Something from the list

So, last week, when I sat down to write a normal post, I instead came up with a list of things I could post about. And one of the things on that list was:

The new and interestingness that is my shiny Kindle

So, today, I shall write about it.

I’ve been asked, more than once, why I’d bother with a Kindle. Long story short, it intrigued me. The ability to carry thousands of books with me, and keep track of where you are in each of them; to get subscriptions delivered on the day of publication; all things that are interesting to me.

So, TLW very kindly got me one for my last birthday. And over the last three or four months, it’s been used quite a bit.

The positives:

  • It’s light enough to hold it for extended periods of time.
  • The case with the built in light enables you to read in the dark without necessarily disturbing others, even if they’re right next to you. Very useful for reading on the plane, or in bed when you can’t sleep.
  • The number of free books available is awesome. The back catalogue of Dickens has taken a pounding, all at no cost to me. Huzzah.
  • The integration with Amazon is very well done, and makes it painfully easy to buy books.
  • The screen is a masterpiece of elegant simplicity; not cluttered, easy to read in all lights, and since it’s not backlit there’s no more eye strain than there is on paper.
  • The Amazon reformatting of PDFs and Word documents is very clever, and means that instead of me having to print out reams and reams of silly policies from work, I can just fire them over to the device and not break my back carrying them.

The downsides?

  • Try as it might, it’s not a replacement for books. About half my reading since I got it has still been good ol’ paperbacks, and I’m OK with that.
  • The magazine subscription model doesn’t seem to be working well for me; I’ve not gone for any, because they don’t seem competitively priced.

All in, I’m very much a fan. So much so that TLW is getting a reciprocal gift (his’n’hers kindles, ahoy!) and seems happy with the thought.

To sum up: (a) I really like the Kindle and (b) to the people who yesterday tried to convince me that I was a fool and that I should have got an iPad: honestly, I’d rather have the measles.

Now, what did I miss?

Over the eight years that I’ve had this little outlet, I’d gotten to a mental place where I noted a lot of things during the course of the day that would inspire me to write some nonsense here. Be it from politics, sport, random personal stuff, strange goings on, or whatever, I’d end up quite often thinking “I should blog that”.

Clearly, over the last couple of months, I’ve forgotten that little trick. A little brain dump tells me that there were a great many things that I could have written about in that time:

  • Riots. Riots, riots, everywhere. Including looting about 3/4 of a mile away and the Welsh police beig called upon to secure this part of the city.
  • Dismal Irish performance in the lead-up to the RWC
  • Phone hacking
  • Ken ‘bastarding’ Livingstone and his complete nonsense
  • My dog being bonkers
  • Other dogs in our street being shot by the rozzers
  • Films I’ve seen
  • Books I’ve read
  • New and interesting television shows (Falling Skies, anyone?)
  • The new and interestingness that is my shiny Kindle
  • The fact that TLW & I have passed our 1st wedding anniversary

Plus a great number of other things. The question is this: do I go back, and write something about some of those items, or do I pretend that June, July and August never happened, and wait for new stuff to inspire me? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address…

Stats as they apply in the real world

According to t’internet, in March, April and May Londoners would expect to see 13.4, 12.7 and 12.5 rainy days. A total of 38-ish wet days in the three month period.

That’s the science.

By coincidence, we got us a little dog at the end of February, and it’s now the end of June. Which means that we have a reference for that three month period: it’s we’ve had the dog out twice a day since then. And here’s the thing: today was only the fourth time that I’ve had her out in the rain. So we’ve only really had four wet days, or just about 10% of what there should have been.

It would appear that all that news coverage about it being a bloody dry spring wasn’t too far off the mark. I suspect, given the downpours that have occurred in the last twenty four hours, that the farmers in the south east will be bloody happy today.

What have we become?

TLW & I are of an age where quite a few people we know are having kids. Well done for them. But it means that we spend quite a lot of time getting little presents; TLW is keen on finding something interesting for the children, I’m happy just buying vouchers that will help with said children.

This has usually meant that we go to Mothercare, see if there’s anything that she’s happy with, and if not we get vouchers from the shop instead. Perfectly sensible, I think.

However, given the news last week, it all went a bit too posh for my liking:

Me: See Mothercare is closing a load of their shops?

TLW: I did. I can see why, though, their stuff is a bit crap and you can always get better from John Lewis…

Oh dear. When did we become that sort of couple?

Thank feck that’s over

I’m not a fan of politicians, less so when they’re arguing about things that are patently stupid. Like, for example, the Alternative Vote. Of that particular proposal, I am most decidedly not a fan.

If you want to go proportional, then do so. There’s a point to it. But a properly proportional system is going to break the one constituent / one representative link, and I think that’s a very stupid thing to do. I think each representative has to be in a position to have to represent all their constituents, and under a proportional one (say, like a party list one) then representatives can justifiably claim that they don’t need to support all their constituents, because they have their own representatives thankyouverymuch.

If you want to keep the above link, I honestly think that you have to stick with first past the post. Because under it each and every person gets the same vote that counts for the same thing in their constituency. I don’t hold with this “but the votes of so many don’t count” theory – they do count, but the count in the losing column. I say this as someone who hasn’t yet backed a winning candidate in a general election, but I still think it’s the way to go. Under AV, the votes for the most popular parties count once, but those for the cranks count until they back a winner, which can’t be fair.

So, we wait until later on today and see what way the country has jumped. In line with the past, which has worked fairly well over the years, or to the new, stupid alternative that is purely change for the sake of change…

Well, isn’t that just … awful

New York, New York… A name that conjures up a lot of images. Skyscrapers, long straight roads full of angry people in iconic yellow taxis, pavements full of angry people shouting into cell phones.

Except, in future, some of that will be different.

Japan’s Nissan Motor has won a contract to provide the next generation of New York’s famous yellow taxis.

The deal, which is estimated to be worth $1bn (£607m) was announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The design will be based on Nissan’s NV200 minivan model.

Oh dear. Why would you replace the iconic saloon cars with bloody minivans? Why?

Yes, you’ll likely get more MPG out of the new cars. And you’ll get more folk into them. And they’ll probably be better and safer in most respects. But why not just steal the traditional London cab and paint it yellow? At least it’d be better looking than this:

found at the BBC, tagged by Reuters

Bleugh. That just ugly…

The march of time continues

When I started this little blog, I was but a young innocent, who knew not of the world. Well, I was young, at any rate.

And today marks the official end of when I can claim that. I’m no longer a twenty-something; today I hit thirty. And I’m reliably told that it’s all downhill from here.

I’ll be honest: I’m not convinced of that. I woke up with the same creaking of knees that I usually do; I have the same greying hair. ‘Older’ is happening no matter what the scorecard says, and I’m OK with that. I have a pretty good setup going on, with a lovely wife, a nice house, a loving family, a decent job, and a lovable but psychotic dog. It’ll do…

The joy of dogs

Last weekend, TLW and I went back to Belfast for a bit. Which meant that young Miss Roxy needed to find a home for a bit.

Such a home was duly found, and Mr & Mrs TL-in-laws were soon in possession of a very excitable puppy. Who behaved quite well for them.

It seems, however, that all the excitement caused by having a temporary new home has spoiled her a bit. And she took out this excitement on our furniture.

Our dining room chairs should look like this:

But two now look like this:

Question, dear internet: what is appropriate revenge for such wanton destruction? I’m thinking that we deny her any dignity and make her dress up…

Awesomeness, done the easy way

I’m assuming that there’re more people than me who are very excited by the developments in private spaceflight. First off, there’s the steady progress of Virgin Galactic, and now private companies are getting ready to become the big fish in rocket terms as well.

The Californian SpaceX company says it plans to launch the most powerful rocket since the Apollo era in 2013.

The Falcon 9-Heavy is a beefed up version of the vehicle the firm will soon use to send a robotic cargo ship to the space station.

The new rocket should be capable of putting more than 53 tonnes (117,000lb) of payload in a low-Earth orbit – more than twice that of the space shuttle.

Obviously, you’d expect some delays, price and performance fluctuations and the like. But SpaceX doesn’t seem to have anything like as many of these little derailments as, say, NASA does. What with them having to work for their money and provide deliverables or face angry shareholders. So it’ll be interesting to see how they get on.

Then, once they’ve opened up space to civilians, they can get work on my damn flying car. And/or Jetpack. I want my Jetsons future, dammit, and I was promised it’d have happened by now…

Reasons why dogs are better than cats

Number 1 in a continuing series.

Young Roxy is currently a bit unwell; what with having some general anaesthetic last week and having varoius bits removed. She’s managed to pick up a little infection in the wound so we’re having to feed her some tablets.

Now, feeding cats is a complicated procedure, up to fifteen steps are required according to this reputable guide. The final steps are as follows:

14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.

15. Arrange for RSPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.

However, when Roxy doesn’t simply eat the tablet like a treat, there’s only one step required to get her to ingest it: surround said tablet in meat. The above guide recommends bacon, but I find that fitting it inside a cocktail sausage does the job nicely…

They know a lot, but not what to do with it

The crux of this BBC article on understanding the census is to be found at the tail end of the piece:

Sure, the Census is an evil conspiracy to pry, so that they, whoever they are, can know all about us. Until you see raw data. A good antidote to the evil-empire view is to come face to face with real-life counting. You soon realise that governments know half as much as they like to pretend, largely because gathering information is a bigger, messier, pig-sty of labour and guesswork, than often assumed.

Which is why they do it. Because they know a lot less than you probably think and always will. Every source of data is riddled with problems.

On the face of it, governments know a huge amount of things about the population. They’ll know how many claimants claim disability benefits and how many claim jobseekers allowance. They know how many people pay tax. They know how many people got a passport in the last year and how many people registered births, marriages and deaths.

However, they’ll never be able to know how many people fall into each category; maybe three claimants for jobseekers are the same person, and he also pays tax. Maybe someone has two spellings of their name and managed to get married twice. And I love that some people do this; I love that the system is never perfect; it isn’t here, it wasn’t in the USSR and I’m sure that there are even people off the grid in China.

Governments come and go, but the common thread is that people outwit them no matter what is tried. Which is nice.

What a difference a day makes

The usual pose of Miss Roxy in the house:

She’s a mobile beast; she only sits still long enough to turn around and move in the other direction in her never ending quest for food or distraction. She’s a lovely character, inquisitive and cheeky.

Her pose for all of yesterday afternoon was more like this:

The poor thing has not been herself; she’s been subdued and quiet. It could be the slightly different weather; it could be that we’ve been in the house more of the day than usual.

Or it could be that we took her back to Battersea this morning and let them do some minor operative procedure. Suffice to say that our puppy shall never be having puppies, but will probably resent us for a little while…

Lessons learned?

In 2002, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, which was later a cause of much discussion, debate, and all that as some felt it gave legal justification for the Iraq War and some disagreed.

It would appear that since then the UN has learned to be a bit more specific in its pronouncements.

Draft resolution

* Imposes “ban on all flights in Libyan airspace” except for aid planes
* Authorises member states to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”
* Excludes occupation force
* Toughens arms embargo by calling on all member states to “inspect in their territory vessels and aircraft bound to or from Libya”
* Widens asset freeze to include Libyan Investment Authority, Central Bank of Libya and Libyan National Oil Company among others

Of course, there’s still scope for considerable action in there – it starts with no-fly zones but there doesn’t seem to be any specific prohibition against ground forces going in for strike missions as long as they don’t occupy after. I expect that certain gentlemen in the Hereford vicinity are getting ready for a little trip… Here’s hoping that it isn’t quite the fuckup that the last one was.

Random things you learn

It’s funny; where I come from World War II was something that happened very long ago and very far away; yes it impacted on Norn Iron but not as much as it did over here.

So despite it being seventy years later, there are still marks of it all over this place. From the obvious – the Admiralty Citadel, etc – to the less obvious, like perhaps three fifty year old houses in the middle of a Victorian terrace.

In that light, I discovered that the local allotments, which I’ve always thought seemed a bit out of place at the end of a block of otherwise very carefully laid out houses, seems to overlap considerably with the site of a V2 hitting in 1945. How mad is that?

Of course, that’s not really all that mad. There’s a bit of waste ground next to the local station. If I’m reading my histories correctly, it’s waste ground because the houses that used to be there were destroyed during a Zeppelin raid in 1917. How’s that for the scars of war?

This random diversion into pointless musings was brought to you by the God of the dog barking had me up early this morning and therefore my brain isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders.

Potentially awesome technology

Tractor beams, from Star Trek to Star Wars to Babylon 5, have always been quite direct things. A beam fires out from one spaceship directly towards another, and ship two moves towards ship one. Simples.

Turns out, it’s not like that. Apparently it needs to hit at a very specific angle to work. Yes, someone has come up with something that may work as a tractor beam. Most awesome.

A laser can act as a “tractor beam”, drawing small objects back toward the laser’s source, scientists have said.

The trick is not to use a standard laser beam, but rather one known as a Bessel beam, that has a precise pattern of peaks and troughs in its intensity.

If such a Bessel beam were to encounter an object not head-on but at a glancing angle, the backward force can be stimulated.

As the atoms or molecules of the target absorb and re-radiate the incoming light, the fraction re-radiated forward along the beam direction can interfere and give the object a “push” back toward the source.

Sure, it’s not going to shift a multimegaton space freighter anywhere anytime soon, but it’s a promising start. I look forward to the day when you can see AA trucks moving about the place because of their strangely pointing laser beams…

Conflicting thoughts

Back when I were a lad, in the dark days of the pre-millennium, I was a new driver. Being a young lad, in Norn Iron, and only having had a licence for fifteen minutes, insurance was an absolute bitch. And to complement that, I bitched about the unfairness of it all, and the blatant discrimination against men that was the difference in insurance premiums between male and female.

Yes, I was a simple soul back then. What of it?

After not too many years, though, I saw the wisdom of it. Myself and many of my male friends and acquaintances did serious damage to cars, while few females did. Our accidents were more frequent and more serious, so it became clear to me why insurance premiums might be so different. It’s all about playing the odds. There is less of a risk insuring women, and therefore it’s obvious that women should pay less.

It’s with this thought that I am pretty solidly against yesterday’s European Court ruling.

Insurers cannot charge different premiums to men and women because of their gender, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

The decision means that women can no longer be charged lower car insurance premiums than men, and the cost of buying a pensions annuity will change.

This is, on the face of it, lunacy. If the costs of insuring men are so much higher to the company, should they not be to the customer as well? Why should women subsidise men on this? Sheer, bureaucratic, EU nonsense.

There is more to it, of course. I’m sure that there are certain ethnic groups that are more risky to insure than others; should ethnicity be taken into account? Disabled passengers cost more on flights and ferries, should this cost be borne by the customer alone or factored into everyone’s ticket prices?

Clearly, it’s never going to be as simple as “there shall be no discrimination” or “all discrimination is to be allowed”. In insurance there’s clearly a need to discriminate in some ways, otherwise there’d only ever be a flat fee for someone to be insured and it wouldn’t do anything to reward good drivers while penalising poor drivers. But what is an acceptable discrimination; I say gender, occupation, relationship status and all that are fine, whereas ethnicity probably isn’t.

What say you? Where would others draw the line?

Obviously, it goes without saying that this is also a mass over-reaching of the state into private business and the like, but that ship has sailed…

Jobs from AWESOME

So, kids, what did you do at work today? Was report XR-1c filed correctly? Did finance get their numbers in time? Did Dave in HR get things sorted?

But maybe you don’t work in an office. Maybe you’re a farmer. In that case, was the shite from Cattle Group A properly redistributed to field C?

Most jobs have something really rather dull or un-fun attached, but the upsides are meant to compensate for the dullness. I think, in the job mentioned in this article, the payoff is enough to compensate for any amount of dull.

“What did you do today, honey?”

“Today, my dear, I blew up a motherfukin river.”

Found at, marked City of Ottowa

Games I’d like to see

The BBC and some palaeontologists are very excited about a dinosaur that might have been able to kick.

from the BBC, marked Francisco Gasco

I’m sure that there are many possible evolutionary reasons for this; kicking predators, kicking over vegetation, kicking over obstacles. And they’re all fine and worthy. But as a side effect, this 14m long, 6 tonne monster could have played football.

Imagine the spectacle of a five aside match played in a quarry between two teams of these creatures? It’d make Top Gear Football disappear from the public consciousness…