 800W microwave, but I suspect that there something much more sinister at play here.

Yes, as you may have by now guessed from the title, it is the venerable arse covering (or ass covering, as the good - and the bad, I guess - people from across the pond may say) that is at play here. If you give people instructions that are literally correct, but hard to follow if you don't have a degree what else can it be? I mean, it's hardly likely that most people know that microwaves work by exciting (no, not in *that* way) water (and metal, for that matter) molecules in food and that this is relative to the volume of the stuff at hand, so that you can then work out that two bowls of soup require twice as long in the microwave, even if they'd take exactly the same time on the hob if you poured them into the same pot. Not to mention the hard work of figuring out "if it takes X at 750W, how long does it take at 800". Finally, no I'm not calling for supermarkets to initiate graduate courses for shoppers, but surely they can look around - even their own shelves these days - and realise what wattages they need to cover in their microwave cooking instructions? After all, they do want what's best for their customers.

Or do they...

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Religion: Of Foxholes

I just came across a wonderful quote by Kurt Vonnegut...
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and this is a good argument against atheism. I think it's a better argument against foxholes.
It got me thinking. The argument Kurt so brilliantly smashes here seems to be that the existence of a god is proven by the fact that people in most horrible circumstances, when their options are non-existent or at least seriously limited, tend to wish for a "divine intervention", a deus ex machina, if you want.

It strikes me that this argument is essentially the same as the one never wielded by religionistas, and that is that the existence of lotteries is an argument against atheism, because surely a lot of people are watching their one in thirteen million weekly draw calling upon the almighty to get them out of the misery of their everyday hand-to-mouth lives. Even in UK where atheists outnumber religionistas. Unless, of course, it is only the religious who play Lottery. For which I am the counter-example.

Since even religionistas think it obviously silly to present the lottery argument in order to prove existence of their chosen god(s) I can only wholeheartedly recommend they also drop the foxhole equivalent. And while they're at it, they should also all do much, much more work on the second part of Kurt's admonishment, to wit, making it possible that foxholes (and their equivalents) are well and truly abolished and relegated to the dark past of human history.

Sadly, with religions' track record on wars, this is unlikely...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Technology: I'm A Pervert

No, I have not (yet) turned this blog into a sexually charged one...

I am just using the word "pervert" to indicate the one who perverts in general, the meaning of the verb "to pervert" being defined here. But what is it that I am perverting? Well, the title holds a clue, no? Yes, you got it right, it's technology. But no, I do not mean that I am perverting technology to achieve some nefarious goals. I do not even mean that I am using technology to feed my perversions (if any). What I want to say is that, yesterday, I have used a few pieces of technology in quite a perverse manner.

Case in point: use Amazon MP3 app on my Nexus S to buy and download 101 80s Anthems (OK, I admit, this may count as a perversion). Now, why I'd use a mobile phone app to do this when I was sitting (admittedly quite comfortably) only six feet away from my laptop is anyone's guess. I think that "quite comfortably" had something to do with it.

Having sated my hunger for (some) things 80s, I now desired to transfer the songs to my laptop so they can be safely archived. Now, one could do that by connecting the phone to the laptop using a USB cable. But that would be too much work, and see also the "quite comfortable bit above". So, as one does, one uses ones Dropbox app on the phone to upload all 101 songs which the Dropbox daemon on the laptop (if you remember I am using Linux Mint at home) will immediately pull down from the cloud. Later, when one finally sits at ones laptop again, one can easily move the files to their proper place (no, I am not paying for hundreds of GB of storage - not even to Dropbox).

Now, if the procedure above is not a perverted way of going about downloading and archiving a bunch of MP3 songs, I don't know what is. Even when there are some mitigating circumstances. To wit: all this went over my home wireless and ADSL connections. In no way, and at no time, I have abused my employer's mobile data connection in order to satisfy my perverse lust for 80s music or my no less perverse laziness. Plus, Murray was playing Ljubičić on Wimbledon Centre Court, and that is a treat I get out of couch for no-one! But, as I said, even given these few facts to my credit, even I will freely admit that what I did was at least a tad silly.

Which is a good thing. Silly is good...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Beer: Year's Supply Of

This morning I have won a year's worth of beer...

You may be excused if you got confused after clicking on the link above (if you haven't, do it now). What on Earth do London 2012 Olympic Games have to do with beer, and especially with a year's supply worth of it? Well, in case of these particular Games, and this particular blogger, quite a lot. As it happens, he - that is me, by the way - gloriously failed to get any Olympic tickets whatsoever. Not that I have not tried. I duly entered the first draw and selected a few events that were neither here nor there in terms of popularity, all in the hope to actually get tickets to at least some. Of course, I ended up in the two thirds (two thirds!) of applicants who failed - ingloriously. Ingloriously for the London 2012 games. And Lord Coe. For some reason I hold him personally responsible.

Had I won all the tickets I applied for in the first go I'd have been £400 down. That's four hundred British pounds for three sets of two tickets for mediocre events. This equates to roughly 300 pints of good real ale from the supermarket shelves. Or, if you insist, around 125 pints from a tap of a good real ale pub. But, you may ask, even the 300 is not a year's supply. Knowing your appetites for real ale, we'd expect you to imbibe a bit more. Let's say just enough to fill the recommended intake of 3-4 units, equalling, generously, two pints of medium strength ale a day. And you'd be right. And that's why you need to read on. So do read on.

OK, here we go with the rest of the story...

As it happens, all the failures from the first round of ticket lottery were invited to try again. We were given a week to apply, starting just this morning, bright and early at 6 o'clock. Ante meridiam. AM. Crack of dawn. Which wouldn't be half as bad were it not for the rules set out. And the rules were truly insulting. Here they are: you can apply for up to three events on a first-come-first-served basis; you are notified if your application is successful within 24 to 48 hours; if - that's if - your application went through and is successful you will be charged for your tickets by 4 July; until you are actually charged you don't know which, if any, tickets you have won. If you tried to make the process more demeaning you'd have a hard time figuring out just how.

Oh, and of course the tickets available ranged from women's fencing qualifiers, through Grec-Roman wrestling, and women's basketball early rounds. That's if you're not totally mad about football and are prepared to travel to Coventry to watch an early round, not knowing who actually plays. Let me make it clear: I've nothing against any of these sports. They're as worthy as men's 100m final. It's just that I'm not interested in any of them. At all. Some people may be. But I'm not. It makes no difference to me if there really are (were, by now, I guess) 1.7 million football tickets left. What does make a difference to me is that the choice we unlucky two thirds were left with is really just adding insult to injury.

Also, to be totally fair to the London 2012 ticketing, there was one event that we (that's be me and S.O.) sort of wanted to see even if we didn't know who'll actually play. This is, or rather was, the bronze medal game in men's basketball tournament. If we were lucky - and at least one of the ex-Yugoslav teams unlucky - we could have been in for a treat. Problem? Problem is that the only tickets left cost £225 a pop. That's £450 for the two of us, for a single game which may well feature teams we couldn't care less about. And no, the fact that we could probably also (or instead) get 60kg Greco-Roman wrestling men's bronze medal match tickets for close enough to peanuts it didn't matter, didn't matter. At all.

So there you have it: another £450 saved, bringing the total savings to almost £900 pounds. And that, my friends (and enemies) is as close to a year's worth of ale it really doesn't matter. If I spent it in the supermarket I could easily exceed the recommended alcohol intake. In a pub, while it may not exactly stretch to a year's worth of beer, one can probably count on being treated by some good Samaritans, this being an all the more likely case when one relates one's sad story of failed attempts at getting at least some Olympic tickets. Of course a little sang here is that there's going to be so many of us unhappy with London 2012 that it may become increasingly difficult to tell a good enough story worth a free pint. Which probably means one has to start practising one's storytelling as soon as possible.

As you have just seen, I have just started. Did you like it? Will I be able to talk a free pint of someone with this? No? Thought not. But there's still time. I don't really need to start spending the savings I made before the Games start. And when they do, I'm going to stock up on some good ale and take my free seat at a sofa and enjoy the games. Heck, most sports are better watched on TV anyway. Which reminds me: if I go easy (or cheap, or both) on beer I may also be able to upgrade my TV with all the money I didn't spend on crap live sport at crap London 2012 Olympic Games. Which can only be a good thing™.

Now, if only there was a way of stripping Lord Coe of his Lordship...

In case London 2012 Protection Crack Team (or whatever they're called) intend to sue me for using the London 2012 Olympic Games logo, let it be know that it is being used here as part, and for the purposes, of fair use criticism and comment. Especially the former.

If the same crack team intend to sue me for using the number "2012" (eight times, I think) let it be known that they are a disgrace for even attempting to do so, even more than it was a disgrace to bully this nice lady. And if they still insist they have the right to stop people using "2012" I will offer them a fair compensation, at the same level supermarkets offer for vouchers and coupons if one wants to convert them to cash, i.e. I offer to pay 0.001p per mention. Which is 0.008 or 0.009p so far. Since I also insist on paying cash, and since the only truly legal tender in this country is £1 coin, I also promise to put it in my will that any descendants I may have are liable for this expense - once the inflation and accumulated interest brings it up to the value of £1. I leave it to my, and the descendants of the London 2012 Olympic Committee to calculate at what time in the future they can come and collect their quid. By which time I hope the disgrace of the London 2012 Olympic Games ticketing might just be forgotten.

And no, I am not going to say anything about what the London 2012 logo reminds me of...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

UPDATED: Putter More

I was more right than I imagined. JK Rowling is just continuing milking the same (un)dead cow. The Pottermore website seems to be intended to be just "an interactive experience that will take them on their own personal journey through the much-loved books".

Oh, dear...

JK Rowling is out for even more money.

To be sure I dont' begrudge her the money she amassed in the last ten years or so. How could I when there's obviously more than enough people out there willing to spend it on her fare. Which is fair enough. I guess. What's more, I can't even say that she writes badly. She does not. I know because I have actually read her first three Harry Potter books.

And therein lies the rub...

I don't know if I'm alone in this, but it was the way the third Harry Potter book ends that made me a) decide not to spend a penny more on what was obviously becoming a money machine, and b) start to cast an ever increasingly suspicious eye on JK, and what's she up to. The latter unequivocally led me to believe (and has confirmed my initial suspicions) that under that friendly, children loving, tree hugging mask lies really just someone hungry for more money, and more money alone.

Do you even remember how the third books ends? And I don't mean whether you remember exact words or even just the scene overall. No. I mean what is the unmistakeable underlying current there. If you ask me, and I have gone back to it a couple of times to check, the third Harry Potter book ends with the same air as a third-rate soap opera. It builds up suspense and interest in what comes next, and when all that culminates it just plain cuts off. The only thing missing is "to find out more buy my next book" spelled out.

Sorry JK, but that is no way to treat your readers, and most especially when most of your readers are prepubescent boys and girls. But then, that's exactly how money is made. Work yourself into the minds of lil' uns and you've worked your way into their parents' wallets. If you also manage to hook a good number of grown-ups themselves - well, so much the better. Only one needs to be careful and try not to get caught doing it. For the writer, the best way to do that is to cultivate such style from the word "go". But JK only cottoned up to it after not one, but two of her book became massively popular. So then she went on to do that hook 'em thing in the third. And that's why it was so obvious. At least to me. And that's why suddenly JK Rowling became this small in my eyes. And my eyes became beady, looking at the possibility of redemption. Or otherwise. Sadly, it was otherwise from thereon in.

What makes it even worse it needn't be that way at all. And JK needn't have looked very far afield for a better way, either. Hey, Terry Pratchett does it all the time in the Discworld series. I think I've by now read most if not all of his work, and I can safely say that not a single of the myriad books ever leave you wanting at the end, and especially never end in a way that makes it necessary to run to the bookshop for the sequel so you can see what happened in the end. And yet, at the same time, every single of Terry Pratchett's books do make you want to run to the bookshop and get more of his work. But that's on the merit of his marvelous writing and imagination, never because he short-changed you on the book currently in your hand.

But I guess JK Rowling didn't have many other options, really. She does seem to be one trick pony, with nothing worthwhile writing about but a fixed cast of characters in a relatively fixed - and limited - setting, in a story that is by its own nature limited in both space, time, and content. I mean, how many options there are in a story populated by a single school and a single class? Crucially, it hinges heavily on Harry Potter himself, and there's only so much one can write - interestingly - about a single character, regardless of how fascinating he was to start with. And, lo and behold, JK had to eventually conclude the story - not to be continued.

Luckily for her greed, there's the film franchise - sadly (happily) limited itself. Then, more lucratively in the long run (maybe) the theme park(s). And now, when other options seem to have dried up (as the author's imagination seems to have, too) there's Pottermore(.com). And again, it couldn't just be announced in a straightforward manner as any confident author would, but the hype is being built up to stratospheric levels.

Of course, it is probably children again that are being targeted. After all, one just needs to have a look at the holding page. It's nothing if not infantile. One would think JK Rowling could have afforded someone more capable to do the design and branding. If that's not enough (coupled by media frenzy) there's even a @pottermore Twitter account which, by all accounts, very quickly amassed over 75,000 followers. Poor things.

Oh, and I didn't even mention (yet) how JK Rowling happily lets media repeat - for ten years running now - how she comes from a very humble and poor background. Dont' get me wrong. I do feel for her, and I can only extend kudos for succeeding in the end. But enough is enough. It is distasteful - and bad manners - to rub others' noses into ones misfortune, especially when it's a past misfortune, and most especially when today one can buy most of those others with pocket change. Enough of your games JK. It's high time you either quit or came up with something original.

And honourable. For a change...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Science: Of Avionics

There's a revolution in aeroplane design waiting in the wings...

Well, at least those of us who fly Boeing 737s often enough. No, it has nothing to do with any fancy fly-by-wire or similar mission critical applications. Nevertheless, it is important and in more ways than one. Yes, I am talking about the flight attendant call button finally being decoupled from the reading light one. Of course, they were never literally coupled, but on every single plane I flew on they were right next to each other, and with no difference in the design to speak of. It took concentration not to call cabin crew when one wanted to read, and not blind oneself when one needed a cup of coffee, either. Now, at least on new Boeing 737 planes this will no longer be a problem. One must wonder if people who design aircraft interiors actually ever fly those same aircraft. My guess is that either they don't, or don't ever call cabin crew, or don't ever read anything (at least on the plane). Probably just sit and stare enchanted with the beauty of that coat hanger they so lovingly designed. Joke and jest aside, let's hope other aircraft manufacturers follow suit, and on the double. I also wouldn't mind this brilliant solution being retrofitted to entire fleets of old planes, too!

Lastly, it is a sad comment indeed that this little factoid is actually serious news...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Food: The Logic Of

I've been food shopping again today...

Yes, I've been do Asda again. This time I even went specifically for something we (as in me and my S.O.) think they actually do well, or rather, better than, say, Sainsbury's. It's Asda's in-store made pizza, since you have to ask. But, again, that's not what I am going to tell you about. What I am going to talk is cheese. Grated hard cheese in particular. Because I wanted some. I know Asda do it, just like Sainsbury's. The problem is: I couldn't find it. Yes, I could have asked (and I did), but that's not the point. The point is, wherever they do keep it, it's not where it logically belongs. I hope you'd agree it belonged close by the other kinds of grated cheeses. But in Asda it doesn't. And I think, apart from the mere quality of products, that is one reason I cannot really go to Asda and do all the shopping I need. The stuff just isn't where I'd expect it to be, logically. In Sainsbury's it is. And it is not just because I go to Asda less often. As a matter of fact I think I cross their threshold almost as much as I do Sainsbury's. But every time I do I am back at square one. Some of the things they sell are distributed so illogically around the store that I may spend time looking for them on three consecutive visits. That's not nearly good enough. So, coupled with better quality, it is Sainsbury's that wins my loyalty every time.

And Tesco? Well, Tesco is just plain crap...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Business: Of Concentration

I've moved into new offices just this morning...

And a very nice office space it is. I'm well impressed. I'd even show you, but if I did I'd have to kill you first. Or later. I always get confused which works best. But I digress. So, everything's nice, spacious, airy, light. Heck, I even got a window seat and it overlooks a bit of a park with a fountain (and a couple of duck happily swimming around its pond). I don't even have anybody breathing down my neck or looking over a shoulder. Coffee area has a TV. Windows open, and I'm the local window-master (or hope to become, by force if necessary). What's to dislike? Well, one quite important thing. There's no air-conditioning. No, I am not worried I will suffocate from lack of air, or freeze, or boil. I am however already suffocating in the noise and chatter everybody on the floor is making. Until you lose the hum of air-conditioning you never realise how it also nicely shields you from that other kind of noise pollution, the one that makes it very, very difficult to concentrate. A partial solution is to don a pair of headphones and immerse yourself in music, but that has its limitations, too. You cannot do absolutely everything while listening to music. Although it's probably better than listening to two guys discussing the latest cricket scores. Maybe a pair of noise cancelling headphones tuned into a piece of silence? Oh, how I hate open-plan offices!

Claustrophobic they may be, but give me a cubicle any day...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Science: Of Happiness

Everybody knows money can buy only so much happiness...

Which is to say that once you have enough money (for your personal value of "enough") piling up any more does not result in proportional increase of your happiness. Whether inspired by this finding or not (but confirming it in the process, nevertheless), some "scientists" went on to spend their time and presumably somebody else's money in order to find out does money makes you happy, period. In the process they went through 40 years worth of other people's data spanning almost half a million survey respondents and a lot of surveys, of course. How such a meta-sample is valid for their purposes is anybody's guess (and mine is that it isn't), but when you add their own admission that "no single study included the two variables they were considering" one's mind truly boggles at their bold conclusions. Yes, I know that meta-studies often make sense, but IMNHO this one really takes the biscuit. Whatever meta you take (unless, maybe, methadone) I'm sure that for the truly poor money beats autonomy any day of the week. Or is this another Oxfam funded meta-study into keeping half of the world poor?

After all without poor, what would Oxfam and "scientists" do?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Science Is Hard (Says Microsoft)

As I warned last week, Microsoft seems to have branched (PDF) away from pure IT...

To be fair, the paper is mainly targeted at proving how (most, or ta least many) cyber crime surveys give misleading results. The interesting bit is that to corroborate the findings, the researchers also analyse self-reported surveys of number of sexual partners, which also seem to give misleading results for men and women, respectively. To be even fairer, I couldn't really fault the findings (do have a look; it's surprisingly readable).

Still, I have to take issue with a couple of things.

First, the authors seem to imply that the large difference in numbers of sexual partners between men and women is "of course[, ] impossible". Now, the authors do not offer neither any further detail, nor do they offer any references in support of this claim - even if it were really "of course" true. From what they say it can (must?) be implied that there should not be any, or at least great, difference. But is that really so? Methinks not. Due to evolutionary pressures men are adapted to be more prone to zipless sex (to borrow a Jong quote, here), while women are adapted to be much more picky. This would imply that it is more likely that more men have more sexual partners, and conversely that a comparatively smaller proportion of women are so "liberated" as to be more promiscuous than evolutionarily sensible. Which would mean that the bell curves of numbers of sexual partners for men and women are necessarily skewed - and skewed in opposite directions. How much skewed is open to investigation (and better surveys), but to imply otherwise is just wrong, if not irresponsible. As a side note, if neo-feminists had their way, the skewedness would be even greater with most women just plain having no sex at all. But I digress...

The second problem I found in the paper is probably worse from the point of view of Microsoft, the authors, and those who'd use it to some good end, equally. This problem is in the part which is the most important, the Recommendations. It opens, somewhat facetiously, by telling us that "[survey] science is hard". No shit! It then goes on to say that "no weight can be given to surveys that fail to disclose methodology". Well, hello! Whoever looks at a survey without knowing what they look at deserves what's coming to them. Only it shouldn't take a handful of academics to spend time and money on this paper to get to that conclusion. Again, in all fairness, most of the other "hard" recommendations make perfect sense. However, IMHO, every single one of them can be deduced by anyone clever enough to know that a) science is hard, b) surveys have to have appropriate methodology, and c) care about the above two. So, essentially, the authors use 11 pages to tell us to be careful when designing and perusing surveys, and consult relevant literature. D'oh!

In conclusion: yes, science is hard, but Microsoft should really try harder...

Friday, 17 June 2011

Beer: Almost As Good

No, I have not (yet) found a beverage that can compete...

However, seeing as I will almost certainly miss out on my favourite refreshment (don't ask), I think I have found something that made me smile almost as much. As nicely ridiculed here, some "scientists" (I seem to be using a lot of quotes for them these days) spent time and money to figure out if men who splash out on luxury really have more success with women. And, lo and behold, they do! Surprise, surprise. But what really makes me laugh (well, smirk is probably a better word) is that those selfsame "scientists" then go on to conclude that that is actually bad for those men. And why is that? Well, they don't get to marry the women they shag, as apparently they (the women) see them as good only for a one night stand, and not long term commitment. Which surely is only bad for those women who actually go for such one night stands and end up with a baby, and no father to help out. Which surely is their own fault? I mean, they already knew the Porsche driving hunk is no good for a father, right? And as for the hunk, he did what his genes wanted in the first place: spread the seed, and spread it as wide as possible. Especially in our current state of social norms he's pretty much guaranteed that someone will take good care of his offspring, while he can go on shagging and driving Porsches with impunity. I guess said "scientists" have a problem with this only because the all drive Honda Civics.

And possibly with the doubt as to their kids parentage...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Science: Of Scarce Resources

Scientists could spend time better than on perfect cups of tea...

And by this I don't mean that scientists should not enjoy a perfect cuppa. As a matter of fact, a perfect cuppa may even enhance the quality of their work, which surely is a good thing. What does irk me more than a little bit is the research conducted by an entire lab into the "science" of brewing a perfect cup of tea. Apparently, a group from University of Northumbria spent 180 hours and 285 cups of tea to find the perfect formula. If you're into tea by all means hop over to El Reg and copy down their result. But I must ask: is this the best use of scientific resource? Even if the research was funded by industry (in this case Cravendale Milk company), surely lab and scientists' time can find better uses than figuring out how much milk should go into a cup of tea? Especially since surely not everyone can ever agree on a universally "perfect" taste. Yes, I understand that Cravendale Milk probably realised this exercise is a cheaper way to publicity than buying TV, radio, newspaper, or billboard ads, but shouldn't there be a way for the faculty - if not cash strapped scientists themselves - to say a polite "thanks, but no thanks - we've better things to do"? Surely Britain hasn't run out of worthy projects more important than the taste of tea with milk? Worst of all, here's me also giving Cravendale Milk free publicity. Well, a tiny little bit if it's to be judged by my readership numbers.

And I'm not saying this just because coffee's my drug, either...

Beer: Or Bondage

I've been poring over visitor statistics for this wee blog of mine...

Yes, of course I want to know how many people end up here. Who wouldn't. I am certainly not immune to vanity. Are you? No, thought not. But then, as has been shown in the past decades by the demise of some theories of society, the quantity does not necessarily transmute into quality (although, do note that there's still a lot to be learned from Messrs Marx, Engels, and yes, even Lenin). So, I don't juts look at the raw counters (and not just because the sight is just a tad depressing). No, the good folks at both Statcounter and Google also provide a breakdown of search terms people use and where they tend to come from. The latter I have already talked about, and it is the former that is of interest right now. Two search types stand out the most. Or I should say one search type, and one particular search. The former is less interesting and relates to my, apparently quite well chosen list of favourite ex-Yugoslav tunes. This attracts quite a lot of hits from all sorts of places in former Yugoslavia from people looking for certain dear songs. Which is good. I hope they also sometimes stop to read the blog proper (but I doubt it, frankly).

Now, the other search that pops up over and over again always leads people directly to this post. You can see that it does stand out quite prominently because I've just realised that I have written about it before. One thing that I didn't seem to notice then was that it's much, much less - if at all - about iStuff and St Steve. No, on second look, there is apparently enough people looking for "self bondage techniques" (yup, that's the search term that I see most often) that some of them eventually click through to my post about Apple! Maybe they expect they'll find an interesting new self bondage technique that involves apples? I guess one does get a bit bored with pears after a while. But then I don't practice (self) bondage so who am I to comment? BTW, it would be interesting to learn if more people interested in self bondage will browse further then those interested in good music. I'm sure I could find out if I wanted to spend enough time poring over the stats. But that's time better spent elsewhere.

Unless, eventually, I don't try my hand at self bondage, mess it up, and starve to death - apples or no Apples...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

You've Gone Too Far This Time, Sir!

I've just popped round Amazon UK Chromebook page...

Nope, not yet ready to throw away all my local files and embrace The Cloud. Not even with a 3G enabled Chromebook. And certainly not for as near £400 as doesn't make any difference. Some of the reasons I have already outlined here. I won't bother you by repeating any, and neither will I add new ones (although there may be one or three). What I want to share here is what made me laugh when I scrolled a bit further down on the Samsung Chromebook page. It's where Amazon tells you how many people buy the item featured on the page, and then how many buy alternative items after going off elsewhere. Now, interesting in itself as it is, it is not that an amazing 58% of visitors to the Chrombook page have actually pre-ordered it (it will be available on 1 August, apparently). It is what people buy next most often when they have perused the Chromebook, and it is actually a book. But a book with a very funny (apt?) title: "You've Gone Too Far This Time, Sir!", by one Danny Bent. Cheap, cheerful, and very "cloudy" it is (being a Kindle edition) but one has to at least smile at the sequence: Q: Chromebook, anyone? A: You've gone too far this time, Sir!

And as I said before, the Cloud may indeed be a step too far...

Science: Of IPO

So, Facebook finally reached the magical 100...

Yup, that's one hundred billion US dollars that the social networking site is allegedly worth. And I won't be at all surprised if there really are people who, in Q1 2012, will think that's a air assessment of Facebook's value and will stump up for a piece of its cake. I am, however, fearful that the cake make turn sour - or even poisonous - by then. Just look at the recent defections from Facebook in mature markets. For those who look at making money, it's the potential for growth that is the driver, but it seems to have dried up - and it threatens to dry up even more as more markets saturate. So, what does Facebook have to say to all this? Sadly, it's mostly derision - and punctuation: "People have been speculating about this for years and have been wrong. Every. Single. Time!" Well, OK. But we all expected you to say that. How about a bit more mature response. It needn't even be hard numbers as rightly asked for by The Register (and certainly others). Just being a bit more mature about it would do. It's 100 billion US dollars you have at stake there, not playground one-upmanship.

But then, what else from someone proud of killing his own food...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Food: 1 vs 200 Million

Last night I popped into my local Asda...

Cheap and cheerful, Asda. Usually quite underwhelming, too. However, it does sometimes put out a real bargain for stuff I usually buy (no, not the Asda's own - that I tend to give a very wide berth). And after all, it is good to shop around. Sometimes. What is also good sometimes is to fall for advertising, and last night I fell for Asda's, hook, line, and sinker. Admittedly, it was a sort of reverse advertising, urging you to have one less. The clever bit is that it also urges you to have one more - and who can resist that? Let me explain: a prominent poster at each till urges you to have one more item in every plastic bag of shopping you pack, and thus possibly use one less plastic bag. It also gives you numbers, the ones from the title of this post. Apparently, if we all put one more item in every plastic shopping bag we'd use 200 million shopping bags less every year (presumably over the whole of the retail industry). Can you imagine the amount of tip space 200 million plastic bags take? Even when crushed? I know I can't, but I also know it must be considerable. And even if these were recyclable eco-green-peace-loving bags we'd still save lots of energy required to make them. So, yes, I took a bit more care packing and left Asda with one bag less. Can you?

Because good advice can come from the strangest of places...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Business: Of Tech Reviews

You may remember I've ranted about technology reviews quite recently...

Ever since I did I felt I've missed one of the things I wanted to point out, and today I think I remembered what it was. Sadly, I can't remember which particular review contained the silliness that follows so I won't link to anywhere lest I point the finger of blame wrongly. And today's finger of blame points at a reviewer who - probably due to needing to create a required number of words - complained about Nexus S not having an accompanying PC application to use for syncing various information.

There's one silly thing about this, and should have been obvious to any reviewer worth their salt: the whole point of the Google - and by extension Android - ecosystem is that you do not sync stuff via a cable attached to a piece of hardware, but via an Internet link attached to your Google account. It's not even possible to use an Android phone properly without a Google account! And through that account, and maybe a handful of (free) applications you automagically have your mail, documents, calendar, contacts, and even photos (provided you can live with Picasa Web's limitations) all nicely synced between any and all devices from which you can access your Google account. Having that - and knowing that people getting Android phones always have Internet access at least somewhere some of the time - why one Earth you'd even want a cable sync to a custom made application? Plus, as the author did point out to his credit, you can still plug in a cable and "sync" stuff by copying it over as if your phone were a USB stick. For music, if you really want a bit more cleverness in syncing, any music half decent player will happily do it for you.

The second issue I have with this has to do with my personal experience of anywhere between half a dozen and a full dozen bespoke sync applications for various phones by various manufacturers. And you know what? Every single one of them sucked, and sucked big time. Most, if not all, were visually designed so over the top that they could probably all apply for some new age visual design contest - meaning they were difficult to look at, meaning they were therefore also difficult to work with. I don't think I remembered any that just blended in with the user's desktop theme. Criminal! And then comes the fact that their speed, both of general operation (especially startup - probably because of all the crud they needed to load to look "flashy") and of syncing itself was always (and still is) abysmal. Truly horrifyingly shocking. Finally, they all still hark back to the bad old times when we all had one phone and one computer - at most. If we were lucky. So keeping your data synced between, say, two phones and three computers (my case, more or less) is pretty much impossible. Or, it is possible, but the results are hair-raisingly stupid. Witness my ageing Nokia E71 with 739 contact entries out of which only around 190 are unique - the result of attempts to keep it in sync with various places and other phones. I'm sorry, but the whole idea of a dedicated sync application is stupid, silly, and dangerous. Period.

So, tell your reviewer where to stick his sync PC application and embrace the cloud for the use where it excels, and that is keeping your data synced wherever you are, and whichever device you're using. Mind you, there is a sort of data not quite suitable for keeping in the cloud, but that's a different story (and possibly another post). But for contacts and calendar data at least cloud storage is the best way to make sure you're up to date at all times, and that any changes propagate to any devices you may own or even just use temporarily (but do remember to clean up after yourself!).

Oh, and editors: prefer your reviewers be sensible rather than empty column filling...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Seriously Silly

Via venerable Rosa, a list of questions from one Eric Hovind...

As Rosa already pointed out, the questions are indeed silly and certainly not something "science can't answer". She even goes as far as providing sensible replies to each and every one of them (even if some are a bit tongue in cheek). What I'll try to do is give questions exactly as much respect as they deserve, which is very little. And I don't think it matters, or that Eric (or his dad, Kent) will really care. After all, they certainly didn't ask them so they can get sensible and correct answers, because if they did their whole world-view would collapse around their ears. So, let's have a bit of fun...
  1. Why am I here?
    Here? What here you have in mind? On Earth? In my office? In general? I'm sorry, but there is no "in general". Unless you mean the birds and the bees. But Rosa already told you about that...

  2. What happens when you die?
    Nothing, really. Unless you meant the funeral, mourning of those who survived you, and suchlike? In which case you're again asking silly questions.

  3. What is the purpose of my life?
    The purpose of your life is to make people believe in falsehoods. The purpose of my life is to enjoy it while it lasts. The purpose of life in general is to replicate the genes. You should read more Dawkins, you know.

  4. What determines “Good” and “Evil”?
    It's the wrong question. It's not "what", but "who". Even you should know that, and even if a god existed. Unless, of course, your god is a rock or something, rather than someone. In any case, it's you and me baby, who determine good and evil. I wonder we share the definitions, though, you and I.

  5. Where did love come from?
    Which love you have in mind, Eric? My love for my wife comes from me. Her love for me comes from her. Your love for your god comes from some sort of delusion, but that's your problem, not mine.

  6. Why does mankind abuse and kill its own?
    Let me answer with a question once again: Why do most animals abuse and kill their own? But if you really want to know, it's for personal gain and enhancing chances of one's (genes') survival. Oh, but if I grant you a god exists then the answer is obvious: because your god wants it like that. Which means he/she/it must be evil (see also question number four).

  7. Where did the first teeny-weeny molecule of matter come from?
    As Rosa kindly explained it came from the first teeny-weeny atoms of matter. Go grab yourself a textbook on physics, will you?

  8. Does a physical world exist beyond my mind?
    Yes it does. It's all that stuff you can feel with your fingers.

  9. Why are there male and female?
    You really should spend more time actually finding answers, rather than just piling up questions. By the way, there are also living things that do not have male and female forms. And now go grab yourself a biology textbook.

  10. Why does it take both sexes to create a new life?
    Not necessarily. See above. And that textbook. You can sure afford one. Oh, and because it's fun. Sex. Seriously. You don't think so?

  11. What is life?
    Have a look in the mirror. Then go to a farm and look at all the animals and plants. Then, if you're still curious ,go get yourself a microscope and have a look into a drop of puddle water. But seriously... No, can't be bothered. And by the way, why is such a question even relevant? Interesting, yes. But relevant? Not sure it is.

  12. Where did laws come from?
    In UK, the laws are enacted by parliament. The parliament is elected in general elections, generally held every four or five years. Elected are 650 (soon to be 600) members of parliament. All of them human (at least by the outside looks). So, I guess the laws come from men (and women). At least in Britain, and I suspect in the States, too. Don't tell me you didn't know that?

  13. How did Time, Space and Matter come into existence?
    Here, you should read more Hawking. Can you really not afford a good book? It does seem your funds only stretch so far you can buy a Bible, Internet access, and a computer. Or did you have to borrow all of those, too? (I see you capitalised them all. If you actually meant specific people or objects by those names then I'm sorry, but I don't know (of) them personally so can't help.)

  14. How did something come from nothing?
    This is something that can be read about in a b-o-o-k. One on (quantum) physics. Not a Bible. Sorry.
So, there you have it Eric. A completely useless set of answers to a completely silly set of questions. You asked for it mate. Just don't go crying into your beer. But I guess you don't drink. A shame. Inebriation makes intense religious experiences easier to obtain. It does go hard on your liver, but what's a liver when enlightenment is in the offing. Or, for much better results, you could actually go to a decent school or university (or both, in that order) and get yourself up to speed with science. Real science. Repeat after me:

B-i-b-l-e   i-s   n-o-t   a   s-c-i-e-n-t-i-f-i-c   t-e-x-t. 
I-t   d-o-e-s   n-o-t   e-x-p-l-a-i-n   t-h-e   w-o-r-l-d.

Phew, that was a mouthful. Shame you won't listen. I can almost see you with fingers in your ears shouting la-la-la-la-la so you're not infected with that greatest of all evils - the truth and knowledge.

Sad. Truly sad...

No need to thank me for giving you answers to more questions than Rosa did. Really. It was my pleasure.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Year Of The DSLR

Year 2011 is most definitely the year of the DSLR...

Take this for example: I have visited Barcelona in April this year (you may remember some of my experiences), and also in April last year. Apart from the observations that a) it is not as stunning as I thought, and b) that I should look for new places to go on holiday, I have also noticed that probably between 70 and 80% of the tourists (and some locals, too!) were sporting shiny new DSLR cameras. Naturally, I mostly notice Nikons, but there was a fair share of Canons, and I even spotted a couple of Sonys, and even one Olympus. Which can only be a good thing. Mostly for the DSLR industry. For the quality of photos people take? Not so much, methinks, the problem being that while there was a wealth of DSLR cameras to be seen, precious little of them had an appropriate lens fitted, and even those that were fitted with a decent lens for the occasion were often used precious little more cleverly than a £100 compact.

No, you can't take a photo of the inside of a cathedral with an 55-200mm f4.5-f5.6 lens at maximum zoom and without flash. Or even with flash, but only the poxy little thing that's build in to your Nikon D3100. See, that stained glass window is around 25 times as far as your flash will reach, and there's no way you can hand hold steady enough either way. I mean, it's a great camera, and a great lens, but Nikon can do all they can - and more - to make them work almost perfectly together, but in these situations your camera (and lens) is a waste of money. Better stick with a compact, and use the remaining dosh to buy photo sets of that same cathedral made by someone who does it properly (which means spends oodles more of both time and money on it - and does it for a living). Same goes for trying (and failing) at that nice bokeh you saw on Flickr, but using the same 55-200mm lens inside a gloomy cafe - and again adding that flash, which now turns out to be that little bit too strong (since you can't bounce it off walls or ceilings).

And so on (or better, and so it goes)...

Not a very nice thing seeing such waste of money, but then, on a purely selfish front, this can only be a good thing, and here's why. For one, the more DSLR kit is sold worldwide the cheaper it will get for all of us (or we'll get increasingly more for the same money - which is not bad either). And then, the Internet being flooded with gazzilions of humongous image files will eventually bring down the price of storage, and hopefully also make companies which offer it spend some more time on polishing their wares (yes, I'm looking at you Google - Picasa Web sorely misses sub-directories). So, all in all, I was very, very happy to see the proliferation of DSLR this year.

Who know, maybe it was because even I finally caught the bug...

Watching the world by =vlad-the-impatient on deviantART

Friday, 10 June 2011

Beer: Too Many

Someone in Leicester clearly had much too much beer...

And, apparently, zombie invasion is not considered as such, but "emergency plan [may have] some elements [that] could be applied if the situation arose". We all now breathe a deep sigh of relief. Except possibly the "Concerned Citizen". They will probably stay locked down in their own cellar with dwindling beer supplies. Which, I guess, can only be a good thing. The bad thing is, of course, waste of scarce tax payer resource. Unlike, say, in Australia (which I found when my Google-fu failed me just now), in Britain "[m]ost requests are free". And, it seems, all are dealt with with due diligence. I won't be surprised if Leicester City Council is now busy considering including a few contingencies into its emergency plan. Like, silver bullets, crosses, and stakes. What a horrible waste! And to also think that this has made the BBC News website today, too. As if nothing more pressing is going on. To top it all, there was no mention of how wasteful and silly this whole thing is. Which means that not only Leicester council tax money is being squandered, but also everybody else's license fee. Ridiculous.

Worst of all, it made me write about it, instead of something better suited for a beer Friday...

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Politics: Of Health

A couple of interesting looks at NHS on The Economist site this week...

While the first one is quite interesting in itself, and well worth a read, I was a bit more tickled by the second one, and in it with the attempts of the Tory party to make itself look more palatable by embracing the NHS pretty much as it is. I won't go into how I think that precious little will help Tories shed the nasty party image. One needs only remember Maggie to know it's well nigh impossible for generations to come. I am, however, much more interested in pointing out how NHS is a completely wrong target. Or rather, how choosing NHS as a target for softening one's image in Britain is tantamount to cheating. Why? Because, as is visceraly clear to most, if not all Britons, NHS has by now become a given, something that is beyond discussion. Not beyond reproach, mind. It does need changes, and more than just the tweaks. But it is something that is inextricable from the fabric of British society (I know Americans struggle to get this, but that's a different problem - theirs). Therefore, trying to be seen as "good" by proposing to be good to NHS is quite vacuous, silly even, and not unlike trying to look very American by reassuring fellow Americans one will not rip the Constitution. It works, but only for those who attempt it.

So Tories, no - you do not decieve us. Not this time...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Science: Too Late? Or Too Dangerous?

Good news for men, maybe too late for some...

As described in more proper scientific detail here, it seems that we are a huge step closer to a proper male contraceptive pill. Why is this important? Well, unless you lived in a cave - and alone - until just now, you'll be painfully (if you're a man at least) aware that men do not have full and proper control of their fertility. They are dependant on condoms - which do fail - and on women - who are also prone to forgetfulness when it comes to contraception. An oral, safe and effective, male contraceptive pill would be a real boon for many generations to come. After all, we're so much under control of women (regardless of what neo-feminists may say) that winning this little battle would feel very, very good indeed. A boon if ever there was one, no? Well, not necessarily. The danger I see is that it will remove one important reason to use condoms. Which in turn means that many, especially young and promiscuous, won't use them. Which in turn means that AIDS and other STDs suddenly become a larger problem than they already are. Which can only be a bad thing. So, the question that needs answering - and soon - is: how do we get men use condoms even if they can pop a pill and be sure they won't become fathers? I must admit, I don't have a good answer to that, but hopefully someone will, and in time.

And no, it's not too late, it rarely ever is...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

J. Sainsbury's Guide To Inflation Rates

Just came back from my local Sainsbury's lugging two bags of shopping...

The bags are heavy, and whenever there's a strong pull on my arms I get thinking. Why this happens is a subject for another post (or maybe a case study for your local university hospital). Right now, the interesting thing is that I have realised that you don't need no fancy financial experts to tell you inflation rate as long as you are well off enough to be able to shop regularly at Sainsbury's and make sure you always fill your bags to capacity (both theirs and yours - no point, or at least no fun, knowing inflation rate when your arms are sore). But back to the point, that is how to use your local Sainsbury's to calculate inflation rate. So, just go shopping as you would normally, but keep half an eye on the amount you get when you divide your till total with the number of bags you carry out of the supermarket. Track this for a period of time, and lo! You get your inflation rate.

Let's see how it works in practice...

I happen to remember that, in summer 2001, an average bag of Sainsbury's shopping used to cost roughly £10. Today, on summer of 2011, it is close to £15 as makes no difference. Now, if you're doing this over more than a year, as I am, you do need some fancy tools to tell you yearly inflation rate. It's usually not much use knowing, as we now do, that over the last ten years the inflation in UK was close to 50%. Some mildly fancy maths calculations later (it's 1.50 to the power of 1/10th, for those of you who are curious - requests for a more general explanations on postcards, please), I can tell you that the average UK yearly inflation over the last ten years was a shade over 4%.

For my money (and it was my money spent at Sainsbury's in this past decade) that's the same as any economist with a fancy title (and an even fancier, or shall I say fatter, paycheck) can tell you. So, to sum things up: save yourself some money on financial publications and keep an eye on your shopping bag. If you want, you are more than welcome to repeat my experiment. You can even try a different supermarket (I wouldn't, but then that's me being weird again). Again, any supporting (or, shock! horror! opposing) results should be sent in on a postcard.

To really sum this up: well done Sainsbury's, well done me!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Business: Of Charity

It may sound silly, but Oxfam seems dead set to keep Africa poor forever...

Elsewhere, I have (two times removed) borrowed a phrase of Karl Marx and said it (Oxfam) wants to condemn Africa to eternal "idiocy of rural life". Before you start throwing stones (or worse), do go read first the Oxfam Report 2011 (PDF) then this analysis. You should now be able to see it for yourself (even if the analysis helped you along a bit). How it was not obvious to Oxfam is anyone's guess. I mean, one does not have to be a rocket scientist or even a food production specialist to be able to realise that the standard of living of people on agricultural and farming smallholdings remains... guess what? Small! The only way for them to improve their lives (i.e. not live hand to mouth or thereabouts) is to increase their farms. And to work the large farms they need either a lot of people or a lot of machinery. Having a lot of people to work for you has been tried in feudal times, and worked up to a point. But you don't need a lesson in history, especially not from me (I come from where Winston Churchill once said more history is produced than can be consumed). And having a lot of machinery requires just what Oxfam would abolish - the big industry. Oh, and to be able to sell all the good stuff produced you'd also need a lot of infrastructure - and even more machinery. But all this is very BAD for Oxfam. We can't have any of that because big companies are BAD. So, Oxfam says to poor people everywhere, go to your small farm and stay there. Forever. No 21st century creature comforts for you. Apparently, the best way for things to change in the third world is for them to stay the same, bar a few donations here and there.

Oh, and don't forget the wise words of those "experts" at Oxfam! Where we'd be without those...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Religion: Stupid?

I know many of our religious friends think we atheists think they're stupid...

Or worse, that their religion is stupid. Why would that be worse is not entirely clear from an atheist point of view, but then most of the religious beliefs are not entirely clear from an atheists point of view. Still, let's first tackle the "religious are stupid" argument: nope, you're not. At least not because you're religious. It'd be stupid to call some quite obviously clever and educated people stupid just because they're religious, too. So, no and thrice no, being religious is not equal to being stupid. Unless you are stupid to start with, but that's different - and probably makes you no more susceptible to religion. Just in case you are stupid, let me disburse you of the idea that if being religious does not make you stupid it necessarily makes you clever (or us atheists stupid). No, it doesn't. Sorry.

Now, about that "religion is stupid" bit. Well, actually, it might just be, at this day and age. Sorry about that. But it's better than "silly"? Or is it not? Whatever. It's (almost) all the same to me. Because look, unless you are not just religious, but also reasonable and educated enough to realise that modern science not only makes sense, but is for the huge part made up of absolute truths, then there's something seriously going awry in your mind's processes. Because, you see, best part of science - that you probably claim to accept, if not quite always understand - is in direct opposing corner from the best part of what you - as a religious person - also hold to be absolutely true. Like, er, Earth being only a few thousand years old? Or, if you are still religious but hold such beliefs way too silly, then how about immaculate conception? Life after death with no proof whatsoever but late stone age superstitions codified two thousand years ago or so in books of dubious provenance? I'm sorry but all this is silly - at best.

So, dear believer, you're not stupid, probably just mi(s)guided...

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Technology Nexus

Nope, we haven't reached that technology nexus. At least not yet...

What I was musing about for the past week or so is this Nexus, and the S version at that. Nothing too important, mind. Just some thoughts on how little can we rely on product reviews, even from places which should really know better. To explain a bit: my trusty(?) Motorola Milestone 2 died recently (wouldn't charge for love or money). Of course, I had to look at a replacement. Sadly, not many companies produce Android phones with a full, physical keyboard. You pretty much have to choose between Motorola Milestone, HTC Desire Z, and SonyEricsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro (now that was a mouthful). The first one I do not trust to work for long any more, the middle one had awful reviews and descriptions of the shoddyness of the keyboard, and the latter - well, it's a decent piece of kit for a phone you don't use much. Like the one I use for my private number. And it is an X10. Which is fine, since I use it a couple of times a month, if that.

But back to the Nexus. So, the reviewers liked it, sort of. Major drawbacks (for them): no dedicated camera key, plastic back cover, no SD card slot, and no comma on the default Android keyboard. Now, in order of (perceived, while reading a review) importance to yours truly, these are listed in an increasing order of importance, with an added "no physical keyboard" item at the very end. Almost a showstopper. But, faced with the slim line-up from the previous paragraph I decided to give it a shot. At least the screen is really big (so the soft keyboard may be workable), and everyone said battery lasts longer than the Milestones (i.e. more than 12 hours serious use). Added bonus (for yours truly, at least): it's a pure Google, with no operator crud or branding.

And now to review bashing...

Item 1: no dedicated camera key. WTF? Why is that important? I mean, I use my phone as a camera on occasion, but it is always such a poor camera (experience) that it is a tool of last resort. So the fact that I have to tap the screen to take a photo is too insignificant to matter. Plus, if you go and get yourself a nice little camera app like Camera 360 then it will focus exactly where you tap. A must have for any serious photo taking, methinks. And if you're doing only half arsed photo taking then why quibble about a camera key in the first place. You could care less. And you do, probably.

Item 2: plastic back cover. Yes, it is plastic. But it is good plastic. So it doesn't matter. Half of your expensive car is made of plastic, after all. At least it makes it light. And it's removable (hello, Apple). My main gripe about it? I could do without a Samsung label. I will look into scraping it off. How it could be improved? Take a leaf out of Sony's book and make it feel like rubberised (see X10 Mini Pro). Not that Nexus S will slide off slanted surfaces, but it'd feel a little bit better. I know, you can add a condom, sorry, rubber cover, but I hate those. In any case, not a problem, sorry.

Item 3: no SD card slot. Yes, I sort of miss this. Every once in a blue moon I find it convenient to stick an SD card into a reader instead of plugging in my phone to a PC. And every once in three blue moons I have a desire to use a different SD card. But, for most part, I do these things mostly because I can, rather than for any really good reason. And built in 16GB in Nexus S is quite enough, at least for me. Yes, more is always better when it comes to storage, but we're still years from the time when I could stick all of my 200GB+ music collection, together with my closing-in-to 100GB photos collection on a mobile phone. If I ever really needed to do that. So, until such a time, the 16GB will do nicely for a couple of thousands of songs and all the offline maps I'll never really use (I mean, when will I really want to go to Moldova?).

So, reviewers, that'd be strike three and you're out if it wasn't for that last item...

Item 4: no comma on Android keyboard. OK. I will admit that this one is truly a gem of ill thought out design. I mean, we still use commas, don't we? True, not a lot of people use as much as I do (which may have to do with me using them all up, but let's not get there right now), but they're still quite common. However, what some reviews fail to point out clearly is that a comma is just a long press and a tap away. I guess for people who don't use very much of them (like, erm, reviewers) that's OK. It's not that you have to go away and copy paste the thing (like you sometimes have to do with an underscore on X10 - Sony, I'm looking at you). And then, if you can afford a Nexus S, you can surely afford FlexT9 keyboard app? It sports a really nice keyboard, and you can also use Swype, and you can also use handwriting, and... So yes, out of the box, Nexus S keyboard is a bit lacking, but it's nothing that can't be solved in two minutes flat. Even by the gang who feel gr8 2 cu.

There you have it then. Major gripes about Nexus S debunked. It's a great phone. The fastest Android I've tried. The battery will stretch to two days if you look after it a bit. I am even considering not getting a couple of spares. Yes, it still lacks physical keyboard, and FlexT9 - nice as it is - is still a bit hit and miss (at least with my fingers), and the Swype dictionaries list could be a tad longer. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Oh, there is one serious gripe I do have, and it seems that not (m)any of the reviews I read (and I did read a good few) failed to mention, or at least failed to count against this nice littlelarge phone: there is no status LED to blink and let you know you had a message/call/whatever you have missed. So, you go to the loo (you don't take your phone there now, do you?) and when you're back you've no idea if someone wanted to get in touch. Now, this is a serious usability issue in my book. It's still fixable with apps that will keep bugging you about missed events, but it is truly more important than a comma that requires and extra tap.

So, there you have it: a critique of Nexus S reviews. Now, yours truly will go back to what he does best, and that is sitting quietly in the corner and waiting for that other nexus, which is better known as Technological Singularity. I just hope when it come, Google Nexus S won't still be one of the the best phones around...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Beer: Or Cider

As mentioned here, I see cider as more of a holiday beverage...

This is not necessarily a curious thing. I know a good few people, some of them very well indeed, who have similar classifications. For example: Guinness (or any other stout) for winter, real ales for autumn (that's fall for you Yanks) and spring (and that's spring for you Yanks), and lager or cider for summer. I must say that these preferences make sense. Well, almost, considering the person in question usually goes for Guinness Extra Cold which kind of defeats the idea of warming yourself in the winter, but hey, we can't always be consistent, can we now? But anyway... I do see a reflection of this drinks-for-seasons system in my cider-for-holiday stance. After all, most holidays are taken when the weather is nice, and weekends are best when it's nice, warm, and sunny.

And nice, warm, and sunny is the quintessential cider weather, is it not?

Politics: Too Nice

Nope, politics did not all of a sudden turn any nicer than it is, let alone "too nice"...

To borrow (and mutilate) a phrase: it's the weather, stupid! It was just too nice on Thursday for me to even think of politics, let alone write anything sensible about it (if I ever do; the sensible bit).As far as I can see, the weather on Friday also promises to be nice, if not nicer than the too nice weather of Thursday's fame. Does this mean I won't bother giving you a piece of my mind about beer today? Unlikely. Beer and nice weather go quite nicely together. Much better, in fact, even than the proverbial horse and carriage. Unless, of course, we also consider cider which can be even better. But maybe not on a Friday. Somehow, cider is a weekend and holiday beverage. Just like Guinness really tastes better in Ireland. Note this is not just because I (or Barack Obama, for that matter) think so: there's some proper science in there, too.

Phew! That Obama remark saved the politicalness of this post...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Science: Birdwatching

A few weeks ago I have landed a window seat at work...

Does that mean my importance has increased? No, not really. It only means that the other desk was just too cold (not that this one is much warmer, for that matter). Plus, we're all moving office in a couple of weeks anyway, and I've no idea where I'll sit there (close to the loos, might very well be). Oh, and what does this all have to do with birdwatching? Have I finally gone completely bonkers and taken up that (in)famous British pastime? No, not really. However, having a window seat, and that window seat being on the ground floor, and that window being next to a lawn and a couple of trees, I have had the opportunity to watch a bird, hence bird-watching. The bird in question is a magpie. And a very proud magpie it is, and not just because it is in fact a European magpie (yes, there is a difference). It's trotting up and down the lawn most of the day as if on guard (it may be it's nest is in the bushes just on the edge of the lawn, next to the fence. It's trotting up and down so much I finally went to look up its habits and learn a bit more about it. And it is an interesting species, with the relative brain (and neostriatum) size not unlike primates, great apes, cetaceans, and us humans. Add to that tool use, mirror self-recognition, and you have the makings of a truly highly evolved and intelligent dinosaurs. Quite interesting, to borrow a phrase from the venerable Stephen Fry.

And to think we thought us mammals are the undisputed kings of the hill...