24 January 2007

Quote: Zen Gold

Refine your life as you would smelt gold. Chuck out all the dross -- then you'll see how the dross and the gold are the same thing.

[Robert Allen; A Thousand Paths to Zen]

22 January 2007

Harry Thru' the Pinhole


Harry Thru' the Pinhole 3, originally uploaded by kcm76.

A battleworn and scarred Harry the Cat guards my laptop mouse. As is not unusual he was lying on my desk, recharging under my desklamp.

And before you say anything, yes the picture is fuzzy. I've been experimenting and this was taken with a pinhole on my Olympus E500 from about 9". A cunning combination of very old and new technology.

21 January 2007

Sunday Seven

No Friday Five this week, so we'll have a Sunday Seven instead. My Sunday Seven is easier as it is seven answers to one question rather than having to wrote something about five questions.

Seven things I will not do ...

  1. Wear evening dress
  2. Wear a tie or jacket on holiday
  3. Play golf
  4. Ballroom dancing
  5. Role play
  6. Eat anything that’s still alive
  7. Plumbing

14 January 2007

Instructions?

I just love weird instructions for appliances so here's another piece from Feedback in this week's New Scientist, which I have slightly shortened:
... [X] does not tell us how he came to be in possession of a Fibre Optic Musical Animated Fairy "of unknown provenance", but he does tell us that, despite being a retired professor of modern languages, he is baffled by the instructions that came with it for changing its bulb. ...

"Operating Synopsis. If the bulb not brightness, make use of the reserve bulb elucidate as follows: 1. Turn off electrical source. 2. Fetch out the lampholder. 3. Troll the broken bulb, fetch out of it. 4. Setting in reserve bulb, troll the bulb without a reel or stagger. 5. Revert the lampholder."

Alien Postcards (2)

This week New Scientist printed some of the runner-up entries in their New Year Competition. The challenge was to compose a text message of no more than 160 characters, sent home by an alien who has just arrived on our planet. Of this batch I especially liked:

Too late. Another one overrun by Starbucks.

Humans are not conscious beings but remote-controlled by little boxes pressed to the head or wires plugged into their ears.

This planet, mostly harmless, is chiefly remarkable for providing the best evidence so far that the limit of 160 characters on SMS messages is a universal const

Natives wonderful. Send ketchup.

Full article here. Enjoy!

12 January 2007

Friday Five: Birthdays

1. When is your birthday?
Yesterday!

2. How old will you be?
I was 56. Probably a good average. Body feels more like 76 and brain about like 26.

3. Do you prefer to throw a party or attend a party?
I'm a grumpy old git so I don't often do parties. Guess it's partly because I didn't get into the habit as a kid. Giving parties is stressful. And as I don't give parties no-one invites me to theirs. Easy really!

4. Presents: take'em or leave'em?
As my birthday doesn't worry me particularly (see a couple of posts below), neither do presents. It's nice to get them, but it isn't essential. I'm just as happy for someone to say "happy birthday" and buy me a beer.

5. Best birthday so far?
Not a clue. I've had a lot and not many have been sparkling -- just the way my birthdays are. Had a couple of good ones as a post-grad student with friends lining up more gin & tonics on the bar than I could (un)reasonably drink!

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

Senior Bosses Want to Sack 5% of Employees

BBC News reports that according to a recent survey almost a half of UK senior bosses would like to sack 5% of their employees to improve competitiveness and efficiency. The report makes this sound like the old Roman Legion's trick of decimation: eliminate one in ten to encourage the others. However 75% of bosses said they wouldn't bring in such a policy because they are afraid of creating a "climate of fear".

Well I hate to tell them something ... there already is a climate of fear, because this is exactly what many employees think their employers do actually do.

Indeed I have heard HR people openly and seriously saying that they give managers an annual target of having 5-10% of employees in the lowest "unsatisfactory" level of annual appraisal. Such a rating leads to a programme of "corrective action" which if performance doesn't improve results in dismissal. If these people are not replaced (which generally they aren't: "they weren't doing anything useful so we can live without them") then this automatically raises the performance bar for everyone next year when the manager has to find another 5-10% of unsatisfactory employees.

Hands up all those who think their employer doesn't do this? ...

Yes, I thought so. Now, senior managers, why is morale amongst your staff so low?

11 January 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Yes, today is my birthday. No it isn't a special one; just an ordinary run-of-the-mill "I'm getting older" birthday. I'm not one to make a fuss about my birthday, well not since I was a kid anyway. I remember eagerly anticipating my birthday as a child and then finding it was an anti-climax -- in part because it was always a handful of days into the school term after Christmas. Boo! Hiss! So now it's just another day, tho' in recent years I've tried to take the day off work; sadly not this year, but I'm having a day off next week.

Do other people find that, as they have lots more birthdays, they get less interesting and fun? Or am I just a grumpy old git after racking up 56 of them?

10 January 2007

iPhone

So Apple have announced the iPhone ...

Why would anyone want one?
Why would anyone need one?
How sad is that?!

Why?

The BBC are apparently broadcasting a programme next week which asks some alleged celebrities the eternal question: "Why are we here?" Paul Ross on LBC Radio was asking his listeners the question this evening. I didn't call in but thought about the question, as I have many times before, and still the only answer I can come up with is "Because."

09 January 2007

Second Life Ecology

According to a post at Treehugger an avatar in Second Life uses as much electricity as the average Brazilian. To arive at this conclusion Nicholas Carr recently has done a back-of-envelope calculation comparing the impact of actual humans and Second Life avatars. You can follow the math that leads to this conclusion here but be warned, as always with these things Carr has caused a tirade of critical comment. Now whether Carr is right or not I don't know, but the even if he's out by a factor 10 or 100 it does beg a number of questions: Is Second Life ecologically sustainable? Should Second Life have to trade carbon offsets in the real world? And even: Should Second Life be banned by the world powers as a way of reducing CO2 emissions?

07 January 2007

Alien Postcards

This week New Scientist printed the winning entries in their New Year Competition. The challenge was to compose a text message of no more than 160 characters, sent home by an alien who has just arrived on our planet. I particularly liked:

Arr. Earth. Dominant species "car". Colourful exoskeleton and bizarre reproduction via slave biped species. Aggressive but predictable. Intelligence uncertain.

We followed the wormhole, and have now discovered the source of the wet socks (of the singular kind) which are spontaneously materialising on our planet.

Parallel evolution of intelligent life. One carbon based, one silicon based. Carbon form domesticated by silicon form to feed it with all its needs.

OMG you have to see how they procreate.

Full results here. Enjoy!

Thought-provoking Science

There have been a number of interesting articles recently in the more popular scientific magazines.

First of all, catching up on the December 2006 issue of Scientific American, there was a one page item by Michael Shermer "Bowling for God" in which he asks "Is religion good for society? Science's definitive answer: it depends". Along the way he supports my theory that more secular and less rigidly moral societies have lower rates of teenage pregnancy and STD infection. Shermer concludes "Moral restraints on aggressive and sexual behaviour are best reinforced by the family, be it secular or sacred".

This week's issue of New Scientist also contains some interesting articles. Ed Douglas, in "Better by Design" asks "If only we built more lasting relationships with the tings we buy. Could better design cure our throwaway culture?" Douglas's thesis is that we need to go back to a culture which doesn't throw things away and doesn't build everything with built-in obsolescence. One way to fix our environmental problems is to build products which we cherish and can sensibly repair, and/or which can be reused and recycled when we have finished with them. Almost all products these days are ephemeral; little has a useful life of more than 6 months. And yet it wasn't always like this. Remember the teddy bear you had, and cherished, as a child? Bet you still have it! What if we cherished all products in the same way? Yes, OK there would be fewer manufacturing jobs. But we'd see an increase in service jobs: repairing and recycling stuff. Wouldn't this make more economic and environmental sense?

Another article I found interesting, "Under the Cover of Darkness", is all about how animals see in the dark. Scientists have discovered that, unlike most animals which can see only in shades of grey in the dark, geckos see in colour even in low light situations.

Following that is an article on "Extreme Childbirth" and the move by some women, so called "freebirthers", to give birth without any medical intervention whatsoever. While our forebears would not have had the medical intervention we have it seems to me that women would normally have given birth with at least a help-mate (later to become the midwife) to hand -- as I believe is still the case today in primitive societies. Freebirthers don't necessarily shun the presence of a help-mate, although there are groups who insist on being alone -- something the article suggests is dangerous because of the peculiarities of human anatomy. The article even contains a box on "How to recycle a placenta"! Interesting, but not tea-table reading.

Unfortunately New Scientist doesn't provide access to its current articles unless you subscribe, so I can't link direct to their articles here.

05 January 2007

Friday Five: Questions

I thought we'd have a bonus Friday Five this week. Why? Because I feel like it. ;-)

1. What feels like home?
Duh? Home? :-)

2 Do you look at yourself carefully in the mirror before you leave for the day?
Nah, I'm not really into sacks of potatoes. Nor am I vain, which is just as well, really.

3. How do you feel right now?
The end of the week: somewhat jaded and in need of a good curry.

4. Are you a star-gazer?
Guess I would be if I didn't live in the the suburbs of one of the most polluted cities in Europe: London.

5. Friday Fill-In:How much time has passed since you last _____?
Had a cup of tea? About 5 minutes.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

Friday Five: Pets

1. Do you have any pets? If so, how many, and what are their names?
Yes, two cats aged about 8 called Harry and Sally. We think they're siblings, but as they're rescues we aren't sure. Oh and the names weren't our choice, but those of the rehoming centre staff.
We also have lots of fish: both freshwater tropicals and pond fish. They don't have names. Surprisingly the cats take no interest in them at all.

2. What was your very first pet? Do you remember its name?
Throughout my childhood we always had a cat. Most of them were black, and the first one (which I think my parents got just before I was born) was called Sooty. She had lots of kittens -- we always seemed to have kittens around the house when I was a kid.
Then when I was 7 or 8 we got a small dog called Sue, which was supposedly mine. But of course like all kids I didn't look after her!
After that I suppose my real first pets were our first two cats: Floss and Pickle which Noreen and I got soon after we moved into our own house in 1981.

3. Is there an animal you would never have as a pet?
Basically anything wild or which I knew I couldn't look after -- so that's most things! Personally I don't think I'd ever keep marine fish, snakes or other reptiles, terrapins, etc. Nor anything which is a cat's natural prey.

4. What common pet have you always wanted but never had? Why not?
I love parrots and would love to have one. But I know little about them except that they need a lot of entertaining and I don't think it fair to keep birds with cats.

5. What wild animal (extinct or not) would you own if you didn't have to worry about its adjustment or the cost of captivity?
Now that's hard. I like tigers (indeed most big cats except lions and cheetahs), but I don't think I'd want to keep one; they're much better in the wild. And anyway just think of the meat bills! I guess the nearest I get is parrots (see above).

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Five]

03 January 2007

Zen Mischievous Moments #122

Learning a new lingo seems like a good way to start the new year, so here's a guide to London (cockney) speak (it also applies to those who come from Southend):

alma chizzit. A request to find the cost of an item.
amant. Quantity; sum total. ("Thez a yuge amant of mud in Saffend").
assband. Unable to leave the house because of illness, disability etc.
awss. A four legged animal, on which money is won, or more likely lost. ("That awss ya tipped cost me a fiver t'day").
branna. More brown than on a previous occasion. ("Ere, Trace, ya look branna today, ave you been on sunbed?").
cort a panda. A rather large hamburger.
dan in the maff. Unhappy. ("Wossmatta, Trace, ya look a bit dan in the maff").
eye-eels. Women's shoes.
Furrock. The location of Lakeside Shopping Centre.
garrij. A building where a car is kept or repaired. (Trace: "Oi, Darren, I fink the motah needs ta go in the garrij cos it aint working propah").
Ibeefa. Balaeric holiday island.
lafarjik. Lacking in energy ("I feel all lafarjik").
oi oi! Traditional greeting. Often heard from the doorway of pubs or during banging dance tunes at clubs.
paipa. The Sun, The Mirror or The Sunday Sport.
reband. The period of recovery and emotional turmoil after rejection by a lover. ("I couldn't elp it, I wuz on the reband from Craig").
Saffend. Essex coastal resort boasting the longest pleasure pier in the world. The place where the characters from Eastenders go on holiday.
tan. The city of London, the big smoke.
webbats. Querying the location, something or someone is. ("Webbats is me dole card Trace? I'gotta sign on).

To add further verisimilitude include the following in your dialogue:
fahkin. An all purpose, meaningless expletive and adjective.
innit. Added randomly to any phrase approximating to a statement.
wewl. A throat clearance at the start of a sentence.

As in: "Wewl so Trace goes darn yur Furrock Satdi and buys some new eye-eels, innit. Fahkin gewl's costin me a fawchune."

01 January 2007

Alarming Thought

A thought for those of you who, like me, have to get up tomorrow and go to work after a 10 day break ...
A mouse trap, placed on top of your alarm clock, will prevent you from rolling over and going back to sleep when you hit the snooze button.

Quote: Root Vegetables

Do not put all your trust in root vegetables.
What things seem may not be what things are.

[Terry Pratchett; The Truth]

Cat and Mouse

The New Year started well. It was a wild, wet and windy night. At 1AM enter Harry the Cat. Oh how nice, he's brought us a present -- live mouse. After protestations from us Harry took said mouse from the bedroom downstairs to the hall. Here he put it down, looked the other way, and -- Poof! -- the mouse disappeared. So now, somewhere about the house, we have a live -- or possibly dead and decaying -- mouse. He's a good cat for catching the vermin, but one day we will get it into his head that we prefer them dead before they come in through the cat door. Cats! Love 'em to bits.