Sunday, 27 February 2011

Delighted by Drizzle

I planned to spend much of the day in the garden shredding a vast accumulation of prunings. When I found it was drizzling I was delighted to have an excuse to do nothing in particular indoors instead.

Am I becoming very lazy, or just indulging a laziness that I've always had? I wonder if that matters ?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Plea for Footnotes

Irritating though they can be, I much prefer footnotes to the alternatives.

I'm reading a book 1 that puts all the notes between the last chapter and the index.

If I want to read a note I must therefore start by turning back, page by page, until I find the beginning of the chapter to find the chapter number, then turn to the end of the book and browse through the notes until I find the heading for the relevant chapter, all the time having to keep my place in the text, and only then, at the third stage, can I read the note I want.

Are such notes meant to be read, or are they just a pretence at scholarship?

1Graham Farmelo The Strangest Man about Paul Dirac, an excellent book, apart from the notes.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Blood, Butter and Deep Cellars

The text of a talk I gave to the Leicester U3A Science group last month is now on my web site

Incidentally, a fault on the server put my web site out of action last night, but don't be discouraged; it appeared to be working normally by midday today.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Taming a DVD Writer

I'd always had trouble with DVD writers, never succeeding in getting them to behave, as they are supposed to, like a disk drive to which one can just drag and drop whenever one feels like it.

Several years ago I bought an external hard drive and have relied on that for backup, but I recently decided to try again with a DVD.

I formatted in the way that is supposed to make it behave like a disk drive, and for a while copying seemed to proceed, though rather slowly. Then there was a message saying the disk was read only and nothing could be written to it. Note that the message did not say the disk was full; less than a tenth was used.

I checked all the settings carefully, and finally realised that the drive was set to the wrong zone. I changed the setting to Zone 2, for Britain, and thereafter things have worked as they are supposed to.

The zoning system is only one of many cases where tiresome organisations introduce complications to stop us doing as we please with our own property - in this case to stop people using in one part of the world pre-recorded DVD's bought somewhere else.

I sometimes wonder if we could do away with intellectual property altogether.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day

I've never received, sent, or been inclined to send a Valentine's card, and find it all very puzzling.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Supreme Court

I'm not an enthusiast for the Supreme Court.

The final court of appeal used to be the House of Lords. I thought of that as a symbol that, as Parliament creates laws, it should have the last word about their interpretation.

Of course it was only the Law Lords who heard appeals, so the role of Parliament was purely symbolic, but a symbol may be better than nothing.

I should have preferred a change in the opposite direction, by making the final arbiter a group of parliamentarians who were not all lawyers.

Laws tend to be drafted by lawyers who produce laws of extreme complexity that require highly paid lawyers to interpret them, and which usually have what are called 'loopholes' which must eventually be blocked by creating even greater complexity.

I don't think lawyers deliberately make laws complicated so that they can earn substantial fees interpreting them, but I suspect that their experience of the financial consequences makes complicated law less repellent to lawyers than it is to the rest of us.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Worrying about Woodland

I can't take seriously the protests about Government plans to sell woodland owned by the Forestry Commission.

The function of government is to do the things we need doing but cannot do by individual effort. Growing trees is something individuals can do perfectly well. I'm growing eleven trees in my own modest suburban garden, and most of my neighbours grow several.

I suspect that people worry that if forests are sold we shall lose control over them. However, when the Government is involved the connection between ownership and control is very loose. Government property is supervised by groups of civil servants who will gradually develop interests of their own, so that the assets in their charge may be administered as much in their interest as in that of the public.

In one respect public property is harder for Government to control than private property. There is a section of the public that is inclined to defend any state enterprise just because it is a state enterprise, while there is no similar body of opinion to defend private enterprises against Government regulation.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

What Counts as News?

Yesterday, tired of hearing from the BBC the same news about Egypt that I'd heard the day before, I switched the television to Russia Today.

I was surprised to hear a story about a large anti-Muslim demonstration and counter demonstration in Luton. I don't think that was even mentioned by the BBC, and I did watch for it when I listened to the BBC news later in the day.

I wonder if someone decided that it would be better if we didn't know anything about it.

What else might they be keeping from us?