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accu2008, the JezUK technical-out-about highlight of the year, kicks of bright and early Wednesday morning. I'm not speaking this year, so I'm feeling quite relaxed about it. I do have the ACCU AGM to chair on Saturday though, what with being the Chair and everything. Last year was my first time and I made a bit of pig's ear of it, so I'm aiming to do a slightly better job this time around. My only other concern is whether I can squash my packing down sufficiently that I can carry everything on my bike. I quite fancy taking it with me.
Tom Coates (who has a much deeper and richer voice than I imagined) popped up on a Today programme item on corporate blogging and said when he started blogging eight and half years ago "there were a couple of hundred [blogs]". Either I'm a super-proto-blogging-pioneer, or Tom's recollection is a bit off. Since I tend to the I'm not remarkable view of history, it's undoubtedly the latter.
On the 25th of March I received an exciting looking email:
Dear Jez Higgins:
We invite you to submit a paper/abstract to the 12th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WM-SCI '08 (http://www.sciiis.org/WM-SCI08). It will take place in Orlando, Florida, USA, on June 29th to July 2nd, 2008.
Actually, I have no idea what Systemics, Cybernetics or Informatics are, but thanks!
The email continues:
The deadlines are the following:Wo-wah, Nellie! You invite me to give a paper on something I've no idea about, and you're giving me 24 hours to mug up and write a proposal. Sorry, I'm going to have to decline. I'm good, you know, but I'm not that good.
Submissions: March 26th, 2008
These are heavy academic conferences, expect boring papers, academics chasing publications and very little connection with the real world. Umm... OK, I assumed that last bit, I've never been to one of these type of conferences so its unfair of me.
Radio Four's Farming Today has just featured quite a long item on vertical farms, transparent structures that will, apparently rise over our cities allowing people to grow tomatoes, strawberries, and "other produce". Look for the first to be built within five years.
All together now:
It's a vertical tube farm capable of growing the same amount as a 300 acre farm, but on less than one square meter of land.
Just dinked slightly with my code. Would you be so good as to add a comment, please?
Had planned to head down to the Hare and Hounds last night to see Enablers, but circumstances (precipitated in a roundabout way by the Birmingham Post) conspired against. Instead we experienced the excitement (I'm not sure that's the word, but can't think of a better one) of several rather burly policemen chasing a villain through our back garden. At least I assume he was a villain. He announced his arrival by crashing his car, at some speed, into two cars and a van, stopping directly outside our house. He then sprinted off down the road, disappearing round the back of the flats next door but one. He was caught about minute laterand cuffed in the alley, having traversed three gardens, of our neighbours on the other side.
see, this is exactly what I'm missing about moving from Birmingham. I just haven't seen a good police chase through either our road or across our back gardens in ages.
Because I'm an industry leader (that's what they tell me, anyway), I
occasionally get surveyed on my opinions on various IT related goings-on.
This morning I was invited to take part in a survey concerning your
views on data protection. One of the questions was
How do you feel about the introduction of national ID cards?
- It's a good idea
- I have no problem with it, I've got nothing to hide
- I don't like the idea of the government having yet more of my data on file
- I don't know
Two positive options, one negative with a very particular position, and I don't know. What if I think it's a bad idea for all other kinds of reasons? What do I choose? Has, I wonder, this survey been designed to elict a particular response.
I recently read the splendid How To Lie With Statistics and Innumeracy, both of which dissect the lazy and/or misleading ways figures are used by society at large, with a particular emphasis on news reporting and advertising. They've made me even more suspicious of polling data that I already was, and this question has agenda written all over it.
Confession: I deliberately indulged in a distorting graph earlier this week.
Figures are the 2006 mid-year estimates from the Office of National Statistics. The 2001 census numbers are all a bit lower. You'd think they'd have the advantage of accuracy, but are generally accepted to under report. People seem happy to pay their council tax but find filling in the census form once a decade some kind of terrible imposition, I guess. Next census is in 2011, so until the numbers get resynchronised the ONS estimates are the best we've got.
To add a bit of a feel for just how much bigger Birmingham is than Leeds and Leeds is to Glasgow and Sheffield, think Walsall. Birmingham is bigger than Leeds by about the size of Walsall. Don't like Walsall (although why wouldn't you?), think Wolverhampton. Leeds is bigger than Glasgow by the size of Solihull. Bigger than you think that Solihull.
If that's a bit West-Midlands-centric, try this instead. Birmingham is bigger than Leeds by about the population of Plymouth, or Hull, or Derby, or the whole of South Gloucestershire. Leeds is bigger than Glasgow by the size of Rochdale, or Gateshead, or Milton Keynes.
Just to give a final handle on the size of these cities, Birmingham is bigger than Manchester by, well, Manchester. Even the relatively flat part of my little chart disguises some pretty large differences. The additional population Glasgow has over Bristol is about an Oxford or, if you prefer, a Lancaster, a Canterbury, a Norwich, the entire county of Powys. That is, whichever silly way I slice it, a lot of people.
We're have a lot of plastering done at the moment. Before Jim (because I'm not fool enough to do it myself, and nor should you) can put on new plaster, all the old plaster has to come off. It's been going on for a few days now, and our man John had a big hacking down session yesterday. Starting to get a tiny bit fed up with the dust.
Just seen an advert for McVitie's Yog Fruit Digestive biscuits. A digestive with dried fruit in with yogurt on the top. Doesn't that just scream wrongness. Erg.
So, GPs will be working evenings and weekends. They must be thrilled.
I was pretty puzzled at the prominence this story got, and they way it was claimed as some big victory for "consumers". Now sick people can see doctors at a time that best suits them, apparently. Who are these people, that are sick enough to need a doctor but well enough to wait until Saturday?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in this morning's news that Reckitt Benckiser plotted to prevent the manufacture of generic copies of an out-of-patent drug, in order to hold up its price. Had the price come down, the NHS could have saved millions of pounds. The drug? Gaviscon. That's right, Gaviscon the heartburn remedy. The one that sends a fireman in your tummy.
Once I'd finished boggling on the fact that the NHS a) prescribes heartburn medicine and b) spends millions of pounds doing so, the link to GPs' opening hours became clear. There must be many, many people up and down the country stuffing down their dinners a bit too quickly in the evening, and consequently suffering a bit of reflux. Clearly those people can't wait! They need the immediate care of a doctor, ideally one with a small spoon and bottle of magnesium hydroxide. How could we not demand extended hours for doctors. Some of those people may even be feeling a bit bloated.
Thank heaven they need no longer suffer in silence.
There is a notion that people *have* to use their nearest GP, when in fact they can elect to sign-up to another that offers hours that suit better, as long as it's in the same health area. So, if the people who require out-of-hours service are workers, surely travelling an extra mile or so (or more) to a more suitable clinic isn't that much of a problem on the whole?
>Who are these people, that are sick enough to need a doctor but well enough to wait until Saturday?
Erm, people who would find taking time off work difficult, but who have non-emergency but ongoing complaints ;))
My recent experience with GPs has me believing they are just automatons in the process that requires you must have official sanction to get a drug that you've asked for yourself, for a ailment that you've diagnosed yourself.
...and with nary a grunt our valiant GP signed the chitty for the patient. "Good day to you sir, and thanks you for assisting me in the belief that you can self-diagnose using the internet."
>Once I'd finished boggling on the fact that the NHS a) prescribes heartburn medicine...
Like they prescribe vitamins and formula milk for infants if asked. It makes sense if the recipient gets free prescriptions. It makes more sense if the household of the recipient is genuinely on the breadline but that's another story.
In Scotland everyone get free prescriptions. I do wonder how much system the abuse gets from people being prescribed paracetamol for back-ache.
I've just finished paying around £40 for a round of drugs that have not helped one bit. At one point the GP expected me to pay £6.85 for something that sells over the counter for £4.00. What the fook is going on?
There would be money in demolition if the land was then freed up for developers. Clearly potentially a lot more than £2.5m and the mooted £8m in system linking costs.
I'm for keeping it, and keeping it in use, but then again I believe we should never have stopped firing rockets from the Isle of Wight.
Moseley Masterteam has been a fixture on the Moseley Festival schedule for the past four years. It's basically a pub quiz, but not held in a pub. Teams of up to six answer ten rounds of ten questions. The team that gets the most right answers win some cheap bottles of wine and a rather splendid silver cup. Without wishing to brag, I'm quizzingest quizzer in Moseley, having been on the winning team three times out of four - the last two times as part of the Budding Geniuses, the Moseley in Bloom team. The Moseley Society runs a similar, if slightly more genteel, quiz in the winter. The Geniuses were second last year, and won it this year.
Last Friday, as a kind of leap year bonus, the Festival held an extra quiz to pump-prime this year's fundraising. We won.
Apparently, our reign of general knowledge terror is causing some resentment among other quiz-going types. I can sympathise slightly, because we did get a little rowdy this time round, but I'm not entirely sure what we're meant to do about it. We could not enter I suppose, but that would smack rather of snobbery - Sorry chaps! You're simply no threat. Alternatively, we could do badly on purpose, but that's hardly going to make whoever did win feel any better is it?
It's not like we're winning on purpose. We've never secured a win before the final round, and frequently aren't in front until then. What we are is consistent, generally scoring seven points or better in each round.
I guess if other people don't like us winning, they'll just have to get better at general knowledge quiz questions. Quizzes aren't Mastermind - you don't get to swot up on your favourite subject - so what do you do? Here's the big secret.
Last Friday, for instance, there was a picture round on modern art. This is not a subject I would consider myself any kind of expert in. Despite never having seen any work by Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, the Chapman brothers, or Tracey Emin, and never having visited Tate Britain, I myself was able to answer well over half the questions.
Easy - Front Row.
Quiz questions fall into three categories
Which football club's group is closest to Mersey? That's a category one. The obvious answer is Liverpool or Everton. But then you stop and think - aha, it's a trick, it's the other Liverpool team, Tranmere Rovers. That was our answer - Barry, born and brought up in Liverpool, gave us the answer. We were wrong. It's a trick on a trick, and the answer is Stockport County. You know that, or you don't. An awful lot of current affairs and sport questions are like this, but just by listening to the news you should be able to have a fair crack at them.
What, geographically speaking, is significant about Church Flatts farm, near Coton in Derbyshire? For us that was category two. Well, it's pretty of central. It's not anything obviously like the highest or lowest point. Could it be the geographical centre of Britain? Maybe, but seems a bit far south for that. How about the place furthest from the sea? And that's what it was. We didn't know, but we had a good guess. As a general rule, if anyone on the team offers an answer, take it. If not, you're in category two, so stay calm and apply a bit of logic.
What was Marcel Duchamps' Fountain made from? Where is the largest known volcano? This category of question might be where the complainy-pantses should hang their heads. This is the kind of stuff you just pick up as you go about your business, it's the cultural background radiation we're all exposed to throughout our lives. Radio Four is champion, as are kids cartoons, but mostly you'll just absorb it if you're willing to. First man on the moon, inventor of the miniskirt, Frank Whittle's home town, founder of Tescos. Everyone should have that, not necessarily at their fingertips, but there or thereabouts.
I may have made our quiz success this all sound rather calculating, but it isn't. It's pretty much down to remembering things, and the more stuff you're exposed to, the more you'll remember. So, whiney-wingebag quiz-teams, pop the radio on and read the weekend papers. Works for us.
'White Knowledge', as Terry Pratchett has it.
Having said that, I only knew 'first man on the moon' out of your six illustrative factettes, there. But then again I wouldn't complain about losing a pub quiz, and would (nay, in the past have) accept it as an inevitable consequence of Being A Bit Saft.
Well, you're young yet. I might have been a bit OTT with the Frank Whittle question, although I'd hope you would know the name.
I hadn't heard the phrase white knowledge before, BTW, but it describes exactly what I'm talking about.
Prince Harry, third in line to the throne and recently rebranded from royal plonker to warrior hero, has been sent home from active service in Afghanistan. He'd been there since December but now that we all know he's there, it's too dangerous for him to remain as he would become a target for the Taliban.
Really? From a distance, one squaddie in a helmet looks very much like another squaddie in a helmet. Are Taliban fighters, spying some soldiers in the distance, going to whip out their binoculars and scrutinise faces before deciding whether to bury an explosive by the roadside? Perhaps, failing to see young Harry, they'll just shake their heads sadly and say "well, he must be one of the other 5000 British troops out here, perhaps we'll get him next time"?
Twenty five years ago, Prince Andrew, then second in line to the throne, served in the Falklands Conflict. Stationed on the HMS Invincible, Andrew flew a helicopter about the place. He engaged in anti-submarine operations, anti-surface operations, exocet decoy, and search and rescue missions. Presumably, the Argentinian forces would have considered Prince Andrew a "target" in the same way that the Taliban apparently consider Prince Harry to be. Why wasn't he packaged off home at the first sign of trouble? Are we expected to believe that the Taliban are such an impressive military force that they can pick off Royalty at will, while the Argentinian army and navy couldn't hit a barn door with Invincible painted on it from 10 paces?
Oh yes. The Coffee Grounds - first with your newsy-analysis.
A bit of random work-avoidance websurfing landed me at Harold Sakata's Wikipedia bio. You probably don't know the name, but you know the role - he played classic Bond villian and golf caddie Oddjob in Goldfinger. On playing the role Wikipedia says
He had no acting background at all, but the film character was mute and required little theatrical skill.but continues
With time, Sakata's acting skills improved. He co-starred opposite William Shatner in the movie Impulse
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