Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Missing the Point

This morning's news mentioned a problem of terrapins living wild in Britain.

They are not a native species, and are here because people who bought them as pets got tired of them and turned them loose. They are considered a problem because it is feared they may eat too much. As more and more of the creatures are rounded up, people are struggling to find caring homes for them.

No one sugested the obvious solution - turtle soup!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Check the Time Zone for your Wireless Router

When I set up a new wireless router, it wouldn't allow connection to the Internet.

The radio signal was loud and clear. When I conected the boudband modem directly to a computer, Megaherz of conectivity came gushing through, but through the router there was only a local connection.

Eventually a sharp eyed friend looking through the settings, spotted something I'd missed. The router, which was made in China, had its clock set by default to Hong Kong time.

Once he changed it to British time, all was well.

Monday, 28 December 2009

I didn't bother to listen to the Queen's Christmas message

Until my grandfather's death in 1965 my parents and I always ate Christmas dinner at his house, with various aunts, uncles, and cousins. We always had to stand for the National anthem that preceded the royal message, and were then expected to listen to the message in reverent silence.

Standing for the National Anthem ended with grandfather's death, but I've usually listened to most of  one or another of the repetitions of the message, but no longer. It is usually a collection of plattitudes, so even when I saw a link to a recording, I didn't bother.

Has she said anything perceptive or unexpected the fact would have been widely and loudly reported, and I came across no such report.

I feel no ill will towards the queen, but I've lost interest in her pronouncements.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Vinegary Mincemeat

Beware, the mincemeat sold in shops usually contains vinegar.

The table of contents rarely says so in as many words. The label writers usually try to confuse the naive by calling it 'acetic acid', but vinegar it is.  The stuff reeks of that pungent anti-condiment.

This year I made my own mincemeat, with orange juice and lemon juice as acidifiers.

Friday, 18 December 2009

An Unusual Memorial to a Great Scientist.

Last month, while visiting Grantham for the first time for more than forty years, I noticed it now has an Isaac Newton Shopping Centre.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Divine Responsibility

There’s one aspect of the priestly child abuse scandal that, to my knowledge, has never been discussed.

To what extent is God responsible?

I ought to rephrase that. I, and most of my friends, think there is no God, so what I really mean is:

If there were a God, how far would he be responsible?

Theologians say that evil is the fault of sinful humans, acting in spite of God, and anyway he’s so powerful that if he intervened to prevent evil it would reduce us all to the status of robots so we shouldn’t have the opportunity for character building by using our free will to resist temptation.

That may have a little superficial plausibility (but see the discussion in chapter 7 of my Philosophy notes) However at best the first argument only precludes our blaming God for everything on the grounds that he supposedly created the world; the second argument excuses him only from intervening ostentatiously at maximum power, denouncing sin in a voice of thunder and turning the unrighteous into pillars of salt. He could still have anonymously emailed a few incriminating digital photographs to police or journalists without drawing attention to his omnipotence.

The abusive priests got away with it for so long because they were perceived to be God’s agents. A Human employer aware that employees were using their jobs as a cloak for criminality would be expected to intervene. Why should God try to wriggle out of his responsibilities by hiding behind a metaphysical quibble?

Of course, if there were a God he wouldn’t, so there isn’t.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

My Virtual Christmas Card

I decided to make my own Christmas card this year. I then decided to go one step further and get people to read it on my website, with the option of printing a copy if they wish.

Follow the links on my website.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

'Last Best Chance'

I recently heard that phrase in a broadcast comment by the Leader of the Opposition.

I don't remember what he was talking about; my horror at his choice of words distracted me from his subject matter.

Did he mean 'this is the best chance, and it's also the last' or 'this is the best of the remaining chances'. I suspect he didn't mean anything so definite, but felt rather than thought that two superlatives were better than one.

I fear that others will now adopt the phrase - verbal ineptitude tends to be catching.

Alistair Cook once attributed the word 'normalcy' to President Harding's ignorance of the word 'normality', and we still hear that word from time to time.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Quadratic Equations and the Media

Several times in recent weeks I've heard people on the television or wireless cite quadratic equations as examples of recondite Mathematics.

I can still remember being taught to solve quadratic equations by completing the square. I was 12 at the time, and remember being most impressed by the ingenuity of the method. Ever since I've considered quadratic equations perfectly straightforward.

There are many intriguing mysteries in Mathematics, but quadratics are not  among them.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Visitors to this Blog

By far the most popular entries in this blog are the two or three describing my misadventures with cable modem and broadband Internet access; more than half the last month’s visitors  looked at at least one of those, even though all were posted more than six months ago.
The most surprising thing about it is that most of those visits result from the use of search engines. Information must be very scarce if my inexpert chatter appears high enough in search results for people to notice it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

‘Differently Abled’

That phrase suggests to me someone in whom one of the usual faculties  is replaced by an unusual one. It would apply to someone who is blind, but has the echolocation of a bat, to someone deaf who uses telepathy instead of hearing, or to someone with no legs who has wings instead.

So far as I know, no one is differently abled in that sense; the phase is just one of the many dreary euphemisms used by sentimental people pretending that the world is a fluffy cuddly place.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Riparian Parameters

At least twice today the BBC news programmes have included an eyewitness account of the flooding in Cumbria containing the words:

"The river is back within its normal parameters"

At last we have a clue to the journalistic meaning of "parameter" ; it means "river bed"

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Philosophy of Sport in Gloucestershire.

On this morning's Radio 4, a lady was introduced as Professor of the Philosophy of Sport in the University of Gloucestershire.

I'm not sure what is oddest: that there should be such an institution, or that there should be a professorship in such a strange subject.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

'They gave their lives'

I am infuriated by the sentimental intellectual dishonesty of such language.

It conjures up a picture of someone opening a little door in the chest, and inviting some governmebnt offical to remove the heart and use if for the Public Good.

In reality those killed in war did all they could to stay alive, and many of them died, not only reluctantly, but extremely painfully. In the so called 'World Wars' many who died were conscripts, forced to fight. In the first world war many soldiers for sent on suicidal charges into machine gun fire, urged on at pistol point by officers prepared to shoot any who appeared reluctant.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

A peaceful evening

I'm relieved to have had no 'trick or treat' visitors tonight.

Perhaps the habit is dying out in England? I hope so; I've never liked it. A putative joke with a hint of menace is one of the tricks of the bully.

I wonder if one can buy trick sweets? Pepper filled chocoloate, or chilli fudge would be useful. Chinese shops used sometimes to sell tamarind candy, a soft sqishy sugar coated confection containing a geat deal of chilli. That was very useful one year when the first of April  fell in College term time.

All I had this year was a little dish of innocuous sweets. I planned to leer at uninvited vistors and reply to their 'Trick or Treat?' with 'That all depends on you. Can you tell which of these are the tricks, and which are treats?'

It would have been only a feeble jest; I'm glad it wasn't called for.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Interpretation of Dreams

For a moment I thought I was remembering something that had happened,

Junior cat had leapt through the air, leaving behind her a little cloud of burning gas, from the conflagration of which I inferred that she had farted in mid flight, and her effluvia had been ignited by a candle flame, though it was puzzling that there was no candle or equivalent to be seen.

Then I realised that the event had no definite location, and no antecedents or consequences, and I concluded that I must have dreamt it, perhaps last night, or perhaps the night before last.

Some people claim to interpret dreams. I wonder what they would make of it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Expensive MPs

So much has been said about MP's expenses that I've tried to avoid contributing to the cacophony, but recent developments suggest people have missed something.

I understand it is proposed that MP's should no longer buy second homes and claim mortgage interest, but should instead rent houses and charge for that.

Yet rent for property is usually higher than the interest on a mortgage, partly but not only because rent includes the cost of maintenance and repairs.

The change would therefore achieve neither of its supposed aims. It would not reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and it would not relieve the taxpayer of the cost of maintenance - it would just conceal that cost in the rent. Any moats would still be dredged at public expense, because the owner would set a rent that allowed for that.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Unplanned population growth

I haven't blogged for a while because on most recent issues someone or other somewhere in the media has voiced thoughts close to my own. An exception has been discussion of the supposed need to prepare for substantial increases in the world population, and the population of Great Britain.

I'm very irritated by the tendency for people to treat population growth as quite beyond anyone's control, like an earthquake.

Babies are not delivered by an uninvited stork. They are created by human actions of which I assume all readers of this blog will be aware. I wish that those who produce the children would look after them.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Perishable Clergy

A few months before I went up to King's Cambridge in 1956, the Dean committed suicide by jumping from the top of the Chapel tower.

I've just discovered that another Dean of King's recently committed suicide, though not so spectacularly. Alerted by a friend I made an internet search that revealed this article in the Cambridge Evening News.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A great fuss about not very much

Whenever I switch on a television, my view of the screen is largely obscured by a notice about an imminent change of wavelengths which will make it necessary to retune my sets.

Why must we be told in advance and in such an irritating way? When the change occurs the need to retune will be apparent. Until then I should like to be left in peace.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Compton Verney

Last week I accompanied three friends on a visit to Compton Verney , which is a country mansion quite recently rescued from decay to be converted into an art gallery.

I found the contents much more interesting than those of the conventional art gallery, because there was less that was beautiful but dull, and more that was strange and so capable of stimulating thought.

Quite a lot of space was devoted to ‘folk art’, including shop and inn signs, and strange wind powered Victorian toys. There were also paintings showing disproportioned animals, with the parts most interesting to the farming community inflated to preposterous proportions. Especially delightful was a painting of a street scene in which the pub was called ‘The King’s harms’.

However the principal attraction of Compton Verney is the tea room, where we were served full afternoon tea on three tiered stands, with six sandwiches, a scone and three cakes each. They provide little plastic containers so people can take home any cakes they can’t manage on the spot.

The following picture shows what they provided. The stand in the foreground was for two people; only a third of the sandwiches are visible, but one can see most of the cakes. Click on this picture for a larger one.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Bankers' Vocabulary

My bank has just sent me a leaflet entitled:

"Changes to your agreement with us".

Yet it can hardly be an agreement, until and unless I agree.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Colonel Gaddafi

Watching television pictures of him ranting at the UN I noticed how uniformly black his hair is. Does he dye it, or is it a wig ?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cutting the cost of Education

The Minister of Education, or whatever his title is these days, has claimed that expenditure on education can be reduced by 2bn pounds per year without producing any reduction in standards or provision.

If that is true the reduction should have been made years ago.

Mr.Balls, as he likes to be called, seems to be relying on a reduction in the number of heads which, although attractive, seems unlikely to save very much.

I think greater savings could be made by more use of the Internet accompanied by a reduction in classroom teaching, especially for the older pupils.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Lavender Ice Cream

On Tuesday I dined out with a friend to celebrate my 71st birthday.

We went to The Case, a restaurant I’d never visited before. It is on the part of Hotel Street where Clarke’s and Satchel’s book shop used to be, and occupies the second and third floors above a varied collection of (unconnected) ground floor shops, including an old fashioned sweet shop that sells Leicester Rock and boiled sweets kept in large glass jars.

The case specializes in champagne; as well as the restaurant there is a small ground floor champagne bar connected to the restaurant by an intriguing winding corridor. We therefore had a bottle of one of the house champagnes.

A crab souffle (I apologise for my failure to find the acute accent) made an interesting first course, and lamb both pink and very tender testified to considerable skill in the kitchen, but the highlight of the meal was the pudding course.

One option was a sample plate for two. We’d noticed that one of the puddings included lavender ice cream, and requested that that should be included in our platter.

There were portions of nine puddings. I judge that most were about a third of a helping, though a couple may have been full helpings, so we had the equivalent of about four helpings between the two of us, but it was the novelty of the lavender ice cream that most excited us.

We were a little disappointed that it wasn’t blue - though that would have required a blue die; lavender oil is nearly colourless. However it tasted strongly of lavender.

I’ve now tasted two dishes flavoured with lavender - I sometimes cook lavender chicken. I must think of more ways to cook with lavender. Suggestions would be welcome.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

More fussing about children

Tiresome regulations are often defended as needed to protect children.

That claim is particularly weak when urged in support of the current proposals to check people having any regular contact with anyone else's children.

Abused children usually suffer at the hands of members of their own families or other people who live with them, yet the proposed checks will not apply to family members.

People will need to be vetted before being allowed to take groups of children to football matches, but will not need to pass any test before taking the much more radical step of becoming parents.

This is not a plan to protect children, but to provide more power and work for social workers.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Welsh Highland Railway

A few days ago a friend and I spent a few days in Wales exploring steam railways, and eating delicious meals at the Trefeddian Hotel. At breakfast time, in addition to the usual fare, one could help oneself from a huge bowl of strawberries, and a five course dinner was included in the room charge.

The Welsh Highland Railway runs from Caernafon to just short of Porthmadoc, which it is scheduled to reach by next Easter.

I've put some photographs on my website.

Incidentally, I recently redesigned that site; the material is much the same as before but it hangs together differently and should be easier to maintain.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Virgin Broadband, Again

I've noticed that my remarks about my broadband connection are the most popular postings on this site, so I decided to relate the latest installment of my tribulations.

A few weeks ago there were intermittent failures in my connection which were attributed to a faulty cable, which was replaced However there are still intermittent failures, now less frequent and always at night; the connection often fails around10 pm, returning by 8 or 9 the following morning.

The engineer sent to investigate this morning (I was favorably impressed by his visiting on a bank holiday) found nothing wrong in the house, and thought there might be a fault with the amplifier in the green box at the end of the street, so that is to be monitored.

He was quite pleased that I had noted the times when the connection was lost and when it was restored, so fellow sufferers would be wise to chronicle their misfortunes.

It was some consolation that when I rang to report the fault, I was awarded a ten pound credit as compensation - it will at least pay for a few hours of dial up Internet access.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hope springs eternal...

This afternoon I spotted a bundle of little notes pinned to a tree at the side of the road where it passes a row of shops. The note said:


Yes ladies, Dave does your cleaning totally naked.
No Fees
So if you like a bit of fun TXT me anytime

07732 501191"

What an optimist Dave must be :-)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Severn Valley Railway

Yesterday, in the company of two friends from my schooldays, I made my first visit to the Severn Valley Railway, in an excursion that introduced me to a part of England I'd never visited before.

The SVR runs steam trains over a 16 mile route from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth.

We joined the train at Bewdley, the first stop after Kidderminster, and travelled to Bridgnorth, where we spent about two hours before returning. Our return tickets cost us 12 pounds each, and would have allowed us unlimited travel for the day.

Much of the Severn Valley is densely wooded, so the view from the train was often confined to the woods, but when visible the scenery was attractive, with wooded hillsides descending to the river.

The stations on the line were bright with flowers growing in little gardens and in various tubs and containers.

Bewdley and Bridgnorth are both very attractive towns.

We spent only a few minutes at Bewdley, but had time briefly to admire the riverside promenade.

Bridgnorth we explored at greater length. The town is on two levels, with the Lower Town in the river valley, and the Upper Town, which includes the town centre, sitting on the top of red sandstone cliffs. We ascended on foot, but after lunching our exploration led us to the Cliff Railway, a short funicular railway that takes people up and down the hill, for 1 pound return,. There were no single fares so we regretted not having found the Cliff Railway in time for our earlier ascent.

There is quite a lot to be seen at some of the stations between Bewdley and Bridgnorth, so one could easily occupy a whole day on the SVR.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Sugar Cane

I record another gastonomic first - this time I sampled sugar cane.

I spotted it in the Market while buying some garlic from a stall specialising in exotica. The obliging stallholder chopped off what he deemed to be enough for a beginner to sample and warned me to do no more than suck it. To chew and swallow any solid matter could appearently be a terminal mistake.

What I got was a sort of chair leg with a moist inside.

For photographs see here, and here

When I decided to cut a piece off, because it seemed vulgar to stick the entire leg in my mouth, my kitchen knife made no impression so I had to use a saw.

There wasn't much juice inside, and what there was tasted just mildly sweet, like a much diluted syrup. I expect it was better than an ordinary chair leg, but not much better.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

My first batch of oxtail soup.

Once I got round to it was quite easy to make; how odd I should never have tried before.

I suppose I was brought up to think of oxtail soup as something that comes out of tins.

A few days ago I made my first dumplings, and it's barely a year since my first homemade scones.

What shall I do next ?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Second Derivatives in The News

d2S/dt2 >0, S = number of swine flue cases, t = time.

The news broadcast didn't say that in so many words, but their circumlocution amounted to that.

I don't recall ever hearing a third or higher derivative in the news; we must listen carefully!

When I edited the html source to get the superscript 2's I noticed that Google seems unaware of the paragraph tags, using div and /div instead. I wonder why ?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Looking on the Bright Side.

"Everything in the world is perfect, so there must be a God" said a visiting Mormon.

Had I been unkind I might have replied "Even your acne?", but I was feeling benevolent so I just told him to enjoy the sunshine.

Friday, 17 July 2009

My first form

I've now got a little further with CGI programming, and have got data entered into a form emailed back to me. This time I had to make a few changes to the code I copied from the website.

However, receiving emails containing my own statistics is gradually losing its excitment, so I should be grateful if some of my readers would go to the new visitors' page of my website and fill in the form.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

My first CGI program

It was remarkably easy. Admittedly I copied the program from a book, or rather cut and pasted it from the website accompanying the book, but still, it did work first time.

Any readers who have forgotten what computer, browser or operating system they are using should go here to be reminded.

They will also be reminded how much information may be divulged to any web site to which they connect.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Birmingham Science Museum

A fortight ago I led a visit to Birmingham Science Museum by members of the Leicester U3A Science and Technology Group. It has taken me a long time to write an account because I've been very busy gathering fruit, making jams and jellies, and struggling to control frames with javascript.

There were ten of us in the party; we met on the platform at Leicester Station and travelled together, obtaining a 30% discount for travelling by public transport.

Ever since my early childhood I’d often changed trains in Birmingham, and had sometimes wandered around the Pallisades shopping centre that engulfs New Street Station while waiting for a connection, but the first time I visited Birmingham to look round rather than to pass through was in 1994. Much of the centre had clearly been rebuilt in the course of the previous 30 years or so. On subsequent visits, made at intervals of three or four years, I’ve noticed the re-rebuilding of Birmingham as the 1960’s buildings have been demolished in their turn, and at each visit I come across bits that I suspect were not there last time. My Birmingham street map, published in 1993, now seems badly out of date.

One thing that seems to increase remorselessly is the cost of using the lavatory at New Street Station. Forewarned by one of our group, we all managed our eliminative functions well enough to avoid that expense.

On this visit, we walked through the Palisades shopping centre and out along a sort of plastic pedestrian tube that I’d never seen before.

I don’t recall ever being in the part of Birmingham where the museum is situated, though there are large areas where previous buildings have been demolished, so old landmarks will have disappeared. There seems to be no haste to rebuild. Sites have been cleared but are not fenced off; they are just grassed over. I was puzzled by the state of the grass. It was not long and unkempt, yet neither was there any sign that it had recently been mown. It looked well grazed, and I imagined the Birmingham City Council Shepherd watching his flocks by night.

The Museum shares a large building with Aston University and Matthew Boulton College. That made the topology complicated. To get from the Museum to the only open coffee bar, that was outside the museum but inside the main building and on the first floor, one had to get to either the second floor or the ground floor of the museum, go out, and then use stairs or lift to get the first floor. That was particularly irritating when two of us were on the first floor of the museum, could see the coffee bar through a window, but could reach it only by one the tortuous routes described.

The Museum is on five floors. The ground floor houses a large collection of machinery, and goods manufactured in Birmingham using such machinery. In the 18th Century the Lunar Society flourished in the Black Country. One of its members was Matthew Boulton who manufactured a wide variety of consumer goods, samples of which were on display.

The first floor was a viewing platform overlooking the larger of the exhibits on the ground floor.

Floors 2 and 3 displayed various exhibits primarily directed at children, but still not without interest to the elderly visitor. There were various devices that responded to visitor input, including simulated recycling machinery, and there were displays showing what happens to our food during its passage through the digestive tract right up to the final extrusion of the faecal bolus, though this was unfortunately not animated. Another static display illustrated the development of a foetus. Animation of the various stages would have been particularly illuminating in that case.

The fourth floor was devoted to transient exhibitions which on our visit were a small display about robotics, and a much larger one of models of dinosaurs, the highlight of which was a video of animations of dinosaurs, arranged so that if one stood in a particular region of the room ones image was imposed on the video.

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera. My new mobile phone takes photographs, but I haven't yet found out how to get them out of the phone into my computer. Both phone and computer have several means of communication, but they don't seem to have any in common.

I find I enjoy looking at things much more enjoyable when accompanied by people with whom I can discuss them. Had I visited the museum on my own, I'd have been through it in an hour; at it was I spent nearly 4 hour there - including two long chatty breaks in the coffee bar. I seem to enjoy the trains of thought and conversations stimulated by looking at things much more than I enjoy the looking.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A misplaced Quantifier

I winced this afternoon when I heard someone interviewed on Radio 4 say:

"There's something we can learn from every event"

Monday, 29 June 2009

Absent Mindedness

I've just deleted a post that duplicated the one I made on 24th.

Oh dear!!!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Reith Lectures

I'm not a great enthusiast, but this year's Reith lectures coincide with my washing up after breakfast. I usually listen to Radio 4 then and so far the lectures haven’t irritated me enough for me to dry my hands in order to switch off, but they do irritate me a little.

The lecturer bases much of his argument on scholastic ideas of nature and necessity. Qualities of subjects are divided into the essential and the merely contingent, and the nature of something seems to consist of the set of its necessary qualities.

Those distinctions involve great difficulties, in my opinion so great that the distinctions are useless. However there is no sign that the speaker is even aware that there are any difficulties.
See chapter 5 of my Philosophy notes for a discussion of the problems involved.

I wonder if he's using long words he barely understands in the hope of impressing.

Friday, 26 June 2009

A penny Drops

I'd long been baffled by the suggestion that when data from a form is sent according to the GET protocol it is included in a URL

Enlightenment came yesterday. I was pouring over an example in a book about CGI programming and suddenly realised what was meant.

The data is attached to the URL of the program designed to to process it.

I've never come across an explicit statement to that effect. Why do computer folk so often feel the need to communicate in winks and nudges, instead of in plain English prose ?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Alone On the Top Deck

The bus I caught into town today was a double-decker. When I climbed the stairs I found I had the top deck to myself, so I was able to sit at the very front.

That's always been my favourite seat, but there used to be keen competition for it. These days I'm rarely denied it.

The top deck used to be populated mainly by smokers and schoolchildren. The former have been abolished, and there seem to be far fewer of the latter on buses these days, but it still surprises me that more people aren't attracted to the top deck for the wonderful view of things hidden from those who travel nearer the ground.

Most buses on the routes I use are single-deckers; perhaps many people forget there ever is an upper deck.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Judicial Arithmetic

I recently heard a broadcast interview with Lord Carlisle, in which he explained the need for detention orders against potential terrorists. He said that 'ninety nine point nine recurring percent' of the Muslim's living in Britain reject Al Quaeda and terrorism.

99.9 recurring = 100 so his assertion entails that they all reject terrorism.  If there were no terrorist sympathisers, there would be no need for detention orders.

I'm sure he didn't mean that so he should have chosen his words more carefully.

Those who don't understand arithmetic shouldn't use long words like 'recurring' just to impress.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Counting Slowly

Yesterday evening I watched the reporting of  European Election results on the BBC 24 hours news program.

I was surprised how long it took for the British results to appear. We voted on Thursday, yet many countries that voted yesterday still produced complete results while all we had were the results for the North East.

Perhaps our civil servants need bigger abacuses !

Friday, 5 June 2009

A Devious Journey

On Wednesday I went to London backwards.

My train left Leicester travelling Northwards, turned East to go through Melton Mowbray and Oakham, then entered Peterborough travelling in a South Easterly direction.

At Peterborough I was able to scamper across the bridge to arrive at platform 2 just in time to board a Southbound train for King's Cross, whence I had an invigorating walk to St. Pancras where I had arranged to meet Gerard, with whom I then visited Kew Gardens.

It was all  much more exciting than the conventional journey, though it was not what I intended when  I set out that morning.

What I hadn't allowed for was the body at Bedford.

When I arrived at Leicester station, rather early, I noticed the train before mine waiting in the station, it's expected departure time moving forward so as to be always a minute or two later than the prevailing time. On the platform were two groups or railway staff in earnest conclave, mobile phones pressed to their ears.

When I asked if anything was wrong I learnt that trains had been stopped until police had finished examining the corpse of someone who had inconsiderately jumped underneath a train near Bedford. The devious route through Peterborough as suggested as the best bet.

We do make an unreasonable fuss about bodies. Once someone is dead, their remains are of little significance except as evidence where foul play is suspected, or as teaching materials if someone has died in an especially instructive way.

 Usually it should be enough for someone to take a few witness statements and a few photographs and then move the body to the side of the track where the police could examine it at their leisure, allowing trains to thunder by at their customary 100 mph.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Blogging Statistcs

I've noticed my blogs tend to cluster. There will be a week or so when I don't blog at all, and then blogs seems to tumble out almost daily. Perhaps I have bloging moods and non-blogging moods, though that may be more a desciption than an explanation.

I wonder if other people blog with similar irregularity.

I can't think of a helpful statistical test. I could show clustering by testing for a Poisson distribution and show that it isn't one, but that wouldn't tell me what distribution does apply.

Suggestions would be welcome.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Dull minds in high places

Opening the latest edition of 'The Philosophers' magazine' I noticed there was an article based on an interview with a member of Parliament.

Tony Wright MP, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, used to teach Politics in the University of Birmingham. My enthusiasm waned a little on reading that.

'Only Politics' I thought, 'still, better than nothing'.

It turned out he read Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the LSE. That sounded a little more encouraging.

Then I read 'I have trouble with concepts and logic. I remember doing logic at university and finding it impenetrable'

Advanced logic can indeed be tricky when it develops into the foundations of Mathematics, or formalises modal logic, but the sort of elementary logic (see chapter 2 of my notes) that would be taught to the general run of Philosophy students is extremely easy.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that anyone baffled by logic has no intelligence at all, but what intelligence they have would amount to little more than the ability to recognise superficial similarities. Careful critical analysis would be beyond them.

Apparently that is all it takes to pass as brainy in the Palace of Westminster.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Upton Hall

Yesterday my knowledge of clocks was greatly extended.

I visited Upton Hall with members of the U3A Science and Technology group.

For the benefit of readers too lazy to click on the link, Upton Hall is the headquarters of the British Horological Institute. The Institute provides correspondence courses in clock and watch making, conducts examinations and awards qualifications. It has a large collection of clocks, dating from the sixteenth century to the present day. Almost all have been acquired as gifts. 

We were conducted round the collection by Viscount Middleton, who is the curator, and of course himself a horologist.

The tour far exceeded one's normal expectations of a guided tour; it amounted to an erudite, entertaining and highly informative seminar on the history and technology of clock making and time keeping.

We began by contemplating a reconstruction of a medieval clock. That was designed to divide both day and night into twelve hours each, so that for most of the year it had to run at different speeds during the day and night. It therefore had an adjustable governor, which would normally have been altered at dawn and again at dusk so that the speed of the clock would vary according to the hours of daylight and dark..

We moved on to a master clock with built in electrical generator to provide the electrical pulses that controlled the slave clocks. Power was provided by a two hundredweight weight that had to be wound up daily.

Another remarkable exhibit was Britain's first speaking clock, incorporating an early example of an optical reader.

There was also a clock that indicated the state of the tide.  Another clock had a special lock to prevent the servants getting inside the case to put it back when they were behind with their work.

Not all clocks have twelve hours on the dial; there was one with only four hours, so the hour hand made six circuits every day (there was no minute hand), and one depended on background knowledge to decide which of the six possible times applied.

A separate display of watches and small clocks included the alarm watch Captain Scott used to wake him up every two hours so he could take exercise to avoid frostbite, and there were several clocks in which all the parts were made of wood.

We concluded by examining a clock specially constructed to commemorate the 150th Anniversary on the BHI. It had a glass case through which one could see what was going on inside and was unusual in having three pendula, intended to compensate for the effects of movement.

Having spent a fascinating two hours looking at the collection, we adjourned to the Southall Minster Refectory (as they call their tea room) for tea.

Upton, by the way, is a village in Nottinghamshire, on the road from Southwell to Newark.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Web Dependence

A few days ago broadband was down for the best part of a day. I felt isolated, cut off both from friends and from information.

Luddites might say that is because I've become addicted to technology, but they are wrong.

Thinking back to the days before I had an Internet connection, I realise how isolated  I was then.

Information could be obtained only laboriously by plodding through reference books, all out of date.

To meet more than one person at a time required elaborate arrangements, and unless the people in question lived nearby one had to chose between the haphazard superficiality of a, usually expensive, phone call, and the time consuming chore of letter writing.

I am so glad we now have email and the Internet !!!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Virgin Web Space in Limbo

I've noticed that a high proportion of visits to this blog result from Google searches for information about problems with Virgin media. That such searches should lead people to such a lowly site as this suggests that information is scarce. I've therefore decided to bring the story up to date.

Since late April I've made at least eight phone calls about my inability to alter the contents of my Virgin web space. 

The response has varied considerably. One help person sounded terrified and said 'I can't help you about that' before ringing off. Another promised that someone would ring me back, yet no one did. 

A breakthrough came on 5th May when an unusually astute person tested my web space, observed the problem himself and referred the matter to Swansea, promising a solution within three days and giving me a reference number for the problem.

I later learnt that reference to Swansea constituted 'escalation' of the problem.

Subsequent calls in which I quoted the magic number have received answers that revealed an awareness of the nature of the problem, and elicited various promises for its speedy solution, such as 'tomorrow' which would have been 14th May, and 'after 10 working days' which would have been 19th May.

The last call gave no date, counselled patience and revealed that I am not alone in having the problem, which is related to a change of server.

Although I have not been told this in as many words, extrapolation from what I have been told suggests the following:

They decided to move their user data to new servers. Almost all user data consists of the contents of mailboxes, because few customers realise they have any web space, and fewer know how to use it. Web space was thus forgotten in the move, so that the mail is running on the new servers, but the contents of the web space are still on the old server, visible but unalterable, and they are wondering what to do about it.

At least I've made one useful discovery: that problems that are taken seriously have numbers and are escalated. Anyone asking Virgin to sort anything out would therefore be wise to ask for the problem number, and ask if the problem has been escalated. Knowing the magic words can help!!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Checking the Virgin cable Modem

I've found how to get the attention of Virgin help folk.

If you report that your Broadband connection is down and the ready light on the modem is flashing, an engineer will be dispatched the following day.

Apparently that flashing light indicates something wrong, either with the modem itself, or with the broadband cable.

Once you mention the flashing light, there's no more fussing about resetting the modem - though they may ask you to switch it off while they do a few tests, but you get your engineer fast.

In my case the signal was poor, so he boosted it to the maximum, and said if that didn't suffice he'd arrange for a new cable to be 'pulled through', giving me his mobile phone number just in case.

So far I haven't needed to use it.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A Party Political Broadcast

A few days ago I watched a party political broadcast.

Usually I don't watch any, feeling that if I watched one it would be unfair not to watch all, a prospect  too depressing to be contemplated.

However I switched on the television set just after one began, so I didn't know whose it was, and it seemed so odd that I watched to find out.

It showed a man striding about in a purposeful manner, yet with no obvious purpose, in what looked like an underground car park, though there were no cars. From time to time he came across a punch bag. Whenever he did he punched it.

At first I thought he was an updated version of Nietzsche's Ubermench, and that the broadcast was on behalf of the BNP.

The verbal content consisted entirely of disparaging comments about the domestic policies favoured by Mr. David Cameron, and it gradually became apparent that the broadcast was part of the Labour Party's campaign for the European election, though there was no mention of any European issue and on the issues that were discussed the BNP would have taken much the same stand.

Perhaps if I watched the broadcasts of all the other parties I should be equally appalled; I can't face the prospect. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

There is blossom on my Isaac Newton tree

One of the apple trees in my garden is a clone of the famous tree underneath which Newton is supposed to have received enlightenment.

The original tree survived into the nineteenth century, by which time various institutions had grafts. There are clones in the National Apple Collection at Brogdale, which supplies grafts of anything in its collection for only a relatively small charge, so I had a tree grafted.

It was supposed to be on a semi-dwarfing rootstock, M26, but defied my attempts to prune it to a modest height by growing prodigiously and not flowering, so I eventually allowed one branch to grow unchecked.

Last year it flowered for the first time, but produced only two clusters of flowers and no fruit. This year, in about its fourteenth year, it has at last produced a modest quantity of blossom, so I hope for an Isaac Newton Apple this Summer.

Incidentally, the variety is Flower of Kent.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

An Anniversary

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my beginning this blog.

I'm quite glad that I didn't post then, because I prefer not to take anniversaries seriously.

I have made more than a hundred comments here in a year and a day - far more than I expected to make  when I started. I fear blogging has distracted me from other things. I must spend more time in the garden and more time on those unending Philosophy notes. Recent reading has stimulated more thoughts about Scientific explanation, so Chapter 6 is due for revision.

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Megalomania of Software Developers

I recently bought a new laptop. It runs Windows Vista.

Each version of Windows I've used is bossier than the one before. The programmers seem to think the computer belongs to them, so they can decide what I may put on it, and where each item shall be stored. I've therefore been struggling to establish control.

The problem is made worse by the virus checker. I had previously relied on freeware virus checkers, which are usually relatively unobtrusive, but this time I let the shop persuade me to buy the Kaspersky product. It whinges whenever  install software, and even protested the first time the browser tried to access the Internet.

The worst time was on Easter Sunday when I installed the software for my Epson SX200 printer, scanner, photocopier.

First I couldn't find the disk. When I looked for a driver on the Epson site, I could find no mention of the printer in question, though I did eventually find elsewhere copies of the instruction booklets and of a driver for the printer only.

I decided the disk must be buried in the piles of unfiled papers in my study, so I spent most of Easter Sunday sorting out papers, and eventually found the disk, and installed from that.

I noticed that one of the utilities on the disc offered optical character recognition, but, after installation, I couldn't find any Epson utility that did that, nor any indication how to do it in the Epson documentation.

Eventually I found that the program in question is called ABBYY FineReader, and is not included in the Epson group of programs. It seems to work reasonably, but before finding it I had spent a lot of time searching the web for freeware OCR programs. (TopOCR works quite well at turning a picture of text into a text file).

What a fuss !!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I've moved my web site

The new url is

so I'm using the CIX web space again.

The old material remains on the Virgin servers, but I still can't obtain access to modify it.

On the other hand the affairs of CIX have taken a turn for the better. it has now regained its independence, and the part that administers web space has been reunited with conferencing.

Inspired by the peerless Gerard I was able to copy material from my computer to the CIX site using Windows Explorer, instead of by command line in an MSDOS box as I have done in the past. 

Sunday, 5 April 2009

More trouble with Virgin

I've found I can no longer modify the contents of my website. Attempts either to upload files, or to delete what is already there, are rejected on the ground that I don't have the necessary permission, though I can see everything on the site.

Peter of the Virgin help team couldn't put it right, even after having two consultations with his coleagues. He thinks it may be a server fault, so perhaps all will be well soon if they manage to put it right.

I did glean one piece of useful information - where to go to alter user settings. I'd several times searched the Virgin site in vain for that, but now I know where it is.

Readers who'd like to know should look at: 

you can't do much there apart from change passwords and defined extra email addresses, but that little is better than nothing.

I've also discovered that I have 200 MB of web space.

If all who have Virgin broadband used all their web space, many new servers would be needed.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

I agree with Hazel Blears

I've rewritten this blog to avoid a misunderstanding.

What I originally wrote suggested to at least one reader that my object was to praise Hazel Blears. I was actually expressing amazement that someone I consider to be the platitude made flesh should have said something that I agreed with.

One of the bees that have long buzzed in my bonnet concerns the way fines levied on public bodies for failing adequately to serve the public, are eventually paid by the ill served members of the public.  It should be possible to meet such fines by deductions from the wages of those who run the failing institutions.

When I heard a report that the BBC had been fined 150 000 pounds because two comedians made offensive, indeed slanderous, phone calls during a programme, I decided to blog about it.

As I lay in my bath thinking of what to say, I heard an interview with Hazel Blears in which she observed that the fine should not come out of license fee payments made by the very same viewers who were annoyed by the broadcast, but should be paid by the offending comedians.  In my astonishment at that agreement I made that, rather than the main issue, the focus of my blog.

As my friend John pointed out, Blears herself deserves little personal credit because she is one of the politicians who have collaborated to create the system I deplore. Also her ire my have been to some extent misdirected. She seemed to regard the offending comedians as the main culprits, and did not suggest that  BBC executives should shoulder part of the cost.

Still, I do find it encouraging that she should have realised that all is not well.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Greed or Megalomania ?

I recently noticed a newspaper article about pay increases for senior NHS managers.  They had an increase of  7.6% while nurses got 1.9%.

The story is a useful  reminder that  it is not only in the private  sector that those at the top award themselves lots of other people's money. The sums of money seem to be much smaller in the public sector, though that may partly reflect greater job security.

However making money is not the only motive for the ambitious. They also seek power and prestige, and I those are often more important than money. 

That is one of the reasons communist states have failed.  Outraged by the concentration of power in the hands of a few rich people, communists thought they could neutralise that power by ending private ownership of industry. If they ever did that, their success was only temporary.

The ambitious in one generation may be stripped of wealth and power, but ambitious young people growing up in such a society will realise that there is only one way to make a mark – rising to  a senior position in the state bureaucracy. So people of the type who, in a capitalist economy would be rapacious captains of industry, will in a communist state hold the power; more power balancing less money.

Remember what happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Senior Communist bureaucrats, joyfully discovering something called 'privatisation', sold themselves state assets and transformed themselves into the 'oligarchs'

The stereotypical argument between communists and the defenders of capitalism misses the point.

One  side denounces capitalists as greedy monsters who can be neutralized by transferring power to public spirited public officials, and the other represents them as public benefactors .

I think the truth is that many prominent people are greedy monsters, but it is only the chance to make money in the private sector that distracts many them from the pursuit of political power.

Letting them make money seems to be a lesser evil than letting them rule, quite apart from the fact that to prevent megalomaniacs from making money involves also hampering the activities of many other people who are not megalomaniacs.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Working in my own time.

This is my first blog from the net book, which is fiddly, but usable.

Having described my strategy for coping with clock change, I thought I'd report that it seems to have worked.

I didn't get up till 8:15 this morning, a quarter of an hour later than usual, so I've actually taken the time change in three instalments, of 30 minutes, 15 minutes and, assuming I get up on time tomorrow morning, another 15 minutes.

It seems to have worked. I haven't felt at all tired or uncoordinated.

This afternoon I managed a great purge of accumulated magazines, which was most satisfying.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Changing the Clocks

I've just tried a new way to deal with the changing of the clocks. Instead of a single adjustment of an hour, I decided to try two adjustments of half an hour each.

Last night I set my alarm for 7:30 instead of the usual 8 - I decided not to change clocks till this morning. I didn't actually need the alarm as I was awake before 7:30 GMT, so I rose as scheduled.

Having altered clocks by an hour, I've returned the alarm to its usual 8, and wait to see how I feel tomorrow.

Changing the clocks is distinctly odd. It is understandable that people should want to get up earlier when the mornings are lighter, but that could be achieved just be getting up earlier.

Do we need different times for different parts of the world ? One international time would suffice, provided we could overcome a strange superstition, that the various events of our daily routine should each be linked with a certain range of numbers.

People are used to associate getting up with a number between 6 and 9, starting work with a number between 8 and 9:30, going to bed with a number between 10 and 12. Those associations would be broken if we had a single world time. I expect that would be considered a great problem. If it is a problem, that is only because people who do not understand numbers allow their lives to be ruled by them.

Even people usually at home with numbers are sometimes defeated by times. The Economist once argued that Britain should adopt Eastern European time, giving two reasons. First it would be easier for people in  Britain to make phone calls to their opposite numbers in other countries if all worked the same hours, and second, that road accidents would be reduced if people finished work in daylight.

The first reason would require people to align their activities with their clocks, but the second would require people to align them with the hours of  daylight, so that people in Eastern Europe would finish work earlier than those further West.

It is an amusing truth of logic that a contradiction implies anything. (See Chapter 2 of my notes on Philosophy) As it had mutually contradictory premises the Economist's argument was indeed valid, but was still useless for establishing its conclusion. 

Friday, 27 March 2009

Piping Hot Food

I've just seen a newspaper report that drinking tea at a temperature higher than 70o C multiplies by 8 the risk of oesophageal cancer. There appears to be no problem with drinking cooler tea, so I guess the same risk may attach to eating or drinking anything at that temperature.
It often puzzles me that many people should be so anxious that their food and their cups of tea should be hot when they consume them. ''I can't eat/drink this' they say in tones of profound disgust 'It's cold'.

It isn't just that I don't mind if what I ingest is cool. Tastes differ and it doesn't worry me that others like what I do not. However, the difference often bothers those others who do like stuff to be hot.

There seems to be an almost moral fervour in  their denunciation of cold food and drinks, as if they feel it their duty to dislike anything cold entering their digestive tracts. 

Frequently they don't confine their complaints to what is offered for their own consumption, but show an unwelcome and ill mannered interest in the temperature  of my food and drink. 'You can't drink that tea' they'll say indignantly 'It's cold', sometimes trying to replace it by something hot, after I've waited for what seems like ages for it to cool to a temperature at which I can drink it comfortably.

Most odd.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Shape of a Word

My Mother, a primary school teacher, used to say that when children are learning to read, it is usually the short words that baffle them. No one, she said, ever has any difficulty recognising 'elephant'.

I was reminded of that yesterday when Radio 4 reported on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the M1 motorway. They interviewed a lady who helped design the road signs. She said that they had to be redesigned to make them readable by people travelling fast, and that required the use of lower case. Signs in block capitals would have been harder to read because all the letters would have been the same height, which would have concealed the shapes of the words.

It has become fashionable to demand that children be taught to read by only one method, synthetic phonics, in which they are taught to deduce the pronunciation of a word from the sounds of the component letters, and from those alone.

That is not how most people read most of the time. We usually glance at a word and recognise it immediately; we use the 'look say' method.

By insisting that children attend only to the individual letters and ignore the shape of a word, we are denying them a useful clue. Perhaps some children can't recognise the shapes of words, but that is no reason to try to conceal that clue from all.

That is a bit like making everyone walk with crutches because some are crippled.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I've penetrated the Windows like user interface of my net book and experimented with Linux in command line mode.

I found among my books a 25 year old guide to UNIX, which reminded me of the stuff I used to do on the college Xenix system in the mid 1980's.

Joy of joys, the ancient commands still worked !! 

I created a little file with ed, the line editor, and corrected my mistake.

I generated a calendar for this month and sent it to a file.

It was even more fun that getting a Sinclair Spectrum simulator to run on a PC - something I haven't done for a long time. It made me feel, if not exactly young, at least middle aged again.

Alas, there was a worm in the apple. I couldn't get either of the characters '\' or '|' As the latter is the pipeline symbol that is very serious. They are both shown on the Z key of the Asus, but I can't get them on the screen, though I've tried all the combinations of special keys, caps lock and num lock that I can think of. Readers are invited to post suggestions, preferably ones that do not involve smashing the net book in righteous fury.

Meanwhile I shall copy file containing the missing characters from my PC and try cutting and pasting on the Asus.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Getting a new Cable Modem

Early this year my cable broadband, nominally 20 Mb/s, slowed down to about 2% of that. It was sometimes even slower - I once measured a download speed as low as 13 kp/s, although upload speeds were usually roughly what they were supposed to be.

I therefore had to communicate with Virgin Media. I assume that ‘Virgin' does not refer to the sexual inexperience of the owners or employees of the company. Possibly it signifies a subliminal recognition of their ineptitude in helping customers.

Fist I tried the telephone help line. At least it was free, but I had to deal with a series of menus prefaced by long winded recorded explanations, before I was allowed to listen to half an hour of recorded music while I awaited for Angel in India to answer the phone and tell me to do what I'd already done - reset the modem and wireless router, and plug a computer directly into the modem. Eventually I seemed to lose Angel.

I then tried to send Virgin an email.

Emails have to be sent through a special hard to locate page of the Virgin web site. One has to enter one's autobiography in a set of little boxes, and has to repeat the procedure every time one sends a message.

The messages have to be entered into a tiny window that one can't resize, so that one can't proofread the message before sending it . The size of the window doesn't limit the length of the message, just the part one can see at any time.

Messages are supposed to be attended to within 48 hours. After waiting considerably longer than that I eventually spotted a reply in the spam trap. All emails from the Virgin help staff go into the spam trap.

The message told me to perform various tests, and referred me to various web pages for further explanation but none of the references was a correct url, so it took me quite a while to find them.

The tests were quite inappropriate to my problem of an exceptionally low connection. They wanted me to record three trace routes to the BBC site; my connection was so slow that the process timed out without finishing, closing the MSDOS window, so I had nothing to copy. They wanted me simultaneously to download four large files in case downloading a single file didn't use the full capacity of the connection, but even if four files had used four times as much capacity as one, that would in my case have still be only four times two percent.

Eventually I managed to record three incomplete trace routes, and sent the results to Virgin. Trying to reply to their email drew the response that my message hadn't been delivered, because I hadn't sent it from the Virgin site, so I had to cut and paste into the silly little box, thus losing the message header.

The response was a message identical to the one I'd just replied to. So I resent my previous readings, prefaced by a protest.

I then progressed to a different, but still Spam trapped, request for information. This time they told me how to log in to the modem configuration file. I didn't confine myself to the fields they asked me to look at, but looked at everything, and found the suggestive words:

'Software update failed'

I considered that a CLUE, and emphasised it by putting it at the very beginning of my reply (sent through the little box, of course), and suggested they replace the very old ntl modem.

The Virgin response ignored everything I'd said; it was simply a repetition of the request I'd just answered.

After copying my previous reply into the little box, with expressions of discontent, I tried another telephone call. This time I got through quite quickly to a different lady in India who looked at my account and said 'The reason your Broadband is slow is that you have a very old modem that is not capable of handling the present service. I have ordered you a new modem, it will arrive in two days'

It did, accompanied by a complementary plastic spanner to help fix it, and it works. hence my jubilation. The whole process had taken about two months.

Did the various other people who were supposed to be dealing with the problem fail to notice the modem was out of date? Did they not bother to check, or did they just not exist ? Perhaps they were experiments in AI.

Incidentally, anyone wanting to investigate their modem should follow these instructions:

Using a computer plugged directly into the modem, point the browser at This should take you to that Virgin's message calls the modem's Configuration page. Click on
the Login link and enter "root" as both the username and the password. Then read the horrid truth.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Heart

People used to believe that emotions were located in the heart, but that opinion was abandoned centuries ago. It is more than 350 years since Descartes wrote:

"'The mind does not immediately receive the impression from all parts of the body, but only from the brain" (Meditations, p 139 of the Everyman Edition of Descartes works translated into English)

And for at least a century we've had quite a good idea of how the brain controls the rest of the body, but people still talk as if their emotions were in their hearts.

 The various 'heart' locutions have become cliche's. When people say 'I love you from the bottom of my heart' they don't think of their blood pumps, but visualise a large box of chocolates, shaped like the heart in a pack of cards and tied with a pink ribbon. 

Emotions do have some effect on the heart - it tends to speed up when we are stressed, but emotions have at least as marked effect on the bowels.

''My heart goes out to you' might just as well be 'my bowels move for you', in fact that would be much better because bowels do move, but hearts don't go out.

Similarly 'hand on Heart' might be replaced as a declaration of sincerity by 'fingers up the bum'

I expect most readers of this blog are either  too polite or too timid to adopt either of those alternatives; I certainly am, but when I hear people talking about their hearts, I can't help thinking of what they might more aptly have said.

Monday, 9 March 2009

I've Bought a Netbook

It's one of the Asus machines, with 16 MB of internal flash drive instead of a hard drive, so its power consumption is low and it runs for hours on one battery charge.

It runs Linux, though I suspect the user interface is contributed by Asus. It irritatingly presents a main menu that divides possible activities quite counter intuitively into such categories as 'Work', 'Learn', 'Play', and tasks are assigned to those categories quite haphazardly. For instance the quite reasonable graph drawing programme, which almost anyone who wants to draw graphs would classify as 'Play' and the rest would consider 'Work', comes instead under 'Learn'.

I haven't yet found how to change the categories, and the directory tree available seems to be incomplete. However I have found how to summon a terminal window and have started to explore the various directories there.

I may try to write some of my own commands - I suspect they go in the bin directory.

Hints would be welcome.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Only One Quantum of Intelligence ?

It is about 25 years since Sir Clive Sinclair, who must have known enough Physics to know better, called one of his computers the QL because it was a 'Quantum Leap' forward.

A quantum is the smallest quantity by which the energy of a system can increase, so a quantum leap is the smallest improvement possible.

We still hear the error error quite often, despite fequent corrections. I rather think it was a judge whose misuse of the word inspired this comment.

Those who use recondite words in the hope of sounding clever, should first find out what those words mean.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Hysteria in High Places

Yesterday I heard Harriet Harmen say, of Sir F. Goodwin's pension:

"It may be enforceable in a court of law, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that is where the government steps in"

There is no court of public opinion, so that part of her pronouncement is nonsense, but what she seems to propose is that laws need not be enforced if the consequences are unpopular.

 The Labour Party has been in office for nearly twelve years. The much deplored excesses of company directors have been perpetrated under a regulatory system which the government could have revised at any time in that period. Even under the present system, the government could have reduced the Goodwin pension; it didn't because it did not understand what was going on.

It is outrageous to react to this mess by proposing an end to the rule of law.

I don't know whether Harmen was being consciously irresponsible, or is just too stupid to realise the import of what she said. In either case she is unfit for public office.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Don't trust Sports Sponsors.

Commentators in the financial press often remark that lavish company headquarters are a sign of a badly run company. Recent events suggest that another warning sign is lavish sponsorship of sporting events. Northern Rock, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Sir Allen Stanford all spent a great deal of what now appears to be other people's money on sporting events.

People often blame financial catastrophes on greed. I don't rule that out, but I think megalomania is often more important. Men, and the culprits always seem to be men, want to their company to be BIG and want themselves to be noticed. Sponsoring a well reported sporting event or a successful team is a way of boasting about their size.

Investors should treat it as a warning.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Bonuses and Pensions

Current and recent outrage about bonuses and pensions has directed at company directors and members of Parliament. Both are groups of people who pay each other over generously with other people's money, and directors often seek to escape into prosperous obscurity if things go wrong.

 I suggest that payments to directors should be determined annually by a ballot of shareholders. One way would be for directors to be paid annually in arrears and for each shareholder to indicate what payment should be made to each director for the previous year's work, The actual sum paid would be the median of all the individual sums proposed, taking into account the sizes of shareholdings so the choice of someone holding 15000 shares would counts as 15000 choices.

 MP's pensions could be determined when they leave the Commons by a ballot of their former constituents. Each elector could write down the annual pension he considers the former MP deserves, and the  actual pension would be the median of all those figures. 

An afterthought: people should never have trusted anyone called 'Sir Fred'. Whatever his friends call him, he should have been knighted 'Sir Frederick'.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Collective Sentimentality

Yesterday the House of Commons adjourned for half an hour, and Prime Minister's Questions was cancelled, because of the death of a young son of the leader of the opposition.

I thought that a gross over-reaction.

The death was a personal tragedy for Mr. Cameron and his family, and I understand his absence from the Commons, and was glad that the Prime Minister and other MP's expressed their sympathy, but that was sufficient. It was a private matter, not a matter of state. Prime Minister's Question Time gives the commons an opportunity to call the Prime Minister to account. We can't afford to miss such opportunities.

As I watched the televised proceedings of the House of Commons, the appearance of Vince Cable as spokesman for the Liberal Democrats reminded me of another absentee from the House - Nick Clegg. His excuse was that a few days ago his wife had a baby. I think that would justify a short absence of a couple of days to attend the birth and keep his wife company during the immediate aftermath, but there should be no need for more.

Women  bear children; it may eventually be possible to arrange for men to do so, but until it is, fathers should not pretend that it is they who have given birth.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Turnover Tax

Companies are usually taxed on their profits. Consequently unprofitable companies make little contribution to public services, though they may make heavy use of them.

I should like to replace profits tax by a tax on turnover, levied at such a rate that the yield would be the same as that for profits tax.

That would leave successful companies with more money for investment and for distribution as dividends, while it would hasten the demise of unprofitable companies.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Extravagent Precedents.

Listening to the television news, I've just heard someone (a trade union official, I suspect) saying that if the government can afford to bail out the banks, it can afford to sort out the post office. The logic is questionable.

Extravagant expenditure does not justify further expenditure; quite the opposite it often makes it necessary to economise. It would be more sensible to argue that because the government has spent so much on the banks, it can't afford to sort out the Post Office as well.

Modest expenditure may create a precedent; over lavish expenditure does the opposite it, making further expenditure harder.

Monday, 16 February 2009

'Gender Equality'

I've just seen a news item about Tessa Jowell's concern to establish 'gender equality' in the Olympic Games.

It would be very easy to do that. Instead of having separate events for men and for women, let all the events be mixed, with men and women competing against one another.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

ees and ers

Buses usually have notices stating how many passengers can be carried. My imagination is often stimulated by one particular category, the 'standees'

I visualise noble souls lying down in the aisles so that others, the standers, may stand on them.

I've never been able to think of a convincing reason for the standers wanting to do that, or for the standees allowing them to, but I keep puzzling away, hoping for an answer.

Even more puzzling are references to 'attendees' at a meeting. As an attendee must be something that is attended, it must be the meeting itself, but why refer to it with such coy circumlocution?

I suppose that as songs are sung, and cigars are smoked, they could be referred to respectively as 'singees' and 'smokees', but I hope they never will be.

Finally, is 'drinkies' a corruption of 'drinkees' ?

Friday, 13 February 2009

True Love

An article in Scientific American suggests that being in love with someone may be rather like being addicted to them.

True, the key research was carried out on the prarie vole, but the some of the behaviour of people in love makes more sense if we regarded them as addicted to each other.

Much romantic poetry may need to be re-written.

Perhaps 'My love is like a red, red rose' could become 'My love is like a big, big spliff'

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A Haunted Hospital

This story reminded me of  my own experiences investigating the supposedly 'paranormal' 

I expect there's much less going on than we are led to believe. When I've been involved in investigating of such phenomena,  there has usually been just one person thinking they saw or heard something odd, after which the story spread by word of mouth, being magnified in the process.

What I encountered were worried people, who needed someone to listen to them. Once they felt they were taken seriously, with people noting down what they said, inspecting the premises, doing overnight observations and taking temperatures and photographs, but finding nopthing untoward, the apparent phenomena just stopped.

I have misgivings about the very office of diocesan exorcist. The very existence of such a functionary suggests an endorsement of the misinterpretation placed on casual observations by confused people.

Friday, 30 January 2009

More Tampering with Nursery Rhymes

My attention was drawn to this strange story on the BBC site.

A charity called 'Bookstart' has changed:

'What shall we do with a drunken sailor'   to

 'What shall we do with the grumpy pirate.'

The story mentions other expurgations of nursery rhymes, include a general condemnation of any mentioning pigs.

I wanted to record the imbecility. Further comment seems unnecessary.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Google Chrome

When it first appeared I hated it because I couldn't find any easy way of managing the bookmarks. After a month or two, someone pointed me to the bookmarks manager, which was somewhere I'm almost sure I'd originally looked in vain. I gather Chrome quietly updates itself  all the time. That's wonderful while it works, but I hope they never make a bad mistake.

I like the way it handles tags, and shows frequently visited sites on the home page, but I still have some reservations. When I bookmark a site, I have to move the mouse very cautiously to avoid the bookmark going in the wrong place, and there's no indication that it has gone anywhere even when it has. There are a few sites that don't look their best with Chrome - over wide margins sometimes obscure material I want to read, and on one site every time I move to another page I have to press the maximise button before I can read it.

Still, overall I'm growing quite fond of Chrome and it is now my default browser. 

Friday, 23 January 2009

Big Prime Numbers

When big pimes are discovered, they are always Mersene numbers, of the form 2^p - 1 for p prime.

I used to assume that was because the binary epresentation of such a number consists entirely of 1's so that the number could easily be generated in instalments in a computer, but while browsing through Hardy and Wright's Introduction to the Theory of Numbers, I came upon another relevant fact.

For some Mersenne numbers there is a very short short cut to finding whether they are prime.

If the prime p is greater than 7, and of the form 4n + 3, that is if it leaves remainder 3 when divided by 4, then:

 if 2p + 1 is prime, that number is a factor of 2^p - 1, otherwise 2^p - 1 is prime.

So, for example, to check whether or not 2^19 - 1 is prime, consider 2*19 + 1 = 39

39 is not prime, therefore 2^19 - 1 is prime.

To check whether or not 2^251 - 1 is prime, consider 2*251 + 1 = 503; that is prime and is therefore a factor of 2^251 - 1 which is therefore not prime.

Next time you hear of the discovery of a large prime of the form 2^p - 1, check to see if p leaves remainder 3 when divided by 4; I bet it will.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A wayside shrine

About two years ago a young man aged about 20 was killed on the nearby main road. Ever since people have been lodging flowers between two branches of a tree at the side of the road. I don't think those responsible live at the house nearest to the tree, because I've seen someone arrive, deposit flowers and the leave.

Recently I noticed a few Christmas decorations and two paper plates with bits of food. I suspect someone had delivered Christmas dinner, though only potatoes were left when I noticed it, so I expect the foxes had eaten the rest.

I suppose that paying tributes to the victim may now have become such a deeply ingrained habit, that to stop would feel disloyal. I find it most depressing.

I wish people would think of less banal ways of remembering someone. One could read some of their favourite books, or tend their favourite part of the garden, though not in an obsessive attempt to preserve it in precisely the same state as they knew it, and there is always the traditional memorial - a tombstone.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Radio Four discussed a book I'm reading.

This morning's edition of In Our Time was devoted to Henry David Thoreau, best known as the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience.

For the last few weeks I've been reading a book containing both those works together with various essays on Thoreau. My impressions are recorded on the books page of my web site.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A Poetess on Radio 4

Listening to Radio 4 as I took my morning bath, I heard an interview with the winner of the T. S. Eliot poetry prize. She read one of her poems, which was about (what her poetry is about).

 I found it quite incomprehensible, not just in some respects puzzling, but so baffling that I could find no clue as to what it was supposed to convey, unless that bafflement was itself the message.

Between the ages of about 15 and my early 40's I used to read a fair amount of poetry, but then gradually lost interest.

I quite like the cheerful jingle of humorous light verse, but have come to mistrust what is called 'serious' poetry. That now strikes me as an attempt to present difficult ideas with obscure indirection, so that the wilful impenetrability of the exposition shall match the intractability of the subject matter.

If we are to get to grips with difficult ideas, we need to be discuss them in a very different way,  in the plainest of plain prose, possibly augmented  in emergencies by a little symbolic logic.

As the prize was set up by Eliot and the winner was a young lady living on one of the Shetland Isles, the following thoughts of Eliot's seem pertinent:

Under the bamboo
Bamboo, bamboo
Under the bamboo tree
Two live as one
One lives as two
Two live as three
Under the bam
Under the boo
Under the bamboo tree.

Where the breadfruit fall
And the penguin call
And the sound is the sound of the sea
Under the bam
Under the boo
Under the bamboo tree.

Where the Gauguin maids
In the banyan shades
Wear palmleaf drapery
Under the bam
Under the boo
Under the bamboo tree.

Tell me in what part of the wood
Do you want to flirt with me?
Under the breadfruit, banyan, palmleaf
Or under the bamboo tree?
Any old tree will do for me
Any old wood is just as good
Any old Isle is just my style
Any fresh egg
Any fresh egg
And the sound of the coral sea.

T.S.Eliot, Sweeney Agonistes, Fragments of an Agon.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Barack Obama may turn out to be a great disappointment

I've just listened to part of a speech he made, and noted two promises.

He said that in the next two years he'd double the output of energy from alternative sources. He also promised to computerise all American medical records.

Alternative energy is both very fashionable and relatively new, so the annual rate of increase is a high proportion of the total. Output might well double in two years without any intervention from the president elect. Furthermore it takes quite a while to build and commission new generating equipment, so it is unlikely that anything Obama does do will have much effect in the next two years. The promise about energy is empty.

The promise about medical records should worry all Americans. There have been attempts to computerise all medical records in England too. The cost has been enormous, but the system still doesn't work properly. Obama sounded a bit like Harold Wilson promising in the 1960's to harness the 'white heat of the technological revolution' for the public good. Has he an ulterior motive for building a central database of information about the entire population ?