spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 7th, 2011 01:10 pm)
Is it that time of year again already? A co-worker just came round offering a bag of names for the Grand National. I told him no thanks, and left it at that. I try not to make a habit of gambling, whether that's casino, lottery, scratchcard or raffle. The only exception is when it is for a good cause, and the Grand National is kind of the opposite of that.

You see, for all its image of "a bit of good clean fun", the Grand National is actually a rather controversial sport. The jumps are large and fixed, and the horses run at them at full speed, in a large pack. Broken necks are common (from which the horse dies instantly), as are broken legs (after which the horse will almost certainly be destroyed).

Statistically speaking you can expect three horses to die at every Grand National. Last year it was five horses, and the same the year before that. (Full list here.) The organisers have gone to pains to point out the precautions they have taken to prevent more deaths this year, but then they say that every year. I don't doubt that they do their best to minimise risk, but this is an inherently dangerous sport.

And yet we as a nation don't want to hear about Grand National deaths. The words "national institution" are muttered, and the subject is quietly dropped.

I'm hardly the person most obsessed with animal rights — I eat meat on a daily basis, and my support for animal research is pretty much entirely unreserved — but even I balk when animals are dying not for nourishment, not for the advancement of humankind, but for entertainment. I am surprised by Britain's continued love of and support for the Grand National — this, from a nation that is too squeamish to eat horse meat.

If you watch the Grand National this year, be under no illusions — if a horse falls down, and doesn't get up, then it is either dead, or shortly to become so. And wonder, if the camera lingers, whether this is just slightly in the realm of blood sports.

I won't be watching, I won't be betting; I don't have the stomach.

I can't remember how long ago it was that some Thunderbird developer thought "wow, tabs! They're great in Firefox, so we absolutely have to implement them in Thunderbird too". Since then I've put up with them in the vain hope that either I'd get used to them, or the developers would change their minds and implement some sort of sane behaviour.

Yesterday I finally lost patience and managed to revert everything manually. This is how I did it:

  1. To make email open in a new window instead of a tab, go Options > Advanced > Reading & Display and choose "Open messages in a new message window".
  2. To turn off the overzealous search features, go to Options > Advanced > General, and uncheck "Enable Global Search and Indexer".
  3. To get rid of the tab bar entirely, go to Options > Advanced > General > Config Editor, promise to be careful, search for the "mail.tabs.autoHide" option, and set it to "true".
  4. After that, I chose to remove the reply/forward/etc. options from the bottom panel and put them back into the toolbar at the top, via the "Configure" right-click-menu option... that's more personal preference, though. Tweak away!

And now I have a usable mail program again.

  1. MacSween's makes an unquestionably superior haggis to Halls
    1. Good haggis requires no condiments.
  2. If your haggis commits seppuku, you can dispense with the whole Address to a Haggis nonsense
    1. In fact, it turns out nobody really cares if you don't recite any Burns at your Burns Supper.
      1. Although certain people will threaten to recite McGonagall instead.
    2. Or, in fact, that your Burns Supper doesn't actually fall on Burns Night.
    3. However, kilts are apparently mandatory.
  3. Haggis, neeps and tatties is really easy to make for large amounts of people.
    1. Especially if served buffet-style.
    2. Nutmeg goes well in tatties.
    3. Ginger goes well in neeps.
  4. All malt whisky is good whisky.
    1. Except if it has lemonade in it.
      1. I am married to a philistine.
  5. The tactic of inviting people round to decrease your whisky collection fails if you go out beforehand and purchase another two bottles of whisky.
    1. However, it does allow for repeated whisky tastings in future.
Made turkey dinner for seven yesterday, including turkey, gammon, stuffing, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes (purple!), carrots, parsnips and sprouts. Started cooking at 9:00 and didn't finish until well past 15:00. Was all planned days ahead via Gantt chart, and only went off-plan when brothers-in-law failed to turn up on time to eat it!

Turkey (named Terrence) was a bit of a beast, and even after being attacked by seven people and freezing half the leftovers we'll still be eating turkey sandwiches for quite some time.

And today we are doing nothing. (In the grand Boxing Day tradition).
So, you may have noticed it snowing a bit over the last couple of days.

And unless you've been both housebound and had your internet connection cut off, you're probably also heard some idiot smugly asking "whatever happened to 'global warming', then?" (Or, as the Daily Mash delicately puts it, "Britain Trapped Under Two Feet of Global Warming Bullshit".)

Snow in GorgieNow I'm seeing a lot of responses to this argument along the lines of "we shouldn't call it global warming, it's more properly known as climate change. The temperature might go down, or up, it might get wetter, or drier, but it's all connected to the same cause".

I do not like this argument.

I do not like it because it sounds suspiciously like an ad hoc justification; that is to say, it is not properly falsifiable*. Flood, drought or blizzard, no matter what odd events happen, it could be viewed under this line of reasoning as evidence of climate change — in fact, the only thing that would falsify this would be for the weather to remain uniformly dull and predictable — and in the UK, that in and of itself would be viewed as unusual.

Now I know how climate change denialists think, because I was a little slow to accept the evidence myself — and indeed, I retain a small mental devil's advocate about the issue to this day. To the denialists, climate change is unscientific, a matter of religious conviction rather than evidential reasoning, and arguments like the above will only bolster their sense of smug, self-satisfied cynicism.

Instead, stick to the basics. Whether it's the Gulf Stream, solar flares, weather nymphs, or just random fluctuation, Britain's having some cold winters. So what? Global temperatures have been steadily rising for the last half century, and in the face of that, local yearly fluctuations just aren't relevant.

* If you have not read that essay, please do, it's a very influential one in the history of the philosophy of science, and yet fairly easy to follow!
spudtater: (Default)
( Nov. 25th, 2010 10:42 am)

Scorn for those both richer and poorer than you — a handy guide

Low incomeWorking class scumFucking chavs and schemies
Median incomeThe middle classJust us regular folks
High incomeUpper class snobsMiddle class wankers

For perspective: the median household (not individual) income in the UK is £24,700. (Although in Scotland it's only £21,900).

So Michael Gove was on BBC Breakfast this morning, talking about his proposed school reforms. He seemed to return to two particular obsessions during the interview: getting people from the military qualified as teachers, and encouraging team sports.

Military types, he said, would make the perfect teachers, since they're well versed in both maintaining discipline and "motivating young people". Never mind the fact that the military specialises in quashing creativity and individual thought, and promoting blind, unquestioning obedience to authority — not exactly a trait I'd like to see more of in schools. And never mind, too, that this plan would seem to involve importing sizeable amounts of testosterone-laden young men from an almost exclusively male, macho-poisoned culture into an environment full of attractive, impressionable young ladies in skirts.

And team sports, he says, are the ideal way to build "teamwork" and "cooperation". He contrasts sports like these, with his prime example of a silly, pointless P.E. activity: "circus skills". Yeah, because who needs coordination, control, skill and patience when you could be out rolling around in the mud for a bit of male bonding with a bunch of burly young men?

These two obsessions of his seem hint at an obsession with promoting group thought and obedience at the expense of individualism and creativity. And the former in particular makes me wonder if education is really his priority, or if to some extent he sees his position as the ideal opportunity to get military men and military thinking into schools, and thence beef up our armed forces.

Euch. Fucking Tories.
Samhuinn yesterday, and with the clocks going back on the same day too.

This morning's journey into work was hindered by a would-be suicide on or around the Forth Road Bridge. He was eventually talked down and sent home to his girlfriend. The journey home, on the other hand, was hindered by the blanket of darkness that descended an hour before home time. Oh, and the pouring rain, and wind.

The seasons have turned, and it's time for us to start being easier on ourselves, and kinder to others. A gentle melancholy is starting to settle over me, but not an entirely unpleasant one. Time for warming foods, time for wrapping up against the cold. Time to nest down and await the eventual return of the light.

Happy Samhuinn, everyone.
Ok, so proving today that even the intelligenterati can fail, and fail hard, is Stephen Fry, who apparently feels sorry for straight men, "because women only want sex in order to have a relationship."


I shan't bother heaping on the sarcasm, because [personal profile] gominokouhai has already done that far better than I could.

What I'd like to dwell on for a bit is the odd bit of straight male angst that Fry has managed to latch onto. "I think most straight men feel they disgust women", he says, "They find it difficult to believe that women are as interested in sex as they are."

Now this is interesting because it rings very true; I think a lot of (especially young) straight men feel ugly and unloveable, and often end up concluding that women aren't interested in sex per se, but rather in 'hooking a man' — rich and powerful, natch.

But the rest of the sentence is cringeworthy. "For good reason", Fry continues. "If women liked sex as much as men there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas."

This is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of his quotes. Despite years of work on gay rights, on promoting the idea that gay people are just as decent and well-balanced as straight people, Fry ends up perpetuating the same myth that gay people are inherently more promiscuous, more sex crazy, than straight people. And myth it is.

Where's the disconnect?

As a single straight man, sometimes I did envy my gay friends. And, yes, maybe pulling as a gay man is easier and more straightforward than as a straight man. But not because women aren't interested in sex. It's because our society forbids women from taking the initiative, and forces that responsibility on men. Obviously a thousand feminists have pointed out the negative impact this has on women, and obviously they're right, but that doesn't mean that the situation is all roses for men either. I'm not sure any female readers can understand what it's like to feel unattractive, lonely, in need of affection, and have to go out in that state and open yourself up, because companionsip is not going to come to you.

It's doubly awful if you're socially awkward and naturally self-doubting — and perhaps Fry can sort of empathise with that. And it's triply awful if you feel that your efforts to pick up women are somehow demeaning to them — that by chatting them up you are sexualising them without their permission, that every action that your sexual desire demands that you take is anathema to all feminist principles.

In comparison, the gay scene, as Fry describes it, does sound on the surface pretty ideal. No stupid rules about one group of people not being allowed to make the first move — if you want sex there are places you can go to get sex, because sometimes a quick shag is really what you want. And if you want possibly more than sex, then you can dress up nice and go to a gay bar and pull or wait to be pulled.

But then I'm not gay, and despite Fry's comments on how great it is, I have a nagging doubt that the gay scene is really all that either. Because people are people, and shallow whatever their sexuality, and at the end of the day, being a plain, awkward gay man is probably not much easier than being a plain, awkward straight man.
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 20th, 2010 01:32 pm)
Am wearing a purple tie today. Only one person's asked me about it so far.

This recent spate of homophobic bullying, plus [livejournal.com profile] nickys' post on the subject a few days ago, has got me thinking about bullying. A lot is said about the subject, not all of it sensible. You frequently hear such useless, condescending platitudes as "ignore them and they'll go away", or "try standing up to them", which sound plausible only to those not in the situation of being bullied. The following is my attempt to bring some sense to the subject:

Debunking myths about bullying )
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 19th, 2010 12:51 pm)

After studying Chinese for several years, the following wikipedia entry doesn't suprise me as much as it probably should:

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (simplified Chinese: 施氏食狮史; traditional Chinese: 施氏食獅史; pinyin: Shī Shì shí shī shǐ) is a famous example of constrained writing by Yuen Ren Chao which consists of 92 characters, all with the sound shi in different tones when read in Mandarin.

« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

I love tonal languages.

English Defence League: "We're not thugs, we're a balanced mix of people with an important political message. Now, to prove our point, let's go smash up that truck!!!1! Woooo!! Yeah!"

EDL Protesters Attack Sky News Truck — 09 Oct 2010, Sky News

"Oh... there were journalists in it? Well, I'm sure we made a good impression."
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 4th, 2010 01:08 pm)
A load of people appear to be planning to wear purple on October 20th in remembrance of the six US teenagers who recently took their own lives due to homophobic abuse. If that sounds like something you'd want in on, consider yourself duly informed.

How did I miss this story?

Jimi Heselden, recent owner of Segway, has died after driving his Segway off a cliff — supposedly while reversing to get out of the way of a hiker.

Not good news for sales, I would imagine.

I seem to be stumbling across quite a few odd links recently — most due to the Cheezburger network. Recent discoveries include:

  • Ignobel prize winner Chonosuke Okamura, who made the startling discovery that every species of life on the planet was already around 425 million years ago — albeit in microscopic form. Or he may just have had an incredibly overactive imagination. Your call.
  • Götz von Berlichingen, an absolutely bonkers German knight who got his arm blown off by a cannon, invented one of the earliest examples of a functional prosthetic hand, was twice made an outlaw, and has been attributed as inventor of the phrase "kiss my ass". In spite of his incredibly violent life, he lived to a ripe old age of around 80.
  • The "Door to Hell" in Derweze, Turkmenistan — an underground cavern filled with natural gas which, after being accidentally punctured in 1971, was set on fire in order to prevent poisonous gas discharge — and has continued burning to this day.
We tend to think of colour photography as being a postwar sort of invention — no doubt due to its association with Kodacolor photographic film, invented in 1942.

But in fact colour photography is much older than this. Early versions used three or more separate exposures, with different colour filters, which were combined into a final version at development time.

One of the most stunning collections of this sort of photography is Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's photos of pre-Soviet Russia from 1909–1912. The quality of photography and richness of colour make it almost impossible to believe that they were from an entire century ago. The three-hued appearance of flowing water (and the occasional unwary background subject) shows how it was put together from separate Cyan/Magenta/Yellow exposures.

But even older forms of colour photography can be found. Examples from 1906 and 1890 show the "Photocrom" method of pseudo-colour photography. James Clark Maxwell produced a test image as far back as 1855, and Levi Hill's 1851 "Hillotypes" even show some basic colouration — although he fraudulently added extra colours after development!

Edit: Calvin's Dad, as usual, has a different story.

Via Charlie's Diary

Two hundred years ago, Ascension Island was a barren volcanic edifice.

Today, its peaks are covered by lush tropical "cloud forest".

What happened in the interim is the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem.

– "Charles Darwin's ecological experiment on Ascension isle", Howard Falcon-Lang, BBC News, 1 Sep 2010

spudtater: (Default)
( Sep. 2nd, 2010 01:23 pm)
I got an email from [personal profile] galaxy_girl today asking about generating passwords for a whole load of individual documents. This set me thinking.

It's easy to generate random passwords in large quantities. But these generally aren't memorable — how easy is it going to be for an average user to remember something like "uJ5we0B"? There's techniques for generating memorable passwords, but these are generally quite long-winded; not really suitable for generating passwords in quantities.

I'm thinking more simple, mass-produced, low-security passwords along the lines of those which AOL used to send out on the back of their trial CDs. They would use paired dictionary words, all in uppercase, like BERRY-BRING, BRAIN-MUNCH or ICHOR-HAPPY.

AOL's approach got me wondering: what actually makes these memorable? Is it that they're real words, or is it that they're pronounceable? I put together a quick script to see what a bunch of pronounceable, but nonsensical, words would look like. The result looks like a mixture of Lewis Caroll and J.K. Rowling — with a scattering of medical-sounding nonsense thrown in for good measure:
hopivels     cholatids    nobuderm     claronilts   pomunits
chizitacks   mulemicks    ponawack     blupivads    gafirons
kupiperts    slunijords   blogamecks   pravozim     glufapurts
betaweld     cremutins    pluzarungs   prosinacks   valopings
pukinilds    flofutalls   losiwelt     dritulorms   boripungs
grojesicks   glewabocks   trebizurt    namiruss     blavokerms
tabamungs    thetipurds   crividum     vokulash     slutifoss
kurumulls    grifuvids    bligeling

This tickled my fancy enough to translate it into JavaScript, and put it up on my webpage. I'm still not sure if these are any good as passwords, but it's an amusing toy.
spudtater: (Default)
( Sep. 1st, 2010 02:58 pm)
Which is more evil?
public MyReturnClass<ILikeGenerics> doSomethingAndTimeIt1(MyClass parameter) {
    long startTime = System.currentTimeMillis();

    MyReturnClass<ILikeGenerics> result =
        doSomethingComplicatedHere(parameter, this.someInstanceVariable);

    log.debug("Took " + (System.currentTimeMillis() - startTime) + "ms");
    return result;

public MyReturnClass<ILikeGenerics> doSomethingAndTimeIt2(MyClass parameter) {
    long startTime = System.currentTimeMillis();

    try {
        return doSomethingComplicatedHere(parameter, this.someInstanceVariable);
    } finally {
        log.debug("Took " + (System.currentTimeMillis() - startTime) + "ms");
Meant to post this yesterday, but I forgot:

This morning's BBC Breakfast did a short segment on "what it's like to be a young recording artist". They cut to a shot of $PFY at his computer, with a sound editor open, who plays us his most recent piece of sampled electronic beatz. It's reasonably pleasant, for that sort of thing — so okay, fair enough, he's at least moderately talented.

The voice over tells us how modern technology has made creating music much simpler for $PFY than it would have been in the past — he can do everything in the privacy of his mum's home that previously would have taken a recording studio and a lot of expensive machinery. But, the voice over continues, technology has its downsides too. For every track $PFY sells legally, a much larger proportion is illegally pirated, which cuts into his profits!

Of course, they're making the standard recording industry false assumption: that every person who has downloaded an illegal copy of this artist's work would have bought it if it weren't available illegally. This is patent bull-crap — people download things for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to have a decent listen to a track before they decide whether they want to purchase it. (This has been better argued by people smarter and more thorough than myself — with figures and everything — but my Google-Fu is failing me. Any links, anybody?)

I would have thought the real reason that $PFY is struggling to sell tracks would be staring everybody in the face. If every monkey with a computer and a lot of free time on their hands can do effectively the same thing as $PFY, it's going to be a lot harder for him to convince anybody that his efforts stand out in quality. It's a buyer's market, basically — it's less tempting for random internetters to buy one of his tracks when there are a hundred very similar MP3s being offered for free. It's much harder for him to get gigs when the organiser's nephew's roommate is offering their DJ skillz for the price of a case of beer. And it's hard for him to find agents when the pool of people jumping up and shouting "ME! ME! ME!" is pretty much the entire population of the UK. (Pardon my hyperbole).

And then there's the X-Factor effect, and what that's done to the public perception of what music is and how it is manufactured... but that's a different rant.
spudtater: (Default)
( Aug. 20th, 2010 07:48 pm)
...from Spain (Tarifa), which was very hot.

Was welcomed by kitteh, who apparently went on hunger strike after me taking her to the cattery. This is... somewhat atypical, as those of you who've met her will know. She was taken in to the vet's, where she was given an appetite drug and coaxed into eating a little. She was collected the next day by father-in-law, and taken back to our flat.

Kitteh proceeded to stick her head into her food bowl pretty much as soon as we got home. Hunger strike, obviously, over. Silly kitteh.


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