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.

Recycling DEATH RISK

Recycling: it’s apparently a public good, it’s an international target and a lot of our money is spent on it.

Oh, and some people think that it can kill you to death.

Leading food manufacturers are changing their packaging because of health concerns about boxes made from recycled cardboard, the BBC has learned.

Researchers found toxic chemicals from recycled newspapers have contaminated food sold in many cardboard cartons.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really give a shit about such things. Most packaging will contain something that’s not good for you, which is why we’ve evolved to eat the damn food and not the box it came it. But I think that it’s useful to know that this headlong rush into the unquestioned moral good that is recycling may be a tad premature…

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…

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…

The stuff of nightmares

I’m not a big believer in cosmetic surgery. Hell, I’m not a fan of massive make up either, and the jury is still out on dental braces. I’m quite happy looking the way I look and I’m fairly convinced that the world would be a better, simpler place if everyone else agreed with me.

But I recognise that many people don’t agree with me. And so many people forgo occasional, tasteful make-up and spend all day, every day wearing a mask. Many people spend thousands and thousands of pounds fixing imagined deficiencies in their bodies. And that’s always going to happen. What I don’t understand, though, is why some people decide to go with a procedure, and then instead of researching it and getting it done somewhere sensible, instead go and book into a hotel and get a random stranger to carry it out illegally. With occasional fatal consequences.

US police are investigating the death of a UK woman after an alleged hotel room “buttocks-enhancement” procedure.

Investigators say a 20-year-old woman who had travelled from London died in hospital in Pennsylvania on Tuesday after an injection of silicone.

Given that a flight to the States isn’t running that cheaply, why would you then skimp on a procedure? And what now happens to the people carrying out such procedures and who think that a frickin’ hotel room is the best place for it? (Hint: beatings with sticks and then some jail time would be my preferred solution.)

Life saving annoyingness

There is a tradition that every year, at New Years Eve, the phone networks get jammed because every sod in the world is texting everyone they know to wish them a Happy New Year. I know, I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Recently, people have starting pre-empting the interruption by sending out they HNY messages early. But would you ever have thought that this little annoyance could save lives?

A suicide bomber’s plan to detonate explosives in Central Moscow on New Year’s Eve was foiled when she received an unexpected text message that caused her deadly payload to blow up too early, according to news reports.

The message wishing her a happy new year came hours before the unnamed woman was to set off her suicide belt near Red Square, an act of terrorism that could have killed hundreds of people, The Leader-Post reported. She ended up dying at a safe house instead.

See? Those people sending out the messages are just worried that you’re a suicide bomber and are trying to get you out of the loop early. Very public-minded of them, don’t you think?

Obvious caveats apply; the main one being my disinclination to believe anything that the Russian state comes out with when it comes to terrorism. They’re even more prolific at misdirection than the US & UK governments…

Out of the mouths of babes

There is a marked difference between living in a house with blokes and living with your wife. Obvious benefits aside, there are some new additions to life that are confusing.

Example: cushions. My main interaction with cushions is to throw them off the sofa. The sofa is expressly designed to be comfortable, and thus it is so. Adding a pile of fluff from Homebase does not improve the comfyness of the sofa, it merely creates an obstacle to said comfyness. However, TLW disagrees, and thus we have cushions.

The next big difference is ‘art’. Now, in my old house, I had some pictures on the wall. Some were nice, some were not. Some were expensive, some were very not. But they served their purpose, which was mainly to sit there and break up the blank walls a bit. However, since moving over here, ‘art’ has found its way onto the wall. Pictures of things unidentifiable all over the show. But TLW has identified a picture that she’d want on the wall, one that is recognisable. It’s all swirly, yes, and a bit odd looking, but she would like the Big Bang somewhere on a wall.

“Because it’s one of the most amazing things ever, the birth of everything?” says I, hopefully.

“No. Because it’s preeeeetty.”

I despair…

Signs of the end times

Number 172: Sammy Wilson presents himself as the voice of reason and sanity. And even worse, he carries it off.

Politicians who want the Spending Review changed to suit Northern Ireland are “living in cloud-cuckoo land”, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has said.

He was speaking at a special debate at Stormont to discuss how the review will affect Northern Ireland.

While all parties expressed concern about the Spending Review, there was a marked difference in attitudes towards dealing with forthcoming cuts.

Nationalist parties emphasised the need for resisting the cuts while unionists maintained the situation had to be dealt with.

In a previous employment (surprisingly enough, in the public sector) a couple of us were having a discussion about the job market, and I may have mentioned that the public sector was unsustainably large in Norn Iron. This pretty much caused someone to not talk(1) to me for weeks. Apparently large parts of the country can’t take the simple fact that the public sector cannot, in the long term, be bigger than the private sector.

It’s good to see that quite a few of the political parties there still haven’t cottoned on to that fact, and believe in a divine right of free money being sent by London every year. Even when said money runs out, they bitch and moan, and then probably hold their breath until they’re sick.

Whereas Sammy Wilson, a true nutbar with all the likeability of a kick to the side of the head, is the one talking sense and telling people to get on with it. How did the world come to this?

(1) – Yes, he stopped talking to me. Like we were small children and I’d stolen a crucially important piece of their Lego.

It’s all gone strange

Oh dear. The little town where I work has gone a bit bonkers. Regular road closures resulting in insane traffic, and all because of a be-dreadlocked actor and his show.

The excitement displayed by some female members of staff has been rather comic; people have been getting excited at the sight of dreadlocks in the distance, only to be told by friendly policemen that said dreadlocks belonged to one of the stunt doubles.

On the plus side, he hasn’t turned up to the office to lead a mutiny yet, so all’s well.

Random pleasures

Walking in central London, at night, in the rain, is one of the most interesting experiences that you can have for little or no money. Discuss.

Normally, walking said streets around twelve on a Saturday night would be tedious. Full of drunks, or large groups of people just getting in your way, or people pissing in the corner while their mate shouts obscenities at the police. It’s not much fun, really.

But if it’s raining heavily, the scene changes. Less people go out, for a start. Many people spend their time sprinting from one dry sanctuary to the next, trying to minimise their exposure. Others make new temporary friends by trying to fit twenty seven people under a three foot wide umbrella.

And others try that for a little while, and then get past it and just walk normally. Once you’ve gotten soaked, what more can the rain do? Yes, clothes may stick to you and your feet may squelch with every step. Yes, it might have taken some creativity to get all electrical gadgets to the single pocket that has remained dry. Yes, you may well whiff a bit as you dry out on the train home. But for the time that you’re just walking along not bothering about the weather, and just observing the world going past, it’s pretty cool.

Obviously, it helps of TLW is there with you.

There is one thing that’s very different when it’s pouring down in the centre of town – I actually feel some sympathy for the poor souls driving those silly pedal rickshaws. And I never thought I would.

More fun and pointless than the Olympics?

In 2012, London is hosting the Olympics. And it’s going to be a pain for those of us that live here, albeit with the chance of seeing something interesting.

In 2011, however, there may just be something a little more fun.

A Texan businessman bidding to organise a year-long round the world race for airships says he is on track to start the inaugural event next year. Among those lending their names to the project is aerospace bigwig Norm Augustine, who headed President Obama’s panel examining the US manned space programme last year.

Hartsell hopes to accumulate a prize purse of €10m from commercial sponsors. He has already signed up Eurosport as broadcast partner, and other supporting organisations include Nokia, National Geographic and Greenwich borough council in London – the race is supposed to start and finish on the zero meridian line at the Observatory there.

Naturally, we here on the Reg airship desk will be cheering for Hartsell and hoping to see a fleet of racing airships soaring away across the start line in Greenwich next year.

Now, that would be fun. There’d be little to no disruption (what with all the action happening in the sky, but below the glide path to the major airports) and it’d be visible from my office window.

Make it happen please. That is all.

The feminine influence

Up until a few years ago, I was unaware of the point of paying too much for shoes.

Sorry, scratch that. Up until a few years ago, I was unaware of the extent to which other people would happily pay stupid amounts of money for shoes. I, personally, don’t give a shit about shoes, and will wear what is comfortable and appropriate, not caring about where I got them from or what I paid for them.

Others disagree, and TLW is firmly in their camp. She has been known to shock her family into incoherence by spending more on shoes in a single expedition than I spent in the years 1990 – 2000. The downside of this is that I’ve become aware of names (Jimmy Choo, for example) that I really shouldn’t know. Her personal preference is for some fool called Louboutin, who produces things that cost more than Liberia and have a distinctive red sole.

And it would appear that t’internet has caught on to my knowledge of thing, for recently I’ve been getting inundated by comment spam that follows this format:

“There will be a lot of what I’m calling sex shoes,” she reveals. “I’ve made a lot of pieces that can seduce, seduct and that will secure the deal. The shoes will be iconic, architectural and anatomical. We want to be the go to destination for when women want to feel hot to trot. I want the same dialogue that Christian Louboutin has with his women.”
The shoes for every outfit – and if the event calls for costume, fancy shoes are a must, especially when we talk about our excellent Christian Louboutin sale, Michelle Obama, for which they recommended. It is no wonder that women everywhere a secret passion for Christian Louboutin, and it was champagne satin heels no exception. Winged before, and the sky-high returns, a pairof Christian Louboutin shoes you wear in this eternal classic.

It makes a change from penis extensions and pills, but just for consistency I think I’m going to have to add the word Louboutin to the old spam filter. And I don’t think that I’ll miss it too much, either.

My genius for deeply unimportant trivia strikes again

TLW, Middle Sister and I were talking of the sister’s trip to the Carnival recently, when said sister started to tell us of a somewhat startling happening that she witnessed.

Well, me & my friend were sitting on the train when a strange looking guy with hair that looked like it had been plastered with Just For Men took a little trolley into the toilets. We thought nothing of it, but he emerged a couple of stations later wearing an orange tie thingy, a green waistcoat covered with stupid Ireland stickers, a flute band beret and an OBSCENELY short orange skirt. But the really odd thing was that he was wearing an apron with the star of David on it.

Later on, we were walking down a side road, minding our business, when the same guy started playing music from his trolley and then went about doing a piss poor jig, while wearing a sign saying something about dancing for peace.

Damn odd.

At which point, I had a brain wave. Or brain fart, depending on your opinion of useless trivia. Hauld on, he was dancing a peace jig?

Yes. Yes he was.

Which meant that it could only be one person. The man most famous for trying to commit suicide by superbly fast car; the man that thought that saluting Hitler outside the World Cup final would be a good thing to do; the guy that got kicked out of priesthood for writing about the Second Coming, wherein we would all either live for 900 years or rule for 1,000.

Not to put too fine a point on it: this man, as blogged about here.

As it happens, it was that guy. And now sister is off with the wikipedia link in her possession to show to her friend, that they may sit in wonder at the sheer insanity of the man they once shared a train carriage with.

And TLW sits in wonder, and fear, as she realises that my brain works in the way it does… Poor woman.

Ways to resign: we have a winner

Yes, I’m a few hours behind the rest of the world on this, but this guy has just showed the entire world how best to inform your employer that you aren’t exactly happy on any given day.

He immediately got on the plane’s PA system, declared “To the passenger who called me a motherfucker, fuck you”, and swiftly “activated the plane’s inflatable emergency slide, grabbed two beers from the galley, then slid down the chute”.

Slater made good his escape from the airport, but was later cuffed at his Queens residence and charged with “reckless endangerment and criminal mischief”.

Things that are excellent about this:

  • The guy actually got to inform the person to blame in real time of their displeasure. A treat that most of us would be very unlikely to get a chance to do.
  • Like anyone who’s on a plane regularly, he’s probably wondered if those slides and emergency exits actually worked. So he got to test that.
  • Lifting a couple of beers – sheer genius.
  • He then showed the world (again) that security at airports is almost entirely theatre. Another bonus.

Well done, fella. Have fun in court, though…

Subtitle: up yours

What to do when a newspaper photographer is banned from a football match, meaning that the local newspaper is faced with either having no photographs of a match or (likely expensive and needlessly flattering) official club photos?

Simple: go with the traditional two fingered salute and throw a few quid at a cartoonist. Who will then produce some most excellent 40s style Roy of the Rovers action for your publication.


demi-annus horribilis1

The first half of this year has been, in some ways, a little bit crap. Two funerals thus far, and yesterday morning I found out that another one is upcoming. My paternal grandmother, the last of her family, the last of my paternal ancestors and the last of that generation on that side of my family, passed away after a low and slow decline.

It’s a mercy, and it was not a surprise when it came. But it is a sadness and a cause of mourning.

It was also, naturally, a cause of conversation at the table where I was breakfasting with several family members and TLF. And as it happens, a lot of people feel that there are random and unexpected signs at the time a relative dies. One family member apparently woke up at the approximately the time of a family death hundreds of miles away and swore blind that a bee was in the room with them – no other witnesses can corroborate this insect. Others had strange snippets of conversations, others had butterflies doing strange things. It’s fascinating what we notice at such times, and it’s always a welcome distraction from the news of the day.

Not as fascinating as someone present admitting that they spent the last night sleeping in a bath, but still…

1 – Please note the demi- there. In other ways, this has been by far the best year of my life, and should everything go according to plan, even better things are yet to come…

Another little scare

It’s been a year since I tried scaring people with tales tales of how much information your web browser gives away for free.

So it’s probably about time that I join el Reg in trying to scaring people a bit more.

The vast majority of people surfing the web leave behind digital fingerprints that can be used to uniquely identify them, research released Monday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests.

Using a website that compares visitors’ browser configurations to a database of almost 1 million other users, EFF researchers found that 84 percent of visitors used setting combinations that were unique. When The Register visited the site using Firefox, it received a message that read: “Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 837,411 tested so far.” (Turning off javascript and Java with the NoScript plugin didn’t change the results we got on one test PC, but on a second machine, use of NoScript significantly increased the number of browsers with the same fingerprint.)

Having opened that little website, I found out the following:

Within our dataset of several hundred thousand visitors, only one in 14,810 browsers have the same fingerprint as yours.

Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys 13.85 bits of identifying information.

So using my default browser (Firefox) with my usual setup of plug-ins and settings, I’m still plenty identifiable. Use IE, however, and it gets a little bit worse:

Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 933,176 tested so far.

Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 19.83 bits of identifying information.

So, I’ll be using less IE, shall I?

How about you lot?