Friday, November 30

It's World AIDS Day today, in case that's managed to pass you by. I'll write something more worthwhile after a good night's sleep. Though I've had the good fortune not to have any personal stories to tell in relation to this I do think there are some things worth saying.
posted @ 5:47 PM -

Thursday, November 29

Those French people, they know how to do a protest. Latest weapon on the streets of Paris: giant baguettes.

(thanks Blather for digging this one up)
posted @ 1:43 PM -
Worrying news came out today about just how fast world fish stocks are declining. To my mind this is a far more important, and far more immediate issue than the ethics of cloning (or most of the guff that gets written up in the media for that matter), because it directly affects resource availability for all people, and availability of a particularly healthy food resource at that.

All is not doom and gloom though, shortly after this story came out there was another one (I saw both at the same time) about how well managed marine reserves can replenish fish stocks while also providing larger commercial catches for those who exploit nearby waters. A real win-win situation, if only fishing fleets around the world were less unwilling to accept management of their stocks....
posted @ 1:16 PM -
I've just seen a couple of my friends on the local TV news, soing highly honourable things. Some years ago Simon Jones, a Sussex student, was killed while working as a docker in Shoreham Harbour. To anybody who heard the story from his friends (I never knew the guy, but some of my friends did) it was fairly clear that his death was a result of negligence by his employers, who used a ludicrous procedure (basically his head was crushed in the grab of a crane whose driver couldn't see him) and provided no safety training. Various people set up the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign to prosecute the employer (Euromin) and raise awareness of negligence-related deaths at work in general. They acted both within the law (pursuing this through the courts and holding demonstrations) and outside it (occupying Shoreham Harbour), and eventually had some success.

Today the verdict was announced in the court case. Because of this there has been TV coverage, and I've seen a very distinctive profile in the occupation (Chris Bunny), and Commie Colin giving a statement to the press.

It's nice to see that the more radically political among my friends don't just gas, and don't just go to mass demonstrations, but also organise responses to local issues, and stick up for their friends when things go so horribly wrong. This is what political activism is about, at least as much as headline grabbing international movements.
posted @ 10:52 AM -
Why exactly did London play host to a memorial service for victims of the WTC attacks today?

Excuse me for being insensitive, but surely the time for memorial services, and particularly for tear-jerking media portrayals of individuals' loss, is close to the event. Then possibly at anniversaries, but not arbitrarily 2½ months after the event.

Could it possibly be part of an attempt to whip the great British public up into a fresh righteous indignation, as the popularity of the war in Afghanistan wanes, the war itself looks close to conclusion, and the powers that be are trying to widen things to encompass an attack on Iraq? Could it possibly be conveniently timed to draw attention away from the inevitable protests about the conduct of military operations abroad and suspension of civil liberties back home that normally would be expected to get stronger at the end of a conflict?

Or perhaps I'm just being cynical, everyone means well and I shouldn't be so ready criticise.
posted @ 10:32 AM -
There is an awful lot of terrible science reporting out there, even in the peer-reviewed academic press, and far worse in lay publications (more on this later). The Economist this week has nicely cut through the grandiose claims made by Advanced Cell Technology that they have achieved human cloning. All of this furore brings to mind another big question though: what exactly is wrong with cloning?

I'll stick to a distinction between types of cloning that the Economist article makes and deal with the two seperately:

Therapeutic cloning refers to using a patient's existing genetic material to grow fresh stem cells that could then be used as grafts or transplants - potential life saver that never involves creating another human life, just culturing cells. I can't see in any way what could be worrying about this, except for the dogmatic insistence that any collection of cells counts as life, in which case any microbiological experiment ends in murder (as does any infectious illness, because either the patient or the pathogens die). The media seem desperately set on the idea that there are 'ethical issues' with this, but their justifications for that claim tend to be so vague/absent as to be worthless.

Reproductive cloning strikes me as more controversial, and more worth discussing, but I still don't see what's wrong with it. Normal reproduction involves two parents, cloning involved one, and that is the extent of the difference. Yes so the child is genetically identical to the parent, but that doesn't produce identical offspring. I am convinced that if I were to bring up a child that were a perfect clone of me he (let's leave out the confusing possibility of creating a clone of the opposite sex for now) would not turn out the same as me. I don't know if the result would be better or worse, but my parents brought me up in a certain way, in a certain environment, and even if I tried to repeat their style I'd be doomed to failure. For starters I am not an exact duplicate of my father, and if I found a woman to take part in this experiment she wouldn't be an exact replica of my mother. Even if I gave the clone to my parents to bring up they are not the same now as they were 24 years ago, the world certainly isn't, and neither is their world. So what exactly is the distinction (morally, I know the biological distinction) between cloning and sexual reproduction?

Please give me ideas about why I should be worried about these things.

Oh yes and if you're from the Army of God please tell me how evil I am. It would make me feel important.
posted @ 10:07 AM -
Finally. I've managed to get myself tickets for my first football match of the year (and yes it has been that long). My team are stuck in a complete joke of a stadium, so I can rarely get tickets. Meanwhile I always seem to be too busy to make it to the away matches (though I keep promising myself I'll start to), but finally the FA Cup has provided some non-sell-out home games for us, so I shall be along for the second round in 10 days' time, sat in the rowdy section (it's officially called the singing section but I think that's a rather flattering name). A good time to be had by all no doubt.
posted @ 8:13 AM -

Wednesday, November 28

Tying in with my post from Monday about AIDS and complacency, I've just seen a report from BBC News entitled: HIV creeps up in 'complacent' UK, which unfortunately shows that my worries were entirely justified. When I write things like that I'd really rather be proven wrong....
posted @ 9:47 AM -
Possibly not the most sensitive name or slogan for a piece of software: "Password Nazi takes no prisoners".
posted @ 2:58 AM -

Tuesday, November 27

Absolute bloody genius. Having already announced the withdrawal of ILAs in a semi-controlled manner, which would at least have allowed people to use their remaining grants, the government announced (on Friday evening) that they have just decided to simply scrap the scheme with immediate effect.

ILAs were one of the few positive things this government have actually done about the glaring inequalities in our education system, but the system was always flawed. Of course a sensible government would have tried to fix the system rather than scrapping it all, but we don't have a sensible government. We have a government dedicated to PR management and damage limitation, which is why this latest move was announced on a Friday evening, the official announcement claims this action is to "protect account holders" (bollocks - ILAs give account holders money, they don't take money from them) and gives virtually no information (yes police investigations are an awfully convenient smokescreen aren't they) and the Department for Education and Skills website doesn't even mention it in its news. One of the ILA websites promises that "Further information will be available by midday Monday 26th November 2001", but 26 hours later there still isn't any.

Of course I have a personal stake in this - my income may just fall to negligible as a result - but that's not really why I'm so angry. This was something really positive, that at work I could see helping people stuck in dead ends break out of them, and now it's just been withdrawn arbitrarily in the face of all the good it was doing, with no sign whatsoever that anything will be put in its place.
posted @ 8:20 AM -
Fantastic invention this - plates and trays made from potato starch so that they biodegrade. Why would I want biodegradable plates and trays? Well obviously not to serve food on, but to replace all that horrible polystyrene and plastic packaging waste that supermarkets and fast food chains generate. Not only is the waste biodegradeable, but its production is carbon-neutral, unlike plastic which is derived from oil, and it can even be made from the potatoes that get discarded from the food crop because they are diseased.
posted @ 5:48 AM -
This is why I get so angry when America claims to be the land of the free and claims that it's bombing of Afghanistan is in defence of freedom. Displaying a dissenting poster can get you in trouble with the law there.
posted @ 5:20 AM -
The United Arab Emirates are trying to break the record for the world's tallest flagpole, on which they are planning on flying an 800m2 flag.
posted @ 5:15 AM -

Monday, November 26

Can't people think for themselves? This page summarises the self-reported moods of a group of web users (and therefore mostly of Americans), and when I first discovered it I thought it might be an interesting project. It has actually turned out to be utterly dull. I had never seen anything other than "tired" be the most selected mood, until Thanksgiving, when suddenly "thankful" took over by a huge margin. I tried to put a hold on my cynicism, thinking maybe Thanksgiving just really does make people reflect on their lives in a thankful way, but I had another look today. First day back at work, and "thankful" has almost disappeared from the list. If people really were led to reflect they wouldn't forget that quickly, but as soon as they are not being told to feel "thankful" any more they revert, en masse, to all saying another thing in unison.

Maybe I should start a "really interested in the world outside my neighbourhood and learning about science and foreign cultures and music with real passion and stuff" day, and just for a day people would follow my lead. But then I'd probably need to invade and rape an entire continent before people will take their cues for sentiment from me.

Oh well. Tomorrow. (But the sky will fall on our heads tomorrow anyway)
posted @ 5:11 PM -
Frightening statistic from this evening's Newsnight: 20% of teenage girls in South Africa are HIV positive. Also frightening - the prospects for an HIV vaccine are very poor. Even more frightening to me is how complacent my peers have become about AIDS.

I remember being a young boy in the 80s and watching the first news coverage about HIV/AIDS, and actually being scared by it. There was a considerable effort of public education, together with genuine uncertainty about how fast and how widely this disease was going to spread, and there was a general fear caused by this. The fear had a beneficial effect (as intended) in that it did make people change their behaviour.

Now there is a widespread perception that this is a disease of gay men, intraveinous drug users and the third world. The perception isn't entirely wrong, but the reason this is so is that people in the developed world had once responded to all the publicity and reduced their own risk, so that within the developed world only the highest risk groups saw much infection. That is changing, or at least our behaviour is, and I worry that the epidemiology will follow.

It is by no means uncontroversially accepted by the medical world, but I do think that if straight people continue to act as if AIDS is not an issue, it will simply become one again. For the moment AIDS has proved to be only a minor threat to non-drug-injecting heterosexuals in the wealthy world, but I think that is directly because people have been following medical advice, which they just don't seem to be doing any more. Among too many of my peers safe sex seems to be regarded as optional, perhaps a matter of taste.

This Saturday is World AIDS Day, and a group of web folk are trying to do some co-ordinated awareness-raising; basically getting everyone to link to AIDS-related information on the day. I'll be taking part if I have anything left to say on the subject - fortunately this has so far remained completely outside my and my friends' collective experience. I hope it stays that way, but I just don't feel like British 20-somethings are acting in a way that will keep it so.
posted @ 3:50 PM -
I find it deeply sad that in this age of unprecedently easy travel and communication people are still completely ignorant and uninterested in other peoples' cultures. It's easy for me as a relatively privileged person to get on my high horse about how people should travel, and forget that many people don't have that option (and would probably love to if they could), but this is not about that. What really makes me angry is people actively shutting out lines of communication that could be open.

It seems there are moves afoot in America to stop issuing visas to students from Cuba, North Korea and much of the Middle East, because one Iraqi who studied in America 30 years ago is now working in Iraq's nuclear institute. Foreign students provide a fascinating two way cultural exchange, learning about the society they live in at the same time as they teach the people who they meet about where they came from. If we start cutting out the potential routes for different cultures to understand each other then (with apologies to Bob Marley and Haile Selassie) everywhere is war. Current events, and the ongoing conflicts in Israel and Northern Ireland (to mention only 2) should only underline how important it is that we stop walling ourselves in, yet there are many voices who would do exactly that.

I hope the American government doesn't actually pass this law, and I sincerely hope the British won't even consider it.

Here is the article that got me thinking about this. It's by an Iranian lecturer at Portland State University, Oregon, so he clearly has a vested interest, but I agree with his argument totally.
posted @ 3:17 PM -
I know things are supposed to disappear after parties, but this is a bizarre one. Someone nicked all of my biros on Saturday. It's not like 1 or 2 disappeared - I had lots in a jar on my desk, and now there are only highlighters and big marker pens left.
posted @ 7:56 AM -
I went to a pub last night hoping to hear a friend DJing. Turns out he was actually due on next week, but he was there anyway, and this week's DJ was a friend of his, who also used to play on local radio and now has a show on internet radio. I have only recently discovered that internet radio is a far better source of interesting music than actual FM radio (during the day at least - in the evenings we do get the great John Peel on Radio 1). What this DJ told me about was the show he's now doing, which is on totallyradio. Very nice discovery, as the one half-decent radio station in Brighton (Surf FM) was taken over recently, becoming Juice FM (it's even a terrible name) and losing all its good DJs. Now I know where they went, and I can listen in decent quality whenever I want to, and skip any shows I don't like or go back and listen to tracks again.
posted @ 7:40 AM -
Brilliant. The new commenting system was easy to install, works on all the browsers I could be bothered to test it in, and looks like it should be easy to customise it as and when I get around to making it look nicer (mainly making it look like the rest of the site).

Credit where it's due: I discovered this on Adnan's site while trying to work out how he does his commenting. I don't think it's quite the system he uses (Adnan if you're reading this please could you tell me how I can have the comment script email me when people leave comments?), but the page with the code and some explanation is here. I think the version I'm using was originally written by Sascha Beaumont, who I know nothing about.

To use it you will need to have PHP installed on your web server, but the instructions are fairly clear and it has the advantage that all the comments are also stored on your server, so you don't depend on anyone else's service (which was why my old commenting system stopped working - it was maintained by a student who quite rightly put their own work before maintaining reblogger).

Now that it seems to be working, show me love. If you are not here for the first time (or for that matter if you are but intend to return) please drop a comment in, because my readership has grown (from 2) over the past month or two, and I'd love to know who you are. If you can't use the comments for some reason (you don't need to leave a URL or email address if you don't want to, but I'd appreciate you leaving at least one) email me, and if you have any problems using the site in general please tell me what software you're using and what goes wrong. If you have never met me, it would also be cool if you could tell me how you stumbled across this site.
posted @ 6:54 AM -
this time I actually am testing a new comment system, but if it isn't easy to make it work, it might have to wait for a few days till I sort it out properly.

ignore the number of comments to this post - 7 of them are me testing the system out, and 2 of them are someone else telling me it works
posted @ 6:02 AM -
Very clever once again Mr. Bush. Because the companies involved are suspected of having links to Osama Bin Laden, the US has effectively shut down Somalia's entire information infrastructure. Now excuse me for twisting a metaphor beyond its sensible reach, but what happens when you use a mallet to hit a drawing pin?
posted @ 3:59 AM -
well as you may have noticed the promised new commenting system hasn't materialised. The Sunday demon swallowed up any attempt I made at doing anything more productive than cleaning my house yesterday. I'll try to sort one out soon, but I have some real work to do as well....
posted @ 3:27 AM -

Sunday, November 25

Oh dear. The Euro coins that will become currency here in a month are poisonous to a proportion of people. It's not too much to expect that our great and good could have thought this through beforehand, or is it?
posted @ 12:25 PM -

Friday, November 23

Why do people do things like this?
posted @ 4:54 AM -
Today's picture is one of those clichéd images that every tourist must take, but then that's because everyone wants to see it, so please forgive me:

the Great Wall at Mutianyu - click on the image for a higher resolution version - contact me if you want one that's actually good enough to print
posted @ 3:01 AM -
Sign of the times: I now arrange consultations with my doctor on ICQ. I don't think I'd be happy actually doing the consultation that way (though it could be useful if I have simple questions to ask), but for organising it's far easier than trying to phone someone who is extremely hard to pin down....
posted @ 2:47 AM -

Thursday, November 22

Another photo for you my lovelies:

a taijiquan class practicing in Tiantan Park, Beijing - click on the image for a larger and clearer version
posted @ 3:33 AM -

Wednesday, November 21

is it just me or is the bloke in the "slight internet addict" graphic the one who appeared in a hoax photo of a tourist on top of the WTC with a plane visibly about to crash into it?
posted @ 4:39 PM -

This is what came out from the internet addict test. Obviously just doing the test implies a disturbing level of internet addiction, but then you could have figured that much out from reading this page....
posted @ 4:38 PM -
still having technical trouble. Not with the main page, but with the comment system. For the time being I'll just take it out, so as to avoid confusion, but I'll be working on a replacement soon.
posted @ 4:21 PM -
well.... most of my birthday was pretty mundane but the day has ended nicely. Went down the pub with one of my students (a nice thing that doesn't happen as often as I'd like), and entirely by chance bumped into some friends I hadn't seen for ages. Also had several phone messages, including one from another friend who I haven't seen properly (as in had the chance to speak to, rather than seeing while one of us was too busy), who hopefully will be coming along on the weekend. Much better....
posted @ 3:27 PM -
been having some technical trouble with the site today. I think it's sorted out now
posted @ 3:24 PM -
my friend says we're like the dinosaurs
only we are doing ourselves in much faster than they ever did
We'll make great pets

Porno for Pyros - Pets

No idea why, but that song's been stuck in my head since I woke up this morning
posted @ 3:22 AM -

Tuesday, November 20

Having a busy day ahead will probably stop me from posting here again till Thursday, but here is one more of the China photos that LuckyPix have flattered me by selecting:

a fisherman punting his raft across the Shidu Gorge, near Beijing
posted @ 4:42 PM -

happy birthday to me

It's my birthday today - I've reached the ripe old age of 24 - and I couldn't really be less excited. I'll be on campus from 9 am till about 4 in the afternoon, and then teaching from 6 till 9 or 10 in the evening. Not a bad day, but not one that feels much like a birthday celebration.

I do have a solution, which I hit upon a couple of years ago. I'm rescheduling my birthday. If it's good enough for our gracious Queenie, then it's good enough for ickle me. My official birthday this year will fall this coming Saturday, when I have no work to do and a number of friends converging on my house. Should be a much more fun day really....
posted @ 4:35 PM -
following on from the World Toilet Summit, it turns out Beijing is splashing out on toilet upgrading
posted @ 4:07 PM -
Esther has managed to be the first person to send me a birthday card, by virtue of getting it in an hour early. I don't have much to look forward to on the day itself (so I'm rescheduling my birthday to the following Saturday - explanation to follow), but things like this do make me smile. Here's part of the card:

Chinese illustration - description below

Apparently this is the Chinese charactor for 'longevity' surounded by a design containing the traditional five bats representing the five blessings of a long life, riches, love of virtue, health and a natural death - would be nice if it could all come true....
posted @ 3:05 PM -
woohoo! Half of the images I submitted to LuckyPix have been accepted. I've put two of them on this page already (the three gorgeous kiddies from Sunday, and the farmer shovelling corn that I put up today), and I'll put the rest up one a day for the rest of this week.

Of course this doesn't mean I'll actually get any money. All that happens is that the photos become part of a large catalogue for a year, and if anyone buys the rights to use them I'll get half of the takings. The main thing is the massive vote of confidence this represents - at least some experienced people believe my photos might be marketable.

Incidentally, I am in the proces of improving the look of my online photo catalogue. I've only done the first page so far, but the rest will be far quicker, so I'll probably finish them today.
posted @ 9:13 AM -
Caviar. It's not so great when it gets you fired.
posted @ 8:59 AM -
Blogger has a "Blogs of Note" section on its homepage, and every now and again I take a look at the selections. Recently one has been listed there which I feel the urge to advertise, because the quality of the writing and photography are particularly good (and because it makes a change from the politics, politics, politics that I usually link to): Cracks in the Pavement
posted @ 5:40 AM -
I'm not really sure what to make of this European Court Judgement. The ruling stops retailers from being able to import designer goods cheaply and sell them without being specifically licenced by the trademark owner. On the one hand, it helps the absurd ability of brand owners to earn money for nothing by creating vacuous demand and effectively charging each group of consumers a different price, based on what they are willing/able to pay rather than the actual cost of the goods. On the other hand, people who insist on designer goods may as well pay for the privilege, and the ruling does have the side effect of forcing retailers to get more of their supplies from within Europe, which will reduce the transport-caused pollution involved....
posted @ 5:33 AM -
I'm sorry to keep banging on about it, but America really is a nation of wusses
posted @ 5:25 AM -
All this writing about China has made me a tad nostalgic for the trip there, and I think I'll be a bit more self-indulgent, and keep posting one picture from that trip a day for another few days. Here is today's pick:

click on the picture for a wider view, different colour balance and greater clarity

If you want to see more, there are 200-odd pictures from the 10 days I spent in China available here.

[for anyone who reads this page regularly - sorry about the repetition here, but I've taken out an advert for my site, mentioning the China photos specifically, so I want to make sure anyone who clicks through from that can actually find what they're looking for without being forced to read everything else. Obviously I hope they do read the rest, but I want people to have the choice....]
posted @ 4:11 AM -
How ironic. I remember while I was in China we cycled near an airbase, and for about 20 miles we were instructed not to take photos because it could get us into unimaginably deep shit. A few people seemed to find this confirmed their general idea of how oppressive China was, and I tried pointing out that taking photos of Western military installations causes just as much trouble. Now an unfortunate bunch of British planespotters in Greece are demonstrating this point nicely: Plane-spotters face fresh charges.

I also particularly like the issue that The group's lawyers have had problems in court explaining plane-spotting, which ... was "not a well-known hobby in Greece". Reminds me of conversations at school with a German assistant, who couldn't provide any translation of "trainspotting", because only Brits would do such a pointless thing....
posted @ 4:01 AM -
....and back to the general "I may love China but its government is not exactly the font of all that is good" vein: A bunch of westerners have been arrested (fairly brutally by the sound of it) for practicing Falun Gong (which is banned over there) in Tiananmen Square.

I actually have little sympathy for either side in this. While the Chinese government is clearly being ridiculously paranoid and indefensibly authoritarian in arresting people for practising a harmless and apolitical health system (apart from the specific laws banning the group, Falun Gong practicioners are instructed to obey the laws of their country), what were a group of foreigners doing going to the most conspicuous site in the country to openly court controversy? Clearly they knew they would get arrested quickly, but what does that achieve? And is it really their business to interfere in internal Chinese policy? While I will sit here and criticise things that foreign governments do, it was pretty clear to me that while in China, quite apart from being pragmatically very stupid to try to do anything about these policies, it also wasn't my business. Add to this the fact that the Chinese (I think in general, not just the government) are ultra-concerned about foreign interference in their affairs, for very good historical reasons (Opium Wars, British, French & Japanese colonisation; a series of disasters for the people of China....)

Still, having ranted at the protesters, the Chinese government are demonstrating a very disturbing aspect of their collective psychology in their reaction to Falun Gong. Whatever Falun Gong really are (and I am not great fan of theirs it has to be said), they are harmless. They preach a way individuals can improve their physical and mental health, which by all accounts seems to work, and they don't have any political pretentions. The government is simply running scared because a movement other than theirs has achieved widespread popularity, and anything which has many followers and is not Party-controlled is assumed to be anti-Party and a threat to it. The only reason Falun Gong has come into conflict with the Party is that the Party is trying to snuff it out, so the movement is fighting for its survival.

As a final point, the propaganda methods the Party are using to fight Falun Gong are bordering on the comical, but it has to be said that their "re-education centres" are remarkably similar to western drug rehab clinics, and I think they do see them as equivalent. Maybe this cross-cultural link could tell the West something about the implications in general of compulsory rehab? Sometimes we are not as different as we like to think....
posted @ 3:48 AM -

Monday, November 19

The unfortunate juxtaposition of words in this just doesn't bear thinking about
posted @ 2:53 PM -
This is a bit of a breakthrough. Not long ago I was ranted about the evil new scheme of record labels, trying to stamp out piracy by releasing inferior quality CDs. Now it seems that they are getting a steady flow of returns and having to replace their dodgily pirate-protected CDs with ones that actually work.
posted @ 2:49 PM -
I've submitted my favourite dozen China photos to LuckyPix. Here's hoping.... Actually more than being bothered about making money out of them I'll be very flattered if any are accepted.

The existence of LuckyPix has set me thinking about stock photography and the (admittedly very remote) possibilty that the horribly forced images used all over catalogues and advertising materials might start to get replaced by genuine natural photos. There are so many cameras all around the world that I imagine most of the photos that a buyer could dream of have been taken by a hobby photographer somewhere, and these would be far nicer than the "forced smile with a phone in your hand" ones that usually seem to turn up.
posted @ 8:33 AM -
apologies for what is to follow - it will be a bit lost on people who don't follow English football. It also insults an awful lot of people, but before getting offended because it is rude about your home country / favourite football team please notice that it's just as rude about everyone else's. Anyway, I've just been sent a rather long and involved email joke:

The War on Terrorism - The key participants. An explanation for footy fans:

USA: Man Utd - Utterly Arrogant and motivated by greed. If they suffer the slightest injustice the whole world hears about it. Leader sees himself as bit of a visionary, most see him as bit of a Tyrant.

Al Qaeda: Leeds - Thugs who like to take out opponents behind the play. Capable of upsetting just about anyone. Leader is a paranoid nutter.

UK: Aston Villa - Trying to move forward having been stuck in the past for decades. Have a leader who loves the sound of his own voice, full of rhetoric whilst ducking the important issues.

France: Arsenal - Perennial bridesmaids. Have a huge armoury but heavily criticized in the past for misfiring. More likely to bore you to death than to be a real threat to anyone. Leader has a habit of turning a blind eye.

Pakistan: Chelsea - Trying hard to be one of the big boys, but has upset a large percentage of its supporter base through its over involvement with foreigners. Could soon experience a revolt within its own ranks.

The Taliban: Liverpool - Strict disciplinarians where members are measured as much by what they wear and do as who they are. Leadership suffered a bit of a shock recently but clinging to life and always hard to beat at home. Very much a bloke's team.

India: Sunderland - A sleeping giant, not a contender at the moment but with a huge supporter base. Likes to think it's opinion is worth plenty, yet is largely ignored by non fans. Local derbies can be a bit fiery.

The Northern Alliance: West Ham - An undisciplined rabble in need of sponsorship dollars.

Israel: Tottenham - Rabid supporters tucked away everywhere and usually only become vocal when they start winning. See themselves as the chosen but in reality suffer from an over inflated sense of self. Local transport can be a bit dodgy.

Palestine: Fulham - A team currently looking for a home, had been on the periphery for many years before the mid 90s. Not regarded as a big contender but has a strong youth policy. Funded by rich Arabs.

Japan: Everton - No attack, last campaign of any note 1942. Big player financially in the 1980s, however struggling a bit these days.

Iraq: Millwall - Serious hard arses who could be on the way back. Opponents prefer to see them out of the Premiership. Most of their neighbours hate them, they know it, and they don't care.

Russia: - Newcastle - Once a great superpower, recently in decay. Have chosen some real muppets as leaders.

Uzbekistan: Leicester - Stuck in the middle. Has a bit of an arsenal but light on ammunition.

Germany: Wolves - Tendency to self destruct. A strong history but off the scene of late. Unfortunate uniforms.

Egypt: Derby - Had a crack at world dominance and though the remnants are still there they hark back to the glory days. A bit over defensive and vulnerable up the middle.

Please note that no country can be associated with Middlesborough. The closest thing was Lebanon but apparently certain parts of war torn Beirut are bordering on pleasant.
posted @ 8:22 AM -
Following on from the previous post, WTO stands for more than one multinational organisation now.
posted @ 4:57 AM -
Astonishing. Singapore is hosting a World Toilet Summit. Star quotes (I don't think these were meant to be double-entendres, the people seem to take themselves very seriously): "The proliferation of this movement worldwide..." and "We are adopting an end-to-end approach..."
posted @ 4:53 AM -
Thanks Adnan for drawing my attention to LuckyPix. It's a site set up to allow individuals to submit photos to a collective stock photography catalogue, which promises a 50/50 split on the fees if any of the pictures are licenced for use. I don't know if any of mine really are up to scratch, but I suspect that a few might be, so I'll give it a go. It would certainly be wonderful to be able to make money out of photography (needless to say that money would all get ploughed into more equipment, except in the highly unlikely event that I really strike gold....)
posted @ 3:26 AM -

Sunday, November 18

just seen a nice essay about the history, style and significance of weblogging. Says a lot of things I've been meaning to say when I get the time to write properly.
posted @ 5:20 PM -
Hurrah! I've finally finished editing and publishing my China photos. Obviously it's getting a bit late, so I won't be writing the promised-to-myself website about the trip just yet, but meanwhile I ought to give a brief explanation.

In October I went on a sponsored bike ride for Mencap. We rode 250 miles in China (Beijing province to be precise), visiting some interesting sites along the way, including the Great Wall and the Shidu Gorge, and finishing the ride in Tiananmen Square.

It was a wonderful experience, and I'd reccommend anyone who gets the chance to do something similar. It's a brilliant win-win situation - I got a cheap holiday in a faraway place that I've wanted to visit for ages, and Mencap got huge amounts of money from the sponsorship that we raised as a group.

I'm wary of overloading this page with pictures, but I couldn't resist one more:

water calligraphy - a fleeting work of art - click on the image for a bigger and clearer version

In Tiantan Park each morning, as well as activities one might stereotypically expect (like taijiquan), there is ballroom dancing (I didn't catch any photos of that unfortunately), and people practicing calligraphy with water on stone. Water stone looks really good, but obviously is very far from permanent - by the time the writer finishes, the first letters are already drying up. I found myself transfixed by the amount of concentration and effort that this person was devoting to his totally transient art form, so I took a picture, and only afterwards thought about the irony of making a permanent record of it.

A week in China was far too short a time to stop Chinese culture being mysterious to me, but I've at least had a week more than most Europeans get....
posted @ 5:15 PM -
well I thought I had 33 Beijing pictures, but once I finished that lot I was wondering why certain places were missing. I had forgotten that there was a second memory card, with another 40. I've put the first 33 Beijing pictures online, and I am now determined to finish the rest today. It's taking ages, because I'm doing it lovingly, and because some of the raw material is frankly rather poor - the Saturday in Beijing was overcast to begin with and then featured heavy rain, so it was probably the worst light I've ever tried taking pictures in. It's surprising how much you can retrieve from these poor originals with some nice software, but it takes time and effort. Meanwhile I'm loving reliving the trip, and remembering the fantastically flowery names the Chinese Imperial dynasties used to give to places - like the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
posted @ 1:58 PM -
I've finished the photos relating to the actual bike ride in China, now all I have to do is sort out the pictures from Beijing itself.
posted @ 11:03 AM -
I will finally finish publishing my China photos today. I had taken an unintended 2 week break in doing this because I've been quite busy, but so far today I've added another 20 or so, getting as far as the outskirts of Beijing. If you don't know what I'm talking about just bear with me - once the photos are all there I'll start writing about them. Meanwhile, you can look at the pictures without explanation. If you want to print any I would recommend emailing me to ask for a higher resolution copy. As a taster, here is one of my favourites:

3 of the cutest kiddies I've ever seen.  Click on the image for a bigger and clearer version
posted @ 9:25 AM -
the draw has just been made for the FA Cup second round. We will be at home to Rushden & Diamonds, a division below us and only joined the League last year (though doing pretty well). Bring it on!
posted @ 7:11 AM -
To be perfectly honest I have just about given up hoping, but this story might just possibly represent a chance for progress between Israel and Palestine
posted @ 6:29 AM -
Kronstadt all over again
posted @ 3:38 AM -

Saturday, November 17

Interesting - my name also has a meaning in old English - "from the valley of the elves", as well as "the elder" in Teutonic.
posted @ 11:28 AM -
I think there is a danger, when people read about the acts of the Israeli government, that they assume Jewish opinion necessarily supports it. Not only is this not true (I hope I don't really need to point that out), but even Israeli public opinion is eternally divided about important issues, like the status of the Palestinians. In this context I think it's important that people don't just read the "Israeli tanks killed an Arab today" type stories, but also see things like this, from Shimon Peres.

On a more flippant note, I must admit to having been quite amused by the ad banner that appeared at the top of the page:

ELDAN RENT-A-CAR : Visit Israel with Eldan's Specials and 10% discount card

I'm not making this up - Eldan being a Hebrew name it's rather less rare in Israel than in the rest of the world, and I do share my name with a car rental company over there, as well as at least one hotel.
posted @ 11:10 AM -
well.... enough moaning - I've had a really nice day. For starters I've booked myself a ski holiday in Tignes (for surprisingly little money, which is always a bonus), which will be very soon and I'm looking forward to loads. Apart from being hooked on skiing, winters in which I get the chance to go away somewhere nice always seem to go far smoother than winters which I spend the whole of in Britain. I think the week of extra sun keeps me going for a few months, by which time spring starts to take hold back here.

Apart from that, I did some walking along the seafront today and it was lovely. I wish I had my camera with me (mental note to self: always carry the camera when walking places) because the sky was beautiful. On the way out there was a break in the clouds out to sea, and it was just hazy enough that there were visible shafts of light from the sun, and on the way back the sun had just set, the sky was clearing, and a thin sliver of a crescent moon was appearing. Both ways the route was full of smiling people obviously enjoying themselves - there's a kiddies' playground en route, and in the afternoon there was a clown entertaining the sprogs, and in the evening the kiddies had gone home and the playground had been taken over by a couple of moderately talented rollerbladers using the fixtures to do tricks on. Needless to say I dawdled for some time....

I am getting a bit tired of Brighton - this is my sixth year here and I'm too young not be a little restless - but days like today remind me of why I've stayed here for as long as I have and why I love the place so much.
posted @ 10:36 AM -
Unfortunately I've lost the reference, but I saw an intensely irritating article the other day along the lines of "look you hand-wringing liberals, the bombing worked didn't it?". If you believe this line, take note: the Taliban certainly do look finished, but Afghanistan is heading for exactly the same chaos and bloodshed that characterised the pre-Taliban era, and led to the Taliban's popularity in the first place.
posted @ 10:21 AM -
the Taliban are done for - who's next? I can't imagine this development will surprise many people.
posted @ 10:09 AM -

Thursday, November 15

This is not a joke, nor a sci-fi plot: United wants stun guns in cockpits
posted @ 11:22 AM -
I may not have the greatest amount of sympathy for British farmers, but they do seem to be cursed at the moment.
posted @ 9:15 AM -
how's this for a laugh: Afghan history explained to the 'street' by analogy with rap music. I especially like the Bin Laden - Limp Bizkit connection....
posted @ 7:41 AM -
I often wonder if having an easy life breeds a nation of wusses. A recent survey showing just how anxious Americans are about terrorist attacks that actually pose far less of a threat to them than their own excessive calorie intakes and fossil fuel consumption seems to support this idea. America does have a wonderfully high standard of living, and while the country is far from free of social problems I think it probably is one of the easiest places to live in, and now it has been shown to have a population of irrational, anxiety-prone wusses. Perhaps if the standard of universal education in the country matched the standard of living things would be a little different....
posted @ 7:18 AM -
I've been saying lots of fairly pro-China things lately, which I think could cloud the fact that there are a number of issues on which I don't agree with the Chinese government line at all. The 3 I find most striking relate to regions which don't want to be ruled from Beijing.

On the weekend I met a couple of Taiwanese people, who were very eager to talk about the whole "one China" myth that China likes to put forward. The essence of their argument is that while China arrogantly insists on there being only one China, incorporating Taiwan island, and international bodies shy away from contradicting this (Taiwan was only allowed into the WTO as "Chinese Taipei"), the Taiwanese people regard it as highly important that they keep their independence and self-determination. China does talk about "one China, two systems", but the Taiwanese believe the only guarantee that they will not be ruled the same way as China is to maintain seperate rule, and I can't really argue with that.

Probably the most publicised issue is that of Tibet. Not much to say on this one except to point out the obvious contradictions between the Chinese government line, which basically pretends that they are popular there, and the Tibetan government-in-exile's view which accuses the Chinese of Stalin-esque attempts to extinguish indigenous culture in order to procure more Lebensraum for the Chinese.

The third region is probably the least well known (I knew nothing about this until the last few months), but basically in Xinjiang the Chinese are brutally repressing an independence movement (among the Uighurs, who are no more Chinese than the Tibetans, but have been historically ruled from China for much longer), and jumping on the bandwagon of using recent events to justify a dodgy policy. Curiously this is not mentioned at all in either Xinhua or China Daily.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that while I don't think China is anything like the hotbed of evil it's often portrayed as in the West, there are some serious acts of oppression being carried out by the country, which it tends to just be convenient for Western governments to ignore. I'm getting rather tired of these double standards....
posted @ 7:03 AM -
This is the Chinese account of why the latest WTO talks have been so much more successful than the last round. What I find interesting about this is how little it differs from the European/American account, and it comes from an official government news agency, so it can be assumed to present the government view reasonably well.
posted @ 3:51 AM -
Now that's what I like to see - the great brains of physics devoting themselves to really useful research - Why brazil nuts always rise to the top
posted @ 3:29 AM -
I'm not going to start spouting my opinions about this, because I don't really have that much of a clue about the rights and wrongs of it, but the EU are heading for a confrontation with Turkey over Cyprus
posted @ 3:01 AM -

Wednesday, November 14

Andrea at serialdeviant.org's take on the blues
posted @ 3:53 PM -
I'm not too happy at the moment, for a few reasons. I'll start with the ones that will make more sense to people:

  1. I'm ill. Having had a nasty digestive illness (I'm sure no-one needs to know the details - if you want them I'm not squeamish about sharing) for about half of the past twelve months, I now have another one. The doctor reckons it's not the same pathology, but clearly they are related (I'm more ill now than I might have been, because my system hadn't quite recovered from a few months ago), and it is a bit worrying. I'm not actually in a particularly bad way, but I remember how evil my symptoms became last time round, so I'm just hoping not to have a re-run. I do learn from my mistakes though - it took me ages to get treatment last time, and even longer to find an effective treatment, whereas this time round I went straight back to the doctor who sorted me out before, and though I haven't seen an improvement yet I at least know that I'm doing something positive.

  2. My flatmates are moving out. They are two of the nicest, most chilled out, easiest to live with people I've ever met, so while I know I'll find someone decent to take their place I can't imagine the house will be quite as harmonious as it had been. To make things worse they are off to Canada to spend the whole winter in a ski resort, so I'm pretty envious as well.

  3. This one will take some explaining. My father has decided he is buying me a car. I guess so far I must be looking like the most spoilt, ungrateful wretch to have walked the Earth, being unhappy about this, but please bear with me while I explain.

    First I ought to self-justify on another count: I don't normally put interpersonal things on this page unless I really feel I can hide who they are about (which is almost never in practice), because I just don't think it's fair to the other person involved. The thing is that this has upset me so much that I'm just not worrying about that issue. I thought for some time about doing this, and originally wrote a version of what follows a couple of days ago, but wanted to decide if I could justify publishing it to myself.

    OK, the explanation. I was one of those lucky people who could have a car from age 17 (driving age round here). I had a Nissan Micra, which I was actually a little attached to (partly irrational, but partly also because it served me well, needing surprisingly little maintenance considering that I had learned to drive on it). When I graduated from my first degree I did a lot of thinking about the way I live my life, and decided that it didn't make sense for me to own a car any more; it had become hypocritical, because various of my opinions had become stronger. The trouble is that driving pollutes (I drove one of the most fuel-efficient cars around, but that only made it less bad, not OK), contributes to traffic congestion for those people who actually have to drive, is the most dangerous mode of transport (round here anyway), and is dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. All good reasons not to drive, plus there is the added bonus that cycling is good for my health, and for day-to-day commuting the bike is my main alternative to a car (public transport being less than perfect to say the least). As long as I had a car I was lazy, and clocked up about 5,000 miles a year on it, even though I only really needed a car 2 or 3 times a year (when for one reason or another there was lots of stuff to move). I decided that the way to make myself drive less and cycle more was to give up the car, which also wasn't really much of a sacrifice because my brother has a car that he lets me borrow when I need one, and I lived a short walk from the main train station.

    The point of this is that I chose not to have a car, because I didn't want one, not because I couldn't afford it or anything unfortunate like that. I think over the past year I must have driven about 200 miles (and I know I've cycled about 1,000 because I measure that!), and that's how it should be. I'm very lucky that my brother both has a car and is very considerate with it, but if that wasn't the case it would still make more sense for me to occasionally rent a car than to own one. Meanwhile I've moved to an area so central that it takes 5 minutes to walk to the station, and that parking a car legally is impossible (even with the residents' permits that take 6 months to get, because the council issue too many), so a car has become even less of an appealing idea.

    Now if I could convince myself that my father was just being misguided, and thought he was doing something nice for me, I wouldn't be moaning like this; I'd just try to convince him to do something different. The thing is that it clearly isn't true. Not only is my dislike of cars and of excessive driving very obvious (as well as making my opinions very known, I refuse offers of lifts because they just mean pointless extra driving being done on my behalf), but I have made it perfectly clear that if I am bought a car I will just sell it (and then I could use the money to help sort out my travel plans for when I finish my MSc, which I would appreciate far more than a car...), and if it is impossible for me to sell it I will just return it. My father's response to this: "don't tell me what to do". Oh the cheek, when he is trying to manipulate me into doing something I don't want to do.

    Not everyone has a price for everything, and I certainly won't be bribed or manipulated into driving.

Thanks for bearing with me through that rant. I think you deserve some happy news now: it's my birthday next week. I emailed a bunch of friends who don't live near me to see if any of them want to come down on the weekend (if you are someone who I know off-line, and you think you've been wrongly missed off this list, it's probably a genuine mistake, so get in touch). Although a few have said they can't come, I've already had a few positive answers, so there should be some fun for all in about 10 days' time....
posted @ 3:32 PM -
now for some unintentional comedy (credit where it is due - I am ripping off Bill Barol's idea): machine translation gone horribly wrong. Here is this page translated into German and back via Google. Reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) anecdote about an early machine translation program translating "the spirit is willing but the body is weak" into Russian and back to English, and getting "the vodka is strong but the meat is rotten".

I think machine translation is actually really useful even with its faults - if you don't do silly tricks like translating a document twice the version that comes out is usually at least comprehensible, even if a little odd and stilted. This makes the web far more universal, as people who don't speak English can now at least get the sense of the majority of pages, and people who don't wish to write in English can at least get some sort of message out to the majority of the online population. So far there is a problem, in that most of the easily available online translation is between European languages (and Indo-European ones at that - not much use for Estonians or Turks), but more will come. I guess quality will also improve, but this is one area where I can't see computers putting humans out of jobs, at least not within my lifetime.
posted @ 2:49 PM -
one of many gems from NASA (brought to my attention by alt text): A Gravity Map of Earth
posted @ 2:19 PM -
23 men have just been imprisoned in Egypt simply for being gay. Even more worryingly, the other 29 who were acquitted speak of having been beaten in custody.
posted @ 12:40 PM -
this is very cool: Robots That Repair Roads
posted @ 12:29 PM -
Time for some nice news. I am not the greatest fan of the World Trade Organisation, but it seems their latest talks have actually reached a positive conclusion. A deal seems to have been reached which involves compromise from everyone, and a few things which are of particular interest to me.

The EU have agreed to phase out agricultural subsidies, which are the biggest money-hole in the EU budget (but will be highly controversial to phase out, so this is a pretty brave move), in exchange for increased recognition of the importance of environmental protection (though I feel Michael Meacher's response may have been a tad over the top: "I'm gobsmacked that the environment has been given such a prominent place in world trade talks"). Meanwhile developing countries get some important concessions too - a veto on competition & investment negotiations, and an agreement that allows them to manufacture cheap clone medicines.

As someone who often speaks out against globalisation, I think it's important that when the WTO do something good I have the humility to advertise it, and not just keep grumbling because I don't like them.
posted @ 11:54 AM -

Tuesday, November 13

I'm watching a TV programme about David Blaine's latest stunt - spending 3 days inside a block of ice. He just about made it, but what impressed me most were the other tricks he does. He stops people on the street and does tricks (he's famous in Britain partly from doing some car ads), but I had only seen him do card tricks until now. In this programme he was doing quite amazing things, in a way that left me unable to see how they could be tricks; things like bringing a dead pigeon back to life and presenting a complete stranger with a picture (tatooed on his chest) of his (the stranger's) girlfriend. Obviously there is the potential for it all to be set up for the camera, but I understand he really does these things in front of strangers. Must find out more about this man.
posted @ 3:09 PM -
By coincidence this cropped up while I was reading other news about Turkey: Balfour Beatty have pulled out of the Ilisu Dam project, which would have displaced thousands of Kurds, breached international water treaties and flooded an ecologically and archæoligically important region. I'm not entirely sure about this, but I think this leaves the whole project unviable, because there will now be no British support, and the Turkish economy was in such a mess that the project depended on help from foreign bodies, such as the Export Credit Guarantee Department, who will no longer be involved.
posted @ 4:34 AM -
this article about Cyprus, from the Turkish Daily News seems worth a read. There's a pretty obvious bias in it, but most Europeans seem only to see the Greek arguments about Cyprus, so I think it's useful to see the opposite bias at times.
posted @ 3:10 AM -
Mohammed Khattami is having some image problems. How does he reconcile his increasing warmth to America with the fact that imams in Iran lead chants of "Death to America", and he has already shown he could stop them. The subheader for this story claims: 'Death to America' protests in [sic] are part of a normal process. I think this may be another "black is white" story....
posted @ 3:04 AM -

Monday, November 12

ha! Thai software pirates crack Windows XP - Tech News - CNET.com
posted @ 2:35 PM -
so it's not only Muslims being punished for their origin: 100 Israelis have been detained since September the 11th in America
posted @ 2:18 PM -
very clever. In order to stop music piracy, the major record labels haev started deliberately corrupting CDs. The theory is that CD players can actually correct for this corruption, using the same algorithms that they use to compensate for slight scratches and dust, which PC CD players don't do, making it harder to put this music on things like Napster. The trouble, in practice, is that a defective CD is being sold. Not only can it not be played on a PC, but it also can't be played in DVD machines (considering the amount of money that some people invest in surround sound systems, their DVD player becomes the main music player in the house), or cheap CD players, or old (5 years) CD players. As if this wasn't annoying enough (it would leave me able to play an album in one of the 3 machines in my house), because the data is already degraded a scratch that might otherwise have been harmless is more likely to make the CD skip.

There is more information about this on the Campaign for Digital Rights website. As for what to do about this, I would boycott the affected albums, but it so happens that I don't want any of the known culprits anyway, I would boycott the record labels, but then I'd end up buying no music at all, which would be most upsetting. The only thing I can think of, which is part protest and partly just pragmatic action seeing as I do use quite an old CD player in my living room, is to revert to buying vinyl.
posted @ 11:46 AM -

Sunday, November 11

I had a conversation with someone a while ago (about the wobbly bridge across the Thames; I can't be bothered to explain properly) the upshot of which was "where else in London would you see a crowd people all smiling together. I've found the answer: the London Eye. I went on it on Sunday and I'd advise anyone who visits London (or lives there for that matter) to do the same - it's a great experience. Maybe next time I'll remember to take my camera.
posted @ 5:58 PM -
not only is black white, but up is also down, and arrest and unlimited detention without charge is not an abuse of human rights, according to David Blunkett. In short, a state of emergency is being declared (errr..... 2 months after the WTC attacks; a month after going to war - what's suddenly changed?), and a law to be rushed through parliament in the coming week will suspend article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, allowing terrorism suspects to be detained without trial. Blunkett actually has the audacity to say he is "astonished" that the proposals have been "misunderstood". I'm sorry, I understand this very clearly. One of the cherished principles of British law, the presumption of innocence until found guilty beyond reasonable doubt is to be suspended allowing the Home Secretary to presume guilt until proven innocent, in a closed hearing, arranged at the Home Secretary's discretion. Oh yes, and Mr. Blunkett happens to be the Home Secretary.

full story
posted @ 5:34 PM -

Thursday, November 8

damn. I thought I could leave politics alone for a while, but then I had a look at moorishgirl's site, and saw this article about the FBI investigation into the WTC attack which describes their strategy. In short, if you are an arab in America, even if a US citizen, you are now guilty of any crime you may get accused of, until proven innocent of terrorism. Wasn't this war supposed to defending the great freedoms of American society?

Well seeing as some people seem determined to turn this into a clash of civilisations, let me quote from the late great Jesus: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" (John 8:7).
posted @ 4:55 PM -
This sounds like a really cool discovery, but I have to say I am highly skeptical. Scientists at Bell Labs claim to have created a two molecule transistor. The thing is, the manufactured transistor consists of a great many molecules, of which they reckon only two are "electrically active".

There are many examples from my field of researchers hitting on designs that they have great difficulty analysing, and when they try to remove parts that seem not to do anything the system either fails or at least performs less well. Here is one example of seemingly inactive parts of a circuit affecting its performance from the work of Adrian Thompson, my supervisor. Findings like this make me very skeptical of people who claim to be able to analyse a set of complex organic chemicals and say which molecules are important when they can't isolate those molecules.
posted @ 4:24 PM -
....and still on the same track: John Pilger on voluntary censorship, bias by omission and lack of variety in a legally free press. Here is the first paragraph, quoted because it really struck me:

Long before the Soviet Union broke up, a group of Russian writers touring the United States were astonished to find, after reading the newspapers and watching television, that almost all the opinions on all the vital issues were the same. "In our country," said one of them, "to get that result we have a dictatorship. We imprison people. We tear out their fingernails. Here you have none of that. How do you do it? What's the secret?"

I also don't think that this applies much less in Britain than in America.
posted @ 3:43 PM -
related to the manufacture of consent issue: Eight Key Concepts for Media Education. Important stuff to remember if you ask me.
posted @ 3:37 PM -
a nice piece on the manufacture of consent. This is a hugely important, and I think under-scrutinised (at least outside academia), issue - while countries such as Britain (naturally the one I feel I know most about) and America (the one the article is referring to) don't have thought police forcing people to say or think certain things, a great deal is achieved towards this end by careful manipulation of the media.

I guess the message is don't just read the mainstream media if you want to actually understand what's going on in the world....
posted @ 3:25 PM -
Britain responsible for increasing the peace. There has been tension between Rwanda and Uganda for a long time, naturally unreported in most of the press over here because they don't have any oil, are not majority white populated, and are not nearby, which has been threatening to turn into a full scale war for some time. Britain has sponsored a meeting between the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda, which (together with the threat of withdrawing development aid) seems to have averted a crisis for the time being.

Nice to read some positive news about my country sometimes.
posted @ 3:01 PM -
cool. IBM are using pixie dust in hard drives.
posted @ 2:47 PM -
Now even General Musharraf, who has been supporting the US military action in Afghanistan so far, wants the bombing to stop, because "It is being perceived in the whole world...as if this were a war against the poor, miserable and innocent people of Afghanistan".
posted @ 9:17 AM -
wahey! Prince Charles got a slap today!
posted @ 4:35 AM -

Wednesday, November 7

The true meaning of my name
posted @ 12:10 AM -

Tuesday, November 6

auto rock - courtesy of engrish.com

I want one!
posted @ 3:59 PM -
This actually annoyed me quite a lot: Philosophical Health Check. Not because it pointed out tensions/contradictions in my beliefs - I know they are present - but because all of the things it pointed out as tensions were wrong. I won't bore you by listing everything, but here are two examples of its silliness:

It claimed that these two statements: "Severe brain-damage can rob a person of all consciousness and selfhood" and "On bodily death, a person continues to exist in a non-physical form" are contradictory. What I actually believe is consistent with both of these, if a slightly unusual interpretation: a person continues to exist for a long time after their death by the impact that they have had on others' lives, which does not necessitate some mystical concept of the soul.

Far more irritatingly, it reckoned these two were contradictory: "The government should not permit the sale of treatments which have not been tested for efficacy and safety" and "Alternative and complementary medicine is as valuable as mainstream medicine ". This is based on the totally loaded assumption that alternative & complementary medicine is necessarily untested. There is an obvious synthesis here, which is what I actually believe: alternative and complementary medicine are intrinsically as valuable as 'mainstream' (in itself a totally loaded term - things that count as 'alternative' medicine here are entirely mainstream in China) medicine, but the same standards of rigourous testing have to apply to both before they can legitimately be prescribed.

I guess I'm being petty getting so wound up by this, but seeing as it is on what rather arrogantly claims to be "the world's premier philosophy site", I don't think a bit of philosophical and linguistic rigour is too much to ask for.
posted @ 3:42 PM -
Time has indeed moved on. After the WTC attack, meta-resources like blogdex showed an enormous skew towards highly serious matters such as news and politics. I had a look today, out of curiosity, and I'm glad to report that the return to silliness is in full effect. One of the most linked-to sites is spank the monkey
posted @ 3:22 PM -
am I growing up or getting old?

A few years ago I was so eager to see my favourite bands that though I never quite followed them around the country, I did see each of Catherine Wheel & Orbital multiple times on their respective tours, even going to gigs in cities far from home, if I knew anyone there. This year Orbital have toured twice, and I missed the first one because I was ill when the tickets went on sale and just didn't notice, and am about to miss the second because I have more important things to do. I still love the band, so what's going on here? Should I be smugly pleased about how much more mature I am, or quietly embarassed about how I'm already growing old?
posted @ 3:05 PM -

Monday, November 5

mmm.... bonfire night in Lewes.... Totally crazy spectacle in its scale (biggest celebration on this night in the country, and bigger than almost all similar things I've seen abroad) and in the virulence of the sectarianism that still underlies it. Absolutely not to missed if you happen to be vaguely in the area (think south-eastern England) at the right time.

Naturally I took loads of pictures, but I still have a few left to do from China, so this will have to wait. I have produced a couple of small images to show you now:

the tail end of the procession through the High Street

Waterloo Bonfire Society - one of the smaller of the 5 main displays
posted @ 7:00 PM -
Romania's resourceful tourism plan (courtesy of alt text)
posted @ 8:55 AM -
What perfect timing. Just as I was typing the previous post my BBC News ticker brought up an article in which Tony Blair shamelessly tries to blame terrorism for economic weakness. No Mr. Blair, you can't blame events in September for a recession that everyone said was already coming before then. You also can't fix these problems by bombing Afghanistan. Try implementing sensible policies on the 'home front', such as supporting education & training in an increasingly knowledge-based and fast changing economy.
posted @ 6:18 AM -
The govt have recently withdrawn one of the few initiatives that had drawn much praise from me - the Individual Learning Account.

It is not without reason - the scheme was being widely abused, but it strikes me as just typical of this government to over-react by withdrawing the whole scheme with no notice, with a lot of users not even knowing about it, and a lot of training providers likely to go bankrupt as their main income stream is instantly removed. Luckily for me my the more ILA-dependent of my employers was in the process of repositioning as a training provider to businesses anyway, but I can see this causing many problems nationally, just at a time when the economy is suffering and there should be action to increase job security (not make companies go bust) and increase workforce employability (education, education, education!).
posted @ 6:14 AM -
just thought I'd share something I heard on the radio today: the US baseball competition being called the 'World Series' is not actually the example of American arrogance that it is often held up to be - it's just that the original tournament was sponsored by a newspaper called 'the World'.
posted @ 3:08 AM -
Today's black is white is from Donald Rumsfeld: "Mr Rumsfeld said he thought there had probably never been a bombing campaign so focused and precise" - so only hitting TWO Red Cross buildings is a good result then?
posted @ 1:30 AM -

Sunday, November 4

back from Worcester now, no thanks to Thames Trains (I still don't know why, but they decided that the train I was on couldn't be arsed to go to Reading as planned, so it would terminate in Oxford, as a result of which my journey involved 5 trains rather than 2), and it certainly has been a worthwhile trip.

I will be going back to the Students' Union here at Sussex and trying to get an actual postgraduate budget, because travel expenses for this weekend came out of my pocket, but for the AGM next year that won't work because there's a �200-odd fee, travel up to Scotland (the meetings rotate around the country - the Scots had to come down to Bognor earlier this year, so it's only fair that we southerners should have to go to St. Andrew's at some point) and 5 days' accommodation. I think it would be a real shame not to have Sussex represented there, but I won't be able to go if I can't get it funded....

We spent some time today talking about a review of NUS structure, which is welcome because they're pretty useless at the moment, but about which I am also pretty skeptical. Of more interest was a long discussion about how to judge the quality of a research environment (COGS [my department] scores pretty highly on the things we agreed were important), and about intellectual property contracts imposed by universities on their research students. The main thing to come out of that was that I must find out what Sussex's actually is, because I don't know, and at other universities it ranges from the blatantly unfair & illegal ('you sign away the rights to anything you invent/discover or else you can't be here') to the fair and pragmatic (St. Andrew's policy still involves signing away rights to patentable ideas, but the university is contractually bound to develop the idea commercially and share the profits with the student). Have to find out what ours is before I can really comment....
posted @ 3:08 PM -
brief, but surprisingly positive, review of Windows XP. If the article is to be believed, it looks like computers have taken a step closer to being easy devices to use without technical knowledge, which has to be a good thing. It probably won't be a thing I want to use, because the flipside is that it does a lot automatically without direct user control, but if it makes computing more accessible to non-techies it has to be a good thing.
posted @ 2:51 PM -
Salman Rushdie talking sense
posted @ 2:26 PM -
interesting article on how Arab Anti-Semitism is largely a Western import, and a 20th century phenomenon. As I had the chance to discover yet again when meeting a large group of people on the trip to China, it is normal for Brits (Jew & non-Jew alike) to be surprised or even shocked at the existence of a Jewish community in Turkey. This is based on the prejudice of Europeans that Muslims are necessarily anti-Semitic. The article rightly points out that it was Christian Europe that was eagerly killing and expelling its Jews through the Middle Ages, while the Muslim world accepted them. It also explains how this rather cosy state of affairs descended into the poor relations between Jews & Arabs these days, just as the Jews were becoming accommodated in Europe....
posted @ 1:24 PM -

Saturday, November 3

I'm currently in Worcester, at the National Postgraduate Committee's OGM. I wasn't looking forward to this at all; lots of travelling for something that had potential to be dull and pointless. While there does seem to be some pushing of personal agendas, some sniping and quite a lot of time-wasting due to procedural sloppiness, the whole thing has not been a waste of time in the end. On the one hand the NPC is actually a useful organisation, with input to govt policy reviews & suchlike (there are several ongoing at the moment; of most interest to me personally is an enquiry about the supply of scientists and engineers in the UK economy), and on the other it's been really useful for me to be in touch with postgrad representatives from other universities, considering how extremely undefined my job actually is. I have a slightly better idea of what I should be doing, and a bit more enthusiasm for it (whereas to be honest before today I was starting to think I should be a departmental rep rather than a university one).

One further bonus - Worcester is really a rather nice place.
posted @ 11:27 AM -

Friday, November 2

black is white

by the chairman of Railtrack. Star quote: "He also said it had 'absolutely not' been asking for extra government money month after month"
posted @ 12:13 AM -
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