Hello Unknown Visitor, and welcome to my space.
Well, technically it's not my space; it belongs to the BBC, but as a licence-payer I've commandeered a few square nanometers of it in order to store my less-than-comprehensive list of achievements and some uninteresting and irrelevant personal facts. Please feel free to leave at any time, I won't be offended.
I am an engineer with a small technology company in the UK. That means I make stuff. Most of the stuff I make ends up on ships and submarines, but some of it has been known to end up on land, in the air (although usually not for very long) and even in space. Most of it is expensive and unreliable but superbly documented.
I like to think of myself as a typical product of the wonderful, classless and enlightened city of Edinburgh. Clearly I was a bad man in a past life since I am now living in a decidedly unenlightened suburb of one of the most pretentious and unfriendly towns that affluent middle class southern England has to offer.
I play guitar in a rock band and ride a fast motorbike. Actually that’s not true; I am really a husband and parent with a mortgage, a huge DIY backlog and back trouble. But I used to play guitar in a rock band and ride a fast motorbike.
These are my Edited Guide entries, in approximate descending order of greatness:
|my contributions to the guide|
Distortion - The Physics of Heavy Metal
The Chernobyl Disaster
The GTI Story
Mobile Phones and Aircraft
Ballistic Missile Submarines
TEMPEST and Electronic Security
An Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility
The City of Bath, UK
Most of them are actually rants and polemics disguised as factual guide entries. There are many problems with the universe, and I intend to solve them by one-by-one by dumping my uninformed opinions into the public domain.
Here are some of my rants and polemics that are not suitable for the Edited Guide, even in my opinion:
A Scotsman's Guide to Emigrating South
Software Engineering - An Oxymoron
Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn't a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, "Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!" she doesn't get ONE.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves'
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
And one of them Shadrack. And one of them Blinkey.
And one of them Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey.
Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face.
And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
And one of them Sneepy. And one Weepy Weed.
And one Paris Garters. And one Harris Tweed.
And one of them Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt
And one of them Oliver Boliver Butt
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate...
But she didn't do it. And now it's too late.
I am a member of a small local campaign group whose mission is to increase public awareness of the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. This all-pervasive chemical is rountinely added to processed foods and drinks but due to legal loopholes is always listed by more innocuous pseudonyms that serve to disguise its reactive nature. This is just a sample of some of this chemical's effects:
can cause excessive sweating or vomiting;
a major component in acid rain;
can cause severe burns in its gaseous state;
can contribute to both hypothermia and asphyxia in its liquid state;
found in large quantities in the blood of haemophiliacs and the tumours of terminal cancer patients.
If you are interested in joining our campaign to rid the world of this noxious substance, please leave me a message.
I don't believe in pinkness or fluffiness. Both words describe quantities that are merely perceived; they are emergent properties and don't actually exist in any real sense of the word. It is impossible to make a rational, correct decisions on the basis of spiritual or ethereal beliefs that disappear in a cloud of mystic aural energy in the face of hard evidence. Moral decisions cannot be made on this basis; they would be skewed.
"Agnostic conciliation, which is the decent liberal bending over backward to concede as much as possible to anybody who shouts loud enough, reaches ludicrous lengths in the following common piece of sloppy thinking. It goes roughly like this: You can't prove a negative (so far so good). Science has no way to disprove the existence of a supreme being (this is strictly true). Therefore, belief or disbelief in a supreme being is a matter of pure, individual inclination, and both are therefore equally deserving of respectful attention! When you say it like that, the fallacy is almost self-evident; we hardly need spell out the reductio ad absurdum. As my colleague, the physical chemist Peter Atkins, puts it, we must be equally agnostic about the theory that there is a teapot in orbit around the planet Pluto. We can't disprove it. But that doesn't mean the theory that there is a teapot is on level terms with the theory that there isn't." Richard Dawkins.
"When I read that the ‘practitioners [of atheism] are sometimes despised as people without moral centres, but this is not necessarily the case,’ I’m afraid I have to laugh. Does anybody seriously suppose, looking at a world of six billion people with a shared history of living in communities that goes back hundreds of thousands of years that there is no other conceivable way in which an instinct for co-operative, ethical behaviour could possibly have developed other than a huge invisible spirit threatening us with torment in an afterlife?" Douglas Adams
"Wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in
New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this?
And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here,
they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
"Quantum Theory - the dreams that stuff is made of". Unknown.
“Never judge a car by the size of its spoiler. Judge it by the size of its brakes”. DB
“I would ask the United States, we ask for your leadership, but if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.” - Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea delegate to UN talks on Climate Change in Bali.
"It is feared that if we use wind power, seals or fish may get sucked into the turbines", Sammy Wilson, Northern Ireland Environment Minister.
Rock music - speed/thrash/grunge/black/death/industrial/injury or somesuch.
Good food, good .
Err, that’s it.
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|Journal Entries||Most Recent Conversations|
Welcome to this Researcher's Journal. If you'd like to comment on anything they have written here, just click the relevant 'Discuss this Entry' button.My Cartoon Epiphany
(Mar 26, 2008)
I had an epiphany yesterday during an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. In the cartoon, Spongebob was being asked to make a difficult decision, and the action cut to a team of mini-Spongebobs in his head, Numbskulls-style, weighing up the pros and cons. One says to another "what do we pay you for?" and the other replies "you don't pay me; we don't even exist; we're just a complex visual metaphor intended to illustrate the mechanics of the though process..." This was *not* a joke aimed at children.
It then struck me that a lot of what I watch on TV nowadays is animated. No, not just animated, but cartoon. The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, Spongebob and Fairly Odd Parents have sneakily usurped conventional adult TV in my viewing schedule. As the realisation hit, the reasons for this slowly became apparent.
First, there is what I have come to call 'intended accuracy'. There was an episode of Jimmy Neutron in which a class teacher asked the lead character to name the six types of quark, to which he replied, correctly: up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. This is pretty obscure stuff even to science geeks, and clearly way beyond the expected knowledge of the target audience. Then there's the ultimate repository of geek-jokes - Futurama. My personal favourite comes from Farnsworth as the planet express ship is sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic:
"Dear Lord, that’s over one hundred-fifty atmospheres of pressure!"
Fry: "How many atmospheres can this ship take?"
Farnsworth: "Well, it's a spaceship, so I'd say anywhere between 0 and 1".
Second is the shot of bender flying through the electronic workings of the ship's brain, Tron-style, hitting a diode symbol and coming to an abrupt stop.
Then there's the invasion from Omicron Persei 8, a planet exactly 1,000 light years away, by a race of aliens desperate to see more episodes of Single Female Lawyer (Ally Mcbeal) last shown on terran TV exactly 1,000 years ago. It turns out that the star Omicron Persei really is about 1,000 light years away. The reference to the book 'Women are from Omicron Persei 7 and Men are from Omicron Persei 9'. Small things, but strictly speaking correct. The average Hollywood product could be expected to gloss over little details like the finite speed of light and the relative positions of Mars and Venus. Reality gets twisted beyond all recognition just to save the writers a few minutes of fact-checking. Futurama is apparently written by a bunch of maths graduates and is chock full of maths jokes, but not being a mathematician I don't get those ones.
Now it'd be nice to think that the writers of these cartoons deliberately get their facts straight in deference to their young and impressionable audience. But I don't think so; I think they do it for comedic effect. Scientific accuracy in popular adult films and television is has become so infuriatingly rare that its inclusion is satirical in itself. It has become a joke. But at the risk of becoming over-analytical, the joke itself is ironic - there is absolutely no reason why a cartoon character should obey the laws of physics - and yet they do. Meanwhile the mainstream of the entertainments industry drifts steadily further from the shores of reality. Every time I catch a little snippet of this recursively ironic 'intended accuracy' I have a little chuckle, smug in the knowledge that I'm clever enough to have got the joke. Having become so used to my intelligence being insulted, it's simply rather refreshing to have it acknowledged instead.
Then I caught the Simpsons movie and realised that there was much more to my love of cartoons that merely their pride in technical accuracy. There's the satire too. All the adult cartoons are ruthlessly satirical: never afraid to use racial stereotypes if it'll get a laugh, no organisation, government, religion or minority group immune. I am particularly fond of the Simpson's relentless persecution of the American Christian Right, as embodied by Ned Flanders. The writers could've just portrayed Flanders as a parody of the average well-meaning Christian if they'd wanted cheap laughs - happy to preach outstanding moral values but in reality just as morally corrupt as everyone else. But they made him perfect; a character of faultless morals with the conviction to practice what he preaches every time. He's not merely a parody of an evangelical Christian, he's a parody of what an evangelical Christian would like himself to be. Flanders is so morally upright that he's honest enough to admit that many aspects of his faith make no sense. In one episode Homer has a crayon removed from his brain, becomes super-intelligent, and accidentally comes up with a conclusive proof that God doesn't exist; Flanders reads it, agrees, immediately burns the proof before anyone else sees it, and returns to his normal belief utterly unfazed. Somehow the writers have succeeded in conveying the inherent contradictions of religion, with humour, but without causing too much offence.
But lets not just dwell on religion. The Simpsons routinely casts all nationalities by their most basic stereotypes, without pandering to any notions of sparing the third world from insult. Canada, China, Mexico, France, England, Ireland and 'Africa' have all been done. As a Scot, I should probably be offended by Willie the caretaker, but I'm not. The accent isn't a parody of a Scots accent - it's not that good - it's a parody of a rather poor Scottish stereotype. Every time Willie mentions his home town it is different - Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow - it's just enough to be Scottish. The deliberate consistency and continuity errors are presumably just more satire, this time aimed at Hollywood's laziness in cultural accuracy.
Actually, 'getting away with it' might be key to all this. Perhaps cartoons still occupy a privileged position in the media, where they can say things that would unpalatable in a normal sitcom. Perhaps the ever-increasing sensitivity of our moral outrage hasn't yet reached the point where we take offence at the actions of a two-dimensional cartoon character. I suspect this may be a temporary phenomenon, so we should probably make the most of it while it lasts.
And finally, the third realisation of my epiphany: the complete lack of personal guilt. There is so much nasty stuff going on the world these days; so many issues and worries; so many things I feel personally responsible for, rightly or wrongly, that it is hard to switch off and simply absorb television as it was intended. I get narked when violent sociopaths with no regard for their victims are portrayed as 'cool' in films. Violent scenes remind me too much of real-world violence. I worry that scenes of animal cruelty are indicative of indifference on the part of the writers, I cringe at gangster movies in which the criminals are heroes, and I find it hard to watch action films without a nagging worry that too much carbon is being poured into the atmosphere.
But in a cartoon, none of it matters. Nothing is real. When Homer dumped a whole silo of pigs**t into Springfield lake, triggering a runaway reaction that ultimately renders Springfield a toxic nightmare, it was funny. Not funny tainted with a little bit of regret at what could have been a dramatisation of unfortunate real-world events. Just funny. It's like a little fantasy world away from the brutal realities of the regular fantasy world.
As if the increasingly complex and intelligent content of contemporary cartoons wasn't enough, their bold, simple colours look dead good on my new LCD TV too. Wasted on kids, I reckon.
Click here to discuss this
Latest reply: May 16, 2009)
(Oct 4, 2005)
Bloody car. Passed its MoT again, the smug git. We were both hoping it'd fail this time round, so we could go looking for new ones. But no. It just keeps on going. It doesn't really cost anything to run either so I can't possibly justify the expense of replacing it while it still works. If it were eligible for a licence it would now be old enough to drive itself, but apart from the plethora of battle-scars inflicted by the wife it shows no outwards signs of getting old. Maybe next year.
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The Fringe and Beyond
(Aug 17, 2005)
Just returned from a week back in the motherland. It mainly just served to reinforce my opinions that I should still be living there. A good time was had by all, but there were a few odd events and experiences that I have to share:
Surreal experience 1: sitting on the banks of Loch Tay while daughter swam; watching some chap standing waist-deep playing the ukulele while another - presumably unrelated - chap rows from one side of the loch to the other backwards. That is, blunt-end first.
Surreal experience 2: having a nice meal in an Italian restaurant with friends that subsequently turned into a full-blown karaoke competition between a bunch of girls and a bunch of lads on the surrounding tables.
Surreal experience 3: of the thousands of shows in the hundreds of venues at the Edinburgh fringe, we happen to go to the one where a girl we know from down south is doing the lighting. We then happen to stand up at just the right time so she spots us amongst the 2000-odd other punters. Being shown round the pubs of Edinburgh - my hometown - by a German girl who lives in the south of England. Being taken to a pub where an entire room is floored with mattresses.
Major gripe 1: why oh why do so many tourists when planning their visit to Scotland - in summer - think they need a large 4x4 to get about? Do they really think we don't have proper roads Have they forgotten the nationality of the guy who invented modern road surfacing?
Scotland has some amazing driving roads. They are perfect for small cars, sports cars and especially bikes. They are, however, often rather narrow and are therefore eminently unsuitable for wide, lumbering SUVs. In fact these monstrosities are even less practical here than in the London suburbs. In the couple of days we were away - 4 of us in a hatchback with room to spare - we encountered loads of these things either snarling up single-track roads or just holding everyone else up due to their supreme lack of speed and agility .
And as for off-roading, if you count the dirt track through the campsite then many normal people seem to manage it with a one-wheel-drive motorcycle.
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Interim status report
(Mar 15, 2005)
Phew, finally got round to another journal entry. New job is entertaining. I wouldn't say they're any more together than the last place, but being a smaller company they are genuinely disorganised rather than systematically so. Lots and lots of problems to fix (sorry opportunuties to be seized), but no more incessant but ineffectual process improvement schemes, no more initiatives, no more whiteboard brainstorming sessions, morning stand-up meetings, team-building sessions, empowerment and assertiveness training or management consultancy. Actually getting some work done now, thankfully.
I've recently found myself staying in at weekends and doing DIY (is that a recursive acronym? Surely it should be DIM if you're talking about yourself doing it?) I have also found that my circle of friends is at the same time extremely large physically (a few of them are on the other side of the planet) but numerically getting steadily smaller (most acquaintances in the immediate area turned out to be drinking partners rather than friends). I guess this must be middle age. At least I don't have to rush out and buy a fast motorbike, as I've still got one in the garage. Perhaps I should sell that and get a sports car. Perhaps I should shut up and get on with the painting.
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What Films have you seen recently?
(Posted: Mar 16, 2008)
(Last reply: 11 Hours Ago)
May I conduct an experiment?
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SEx: Revolution - is it even vaguely possible?
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Moving to the right
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If we have to hang up our leathers...
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I Love That Dirty Water (PC)
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Advertising stupidity - now with added Title
(Posted: Apr 24, 2009)
(Last reply: 4 Weeks Ago)
SEx: Why is graphite so weak if graphene is so strong?
(Latest post: 5 Weeks Ago)
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|Most Recent Guide Entries||Most Recent Edited Entries|
These are all the Guide Entries this Researcher has created. If you'd like to read them, click on the link, and if you want to talk about them, use the 'Discuss this Entry' button when you get there.From h2g2:
Mobile Phones to Blame for Polar Melting (Sep 8, 2008)
MOBILE PHONES TO BLAME FOR POLAR MELTING (Jun 30, 2008)
Software Engineering - An Oxymoron? (Mar 25, 2008)
When Stuff Goes Bad or: Things to Look For if your Appliance Stops Working (Oct 27, 2007)
Distortion - The Physics of Heavy Metal (Oct 23, 2007)
Companies that have pissed me off (Oct 13, 2007)
QI Society score board (Aug 18, 2007)
A Scotsman's Guide to Emigrating South (Jul 28, 2006)
Mobile Phones and Aircraft (Oct 7, 2005)
An Introduction to ElectroMagnetic Compatibility v2 (Sep 2, 2005)
Click here to see more Guide Entries
These are all the Edited Entries to which this Researcher has contributed. They obviously read the Writing Guidelines and submitted their Guide Entries to Peer Review: why don't you too?From h2g2:
Distortion - The Physics of Heavy Metal (May 1, 2008)
A Beginner's Guide to Making Plastic Models (Feb 25, 2008)
When Stuff Goes Bad, or: Things to Look For if your Electrical Appliance Stops Working (Dec 6, 2007)
42 (Mar 14, 2007)
Static Electric Discharges and How To Prevent Them Zapping You (Dec 29, 2005)
Mobile Phones and Aircraft (Dec 16, 2005)
An Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility (Oct 20, 2005)
TEMPEST and Electronic Security (Sep 23, 2005)
Ballistic Missile Submarines (Sep 16, 2005)
The Wheel (Jul 28, 2005)
Click here to see more Edited Entries
Click here to delete more than one name
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