27 February 2007

Brain Abdication

Oh dear. I saw an item on yesterday's Breakfast (BBC1 TV) about food labelling which contained the usual snippets of vox pop. One female delivered herself of the opinion
It's the government's responsibility that we know exactly what we're eating.
Spherical things that come in pairs! If she is bright enough to understand the words government and responsibility, how is it she cannot see that what she eats is absolutely zilch to do with the government and everything to do with her. Isn't it our own responsibility to know what we're eating? And if we think we don't like it (for whatever reason: taste, look, hygiene, pesticides etc. etc.) then don't eat it. Or does this female believe that the government should tell her when to change her socks and knickers?

This is more than just idle non-thinking, this is willful abdication of brain-power and is tantamount to criminal stupidity. It should certainly be classed as using the brain without due care and attention -- £200 fine and 3 points on the licence; after 12 points they shoot you. On this showing it would do wonders for world over-population. :-)

Why is Britain in the state it is, with a government who do whatever they like and no-one much apparently noticing? Because the great British public can't be assed to think! I somehow doubt you'd catch Joe Public in any of our European neighbours caring so little. But then they do say
  • 5% of people can think and do
  • 5% of people cannot think
  • the other 90% of people can think and don't
And doesn't it just show! Is there any hope for us? Or is it my job to turn the light out?

24 February 2007

So many books, so little time ...

I found this book meme at In the Headlights and as it's about books I couldn't resist, being as I am an inveterate book hoarder.

Hardback or paperback: Depends. If I know I want to keep it as reference, or as part of "the collection" then usually hardback. If it is for general reading, bedtime reading, idle interest or for travel reading then paperback. It also depends what's available, especially as I often buy secondhand books.

Amazon or brick and mortar: Amazon, eBay or Abebooks. Not because I don't like real bookshops, I love them, and always seek them out when on holiday or visiting somewhere. But there are too new bookstores with too little range of stock of interest to me. And there also aren't that many secondhand bookshops around. I know they've died partly because of Amazon et al. but getting to a bookstore is a major problem given one's working hours etc.

Barnes and Noble or Border's: Neither; I'm on the wrong side of the big pond. Book bookstores like Waterstones (or whatever they're called this week) I find dull and boring. That's largely because I don't read much fiction and they just don't stock a decent range of non-fiction. If I come across something I want I tend to go in for instant gratification and order from Amazon for quick delivery. But I also keep a list of (mostly out of print) books I want and search for these when I get to a secondhand bookshop -- or even on eBay.

Bookmark or dog-ear: Always, always bookmark. I hate having books with dog-eared corners -- I'm afraid it's all part of the way I was brought up.

Alphabetize by author, alphabetize by subject, or random: None of those. Books are kept largely by subject, but not well sorted within subject -- except the history is largely in chronological order. And there are interesting categories too, like "books by people we know".

Keep, throw away or sell: Once read, or even if not completely read, books are kept. Books are a treasure trove. This is why we have a house full of books -- in fact they've taken over. Eventually as they become less mainstream (for us) they get relegated to behind the other books; and every few years we have a purge and dispose of ones we really no longer want: we might give them to friends (if they want them) or to the charity shop, or to a friend who does a car boot sale for his writer's circle, or sell them on eBay. Books don't get thrown away unless they are really, really beyond any use.

Keep the dust jacket or toss it: I always keep dustjackets; again part of my upbringing. They are part of the book, make useful substitute bookmarks and (if one cares about such things) enhance its future value. OTOH they irritate me when reading the book, so I often remove them temporarily.

Short story or novel: If I have to choose, novel. But I mostly read non-fiction.

Collection (same author) or anthology (different authors): I don't really know. I guess it depends. I can read either. It's more a question of reading what I fancy reading than worrying about artificial distinctions.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket: I've not read either. But I guess if I have to choose it would be Harry Potter. Or Terry Pratchett. Or Douglas Adams.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks: Oh, stop at chapter (or at least section) breaks if I can manage to stay awake -- not always possible!

"It was a dark and storm night" or "once upon a time?": Don't care. I don't read a lot of fiction so it doesn't matter. It's more a case of whether the book interests me.

Buy or borrow: Buy; always. I never borrow books and I never lend books. If I want to read something I'll buy it; after all I may well want to keep it and read it again or refer back to it.

New or used: Either. Not everything I want is available new; and some of the old books I want are cheaper in reprints than secondhand. Also factor in that there are books I would like to look at and can often pick up cheaply on eBay rather than having to pay full price.

Buying choice: How do I choose what to read? Usually either books I come across by chance, or I want a book on a particular subject, or they're get recommended/mentioned to me by friends. I seldom read book reviews, and even less often use them as a source of information.

Tidy endings or cliffhangers: I'm organised, so I prefer tidy endings; except when I don't.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading: Whenever I can. Which usually means a few minutes in bed at night or when I'm ill. So I don't actually get through a lot of reading, something which is made worse by being a slow reader.

Stand-alone or series: Not bothered. But see previous comments on fiction vs non-fiction.

Favorite series: Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time -- now what did you really expect me to say? Do Lewis Carroll's two Alice in Wonderland books count as a series? Then there's Douglas Adams's Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

That's all, except that, inevitably, TAG, you're it. If you enjoyed this, please perpetuate the meme and comment here so we can all enjoy your answers. I'd like to see Jilly and Kelly take up the challenge. I'd add Noreen and JohnMon as well but I've yet not persuaded them to get weblogs (hah; chicken!).

23 February 2007

Friday Five: Not Doing

1. What do you try to stay away from?
Germs, crowds, the London Underground, buses (yeuch!)

2. Are you clumsy or graceful?
Clumsy.

3. What is it too late for?
Getting somewhere in life. Making a real difference. A decent pension.

4. What/who was your first love?
Sandra Shorer. I think we were eight; maybe as old as ten. She wasn't interested. OMG that's a lifetime ago; nearly 50 years!

5. Friday fill in:I believe that the sun will turn green in 38 days time.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

18 February 2007

Gong Xi Fa Chai

Happy Chinese New Year. Today is the first day of the year of the Pig, Red Fire Pig to be accurate. I'm not going to write lots here about Chinese New Year because there is a pretty comprehensive item on Wikipedia.

17 February 2007

The Strange Things One Discovers ...

Quite by chance I was earlier today reading the Transport for London webpage on the history of the Central Line, and came across this oddity about our local Underground station:
[...] Greenford station, the entrance hall was at ground level but the railway was on a viaduct, and thus became the first, and only, station on the London Underground to have escalators [actualy only one escalator these days] leading from street level UP to the trains.

15 February 2007

Here we go again ...

BBC News has today published an item under the title Nuclear review 'was misleading' . Here are a couple of quotes from the opening paragraphs:

A High Court judge has ordered a rethink of the government's nuclear power plans, after a legal challenge ...

[The] judge ruled that the consultation process before the decision last year had been "misleading", "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair".

Tony Blair said while the ruling would change the consultation process, "this won't affect the policy at all".

Has Blair totally lost it (did he ever have it?) or is he just a dictator? If the policy isn't open to being changed, just what is the point of having a consultation? I give up, I really do. This guy has absolutely no clue! Please will someone teach the guy what democracy is about?

It seems to me Blair's only saving grace is that he can't be as bad as his apparent successor (Gordon Brown) will be. And that is so scary I think I want to go and hide.

13 February 2007

Worst Inventions

According to BBC Focus magazine the 10 most loathed inventions of all time are (in reverse order):
10. Religion
9. Speed cameras
8. Fast food
7. Television
6. Cigarettes
5. The car
4. Sinclair C5
3. Nuclear power
2. Mobile phones
1. Weapons

Do not ask how they arrive at this conclusion. I can see why most of these things get on the list, even if I personally wouldn't have nominated them. However I wouldn't even have thought to mention the Sinclair C5, it was so pathetically a no-hoper, let alone put it in the top ten most loathed. I'd far rather see things like politics, the aeroplane, the iPod, non-essential plastic surgery and fireworks on the list. But what do I know: I'm an educated thinker!? :-(

10 February 2007

British Library to Start Charging Researchers

Apparently the UK government is proposing to reduce the British Library's funding and force it to start charging researchers for use of its resources. This will have a major impact on all researchers, both independent and academic. It is also illogical as the government has insisted that access to the national museums is free, and that they provide research facilities free of charge. How then can they insist that the BL -- perhaps the country's most prestigious museum resource (its objects just happen to be books and not "stuff") -- charge for its services. This is crazy!

A petition to the Prime Minister has been set up; you can sign it electronically here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/library/. I urge you to do so! You have to be a UK citizen to sign.

09 February 2007

Heron in the Hawthorn


Heron in the Hawthorn, originally uploaded by kcm76.

The heron sitting in the top of the hawthorn tree in our garden in North Greenford a couple of days ago. He obviously had his beady eyes on my pond fish, and I can't blame him as it was a cold winter's day. I felt rather sorry for him having to probably go hungry tonight when he took fright at me opening the back door, but I don't think he'd have got any fish as they were all huddled in the deepest middle part of the pond. And it was quite amusing to watch this large, rather ungainly bird, trying to balance on those small twigs whilst not getting its feet stuck with the thorns! It's not the best photo I've ever taken, but the best I got: it was almost dusk and I was taking through the study window.

07 February 2007

Zen Mischievous Moments #122

From last week's New Scientist:

Patent protection for jokes

"YOU cannot be serious," tennis ace John McEnroe famously shouted when the umpire ruled one of his shots as "out". Reader John Mulligan suspects that the patent officer felt the same way about Timothy Wace Roberts's patent application for a "Business method protecting jokes".

The abstract of his US patent office application 200602593306 opens: "The specification describes a method of protecting jokes by filing patent applications therefor, and gives examples of novel jokes to be thus protected. Specific jokes to be protected by the process of the invention include stories about animals playing ball games, in which alliteration is used in the punchline; a scheme for raising money for charity by providing dogs for carriage by Underground passengers; and the joke that consists in filing a patent application to protect jokes."

We don't know what the first jokes referred to are, but suspect the second relates to notices beside London Underground escalators saying "Dogs must be carried". As for the third - does this mean Wace Roberts' patent application is evidence of "prior art", making itself invalid - or is it valid and in breach of itself?

04 February 2007

The Zen Way of Playing Rugby

I'm currently struggling through a nasty gastric flu bug, which meant yesterday I had time to lie in bed and watch the Six Nations Rugby Union Internationals on TV. And I realised a strange thing about modern rugby: it's the only game I know where the referee spends the whole match telling the players how to play the game while play is in progress. In all other sports I can think of the players are assumed to know how to play the game and the referee penalises them when they transgress. In rugby the referee tells the players what to do then penalises them if they ignore him. Listening to the referee's radio mic there is a continual chat of things like: "[ref waving arm] Offside line. Eight white your feet are behind it ... [blast on whistle] ... Penalty blue. Eight white, offside." The forwards even have to be told every time how to scrummage: "Crouch ... Touch ... Hold ... Engage", or form a line-out: "Lads I want one metre between the lines. Three blue, that's one meter not half a meter."

Its a good thing rugby is a relatively slow and even-paced game of set-piece plays, little heaps of big men fighting for the ball, someone kicking the ball and occasionally a bit of open running. Can you imaging how interesting it would be for cricket umpires to run their game the same way as a rugby referee? Or the confusion that would ensue if the zebras tried telling American Football players how to play while play was in progress?