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Latest reply: Dec 6, 2007


So, 'nother business trip to New York/New Jersey. Got upgraded to business class for the transatlantic flight for the second time, but sadly not the third - so THAT'S what it's like flying economy? Yeech.

Bit of an ambivalent trip - learned a great deal from our US colleagues, but the trip was tinged a bit by the fact that between arranging it and actually going, it was announced that the factory will be closing by the end of the year. smiley - sadface

Got a good old time walking around Manhattan again, though. It's like some kind of theme park. I know it's not representative of the rest of the country, and there's a LOT to recommend it - but I'm glad to get back to the UK.

So many impressions, but sadly the lasting one was from the passport control queue coming into the UK. HUGE queue of UK citizens, of course. One family of Hassidic Jews from the US, who of course waltzed straight to the front of the space for non-EU passports. Now, most reasonable people in that position would think "gee, I feel a bit self-conscious here not having to queue, better keep my head down". Strangely, however, both Jews and USAians are stereotyped as not really being like that. Wonder why.

So this bearded, ringletted, ridiculously hatted idiot looked around at us saps queueing to be let into our own country, in a loud, braying voice announced to the room in general "Sometimes it pays to be American."

Sometimes you can sense what a room is thinking. And right then, 200 people would cheerfully have opened the valve on the gas chamber.


Discuss this Journal entry [6]

Latest reply: Oct 19, 2007

Shouting at the radio

Again today. "Thought for the Day". Today, Rhidian Brooke was wittering on for what seemed like a very, very long time about the ridiculous Prince Charles and his half-baked idea that he'd like to be known as "Defender of Faith", rather than the title "Defender of THE Faith", a title that has been good enough for every monarch of this country since it was conferred on Henry VIII.

What made me shout at the radio was that once again a person whose only apparent qualification is that they're superstitious is allowed onto a peak time national news programme and permitted to spout disingenuous garbage about science. In this particular case, Brook described Darwinism as a "belief" that life is "random". Wrong, and wrong.

It is hard to respect a grown man who has an imaginary friend. It's harder still when they say something that proves they're either shockingly ill-educated and ignorant, or a deliberate disingenuous liar.

smiley - popcorn

Time and again I wonder why there's a daily slot for the superstitious in the middle of the news. There's an interestingly narrow range of woo-woo that gets catered for, though. Jews, obviously. Christians of many stripes, from the inoffensive and harmless at one end of the scale, to Ann Atkins at the other. Muslims, Hindus, the occasional Buddhist, and Sikhs (who are unique, in my experience, in that they always speak plain good sense).

I've never heard a single TFTD from a Baha'i, which is apparently quite popular. Never heard a Satanist, a druid, a pagan, a spoonbender, UFO abductee, crystal healer or dowser. The BBC has chosen just a few irrational beliefs to pander to, and I just wonder why.

Discuss this Journal entry [21]

Latest reply: Sep 17, 2007


Just got back from a week spent in Croatia, just down the coast from Dubrovnik. Where to start? I'll probably write an entry on the place we stayed (Plat), but for now, a word or two about Dubrovnik.

If you've read "Pyramids" by Terry Pratchett, you'll know about edificeering, and the possibilities for it in the city of Ankh-Morpork. Dubrovnik is THE edificeering destination, bar none. I'm pretty sure that I could gain the roof of a building from street level without equipment, and cross the entire walled Old City without ever touching the ground. It's an incredible place, somewhat unreal, all the more so because clearly people actually live there. I can highly recommend a visit... but only if you're fit. Walking the walls, which have hundreds upon hundreds of steps, dizzyingly low parapets and long sloped stretches, is not something you should do in the middle of a forty degree day. And particularly not with a pram, which I saw at least two people attempting. One quick tip - avoid the beer in the bar in the north wall tower. It's horrible.


Discuss this Journal entry [2]

Latest reply: Sep 3, 2007

Five questions and the unbearable shiteness of Wordpress

So I thought I'd start a blog, and chose Wordpress, on the grounds that friends had. I found it shockingly user-unfriendly and in at least one way fundamentally broken, from a UI point of view. So I'm not using it any more.

However, the last post I posted there was an attempt to answer five questions posed in the form of an "interview" by a friend, so I'm going to answer them here.

"A lot of people have one particularly inspiring teacher, did you, and in what way were they outstanding?"

I went entirely to state schools. My primary school was rubbish, a hellhole. My middle and high schools were, by comparison, incredibly good. They were probably pretty damn good objectively, too, and my experience of them was helped by the fact that in my year at both schools there were other children with intelligence comparable to my own. One of my teachers told me much later that that made our year a once-in-a-teaching-career highlight in terms of ability.

What I'm getting round to is that I didn't have just one teacher that was inspiring, I had many.

Miss Jones didn't teach French, she just came in the room and and nattered on to us in a foreign language and expected us to join in. Talking at the back of the class was allowed, as long as it was in French, AND SHE COULD TELL. Genius.

Mr. Reynolds taught maths like it was his hobby, not his job.

Mrs. Webster taught English like your life depended on it. It takes a special teacher to make you like a lesson where you're required to read awful guff like "Far From the Madding Crowd".

Mr. Sparks taught further maths as a game to be mastered and beaten, as a collection of concepts to be played with and tasted and flipped around in your hand and then flattened with the hammer of your mind into a sheet of A grades.

The list goes on - Mr. Farrimond for science and maths, Messrs. Brown for physics, Messrs. Halford and Ince for chemistry, all these people caused me to be where and what I am.

> What do you find peculiar about women?

Their ability to apparently instinctively empathise with people. Actually, that could be what I find peculiar about other people in general. I know I was guilty when I first started using the internet, and this site in particular, of considering all these words on the screen as being the product of some sort of AI set up for my amusement. Connecting them with actual people was a big leap.

I later realised that I treated the whole *world* like that for probably the first 25 years or so of my life. I didn't really consider other people to be really real, to have minds like mine but separate.

The other thing I find peculiar is the apparent problem the entire gender has with simply saying what they mean. I think this is in a way connected with the first one. They *expect* everyone else to have their mind-reading abilities. I do not have those abilities, so much of what they say passes me by. I take what they say literally, so if I say "Are you OK?", and the answer is "Yes.", I think "Excellent" and think everything's fine. Of course, in many cases "Yes" means "Of course not, dumbass, I'm not OK, I've got a headache and you just spent ten minutes hoovering! And I got my haircut and you didn't notice, and why, when I come, do you not bring me a coffee when I always bring you one?" Actually, this isn't so much something I "find peculiar" so much as it's something I "hate so much it makes me want to stab something to death and then set fire to it".

> Which three popular science writers do you have the most admiration for, and why?

Richard Feynmann. Reasons encompass his life, so I won't bore on about them. Read everything by and about him you can find, and be awed.

Bill Bryson, because he's not a science writer.

And for my final choice, one writer I would call Jack-Cohen-and-Ian-Stewart, who wrote the science of Discworld books and a couple of others, because they don't just redo all the pop science everyone else does (how many books about chaos theory or relativity can one person need?), they do other, interesting stuff and do it brilliantly.

> If you could have any skill or ability which you do not currently have, what would it be?

Oh so many... kitesurfing? Flying a helicopter? Doing a McTwist in a halfpipe on a snowboard?

If I had to narrow it down to one thing - I'd like to be able to play electric guitar really well. Music is something I missed out on from being a child, and it's something I'll always wish I'd done then.

> And finally, a question that I asked [someone else]: you are something of a SciFi Geek - if you could choose one particular fictional universe to inhabit for the rest of your life, which one would it be and what would your role be in it?

No contest - the Culture, as found in the books of Iain M. Banks.

For information, the ones considered and rejected were:
- Doctor Who universe. It's a bit bleak and dangerous.
- Star Trek universe. I wouldn't want to live in what is clearly a Marxist dictatorship with little in the way of personal freedom.
- Star Wars universe. Looks a great place to be as long as you're one of the hereditary aristocracy, but doesn't really look that good for the peasants, and I'm very much a peasant.
- Blake's 7 universe. As with Doctor Who (and much British sf for that matter, compared to American...) it's a bit bleak and nasty.
- HHGG universe. It's run by Vogons, nuff said.

The Culture seems interesting, safe but not anodyne, varied, large, free and fun, if you have the imagination to take advantage of it. Sure, if you want you could settle down and live a life of dull obscurity on some Ship, but anyone with an ounce of imagination zest for life would never run short of experiences to try. For one thing, those guys have seriously jacked-up endocrinological systems, to the point that they can by effort of will alone dose themselves with various drugs from internal glands, or undergo surgery-less sex changes any number times in their generally four centuries of life. And that's before you've stepped out of your room...


Discuss this Journal entry [19]

Latest reply: Jul 23, 2007

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