Monday, October 31, 2005


the adventures of a reluctant pink dot. This is a rather interesting illusion. The appearance of the green dots can be explained by the exhaustion of the cone cells of the eye after prolonged exposure to a single colour, which produces the appearance of its complementary colour. But I'm not sure why the pink dots eventually disappear and you end up seeing just a single moving green dot.

irrelevant? - Prince Charles interview - Oct 30, 2005 Anyone who highlights the issues of climate change, industrialisation, the environment, etc., is relevant, no matter if they're the heir to the throne or anyone else. Prince Charles has been saying this sort of thing for some years now, even before it was generally accepted. He may be in a rather strange position, being part of an institution that's widely seen as irrelevant to modern life, but he's in the media spotlight, so if he can draw people's attention to these issues, that's great. Also he has done some good stuff with the Prince's Trust and his other charities. In a way it's good that he is not the King, because if he was, he'd probably have to be a lot more neutral (look what happened to Edward VIII after he spoke out about the plight of the miners in South Wales). And I think his views on architecture are spot-on.

retro experience

At the weekend we went to the Re-enactors' Market, a splendid place for obtaining stylish historical gear at very reasonable prices. I bought a lovely 17th century coat from the Historical Costume Company and various other bits and pieces, including a bronze pendant of Odin riding on Sleipnir in this design. On the way back we went to the Rollright Stones, and also visited the Whispering Knights and the King Stone. It was very sad to see the paint splashes on the stones, but I suppose they can't remove them without further damaging the rare lichens that grow there. We had an interesting feeling by the King Stone, that there was a line of energy between it and the small ring of stones at the top of the hill (presumably part of the long barrow of which the King Stone was originally the portal stone).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

petition for OpenDocument

OpenDocument Petition: "OpenDocument for an Open Future"

OpenDocument is a format that would allow Microsoft Office documents to be shared with other office software. Microsoft have said that they will support it in the next version of Office if there is enough customer demand. So if you want Office documents that are interchangeable with other software, please sign the petition.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Black Romans

Septimius Severus and other Black Romans.
Not very many people seem to realise that one of the Roman Emperors was Black - Septimius Severus, who was one of the four ruling Roman Emperors to come to Britain (they were Claudius, Septimius Severus, Constantius Chlorus, who died at York, and Constantine, his son, who was declared emperor at York). Hadrian came to Britain but wasn't emperor at the time. You never see depictions of Black Romans. There were also Syrians, and people from all over the Roman Empire. There's a brilliant book which emphasises this: The Emperor's Babe by Bernadine Evaristo.

forgotten geniuses

Black Scientists and Inventors

How come we've never heard of any of these people? Not only did they invent a lot of really useful stuff, they did it against huge odds created by slavery and segregation.

See also: UK Black History Month site, especially the article about Mark Dean, computer scientist and architect of the PC.

goodbye Rosa Parks

BBC News: US civil rights icon Parks dies
The story of Rosa Parks is one of those heartening tales that makes you realise that a single individual can make a difference - it is possible for one person to be the catalyst that starts the avalanche. She deserves to be remembered.

Rosa Parks, the black woman whose 1955 protest action in Alabama marked the start of the modern US civil rights movement, has died at the age of 92.

Mrs Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus prompted a mass black boycott of buses, organised by Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, October 24, 2005

trip to York

Arrived in York on Friday night after a nightmare train journey (though we met some really nice people on the train), and discovered an excellent Chinese restaurant, the Happy Valley on Goodramgate that serves traditional Chinese food. I had squid in Hoi Sin sauce and Nick had chicken in Hoi Sin sauce. Our sleep was disturbed by mad women screeching and shouting on the stairs from 4 to 6 am. Grr.

On Saturday, after breakfast in a lovely café called the Pantry, we visited Clifford's Tower, a Norman tower on a very large motte mound. This was the site of the massacre of the Jews of York in 1190. They committed mass suicide and set fire to the wooden tower in which they had taken refuge from the ravening mob outside. A few surrendered on the promise of safe conduct and baptism, but the mob killed them anyway. The current stone tower was built as a replacement. Sad story. It was hoying it down with rain, and we got soaked, but went next to the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, a medieval guild hall, a splendid half-timbered place, which still has all the heraldic flags of its guilds. After that we went to York Minster and its crypt. I was again struck by the very Kabbalistic-looking painting of the vision of St Cuthbert on the roof of the small modern chapel at the west end of the Minster. In the afternoon the weather cleared up, so we walked the entire length of the city walls. After that we really needed a sit-down, so we went to the Snicklegate Inn, and thence once more to the Happy Valley Bistro, where Nick had Taiwan sizzling steak and I had Udon noodle soup.

On Sunday, we had breakfast in the Pantry again, then walked along the river to the Yorkshire Museum and its gardens. It was raining again so we didn't spend much time in the gardens. The museum was interesting but there was the usual problem with numbered captions, which made it very tiring to identify all the objects. However they have some really good stuff in there, like the Middleham Jewel, and their Viking and Anglo-Saxon and Roman collections. After that we visited the Treasurer's House, a bizarre confection of styles and periods assembled by an Edwardian gentleman. Then we went to Barley Hall, a reconstructed medieval house. This was great fun as you could dress up in the costumes and play with things. Later we walked to Dick Turpin's grave and then had dinner in the Happy Valley Bistro again. This time we had a Chinese Satay hotpot - a big wok full of hot soup and lots of fresh things to cook in it. Delicious. That's the first time in my life I've ever eaten in the same restaurant three nights running!

Today, Nick went to a work meeting with a colleague, and I went shopping and bought most of my Yule presents in Shared Earth. I also got a really nice bag which was reduced to 2 pounds - what a bargain! The train journey back was better than on the way up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Microsoft slam ID scheme

Even Microsoft think that the national ID database is a bad idea!

In an article for The Scotsman, Jerry Fishenden, the national technology officer for Microsoft, says the proposal to place "biometrics" - or personal identifiers such as fingerprints - on a central database could perpetuate the "very problem the system was intended to prevent". He says ministers "should not be building systems that allow hackers to mine information so easily".

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

nowhere to hide

Well, only Denmark, Norway, the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland.

Wikipedia: Countries without compulsory identity cards

Australia ('citizenship certificate'), Austria, Canada ('Certificate of Canadian Citizenship'), Finland, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden (from 1 October 2005), and Switzerland have non-compulsory identity cards.

Denmark, Norway, the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland have no official national identity cards.

innocent in London

Innocent in London - So you think that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear? Wrong, wrong, wrong. David Mery was arrested under the Terrorism Act for having a rucksack and a thick coat (sound familiar?) on one of the coldest days of the year. He is a computer geek, so he has various bits of computer and hardware lying round his flat, which the police found suspicious when they went to search it. Please read this story, it makes chilling reading. Especially if you are a computer geek, as the behavioural profile of a computer geek matches that of a terrorist apparently.

Meanwhile in Dundee, a woman was arrested under the Terrorism Act for walking along a cycle path: Times Online: "Two wheels: good. Two legs: terrorist suspect"
She said: "I was told that the cycle path was for cyclists only, as if walkers and not cyclists were the only ones likely to plant bombs. There are no signs anywhere saying there are to be no pedestrians."

3.3 km

Hurrah! I went to the gym and did 1.3 km on the cross-trainer, another 1 km on the belt-type running machine, and 1km on a rowing machine. And all in half the time it would have taken me to do 1 km in the swimming pool. Cool. And it tells you how many calories you have burnt, which is very motivating. Which means I shall be able to do Bridget Jones style blog posts. Calories consumed: thousands. Calories burnt: 200 (approx). Number of times thought about Mark Darcy (1 - v.g.)

Anybody speak Parseltongue?

BBC News: England: Manchester: Snake hiding in sewers is caught

A huge boa constrictor called Keith was found in a Manchester sewer, rather reminiscent of the large basilisk lurking in the pipes at Hogwarts. They could have done with a Parseltongue speaker (a Parselmouth) to coax it out...

pentagram meanings

The meaning of a pentagram: excellent article about the symbolism and history of the pentagram, including its use as a Christian symbol, and an explanation of the meaning of the inverted pentagram.

brown eyes and worn fingerprints

BBC News: Politics: ID cards scheme dubbed 'a farce'
Plans for a national ID card scheme have been branded "farcical" after suggestions it might misidentify people with brown eyes or men who go bald.

BBC News: Magazine: Can fingerprints wear away?
People could apparently be misidentified by hi-tech scanners developed for national ID cards because their fingerprints have been worn away.

Even the Tories are against ID cards now - more on practical than ideological grounds it seems. And some Labour MPs are going to rebel when the Commons votes on whether the bill will go on to a third reading. But the government seems to be determined to push this through. Would the last person out of the country please remember to turn out the lights?

Monday, October 17, 2005

usability for blogs

Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Hmm, these are interesting. I'm not guilty of mistakes 1, 2, 4 and 6.

I tend to end up using short titles (mistake 3) because of the width of the post links bar on the side of the template. Though as I have heavily redesigned the template, I suppose I could redesign it some more.

Actually for mistake 7 - irregular publishing frequency - I disagree with what he says on this. The whole point of a blog is that it is about the white heat of responding to things, not keeping them back and posting them later.

And number 8 - mixing topics - can be overcome by good tagging (unfortunately I haven't tagged anything on either Livejournal or Blogger, very bad).

As for number 9, if future bosses can't handle my views on Iraq, Wicca, ID cards, etc., then they probably wouldn't be able to handle the rest of my personality either.

And number 10 - yes, this is an amateur blog - so what?

who will speak for the dead?

25000 civilian dead in Iraq since the invasion

"The ever-mounting Iraqi death toll is the forgotten cost of the decision to go to war in Iraq. On average, 34 ordinary Iraqis have met violent deaths every day since the invasion of March 2003. Our data show that no sector of Iraqi society has escaped. We sincerely hope that this research will help to inform decision-makers around the world about the real needs of the Iraqi people as they struggle to rebuild their country. It remains a matter of the gravest concern that, nearly two and half years on, neither the US nor the UK governments have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed."

Professor John Sloboda, FBA

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

so farewell then?

R.I.P. WYSIWYG - Results-Oriented UI Coming (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox): Personally I think saying goodbye to WYSIWYG in favour of a results-oriented user interface (UI) may be a little premature. Now if Jakob Nielsen had said goodbye to WYSIWYG in favour of WYSIRN (in other words, creating format-free content in XML using a nice user-friendly interface), I would have been the first to applaud.

The results-oriented interfaces that currently exist (layout templates in PowerPoint and Publisher) really annoy me, as I normally have a different layout in mind, and possess the design and software skills to produce it. I suppose a results-oriented UI will be fine if you can turn it off, but will that option be available?

Maybe they should just create two types of software, one for people who can actually use computers, and one for everyone else. Microsoft have actually done this with the Control Panel feature in Windows - you get the dumbed-down version by default, but you can turn it off and revert to "Classic" view. There's also the option of actually learning to use software properly by doing a tutorial, rather than just diving in and expecting to know where everything is.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

breast cancer campaign

Yes it's that time of year again, when the breast cancer site are asking people to click on the little pink button to fund free mammograms.

witches in history

I was reading a book on Wicca last night and got quite irritated to note that there was still someone claiming wildly erroneous stuff about the history of the witch persecutions and witchcraft in general, in an otherwise very good book with articles by lots of different authors. So, let's get this straight.

The main witch persecutions that resulted in actual deaths started in the 16th century, mainly due to economic and social pressures resulting from the Reformation. (See Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas). People had previously relied on the charity provided by the monasteries; once these were dissolved in England, there were a lot more poor old people around asking for handouts. People felt guilty for not helping them, so when the old women went away mumbling, they assumed that they had been bewitched when they got psychosomatic symptoms resulting from their feelings of guilt. Also the Catholic Church had provided oodles of protection against sorcery, in the form of holy water, amulets etc., whereas the Protestants just told people to pray. Great.

The Inquisition was more interested in persecuting heretics, especially conversos (Jews and Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Spain. The majority of people judicially killed for witchcraft were in Protestant areas.

The witch persecutions in England differed in character from those in the rest of Europe. The things people were accused of were different. In Europe, witches were accused of flying to Sabbats and having intercourse with the devil; frequently, midwives were accused of performing abortions and stealing children (source: numerous broadsheets in German). In England, they were accused of having witches' teats to give suck to their familiars; bewitching cattle etc. In Europe and Scotland, witchcraft was a heresy, and therefore subject to ecclesiastical law, with the penalty of being burnt. In England, witchcraft was a felony, subject to criminal law, and the penalty was hanging.

There is no unbroken line of witch religion stretching back into the mists of time. The foundation date of modern Wicca appears to have been sometime in the 1920s, according to the latest research by Philip Heselton in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (an excellent book, as was its predecessor, Wiccan Roots). During the nineteenth century (and possibly the eighteenth century), there were various people who either self-identified as cunning folk or witches, or were labelled as such by their neighbours. However there was no organised movement of witchcraft, only isolated groups 'reinventing the wheel' - and they weren't necessarily pagan either - much of their magic was based on Christian symbolism (cf the story Marklake Witches by Rudyard Kipling). Note that the cunning folk were not witches - during the period of persecution they had often accused women of being witches and handed them over to the authorities.

In England, small snippets of Pagan belief and practice had survived and been incorporated into folk belief and practice - but again there was no large-scale survival of ancient Paganism. In some of the more remote corners of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and Lithuania), ancient Paganisms survived much longer, and so when they were revived, the revivals were much closer to the original forms. There were also traditional practitioners of magic in Finland, particularly among the Sami people.

People really should be forced to read Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft by Ronald Hutton before they are allowed to make pronouncements about the history of witchcraft.

There's also an excellent article by Jenny Gibbons, Recent developments in the study of the Great European Witch Hunt at the CoG site.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Lost in Translation - a device that goes several steps better than Babel Fish, and does 10 consecutive translations of the same piece of text, resulting in some very bizarre sentences at the end. For example, I'm a little tea pot, short and stout translates to They are a small potentiometer, short circuits and a beer of malzes of the tea.

Try putting in bits of Shakespeare, the results are hilarious.

Llanfair PG

Llanfairpwll - How to say the name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave) - another great site from pointless

Monday, October 10, 2005

cool towels

The history of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy towels. Do you know where your towel is?

my ancestor

Cricket History - Hambledon. Just been thinking about my origins in Hampshire, and the fact that I am allegedly descended from Edward "Curry" Aburrow, one of the Hambledon team in the Golden Age of cricket (late 18th century), and stumbled across this web page with information about it. It says that the location of Edward Aburrow's grave is known, but I couldn't find it when I visited Hambledon, and on my first visit the churchwarden (now sadly passed on) said he "remembered to have seen it twenty year ago" but could no longer call to mind where it was. On my second visit, a lovely local lady invited us in, made us a cup of tea, and dug out a book on cricket in an attempt to assist.

broken promises

AUT - It's pay back time It looks as though the UCEA is not going to spend the extra money given to the university sector by the government on increasing salaries after all. Why do they always do this in winter? Last time we went on strike it was in February, and it was very cold on the picket line.

a small victory

BBC News: Anger over 'Operation Pagan' name: Kent police changed the name of their crime crackdown operation to something less offensive after the Pagan Federation (or possibly the Pagan Association) complained about it being called "Operation Pagan" (they had generated the name at random apparently). You'd have thought they'd have worked out that it might cause offence, since there is even a Pagan association within the police (or there was a few years ago - and their totem animal was a pig).

Friday, October 07, 2005

cutting edge science

The Ig Nobel prizes - I think my favourite is probably the prize for literature, awarded to 'The many Nigerians who introduced millions of e-mail users to a "cast of rich characters... each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled".'

quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

BBC News: Lords condemn anti-terror plans: "'Experience shows that governments frequently ask for more powers than they need and when they get those powers they abuse them from time to time,' he [Lord Steyn] said."

What would we do without the House of Lords? They are frequently (and ironically) the last bastion of common sense. The government have effectively abolished the right of habeas corpus, and now they want to abolish the freedom of speech as well. How on earth are they going to define "the glorification of terrorism"? Or indeed the modified version, now that they have climbed down on that, where it will be an offence to glorify terrorism with the intent to incite someone else to commit a terrorist act. So how are they going to determine whether the intent to incite terrorism was present? And three months' detention without trial - that's far too long, and I can't see it being exercised with restraint and caution - let's face it, it didn't work with the shoot-to-kill policy, did it?

them furry things

Curse of the Were-Rabbit spooks island

Posters for the new Wallace and Gromit film in Portland Bill will not feature the word 'rabbit' due to local quarry-men's superstitious avoidance of the word. They'll have to be careful in most fishing communities as well, then, as they have a thing about rabbits as well. But what are they going to do, produce a version called "Curse of the Were-Furry-Thing" and dub the soundtrack specially to avoid mentioning rabbits? And anyway I don't see the connection with quarrying - with fishing the mythological connection is that the Moon rules the sea and rabbits and hares are associated with the Moon - but where does quarrying fit in? Oh well, whoever said superstitions were supposed to be logical?

ad parodies

These are funny...

Banner Ads #1
Banner Ads #2
Banner Ads #3
Banner Ads #4
Banner Ads #5
Banner Ads #6

This is my favourite:
Microsoft Passport - We're not a government.  Yet.

Howl's Moving Castle

We went to see Howl's Moving Castle last night, it was brilliant. I would like to read the book now. The characterisation was excellent, and the scenery was beautiful. There's a particularly good bit where Sophie is looking at the waves lapping on the shore of a lake, and the water comes in, then as the wave recedes, the sand takes longer to dry out. It's beautiful. The fire demon, Calcifer, was really well done as well - it's amazing how much character you can get into a fiery blob. The characters were complex and interesting, especially Howl. I loved his shamanic transformations into a big bird of prey.

Rumour has it that Miyazaki is going to adapt The Wizard of Earthsea next. That would be brilliant. I'm sure he will do an infinitely better job than the ridiculous SciFi Channel version.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

cat of character

Fat cat photo by Hugh Janis - I have an incriminating photo of my cat in this posture. It's not the most dignified way for a cat to be caught on camera, is it?

intelligent design?

Intelligent design - a camp version of the creation story.

(Courtesy of mevennen's and nineweaving's Livejournals)

sleep... mmm

Top 10 things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk - this is very appropriate today, as I need caffeine. That number one best thing to say still cracks me up, even though it would probably only work in America.

10. "They told me at the blood bank this might happen."
9. "This is just a 15 minute power-nap like they raved about in that time management course you sent me to."
8. "Whew! Guess I left the top off the White-Out. You probably got here just in time!"
7. "I wasn't sleeping! I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm."
6. "I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance."
5. "I was doing a highly specific Yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Are you discriminating against people who do Yoga?"
4. "Why did you interrupt me? I had almost figured out a solution to our biggest problem."
3. "The coffee machine is broken..."
2. "Someone must've put decaf in the wrong pot!
And the #1 best thing to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk:

..............." in Jesus Name, Amen."

quantum optics

The 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three physicists. Roy Glauber has apparently reconciled the particle-wave duality with his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence. The other two winners have increased the accuracy of measuring light frequencies, which means increased accuracy of GPS and clock technology.

Kansas State University has "Explorations of the Quantum World for non-science students" which looks very interesting and accessible.

paradigm shift

Nobel prize for stomach ulcer discovery.

Excellent. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, the scientists who discovered that Helicobacter pylori is responsible for stomach ulcers, have been given the Nobel prize. I watched a TV documentary about this about ten years ago, when the scientific establishment didn't believe them, and it seemed extremely convincing at the time. So I'm really pleased they have got the recognition they deserve.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

product placement

BBC News: Politics: Cameron is a political iPod, says Bremner. Meanwhile the other candidates claim to be Coke (the Real Thing), Heineken (reaching the parts that other beers do not reach - a bit out-of-date, that one), and a Hamlet cigar. What is this, the commodification of politics?