Saturday, 31 May 2008

Cadaver nice day

This past week being half term, I've attempted to make sure I've had a good rest to relax and recharge before heading back into school next week. However, I also went with my girlfriend Hayley on a day trip to Manchester. I won't recount all the ins and outs of the whole day as what we had for lunch and which shops we did and didn't go in I'm fairly certain is of no particular interest to anybody but Hayley and myself (I feel it's worth mentioning that travel was a bit of a nightmare, however; seemingly a hangover from the bank holiday weekend, but really the only disappointing part of the day). I would like to give my reaction to the Body Worlds exhibition that we went to see at the Museum Of Science And Industry.

I remember the general reaction to this exhibition when it first started, which is apparently around ten years ago (longer than I had thought), being somewhat mixed. Some people found it a fascinating display of scientific endeavour and the human form; others saw it as an abomination and a way of cashing in on death. Having not had a particular opinion on the rights and wrongs of the exhibition before visiting, but at the same time being curious and eager to see it, my reaction after attending Body Worlds falls firmly in the former camp.

The exhibition is incredibly tasteful and respectful in its composition. There is nothing macabre or grotesque about the bodies on display. Even those bodies that have been dissected more intricately so that the inner workings of human beings can be seen have a definite dignity; the feeling throughout the exhibition is one of celebration of the beauty of the human body and Gunther von Hagens' clear dedication and reverence of the body and science in general.

It's a strange experience viewing preserved bodies on display. The plastination process used to preserve the bodies gives them a feeling of being half real people and half artificial dummies. My brain regularly did not register that I was looking at people who used to be alive, and I often found myself telling myself that I was looking at actual human beings in order to fully appreciate the incredible nature of the preservation.

As for the moral side of things, I didn't have a problem with it at all. One of the most striking things I saw in the exhibition wasn't a preserved body but a copy of a body donation form, which people use to donate their bodies to von Hagens' research and exhibitions. The person who had filled in the form told of how he had looked after his body throughout his life and had originally intended to be cremated after his death, but after viewing the Body Worlds exhibition had decided that he wanted his body to be used in the same way to help educate and further scientific progression. It was clear throughout that what was being done to the bodies was what the people had wanted when they were alive. None of the bodies had any information about the people they used to be, however, as von Hagens wanted his exhibition to be about the human body and not individual life stories.

I could go on for paragraphs about the exhibition, but nothing will do it justice. You simply need to go and see it to find out what it's like to see human bodies in this way. I have no qualms about the exhibition. In no way does it seem exploitative to me, and if von Hagens is profiting from his work then he is no different to anyone else. He invented the plastination process and has used it to educate and fascinate, so why shouldn't he make his living from his life's work?

As a final note, an overheard conversation between two women at the exhibition went something like this:

"I thought there would be more of a smell in here."
"I know, it's actually very clean."
"Yes."
"I mean, if you go up very close to them then there is a bit of a smell. I leaned in and sniffed that body over there and there was a slight smell, but nothing horrible."

I just hope that at some point in her life, that person realises that she sniffed a dead body. In public.

Linkables 31/5/8

Just a few quick ones today -

The audio's a bit out of sync, but this vid on Why That's Delightful of what happens when you stick a mobile phone in a microwave is pretty cool.

I don't imagine anyone missed them, but the pictures from the air of an uncontacted tribe in Brazil are still amazing. Raises lots of interesting moral questions as to whether we should try to contact and communicate with them, or leave them alone.

And finally what seems like a fairly absurd overreaction to an item of clothing.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Who to support in Euro 2008

The Guardian is running a series of pieces, where writers or commedians from the respective countries try to convice us to support their team in the world cup. Today was the German's chance and his first reason was:

1 Avoid shoot-out heartbreak
Many tears were shed after Steve McClaren's England team failed to qualify for Euro 2008 ... but let's face it, it's going to be business as usual for British football supporters. Just like during the domestic season, you will have to cheer on a team full of foreigners. Why not make that team the three-time World Cup winner and universally revered superpower that is Germany? You wouldn't know, but there is nothing better than celebrating sporting victory. Supporting Germany will give you a once-in-a-lifetime chance not only to back the winning team but also to forgo the heartbreak of losing in a penalty shootout. Germany has not lost a penalty shootout in a major international tournament since 1976.

Nothing particular to add from me other than it made me laugh.

Think I'll probably be supporting Spain, they deserve to win something at some point. You?

Killer Robot Monkeys

OK, so this isn't really what this story was about. But, scientists have made a robot that monkeys can operate with their brains. Have they never seen disaster movies? Why not just give the monkeys some form of virulent plague and be done with it?

Supposedly this is all to help people with disabilities, but I can see the white haired madmen cackling as the robotic, mind-enhanced, monkeys lay waste to civilisation as we know it. (The mind-enhancement thing is not quite true . . . yet)

This story also reminded me of a piece in PCGamer about a similar thing, but for people to play computer games with. The writer played an FPS using only his mind, concentrating hard to shoot. Unlike the monkey thing, this is totally awesome and quite River Tam-esque.

(It seems I can't write that I saw this in the metro in the link bar, so I guess I'd better write it here)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Postwhore + 1

In case people hadn't noticed, there's a link on the right there, by which you can find out the number of posts each author has made on the blog. I wish I could get it to display in the sidebar (and believe me I've tried) but I don't think it's possible at the moment. In any case, it should give you an idea of where you stand.

Not that number of posts necessarily implies mental, physical or moral superiority, but... well... no smoke without fire, you know...

Also, a quick link to a joyous resource: How many times have you wondered how to get from one page to another on Wikipedia in the shortest number of steps (maybe you've even played the Wikipedia game). Now, all questions will be answered by Six Degrees of Wikipedia:

Derren Brown to Stephen Lynch in four steps.
Goth to Chav in three steps.
Rape to Comedy in two steps.

What's the largest separation you can find? Honestly, I'm having trouble finding any above four. It's like finding googlewhacks - trying to think of totally disconnected concepts.

My first five, with the restriction that they were both articles rather than disambiguation pages, is: Elkalyce argiades to Riesz representation theorem

Pretty fly

In line with the gratuitous narcissism shown by Patrick's beard post, I decided I might as well plaster my face all over this thing, in the name of finding out whether I am cool or deluded. Or whether I'm just female and males will never understand.

Last Saturday, I went all-purpose summer shopping in TK Maxx and spent around £150. This is unusual, even for me. I hate long extended shopping excursions and part with money with great reluctance. However, my final amount was greatly increased by my decision to purchase a pair of sunglasses for £69.99. Now, according to the label on them, they would normally cost £240.00 but because I was buying them a season or so late, I had saved myself oodles of money. Though this assumes I was always going to buy them in the first place (which isn't necessarily true, I'd have to be fairly off my face on some noxious substance to even contemplate spending £240.00 on sunglasses).

Neither of the males I was with (boyfriend and his mate), could see the attraction. They said they make me look like a fly. While I can see this is true, I also feel that I have just acquired two hundred and forty quid's worth of schweedie-dahlink without the associated painful hit in the wallet.

And even if I do look like a fly, I can hide behind them and scowl at people. Which, along with looking sultry and possibly famous, is what giant sunglasses are for. I did consider cheaper options (Honda sunglasses, £15, a bit more practical and big squarish ones, with white arms, £20, and what the aviator would have worn if he was an Essex girl), but didn't like either as much. And my mum said I might as well go with the ones I really liked because at least then I would definitely wear them. So I went ahead and treated myself.

I guess I'm asking, would you ever spend that much on accessories? What's your cut-off point? And did I get good deal out of it, assuming I wear them lots and they don't break in a week?

I can't belive Summer's gone!

Ah, a cunning pun to start the post. You see this is actually in reference to something I read in the Metro on the way to work, saying that people actually suffer something like a trauma when a TV show they like ends. Hence the title is actually a clever reference to Firefly (which is awesome and has ended) rather than the shitty weather outside. (I am so damn clever)

Anyway, apparently it's all down to people forming a strong bond with characters in the show and then their season finale being somewhat like their funeral, which all seems very reasonable and not all that worrying. In fact it's almost nice that people can form emotional bonds to TV show characters.

So, what crushing traumas have you suffered (or fear you will suffer) from the corporate faces at NBC (and the like)?

Jesus Camp

I missed the first half hour of this documentary film, but watched the rest last night. From what I saw it was a well made, restrained documentary which let its subject matter do all the work in the way Michael Moore doesn't.

The films about a camp, set up by one lady, for extremely religious kids (or at least the kids of extremely religious parents), where they cry and repent their sins, preach to each other, "learn" about abortion, smash crockery representing evil in politics, idolise a cardboard cut-out of GWB and other associated christian fanaticism.

Obviously I'm quite against this, and I would guess (and hope) most people here are too. So, rather than rant about it, I have one problem that always sticks when I hear fundamental American Christians. Why are they so patriotic? Surely God trumps country, there shouldn't be any boundaries for their faith or who they want to change. If they want to spread the love of Jesus, surely they want to spread it everywhere, not just in the good old U-S-of-A.

I think my point is that everything they do makes sense from a fundamental christian point of view. I don't agree with it, but I understand it in relation to where they're coming from. The rampant nationalism doesn't seem to follow and seems almost contradictory to their faith.

Anyway, time for some confusing tags

Testing times

A blog detailing my journey through my Secondary English PGCE course is something that, if maintained properly, would have served as a fine personal document for both myself and others to see the progress I've made. Sadly, it's a thing that I thought of/was suggested to me too late to make it worthwhile, and I fear that, considering my inconsistent posting on this 'ere bloggy, would have become an exercise in futility. Ironically, it's the unrelenting amount of work that I have to keep on top of for the course that has this year hindered my regular bloggage (not an excuse, merely an explanation), meaning a PGCE blog would have been marred by the very exercise it would have detailed.

All of that leads in a roundabout way to the topic this entry is actually about. On Wednesday this week I completed three examinations called QTS Skills Tests (QTS standing for qualified teacher status). The tests are in ICT, numeracy and literacy, and you have to have successfully completed them before you can be recommended for QTS status at the end of the PGCE course. You can take them as many times as you need to in order to pass them, and they are free of charge. I know several people who have had to take at least one of the tests more than once, and so I was very pleased that I managed to pass all three on the same day on my first attempt and in around an hour and a half.

Essentially, I saw passing the tests as the completion of another tick-box element to my PGCE course. The General Teaching Council (GTC) has decreed that all three of these tests are necessary for every training teacher to complete. So I, training as an English teacher, had to undertake a literacy test. Never mind that I've got a GCSE in English Language. Oh, and a university degree in English. It's the same for other subjects. Training maths teachers have to take the numeracy skills test; training ICT teachers have to sit the ICT skills test. It seems to me to be an unnecessary process that just adds extra stuff to think about on top of the titanic amount of work all training teachers have to undertake as it is.

I personally didn't find the tests particularly stressful: the only test I thought I might have to resit was the numeracy as I haven't done much mental arithmetic for a good few years. I do know several people who have really found fitting in the tests and passing them fairly stressful however. I just think that a reshuffle of who has to take which tests is needed. Why not say that English trainees don't have to take the literacy test, maths trainees the numeracy test and ICT trainees the ICT test? It seems fairly logical to me, and means that only those training teachers who really need to demonstrate their skills in these three areas will do so. Something for the GTC to consider for the future methinks.

Anyway, I've passed mine now. But I'm pretty sure that now I've done them, they'll play very little part in my future career as a teacher.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Bittersweet

"Bittersweet" is a word I sometimes use when I mean something else that I haven't yet discovered the correct term for. Don't get me wrong, bittersweet is often the right word, but it's a specific of something much broader that I'm convinced a word must exist for, but not one that I know.

Bittersweet is a term that can often be applied to songs written by one of my favourite bands, the Eels. Mark Oliver Everett writes songs like Hey Man, Now You're Really Living which contains the following lyrics:

Do you know what it's like to fall on the floor
Cry your guts out till you got no more?
Hey man, now you're really living

Have you ever made love to a beautiful girl
Made you feel like it's not such a bad world?
Hey man, now you're really living

Well I just saw the sunrise over the hill
Never used to give me much of a thrill
Hey man, now I'm really living...


to the happiest sounding music EVAR. But bittersweet is often an inadequate reaction to many of his other songs. This man writes about devastatingly sad things, mind-blowingly euphoric things, and very often with music that sounds completely at odds to what the lyrics are talking about. That jarringness of emotional meaning, where the happy sounds sad, the depressing sounds uplifting and the ridiculous sounds amazing, that is what I'm driving at when I use bittersweet. Yes, things can be bitter and sweet at the same time, but I need a word that means, more generally, that they can hold two contradictory expressions of feeling in the space of a single entity.

And the reason I tagged my last post bittersweetness was because the song, Black Cab (incidentally, Joe it's by a guy called Jens Lekman, no, I've never heard of him either), sounds happy when you just listen to the music. But then the words are about him killing the mood at a party and getting a taxi home early, not really caring if it turns out the driver is a psychokiller. Bittersweet was the right word then. But when you see a production of Voltaire's Candide (ay-mayzing music by Leonard Bernstein) and there's a lot of Catholics dancing around to a jolly tune about how they're going to burn the heretics, "bittersweet" somehow falls short...

Motivated to post interesting challenging content. Not.

Demotivational posters are one of the stalwart sources of internet humour, alongside lolcats and videos of people injuring themselves seriously, and I thought I'd take an idle moment and a complete lack of inspiration to post some of my favorites. They vary in humour and style, but are traditionally a single large image, a large title and a short pithy description. Sometimes the title and description are funny enough on their own, and the picture is just window dressing:











Sometimes the picture itself is funny even without the caption:









And sometimes both combine beautifully to enhance one another:




The tags on this post are intentionally vague.

Just a quick meta-post about post tagging. I really like the idea of tagging posts, since it's a great way to revisit particular topics easily, and gives an easy categorisation system for new readers to orient themselves with. However, it's difficult sometimes to know how to structure tag clouds, particularly if there's a group of people contributing to them.

Firstly, there's the problem of how many tags to use. In a large database of information, the more tags the better, since individual pieces of information will be harder to find. With smaller projects, however, it can become overwhelming if too many tags are used. With a tag list containing lots of labels used only once, it's difficult to pick out particular themes or categories of interest, and difficult to pick out those articles that you've read already.
Secondly there's the issue of whether to tag the general themes identified in the post, or tag things that make the post unique. This point comes down to how people use the tags for searching through posts. For example, if you tag a story in which you happen to mention that someone was wearing a hat with the tag 'hat', then anyone looking for posts about hats is going to be disappointed when they find that most of the posts that come up have nothing to do with hats, and only briefly mention them.

In general, it's probably a good idea to tag a post with the themes it deals with (and a description of the content - videos, links, pictures, etc.), and avoid adding new tags unless they're ones that are reasonably likely to come up again in the future.

Having said that, I have no idea how you guys use or want to use the tags. Do you ever use them? Did you know they were there? Do you completely disagree with the arguments above?

I'm certainly not going to go in and delete Hannah's 'bittersweetness' tag (for all I know, she's overflowing with half-written posts on bittersweetness), but my gut feeling is that it's not a necessarily useful tag for identifying the contents of the post in question. Let me know what you all think, though.

There are a couple of points about specific tags too - the 'have-your-say' tag was one I was only using to tag posts that mentioned or reacted to the BBC's "Have your say" service, so I'll probably remove it from the post that Andy tagged with it. The 'personal' tag was intended to flag up anything containing personal experiences or opinions, but that might be too wide a scope to be useful, so let me know if you think this should be changed.

If anyone has any ideas for a more structured categorisation, put it out there, and we'll see what we can do - it's all a bit haphazard at the moment, but hopefully it'll all work a bit more smoothly as time goes on.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Watchables

After a weekend with my significant other, I'm pleased to point you in the direction of the following:

This first song has such a ridiculously happy-sounding backing track that it makes me want to go and hug a balloon, though that was before I listened to the lyrics... :S


Sadly this next one does not allow you to embed the vid, but follow the link and watch... it's hilarious in a cute fuzzy way. It's the video to Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros. The group are from Iceland and apparently "Hoppipolla" translates roughly as "puddle-jumping". But I hope I'm as cool as these old-timers when I reach that age.

And lastly, mad props to Natalie Imbruglia (and the mime guy, obviously):



And just to say, I'm afraid I might be betting RSI in my left arm and seeing as my job consists of a lot of sitting at computers all the time, this may be the last you hear from me for a while. Sowwy.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Cartoon Nostalgia

Through various silly reasons I came across a video of cartoon title sequences from the 80s which made me wonder, were cartoons actually good when we were kids and now they're crap, or was it that we were just kids so thought they were good?

anyway enough of that, onto a selection of cartoon titles sequences from cartoons I remember as a kid, in no particular order:

He-man and the Masters of the Universe:

Don't remember much of this intro, but I remember the cartoons

and conversely

She-ra: Princess of Power

I don't think I ever watched this, but it seems like it needed to be here so I could comment on the fact they went "well we've done he-man, what can we do now... I know let's do exactly the same but with a women!" Not that that's a bad thing, just that maybe they could have changed the main idea a little bit more


Thundercats:

The old classic and a favourite of many

Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles:

Saturday mornings wouldn't be the same without these green, pizza eating dudes

Duck Tales:

Not one of my favourites, but still good fun

Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars:

Totally awesome, only ever had one series, which I own on DVD and enjoy watching

Visionaries:

I only really remember the action figures me and my bro had and bits of the intro

Jayce and the Wheel Warriors:

Don't remember the name or the cartoons them selves, but recognise the vehicles and the bad guys strange head

Defenders of the Earth:

So cool, I can just about sing along in my head, well der de der along at least

Captain Planet:

So much fun and so very topical with today's situation, shows that global warming was thought about years ago

Bravestarr:

Crap intro, but I remember loving the actual cartoons. Poomar? what the fructose is a Poomar? maybe they mean puma.

You may notice that transformers is missing from this list, that's because the cartoons passed me by as a kid and I was never really a fan, this being a list of the cartoon I remember it doesn't feature, sorry.

There are no doubt more that I'd remember if I saw the intros, but for the time being these are all the ones I can think of.

Andy's Weekly Roundup 250508

Two weeks on the run, hurrah.

Well this weeks been a bit odd in a few ways, mostly because it was my last week in Manchester, so I've been slowly seeing various people for the last time for a while, with tonight's church service being the last time I'll see the majority of people I know.

So onto the bullet pointed vagueness.

This week...

~ I finished uni, final thing being presenting my dissertation, which went relatively well.

~ I found this blog, pretty cool weird stuffs.

~ I reformatted my computer (back to a single partition) and reset my phone to factory settings (it was being a turd).

~ I went out to do some parkour for the last time in Manchester for a while, was really good.

~ I got to see some drunken idiots in their underwear jump into a horrendously brown canal, then watch their discarded clothes get blown in after them by the wind.

~ I get over excited by the prospect of going to America in January.

~ I heard that a guy from my old church in Maghull was in hospital on life support after an operation went wrong, which is kinda scary.

~ I'd planned to do a gif like telf of my beardiness, but due to the afore mentioned format to my computer I haven't got round to installing photoshop.

~ I was woken at 6am two days in a row as my phone decided to play silly games and think that the alarm I'd set for a sensible time in the morning was still set to 6 despite not actually saying that!

Beard Update

A post title that does not bode well for the beard-haters amongst you.

Firstly, a look at what the beard currently looks like, in flashy animated-gif format:

Beard reactions have been interesting. The people at work oscillate between mockery and appreciation, though they've pretty much seen it grow, so the shock factor is lessened. Amongst friends who've seen it suddenly full grown, the reaction has been pretty good, with more general approval from guys than girls (but then, why would girls understand - the bond between a man and his beard is a sacred thing). One guy and two girls have told me I should get rid of it, and girls have been in general far more confused as to why I was growing it.

Because I can. And because I may not be allowed to in the future.

Secondly, a gentleman who has dedicated his life to providing us with important beard-research photos. We could all learn a lot from him.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

We're all going to die!11!!!!1!

The BBC Radio Listen Again service is amazing and wonderful and useful, but in this instance, it is frustrating, because although I can find the programme I want, the section of it I want to highlight is not available to be heard again. But this proves that Dr Elaine Storkey was the speaker on Thought for the Day on Thursday last week, and you'll just have to trust me when I tell that what she was saying was broadly this:

In a time of global economic uncertainty, government policies are performing an about face. Up to now, our economic concern has been with expansion, acquisition and globalisation. It's all about having more. Dr Storkey's argument was that we need to learn to be satisfied with enough. She talked about "the economics of enough" saying that we had to change our economic model to one of contraction, rather than expansion and that this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

She didn't go on to make what I think is the next logical point, that we have to change our entire lifestyle if we are to have any hope whatsoever of avoiding self-destruction. My boyfriend is an engineer who designs interior heating, lighting and plumbing systems, while trying to make them as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. He specialised in renewable technologies in the final year of his degree and tells me it's impossible that all our current energy needs will be met by renewable energy alone. It will have to be nuclear or nothing, unless we're prepared only to use computers when the sun is out or when it's particularly windy.

Driving back from an assignment yesterday, I was listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and while I've noticed that Jeremy Vine doesn't always go in for the most nuanced of discussions, it was hard not to listen to his studio guest who said most of the usable oil would be gone in 30 years and Vine's own comment that he'd heard somewhere that the planet could actually only support 3 billion of the current global population of 8 billion.

If any of this can be accorded any significance, we need to start changing our lifestyles now. I know we're all going to die anyway, but I'm feeling increasingly millenarian about the whole thing. One of my worst nightmares is that civilisation will collapse and I'll be forced to eat those around me to survive. II honestly don't think nuclear power is either a safe or sensible option given the current political tensions across the globe that show no sign of diminishing.

We should be building big wooden sailing ships so we can still travel when the only power we have is the wind. We should be slowing down our drive for economic growth and start doing things because they are the right thing rather than because they will make us money. We need to live in smaller communities with facilities close by so we can walk and cycle. We need to, as they do in Ludlow, collect all food waste separately from everything else and compost it and use it as biofuel. Locally, we also recycle cans, paper, cardboard and plastic. One of the best things about where I'm living at the moment is that practically everything is recycled. My flatmate and I get through one black binliner of waste that isn't recyclabe or reusable a month. We need to get used to the idea that things will take longer, that travel takes time and the pace of life will have to change.

And then yesterday evening, I drove to my boyfriend's house in Birmingham all alone in my diesel-powered, air-conditioned car. I felt guilty every step of the way. I still did it. I use energy saving lightbulbs, unplug everything when I'm not using it, walk to work and back, shop in the local butchers, grocers and bakers and avoid going to the supermarket at every opportunity. But I think we're still doomed.

(cross-posted to An immedia reaction)

If you go down to the woods today...

...you might just find some geeks.

A while back at uni, I discovered the concept of Geocaching - hiding a 'cache' of goodies somewhere around the world and then posting the GPS location online, encouraging others to find it. Sometimes the cache will contain a prize for the first finder, sometimes a log book to record names and times, or a disposable camera to provide a record of those who made it. Equally, caches can be as easy as under a bench, or as difficult as on the Antarctic continent.

Though I loved the concept, I never got around to actually looking for the one cache that was logged as being on campus while I was at uni, which makes me sad, so some sort of trip to London-based caches may need to be organised at some point.

In any case, this concept was extended by xkcd earlier this week into Geohashing. Using an algorithm based on the date, and the previous day's stock market index, one point is defined for each graticule (longitude/latitude rectangle) in the world as that day's meet up location. This partly allows people interested in adventuring reasonably close to home to find areas of their local graticule that they'd never been before, while providing a framework for meeting other xkcd followers. Officially 4pm on a Saturday is 'meet up time', so if anyone fancies taking this Saturday off and heading over to a small wood outide Dunsfold, who knows what you might find...

Friday, 23 May 2008

Economy of beer.

I've got a friend who's an investment banker. This means he's pretty knowledgeable on economic issues. He's also politically conservative, so we argue quite a lot. When we talk about economics, I have to refuse to argue points, because if I try, I'll lose. Not necessarily because I'm holding the wrong position (though clearly sometimes I am), but because he can make complex economic statements (about 'growth' and 'interest' and 'recession' and other important sounding words) that he doesn't have to defend, because I don't have the knowledge to attack them. This is pretty annoying.

The point of this post, though, isn't to point out how annoyed I am that I can't argue economic points with him, but to paste an email he sent me today:


Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20." Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.

But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?'

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20,"declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man," but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I got"

"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.


As someone who can't argue about economics, naturally, I can't address this with any hope of being right, but if I were to try to, I'd probably say that
  • buying beer in a bar is not analogous to tax, which funds vital public services without which society couldn't function.
  • an arbitrary drop in the cost of beer is not analogous to a tax decrease, which would require a decrease in service quality or a massive increase in service efficiency.
  • the reaction of the less well off to the better off is unrealistic - complain, yes, 'beat up', no. And if the beating up of the rich person was a clever analogy for something else, then it passed me by. Yes, people are envious of those richer than themselves. D'you know what the compensation for being envied is? Having a lot of money.
  • it's interesting that the rich man at the end of the analogy decides to stop helping those that don't appreciate him and move his money to places with 'friendlier' atmosphere towards him and his money. Without him, they can't buy beer (for which read access schools, hospitals or recieve welfare). But what do they matter to the rich man - he's found somewhere that 'appreciates' his money more, and that's what's important.
Clearly there is an important point here - we are dependent to a large extent on the money brought in from taxing high earners, and there is a careful balancing act involved in taking as much as possible from them without taking so much that they leave for a country with more favourable rates.

I don't know what the answer is (see first paragraph), but I don't think this kind of over-simplified analogy helps us get any closer to one.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Choices.

Earlier this week the government defeated a number of amendments looking to reduce the number of weeks during which a woman could seek an abortion. Abortion is always a slightly touchy subject to discuss, given that the issues can cover both the ethical and the spiritual, and combined with the fact that as a young man I have no first hand experience with the issues involved, it might seem strange to discuss it at all. I do feel, however, that it is a subject that should be discussed, partly because debate is important in any decision that we as a society have to make, and partly because it is a decision which, pretty much by definition, is unprepared for, and for anyone who might be involved in making or helping to make such a decision in the future, it seems a good idea to at least have an idea of where you stand. And, as a third, more selfish, reason, I am always interested to see where people stand on controversial or divisive issues, and this one is certainly one of those.

So where do I stand? Well, firstly, I'm pro-choice - I believe that abortion should be legal and available to anyone who needs or wants it. There are always going to be situations in which abortion is desperately wanted by the woman (whether for medical, situational or social reasons), and to outright prevent her from having legal access to this service will lead many women to deal with it themselves, a situation I can't imagine anyone looking to promote.

In addition, those who are against abortion altogether (assuming that they are not also against contraception) are essentially saying that at the point at which the mass of cells becomes embedded in the wall of the uterus, something changes to cause it to become sacred. A moment before and it can be flushed away with a pill without recrimination; a moment after and it becomes a human life as valuable as any other. This has always seemed to me to be a fairly bizarre position to hold.

Once we're past a simple yes/no, though, the main question is, of course, where we draw the line. As with any situation in which a line must be drawn, it is very difficult to argue for a particular positioning of it. I imagine all people would say there should be some end-limit, since by the point of birth, a baby is undeniably human, so the question becomes how late we allow that process to go. A reasonable barometer might be the ability of the foetus to survive outside of the womb, which, even with current medical advances has never occurred before 21 weeks, and rises to 50% probability at the current limit of 24 weeks. I can't think of a measure better than this to use, since the question at stake is essentially at what point the "value" of a foetus' life becomes equivalent to that of a newborn, and any other 'measurement' of humanity (such as the appearance of particular organs, or similarity in appearance to a baby) will be far more subjective.

In any case, the vast majority of abortions (98.5%) are carried out before 20 weeks is up, and 90% before 12 weeks, so only in a small number of cases are these decisions about whether a foetus has the value of a human life even applicable. In addition, abortions at later stages are not available everywhere, so although the legal limit is 24 weeks, the local limit in practice may be much lower for particular areas.

So if only 1.5% of abortions were going to be affected by this change in the law, why were both sides so up in arms about it. Primarily, of course, because it's a subject that inspires high emotions in both pro-choice and -life camps, but also because the lack of real scientific impetus in either direction makes it a battle of principles, of personal morals and of beliefs. So in this ultimately abstract argument over whether to drop 4 weeks off of the limit, why do I oppose the amendment? Primarily because there is no scientific reason to do it (which would be the argument most likely to persuade me) and that moving the limit back with no good reason sends entirely the wrong message. It says that the morality of abortion can be defined in discussion, and can change according to persuasion and debate, without a need for scientific breakthrough. It says that women who have had abortions after 20 weeks before now were morally in the wrong (since the law must have been wrong for all those years). It would be treated as a victory that would reduce the decision time for pregnant women, increase the complexity of providing a medically necessary abortion after 20 weeks and would most likely save no lives.

A couple of things struck me while I was doing the minimal reading required to hold an opinion on this issue. The first is that the law covering when an abortion can be given seems incredibly ambiguous. It can only be given if two doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy would be more damaging than aborting it. So there is no provision for voluntary abortion as such, which instead is performed on the basis that continuing to term with an unwanted pregnancy would be more emotionally damaging that the abortion procedure. This means that a doctor who holds abortion to be wrong can prevent his patients from having one (at least under his jurisdiction) while an identical patient elsewhere could get approval. This seems to be unneccessarily flexible - if the law is intended to allow voluntary, legal termination, then it should say so, and if not then it should prohibit it. Either way, it seems bizarre that the beliefs of a particular practitioner should be allowed to interfere with and delay individuals seeking legal procedures.

The second thing that occurred to me was that of how MPs should vote. Gordon Brown apparently released Labour MPs to vote as they wanted, but should they be voting to their beliefs or to the beliefs of their electorate? It depends, I guess, how you interpret representational democracy - do we elect the person the personal views of which best represent our own, or do we elect someone we trust to transfer our views into law, whether or not they personally agree with them? I don't know the answer, but it seems interesting that an MP could be voting against the wishes of their constituents based on their own personal beliefs.

In any case, the amendments were defeated, and the limit remains at 24 weeks. A success for pro-choice campaigners, even if nothing was really gained. Looking at the percentages, however, there were warning signs as to the result of any subsequent vote under a conservative government - while 80% of Labour MPs voted against the amendment, 84% of conservatives voted for it, so under a Tory government, we could be looking at a swift change of policy on this issue.

I'm not sure how that will stand up to scrutiny, but I wanted to write something, as too often I see topical issues I have an opinion on and then leave it too late to write anything meaningful. More interesting than what I have said (from my position of non-expert, zero-experience, internet-tutored male) is what you guys think - where do you stand on abortion, and on the defeat of the amendment earlier in the week?


some resources I used (in addition to wikipedia):
netdoctor: abortion
abortion law

Linkables 22/5/8

Since the recent flurry of posting has died down slightly, it seems time to wheel out some more links - nothing too big and fancy this week:

A couple of games: First, Arachnophilia, a simple game in which you build a web to trap and eat insects. Trap too much and the web falls apart, trap too little and you starve. There are some interesting tactical decisions to make, and it's entertaining enough for a couple of games.

Second, Jetpack Brontosaurus, which has the greatest full title of any game I have ever seen: "Splendid jetpack dreams of the Apatosaurus named Brontosaurus". It's a follow up to the excellent Off-Road Velociraptor Safari, which I'm fairly certain I've mentioned on here before. It was unbelieveably buggy when I tried it, and very difficult to play, but it's only an alpha release, and for the name alone I had to give it a mention.

Incidentally, if you were wondering about the runner up in the greatest-full-title-of-any-game-I-have-ever-seen award, it's the just-released game from the webcomic-based game critics at Penny Arcade: "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness".

Left handed toons was linked by Bambi in a previous post, but I wanted to highlight this one, that Hannah pointed out to me, the only reasonable reaction to which is "awwwwwww". Hannah also linked me to this reaction to a Charlie Brooker review of the new Gladiators TV programme.

Via an article on The F-word, a feminist blog, I was linked to The Public Whip, which is a great idea for a site. It allows you to keep track of how your local MP is voting in parliamentary debates, thereby enabling you to make it clear to them when you don't feel they're representing you. Whether or not you think this will work depends on how much confidence you have in representational democracy, but ideally your MP is meant to represent your views (as opposed to their own) and so keeping an eye on what they're doing in your name can't be a bad idea.

If you're looking for an interesting and terrifying inter-generational photoshop every day (and who isn't), try the bizarre ManBabies, recommended to me by Russ.

And finally, a really quite moving story told through Polaroids.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

I thought I was locked out . . .

. . . but I'm not, hurrah.

To explain. Yesterday my work had (somewhat accurately) described this site as "Social Networking / Blogging" and locked it. But today it re-opened (I have no idea why).

I should probably write rather more to this post than that, or I might be accused of padding my post count, so, faith. Well, I'm an aetheist (as I said earlier) and I guess because I find the whole religion story faintly ridiculous, and struggle to understand why people will belive this, whilst knowing that Paul Danniels and Derren Brown are just playing tricks, whilst knowing that a nice bar of chocolate can also make you feel all warm inside. Obviously people do, and if you want to then fine, I hold it pretty sacrosanct that what you belive is entirely up to you and no-one can punish you for it. However, if you want to base the society I'm going to live in too on your beliefs then we'll argue about it, as I'm sure you feel but from the other side.

I was going to stop there, but doesn't the fact that most people will have the same religion as their parents make you stop and wonder? Either their relgious because their parents told them to be, or they have a propensity to belive in something and their parents belife is the first that comes to hand. Neither really inspires me to belive too.

Damn it, it's all turning ranty, sorry. I really don't care if you belive in God, I just find it weird.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Fantastic Mr Fox

I was driving home last night after midnight. I was on the A3, and doing about 50mph, not daydreaming, but planning the next day, and thinking about the evening I'd just had. As I came towards the crest of a hill, there was suddenly something in my headlights: a fox.

It was towards the left side of the car, and looking straight at me. I only saw it for a fraction of a second and instinctively braced myself for it's impact. I have no idea how I failed to hit it - I didn't have time to swerve or brake, and the car must have rushed by less than an inch away from it. My chest hurt as I tensed, and I was breathing heavily as I moved away up the road - the sight of something appearing in my headlights like that, and the acceptance that I was going to hit it had pumped me full of adrenaline even in the split second my body had to react.

My first thought was how dangerous it was. Foxes are more and more common around here, and apparently have added wandering onto dual-carriageways to their usual habits of breaking into rubbish bags and having sex/fighting noisily at 3am outside my window. If I'd had more time to react, I might have instinctively tried to swerve, which, with another car just behind and to the right of me, would have been an awful idea. Clearly motorways are more dangerous places for animals to be wandering, but they tend to be less accessible. With A roads running through suburban areas (and usually pretty close to residential areas) foxes in the headlights could be a more and more common sight.

My second thought, once I was breathing more evenly, was that I never want to have to swerve to avoid hitting someone or something. In films and on TV, even something swift and jarring like someone being hit by a car is dragged out and slowed down, split across multiple shots, and played for dramatic effect. In reality, there is no time to think. By the time my conscious mind registered what had happened, I was 20m down the road. If it had been a person wandering across the road at that point, there would have been no dramatic swerve and no screech of brakes so beloved of hollywood. Just a massive burst of adrenaline, all too late.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Losing my religion

That's me in the corner... that's me in the spotlight

Consider this:
Patrick spent Sunday morning reading Philip Pullman's new short story "Once upon a time in the North" and fannying about on Facebook. Enitrely suitable Sunday morning fare for an atheist you would think. And you'd be right. But he was only up so absurdly early because I had woken him up to buy a new parking ticket for his car before some officious warden slapped a £60 on his ass, and then sodded off to church. Me that is, not the traffic warden.

I had invited him, if he wished to go, the main attraction, other than God, being the chance to see me looking like a meringue in a royal blue cassock and white surplice in my weekend persona, a chorister of St Laurence's Church, Ludlow. I joined the choir for selfish motives: I was lonely and wanted to meet people, for personal and professional reasons. I also like singing and I have a background in (for simplicity's sake) "classical" music. And the part of me that was a practicing Christian for the first 19 or so years of my life idly wondered if getting back into regular contact with religious types might help me resolve my inner turmoil as far as religion is concerned.

I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing, I think I thought I saw you try...

I've not attended as religiously (hah) as I'd like. Weekends represent golden opportunities to get out of Ludlow (lovely people, very beautiful town, no one between the ages of 20 and 27 in evidence) and I often book them up miles in advance. But recently, I've been trying to be around more. I made a commitment to the choir and they need me to turn up, at most there's only ever four or five people on the alto part, including me. We're the second largest group, but often there's only two or three of us. And very often, as I trip over the hem of my cassock while trying to sight-read the alto line in the processional hymn while we walk between the pews and up into the choir stalls, I wonder what I'm doing there.

My childhood Christianity was not something I had a choice in, but I loved it completely. I was baptised when I was 4 months old. I was admitted to communion when I was 7 (a strange rite only my church seemed to do which let young children have a piece of bread but not drink wine. But yay! Inclusion and a sense of maturity!) and confirmed when I was 14. We were Anglo-Catholic. I think, technically, high church CofE. We believed in seven sacraments (baptism, ordination, marriage, confirmation, communion, extreme unction, reconciliation) not two (baptism and ordination) but we only used incense about three times a year and we sang music from all over the world and from throughout time. When Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, we learnt the South African National Anthem, in South African. When we got a new vicar from Zambia, we learnt the Agnus Dei in Zambian. It goes like this... Kambelele ka mlungu, muvimyapo viipa, vya vyalo vyonse, tipe tendere wanu, kambelele ka mlungu muvimyapo viipa, vya vyalo vyonse, tichitile lusungu. Though I might have got the verses the wrong way round.

The congregation was a good mix, people of every ethnic background you find in Sarf Eeest Lunnon. Africans, Asians, Europeans. I knew everyone, and a lot of people knew me. All the old ladies cooed over me at my christening. By the time I was 10 I had no idea who they were, but they would comment on every stage of my life as if they were relatives. My mum was very involved in our church and got ordained when I was 12 or 13. I was very proud of her. No one else's mum was a priest. Though I grew tired of fending off questions about whether she was a "priestess" ("Yes, she sacrifices bulls in temples"), was my dad a priest? Do priests have to marry priests? ("Er no, and no."), and "I thought priests couldn't marry/have children?" ("That's Catholics").

I loved God and God loved me. I never knew where I got this image from, but when I was 5, I thought God was a denim-wearing, ginger-haired man with a low-grade buzz cut who drove around the universe on a giant motorbike. A sort of benevolent biker dad if you will. I had a kids' bible that showed God sitting on his throne as a white figure, featureless, shining. A silhouette in reverse. My ginger-haired, extra biker dad fitted right into that outline as a far as I was concerned.

When I reached 16, I stopped going to church. Everyone my age left and GCSEs took up more and more time. Choir practice on a Friday evening and first thing on Sunday got in the way. But I still called myself a Christian, would still have said I believed, and I went to Southwark Cathedral on feast days to hear my sister sing in only the third all girls cathedral choir in the country. She can get married in that cathedral (Lucky cow. I want to get married in a cathedral dammit).

And then, in my first year of university, I went out with The Scientific Atheist. He was supremely confident in his worldview, had read a lot more books than me, debated a lot more than I did and thought Richard Dawkins was lord. After one conversation where he had pretty much destroyed everything I had ever believed in, ("Alright you can say there is room for a god in the creation model as impetus for a big bang but it makes no sense that he'd be a personal god, even if he did exist as a starting force..." The argument was a lot longer than that, but we're coming up for six years ago and I'm hazy on details..) I asked if there was anything else he wanted to add. He said: "I'm a little disappointed you're not taking on board what I've said and have decided to live your life accordingly."

I told him he was just as bad as a religious fundamentalist. And he, who had said discussing these things was all about rationalism, not emotion, was hurt and offended. But I pointed out destroying everything I'd lived my life by up until that point was hardly going to cause me to turn round and embrace him, tears of thanks streaming down my face. "Oh. I didn't think of it like that." Evidently not.

Every whisper of every waking hour I'm choosing my confessions, trying to keep an eye on you...

And in later years, when I actually started reading the work of Richard Dawkins and seeing him on television, in much the same way that moderate Christians cringe when they hear evangelicals advocating the burning of homosexuals, I decided I was never going to call myself an atheist while Dawkins was guiding that particular bandwagon. He doesn't seem to understand that telling people they are stupid, that they are automatons whose emotions are controlled by chemical reactions, is not going to convince them. He may be correct, but he's never going to convert anyone by insulting them.

The Scientific Atheist expected me to pathetically grateful that he had removed the blinkers from my vision. But too often, I just find myself lost. I'm working out my own morality, piece by piece. It's not self-consistent yet, and it may never be, but I hope one day it will be. And so, we come back to me, in church, on a Sunday. Wondering what's it all about, when you get right down to it. I usually ignore the service, for the most part, unless the preacher grabs my interest immediately. This is not a reflection on the quality of the worship, but I'm having my own communion with God. If He's not there, the Christian framework that I was brought up with, that our country's legal system is based on, at least gives me a good basis for working out my personal dos and don'ts. And if He is there, I know He'll understand why I think what I think and do what I'm doing.

Andy's Weekly Roundup 190508

I'll try to do one of these once a week if I can be bothered, but hopefully on Sunday, it being the start of a new week.

You may also notice that this bares similarities to another post made today, but then creativity is the ability to steal someone else's idea and make it look like your own work :D

This week...

~ I successfully altered a website to run on PHP and MySQL.

~ I Compiled a list of websites I've created over the years so I could use it to apply for jobs.

~ Played around with Flash for the first time in years.

~ I laboured over a video so that it would: Be consistent with what my friend had done on his computer; burn to a DVD without blue screening my computer; burn to a DVD without having a disc error.

~ I struggled to grasp how Illustrator and Photoshop worked together so that I could produce a DVD image that I could print onto the DVDs I just created.


~ I decided that, while still not great to have in your kitchen at night, baby slugs are nicer that fully grown ones.

~ I woke up with my boxers on inside out (I'm still unsure as to whether I'd spent the whole day like this or managed to do it in my sleep).

~ I found this video
~ Mozilla produced their release candidate for firefox 3.

~ I lead this weeks meeting at my church leaving those there with no doubt that I was a complete idiot :D

~ I performed relatively badly in an exam.

~ I ignored a friend profusely due to having too much work to do.

~ I spent a good deal of time in Liberty City.

~ I downloaded the latest version of AVG free and decided that it was good.

This weekend...

  • I drove about 420 miles in 9 hours over 3 days.
  • I got lost 4 times overall.
  • I got lost 3 times in Shrewsbury.
  • I shouted inarticulately in a response to a serious lack of appropriate road signs 3 times. In Shrewsbury.
  • I nearly ended up in North Wales. While trying to get around Shrewsbury.
  • I nearly fell asleep at 8:15am while doing 100mph on the M6.
  • I spent 3 nights on 2 different floors and woke up with a painful back and neck every morning.
  • I saw a play, a film and a stand up show.
  • I took 122 photos.
  • I 'helped' to make tasty chocolate brownies.
  • I ate lots of tasty chocolate brownies.
  • I avoided going to church in order to use facebook and read Philip Pullman.
  • I used two kitchens, and was inappropriately sexist in one, and inappropriately racist in the other.
  • I wrote stuff on a fridge with magnetic letters. Some of it was rude.
  • I spent time with two English grads and they both tried to talk to me about Shakespeare.
  • I reinforced my internal stereotypes of English grads.
  • I walked round a church, a castle, and a moat.
  • I listened to descriptions of the castle from the most annoying woman ever.
  • I didn't climb on the furniture.
  • I didn't touch the bats.
  • I carelessly broke my phone (it'd been going that way for a while, but it is now singing with the choir invisible).
  • I had to use a call box for the first time in about 10 years.
  • I discovered the minimum charge in a call box is now 40p
  • I discovered 40p gets you 20 seconds of talking
  • I discovered I sometimes only carry around 40p on me in change.
  • I spent an inordinate amount of time lying on an exercise ball.
  • I spent a possibly surprising amount of time being poked, prodded and flicked.
  • I spent an entirely unsurprising amount of time making inappropriately disgusting jokes.
  • I spent no time at all washing my hair.
  • I introduced a new convert to the delights of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe.
  • I met lots of cool new people who live with cool old people I already knew.
  • I spent lots of time hanging around being a nuisance while my friends were actually trying to do important, interesting, stuff.
  • I felt sad that I don't see some of my friends as often as I would like when they live so far away.
  • I gave three piggy-backs.
  • I had a great time.

New Flat

I have just moved into a flat!!! (yes it does warrant that many !'s)

I moved in with Katie on Saturday. It's in Forest Hill and is the basement of a house of flats and is quite impressively cold (especially given the blazing sun outside), but this is probably quite a nice thing atm.

It was also impressively not cleaned, and full of stuff. We spent quite a while over the weekend clearing all the owners stuff out of the kitchen cupboards and onto the table (which is not almost overflowing), where she will hopefully come and pick it up from, and then cleaning said cupboards. However, again this could be a good thing; we are in now no obligation at all to clean the flat at all for when our tennancy ends.

More annoyingly it seems the washing machine and dishwasher may be broken (well the dishwasher definitely doesn't drain properly) so she'll have to get that fixed too.

Anyway, there will be a housewarming some time, which you're all invited too (even those of you I haven't met), so details of that to follow.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Andy's guide to...

...getting rid of sales people.

It's taken me a while to work out how best to do this, but I thought I'd list the general techniques I use in an attempt to get out of giving people money or buying things from sales people, without simply lying, as that'd be wrong.

Be a student:

This only really works if you are a student and doesn't necessarily work all the time, but generally saying "I'm a student" can indicate that you're unwilling to spend more money on anything you don't deem utterly worthwhile. Unfortunately, in the case of charity street people, they tend to say well you can survive without going out once a week (to which I reply "I don't go out anyway"), so it's not always a winner.

Don't show any interest:

Simply saying that you don't have time or deliberately avoiding eye contact or even blatantly ignoring them, whilst rude, is generally used by most people to great effect. However I'm a nice person so tend to stop even if just to say "sorry, I've got somewhere else to be"

Say you're moving to London soon:

This has worked relatively well for me for a number of months as it generally gives people the impression that I need all the money I can get and that frankly they should be collecting money for me, not cancer or endangered mosquitoes. This again only works if you are actually moving somewhere else soon (continuing the non lying thing), but should still have some weight after the move, just change it to "I've just moved here" and it should still hold true.

Explain that you'd like to give them money but as there are so many organisations it's not something you want to do lightly:

This is a bit of a lame excuse, as I don't give money to any charity at the moment (aside from my church every now and then) but you can make it known that you're willing to support charities but need more time than 5 minutes on a street to think about it all.

Go through with it all and then cancel the Direct Debit before the first payment comes out:

I admit that I've actually done this before, it was stupid. It was for the Dogs Trust, the guy I spoke to was really nice and I felt mean not signing things afterwards, more fool me, but I decided that I'd cancel the direct debit because, as much as I love dogs, I could give to much better charities who do work with humans not animals. From this experience I learnt that you can still say no even after a long chat and you'll be being rude as they're essentially being rude and asking you for money in the first place :D This is a really stupid way of doing things, as the organisation will have your details and try to get you back (in the Dogs trust case with pictures of dogs looking forlornly at you), just ignore them and if you get bored "return to sender".

Keep asking questions about the organisation whilst maintaining that you can't give money / buy anything:

This worked both for a charity and a sales person. By continuing to ask questions about the organisation in a manner which makes it seem like you want to make an informed decision, the person will either get fed up with you and want to call a more susceptible person or realise that you're not going to buy anything but are willing to give you more info. If they are going on commission or a per sale rate they wont really want to hang around with one person for too long, but you will atleast seem like a nice person (aslong as you're nice about it, my brother did make a buddist monk say that he wanted to kick him in the balls, but wouldn't)

Fake your own death:

By faking your own death when they approach/ring their attention will be drawn away from trying to persuade you to sign up to things and you get to lie on the floor for a bit.

Explain that you just don't do anything on the street/your doorstep/phone as you prefer to think about things and look at all the available possibilities:

Most companies will claim to be the best and show you figures that are most likely fiddled in some magical way to ensure they seem that way. By telling them that you're just not willing to sign up to anything in this way you can get rid of them without having to listen to any spiel (you may have to listen to a bit and them stop them, which can be fun). This is a relatively respectable way to do things.

Already have involvements with other groups or happy with existing services

If you are indeed happy with your current situation or you already give money to organisation(s) you can just say this and they will most likely go away. I can't really say this as neither of the above are true, but maybe they will be one day.


Well I hope that helps give you a nice arsenal of ways to get out of giving away your hard earned cash or changing your services over to another company. Please post your own suggestions if you have any more.

Friday, 16 May 2008

An Endothermic Reaction

Following suit, a bit about me...

I'm Joe, and I am in the fairly unique position of nearly knowing everybody (who posts on this blog, rather than universally!) Telf and I shared rooms, as well as many conversations and good times, at University and beyond. Through him and the pub quiz mentioned by James, I have since had the pleasure of encountering pretty much everyone else concerned. There are of course two exceptions: Andy and I went to school together up in the sunny land of Liverpool, have been on many different adventures together since, and are about to embark upon the adventure of sharing a house; Hannah I have yet to meet, though I have heard much about her from Telf!

Confused?

I live and work in London as a musician and studio engineer. This mostly involves playing the piano a lot, running a studio in South Wimbledon called Cherry Pie Recording Studio, and spending a fair portion of time in front of Sibelius writing and arranging things!

I'm a Christian, which is entirely fundamental to how I go about my life. If for any reason that leaves you feeling uncomfortable (and I realise that may well be the case!) let me try and clarify a little... I'm not a crazy right wing evangelical fundamentalist, or a nominal Christian in the cultural sense. I'm a follower of Christ, his teachings, and the way of life he proposed, or at least, I try to be!

I enjoy absorbing this completely bizarre culture we seem to find ourselves in, and particularly enjoy talking about it afterwards. Not entirely sure what I mean by afterwards, hmm. So yay for music, films, tv, musicals, drama, and many other things! I'm not sure I could be more vague if I tried.

Now I think about it, a vagueness competition seems like a pretty intriguing concept.

A delayed reaction

I'm James

I work for Societe Generale, Corporate and Investment Banking in the film and entertainment team as a trainee.

I know Ben, Patrick and Martin from school, never met Andy, though hopefully will soon (probably at a particular pub quiz).

I've recently re-taken up badminton at a club where I get regularly beaten by old people.

I enjoy computers and computer games but find I often don't have much time for them.

I have a beard that is probably the least impressive of all the beards posting here.

I'm an aetheist.

I've decided (after being told by Patrick of my poor record) to increase my posting level.

James

An Immediate Reaction to an Immedia Reaction

I thought that it best to just post a response to Hannah's post instead of rambling in a comment.

As my blogging name covers my real name nicely, I can skip over that section and head over to how I know the other guys (or don't in the most case)

Right, this is how I know Patrick, at least. In Patrick's first year at Uni he was put in a room with a strange little man called Joe (who also "blogs" here), who I have know for a gazzillion years because we used to go to secondary school together, so I met Patrick ever now and then when I visited Joe (an infrequent thing, which I am most ashamed by). So I got to know Patrick like that, and subsequently met BamBi a couple of times. I don't know James, Martin or indeed yourself, yet, but as I am moving to Wimbledoon in a week or so I may get to meet you all (or not, no idea where you live).

I'm just finishing off uni in Salford (only one thing left to do , a 15 minute presentation of my dissertation) where I've been studying Professional Sound & Video Technology. I'm mostly a computer nerd type person as I enjoy being sat in front of a computer and staring at such things as code or various other silly things. I also enjoy my computer games and have an Xbox 360 (which is so much fun).

Prior to university I did two years work in a concert venue in Clithereo, which has recently finished having renovations done to it, which where meant to take 18 months, but took from when I left to just recently to complete. I enjoyed this immensely so decided to get a degree in what I was doing.

I do, strange as it may seem, have an outdoor life too. I practise Parkour in Manchester, which I hope to continue in London, but not sure if I'll get round to it. Being of slender built, but tall, this can lead to issues as a smaller built is preferable for Parkour, but I still enjoy it and it keeps me pretty fit.

I also have a beard, of varying lengths and style, depending on what I can be bothered doing. Currently it is in it's Goatee with side burns stage, which is fun.

Oh and I'm a Christian. Wow can't believe I forgot that (well actually I can, I'm stupid like that), I try to maintain that it's the most important thing about me that I should always tell people first, but oh well I forgot. It is however the most important thing about me which I should (but invariably don't) tell people about when they first meet me.

Which leads me onto, I forget things a lot! like seriously a lit, I have a very poor short term memory, it sucks.

I'm a big fan of Animé and Japanese culture and intend to go there at some point. My plan is to learn some form of martial art, as they're awesome. I enjoy a variety of films, from the gruesome and bloody to the cute and furry (ie. the Lion King, rocks hard) and I'm generally willing to share my opinion on things like that, as can be seen at Drink Your Milkshake (not mine, that'd be weird). I also enjoy my music and various other such delights.

Anyway I think I'm getting to the point where I'm divulging far too much information and I'll end up telling you my bra size (if I indeed had one), or more appropriately that I'm sat here in my boxers as I haven't bothered getting up to go for a shower yet.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Maths FTW (OMG LOL WTFBBQ!!!11!1)

I was reading through the links spat up by my Google homepage today, and happened across this article about word usage in IM conversations. Interesting enough, but not earth shattering by any means. However, a sentence at the end caught my eye:


Ignoring the fact that they don't make clear whether it's just those three terms that make up 2.4 percent, or the whole slang dictionary, the line that really bothers me is that the researchers apparently describe 2.4 as an "infinitesimally small" proportion. Now, there are plenty of terms they could have used instead, 'tiny', 'minute', or even just 'small' on its own. But they chose to use a term that means 'vanishingly small', 'approaching zero', or, indeed, 'too small to be measured accurately'. Which, given they're describing a measurement, is patently untrue.

Clearly it could be a misquote, or a misunderstanding, but for a statistical researcher to use a mathematical term like that is really quite misleading. It would be like saying that the proportion of black people in the UK was infinitesimally small, which would not only be incorrect, but also insulting, since the word has connotations of insignificance too. In either case, don't use the term infinitesimal unless you actually mean 'basically zero'.

It reminded me of another case of mathematical language abuse I noticed while watching the film '21'. A character, ostensibly an extremely bright mathematician, is explaining the Monty Hall Problem, and has to describe the probability of picking a single correct choice out of three alternatives. How does he describe this probability? 33.3%. And the opposite probability? 66.7%. No. Just no.

No university maths student would describe probabilities like that, let alone one at MIT, and the lecturer would instantly correct him. No maths student would even use percentages, since you have to talk about recurrences. He should have said 1 in 3 (and 2 in 3), which is not only the simplest and most accurate description of the probability, but also the one that comes naturally from the statement of the problem, and it makes me annoyed that at some point the scene has been rewritten by someone who didn't understand what they were doing.

So there we are. If you're going to use a mathematical term, please get a mathematician to look at it. And if you can't find one, then pick another word. There's plenty out there that won't make us rant.