31 December 2006

Zen Mischievous Moments #121

To end the year here are a few of the year's amusing sightings:

Vegetarian Housing Association

Pure natural spray tan
[Rembrant (sic) Hairdresser, Roman Road, E2; 07/02/2006]

Apple & Blackberry Pie Sticky Pudding
[The Audley, Mount Street, W1; 11/02/2006]

“This train is due to arrive and terminate into Glasgow Central at …”
[Announcement on GNER train 09/01/2006] (my emphasis)

Book by Dr Robert Latou Dickinson; Human Sex Anatomy: A Topographical Hand Atlas

Quantum Buddhism
[New Scientist; 11/02/2006]

Locally Grown Alternative Newspaper

Reference to a “SOAP/AXL Interface” – something to do with databases
[IBM presentation on VoIP]

Electric Egg Boiler

[Pen Island, a genuine company]

Is the Welsh alphabet written in digraphs?

Do not lock your bicycle on these railings as they will be forcibly removed
[Notice seen by Noreen at Crofton Park Rail Station, Kent; 25/09/2006]

Mills, Lockyer, Church & Evill
[Solicitors? in Finsbury Square, London, EC2 in 1930]

Here's wishing everyone a propsperous and fun 2007!

29 December 2006

Exhibition Day

We really knackered ourselves today -- somehow we did three London exhibitions. But it was worth it. In order we saw:

Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design at the V+A.
We got there at opening time (10 AM); good move because by the time we left there were long queues. I love Leonardo’s work, but this exhibition left me disappointed. It is just one room and consists entirely of Leonardo drawings and notebook pages – not surprising as it sets out to look at how Leonardo thought on paper. The drawings are stunning – and tiny! Many sheets are no bigger than A5/8vo. But the level of detail is amazing, as is Leonardo’s minute, but clear writing. I’m glad to have seen the Leonardo drawings “in the flesh”, but as I say I did come away somewhat disappointed.

At Home in Renaissance Italy, also at the V+A.
This exhibition is next door to the Leonardo – and what a contrast. Two large exhibition rooms which leave you with a sense of dazzling colour. To quote the V+A’s website “[The exhibition] reveals for the first time the Renaissance interior’s central role in the flourishing of Italian art and culture. The exhibition provides an innovative three-dimensional view of the Italian Renaissance home, presented as object-filled spaces that bring the period to life … [it] places outstanding art and domestic objects within their original contexts. Together they highlight the rhythms and rituals of Renaissance living.” And what objects! Magnificent paintings, furniture, textiles, pottery. You can just sit and admire them all day and still come away stunned. Brilliant. See it!

After lunch at the V+A (excellent café, by the way) it was on to Tate Britain.

Holbein in England at Tate Britain.
“Hans Holbein … effectively brought the Renaissance in painting from continental Europe to Britain. Through an outstanding collection of paintings [and drawings] brought together from around the world, this exhibition documents the thrill of the court and life in Tudor England, reflecting the unsettled history and politics of the time.” And what stupendous paintings! Many old favourites, known from reference works, but also some new ones. All interleaved with Holbein’s drawings which show how he worked a sketch into the finished portrait – the Tudor court’s equivalent of a portrait photograph. This is a huge exhibition – at 9 rooms it dwarfs the two V+A exhibitions combined. And each is filled with just the most stunning art. Another must see. But be prepared to queue; it is very popular. Tickets are timed; buy them in advance if you can.

Sadly all three exhibitions are on only until 7 January, so you’ll need to move quickly to get to them!

27 December 2006

Philosophy of Science

Over the holiday I've been reading the 50th anniversary edition of New Scientist (dated 18/11/2006). Amongst the articles on "The Big Questions" there are a number of thought provoking and/or revealing quotes, including the following:

One of the great outstanding scientific mysteries is the origin of life. How did it happen? When I was a student, most scientists thought that life began with a stupendous chemical fluke, unique in the observable universe. Today it is fashionable to say that life is written into the laws of nature - easy to get started and therefore likely to be widespread in the universe. The truth is, nobody has a clue.
[Paul Davies, Arizona State University]

Nothing truly revolutionary is ever predicted because that is what makes it revolutionary.
[John D Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge]

[Life is] any population of entities which has the properties of multiplication, heredity and variation.
[John Maynard Smith, Evolutionary Biologist ]

Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.
[Noam Lahav, Hebrew University of Jerusalem]

Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.
[Alan Turing]

23 December 2006

Why Computers Sometimes Crash

Why Computers Sometimes Crash
by Dr Seuss

If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port
and the bus is interrupted at a very last resort
and the access of the memory makes your floppy disk abort
then the socket packet pocket has an error to report.

If your cursor finds a menu item followed by a dash
and the double-clicking icon puts your window in the trash
and your data is corrupted cause the index doesn't hash
then your situation's hopeless and your system's gonna crash!

If the label on the cable on the table at your house
says the network is connected to the button on your mouse
but your packets want to tunnel to another protocol
that's repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall.

And your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss
so your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse
then you may as well reboot and go out with a bang
'cuz sure as I'm a poet, the sucker's gonna hang.

When the copy on your floppy's getting sloppy in the disk
and the macro code instruction caused unnecessary risk
then you'll have to flash the mem’y; you'll want to RAM your ROM
so quickly turn it off and be sure to tell your Mom!

22 December 2006

Friday Five: Its beginning to smell a lot like Christmas...

1. Will you be having a white Christmas?
If we do it'll be because most of England is fog-bound. In all my 50+ years I don't think I've ever seen a single snow-flake on Christmas Day; heavy frost, yes; and heavy snow on Boxing Day; but never on Christmas Day.

2. Best present you could get/have already received this season?
A £2M+ lottery win.

3. Egg nog or snogging under the mistletoe?
Definitely snogging. Egg nog -- yeuch!

4. Is time on your side?
Nope. But then it probably never was.

5. Favorite holiday tradition?
Opening presents on Christmas morning with a large G&T.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

21 December 2006

Zen Mischievous Moments #120

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates.
"In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven."
The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. It represents a candle, he said.
"You may pass through the pearly gates," Saint Peter said.
The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells".
Saint Peter said, "You may pass through the pearly gates."
The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.
Saint Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?"
The man replied, "They're Carols".

[With thanks to Sophie Clissold]

16 December 2006

Zen Mischievous Moments #119

Jokes from our Christmas Crackers.

Q: How do snowmen get around?
A: On their icicle.

Q How can you tell a snowman from a snow-woman?
A: Snowballs

Q: What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
A: Claustrophobic.

Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
A: Frostbite.

Q: What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
A: Snowflakes.

Q: What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations?
A: Tinsilitis.

[With thanks to Sophie Clissold]

14 December 2006

Zen Mischievous Moments #118

How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?

Golden Retriever: The sun is shining, the day is young, we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, and you’re inside worrying about a stupid burned out bulb?
Border Collie: Just one. And then I’ll replace any wiring that’s not up to code.
Dachshund: You know I can’t reach that stupid lamp!
Rottweiler: Make me.
Boxer: Who cares? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.
Lab: Oh, me, me!!!!! Pleeeeeeeeeze let me change the light bulb! Can I? Can I? Huh? Huh? Huh? Can I? Pleeeeeeeeeze, please, please, please!
German Shepherd: I’ll change it as soon as I’ve led these people from the dark, check to make sure I haven’t missed any, and make just one more perimeter patrol to see that no one has tried to take advantage of the situation.
Jack Russell Terrier: I’ll just pop it in while I’m bouncing off the walls and furniture.
Old English Sheep Dog: Light bulb? I’m sorry, but I don’t see a light bulb!
Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.
Chihuahua : Yo quiero Taco Bulb. Or “We don’t need no stinking light bulb.”
Greyhound: It isn’t moving. Who cares?
Australian Shepherd: First, I’ll put all the light bulbs in a little circle…
Poodle: I’ll just blow in the Border Collie’s ear and he’ll do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.

[With thanks to KellyPuffs, http://kellypuffs.wordpress.com/]

09 December 2006

Quote: Zen

The thing about Zen is that it pushes contradictions to their ultimate limit where one has to choose between madness and innocence.

[Thomas Merton, 1915-1968]

Zen Mischievous Moments #117

From a trailer for BBC TV's recent programme on climate change:
We are standing on the precipice of a runaway train.

How we know what we know

There's a very interesting and thought provoking article in this Week's New Scientist magazine under the above title. In it Harry Collins looks at the ways and effects of individual mavericks on mainstream science. He concludes that the mavericks do have their place and that mainstream science and scientists are often blibkered and misdirected in their responses to them. Here are a few quotes from the article:

If science were a matter of combining unambiguous data from perfectly conducted experiments with flawless theories, assessing the claims of "outsider" scientists and their maverick ideas would not be that hard. But the logic of science is not so far removed from the logic of ordinary life ... and so fallible human judgement still determines what happens at the heart of even the hardest science.

... it is impossible to explore every new scientific idea to the standard set by science: there are just too many.

... after a hundred years, no one has absolutely proved the non-existence of extrasensory perception. If anything, the findings run very slightly in its favour.

No-one has definitlely proved its existence either.

Take the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism affair in the UK. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor behind the furore, published some evidence in The Lancet suggesting a link between autism and measles-related virus particles in the gut. But these particles were never linked to MMR vaccine. There was word-of-mouth testimony from some parents, but no link between MMR and autism has ever been proved. Wakefield simply speculated about a relationship at a press conference - and no one has ever gone further than to hypothesise about it ... Because it is so hard to prove a negative, none of this shows that there is not a hidden link between MMR and autism lurking below the statistics. But there is no evidence to show there is.

A tentative claim about, say, telepathy, can provoke a sort of fundamentalist zeal among some scientists refuting the claim, which in turn undermines their claims for science as an exemplar in a divided world. They should say merely this: "Well, it's not inconceivable, I can't absolutely prove you wrong, but my time is better spent doing things I judge to have more potential."

I am also not sure how it helps if they assume omnipotence in the name of science, as Richard Dawkins did recently when he insisted that scientists must be atheists. And Stephen Hawking has been turned into a new kind of religious icon, with his books taking the place of the incomprehensible Latin Bible in our homes ... The Dawkinses and the Hawkings threaten to make the hard-won victory of science over religion a pyrrhic victory by replacing old faiths with new.

Ah-ha! At last someone else has seen through Dawkins and exposes him for what he is: as big a bigot, and science fundamentalist, as any religious believer knows how to be. He claims to have an open mind. Very far from it. His mind is closed unless things conform to his fundamentalist scientific view. Bah! Humbug! Evil man!
If science is essentially ordinary life albeit conducted in extraordinary circumstances, it must contradict literal interpretations of texts that clash with its findings, but it should not claim the right to address deeper questions of existence.

06 December 2006

Stripping is an Art

Yes, its official: stripping is an art! Norway's appeal court has ruled that striptease is an art form and under the country's laws is therefore exempt from VAT. Fuller story on BBC News. So next time you enjoy the attractions of your local bar on a Friday lunchtime you're supporting the country's artistic heritage!

02 December 2006

Russian Cure

As I'm currently trying to get rid of the latest vile seasonal virus, I thought I'd share a little Russian cure, which isn't Polonium-210.

A couple of weeks ago a Russian acquaintance was telling me about the traditional Russian cure for a sore throat:
  1. Drink a large measure of neat Russian vodka. If you wish swill it around your mouth in the process and swallow slowly (if that's possible).
  2. Wait 10 minutes.
  3. Then drink the squeezed juice of one whole fresh lemon. Oh go on, lemon juice it isn't that bad! Again swill it round the mouth and swallow slowly.
The sore throat should miraculously disappear.

Do not be tempted to mix the vodka and lemon -- they need to be taken separately as the cure is supposed to work by using the vodka to weaken/kill the bugs and the acid lemon to then wash away the debris. Hmmm. Sounds logical, but I'm not convinced. Good excuse for a couple of shots of Stolichnaya tho'. And even if it doesn't effect a cure it ain't going to do the sore throat a lot of good.