Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Whilst looking into claims that the Apollo moon-landings were faked, I found this article with a snippet of information which I'm sure will be enjoyed by anyone sad enough to have worked on a mainframe computer:
'The real computer work was done on Earth using mainframe computers. Results of complex calculations were transmitted to the onboard computer which could act upon them.'

While we're on the subject of computers (in a stream of human conciousness way), my dad worked for Hewlett Packard from when he left University (before I was born) until he retired (imagine working for the same company for more than 10 years! Hmm), he told me that the space shuttle carried a Hewlett Packard calculator as their ultimate back-up computer. I can remember an HP brochure he brought home in the late 70s which declared HP to be 'the second biggest small computer manufacturer in the world', what a great tag-line. People used to ask me what job my dad did and I was always at a bit of a loss, presumably he has the same problem when people ask him what I do now...

Sneezing Cat

Our cat keeps sneezing. Why's that? Could he be allergic to cats?

Our cat, yesterday

Most Orangey-Yellow

I liked this article about how they generate those 'wettest/coldest/sunniest/most orangey-yellow period since...' statistics* that are oft-quoted in the media.

*e.g. 'yesterday was the most orangey-yellow autumn day since orangey-yellowness began to be measured by satellite at the start of the Space Age**'

**Space Age: this began in 1957 when the first artificial satellite was launched (Sputnik); it ended in the 1970s and was followed in the US by the New Age*** and in the UK by 'The Age of the Train' .

***New Age: a broad cultural movement combining transendental meditation, spiritualism and talking out of your bottom.

Friday, May 26, 2006

James Randi

I was wondering how James Randi would cover the Prince Charles versus Medical Science hoohah in his weekly newsletter; thankfully he chose show the UK in a positive light by celebrating the brave attempt by senior members of the medical profession to speak out in the name of reason rather than Prince Charles' soft-headed paean to self-delusion and the forces of mumbo-jumbo.

A prince of the realm from Balmoral,
With Medical Science had a quarrel,
Vaccines and drugs are just not enough,
You need reiki and crystals - alternative guff,
Try anything once was his moral.

Diet of Worms

It was round about today's date in 1521 that the Holy Roman Emperor banned the writings of Martin Luther after the Diet of Worms; this set the stage for the Reformation in Europe and prompted Martin Luther to pen perhaps his most famous piece of writing:

Nobody loves me, everybody hates me

Think I'll go and eat worms
Long ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones
See how they wriggle and squirm

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Aging China

Today they will be announcing new pension arrangements in the UK to sort us out for the next few decades; meanwhile China will be facing a demographic crunch with many hundreds of millions of aging Chinese and much fewer young Chinese (see www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/LUC/ChinaFood/data/anim/pop_ani.htm). Scary.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Prince Charles

Alas, Prince Charles has made a speech in support of so-called complementary medicines on the same day that a group of clinical scientists called for the NHS not to waste public money on unproven therapies. One benefit of Charles becoming King would be that he'll not be allowed to vote.

I like this bit on the Guardian website, not because of the editorial but because of the some of the comments that people have added about it; particularly:
"A typical Arts Grad. editorial confusing data with anecdote and satisfaction survey with clinical trial because they are lazy and ignorant. This is a serious issue. People will have to live in pain or die because the ignorant like Prince Charles and the Guardian editors support the peddlers of snake oil in selling their quack remedies which do not work. This wastes NHS funds and causes real suffering. Not to His Majesty of course whose subjects are made to pay for his private treatment through their taxes. "

Of course, Mr Windsor may have meant 'complimentary' medicine; which is where an ebullient doctor greets you warmly at the door of the surgery, shakes you by the hand and says things like: 'It's great to see you! How are you doing? You look fantastic!'

Friday, May 19, 2006

Chinese Names

When the Chinese first started making up Chinese versions of western names, were they having a laugh or what?
Andrew = 安德鲁 = calm + kind + crass
David = 大卫 = big + to guard (which is OK, but isn't that a picture of a man about to be hanged?)
James = 詹姆斯 = talk too much + matron! + to lop off

Perhaps they weren't laughing as much as when I used to repeatedly shout ting! to get the taxi to stop (hurry, listen, dragonfly, pavillion!)


If you're into Chinese number nonsense then you'll be wanting to visit this site: www.bep.treas.gov/store/section.cfm/364

While we're on the subject of nonsense, I complained to the BBC the other day (yeah, I know, I should get out more...):
"I was shocked to see an article on the BBC News website entitled 'Psychic Geller buys Elvis's home'. Is the BBC endorsing Uri Gellar's claims to have psychic powers? The article opens with the line 'Psychic spoon-bender Uri Geller has bought a house lived in by Elvis Presley'. Whilst I'm aware that Mr Gellar has on many occasions bent spoons, I am not aware of him ever submitting to any appropriately controlled test that would demonstrate any psychic abilities. Would it not be more appropriate to put the word 'psychic' in inverted commas to indicate the unproven nature of his alleged powers?"
and sure enough they changed it: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4985428.stm

The Jumblies

I was reading 'The Jumblies' to my daughter and suddenly thought 'this sort of madcap, reckless adventure sounds familiar...'

They flew to Shanghai on a plane, they did,
   On a plane they flew to Shanghai!
In spite of all their friends did tell,
That they’d all catch SARS and feel unwell,
   On a plane they flew to Shanghai!
And when the plane turned in the sky,
With everyone thinking they're going to die,
'It’s safer than crossing the road!’ they’d yell,
‘Oh no! That’s something we do as well!’
   On a plane they flew to Shanghai!
Far and few, far and few,
   Are the clients they managed to gain.
So they went out East to do something new,
   And they flew to Shanghai on a plane.

They flew to Shanghai on a plane, they did,
   On a plane they flew so fast,
With video-on-demand till they land,
And never an empty glass in their hand,
   They relaxed in Business Class;
And everyone said, who saw them go,
‘They’ll get thrombosis, I’m sure it’s so!
Dehydration is terribly easy,
And drinking too much will make them queasy,
   In a plane that’s flying so fast!'
Lots and many, lots and many,
   The far-shore resources they need.
They went out East because they’d not got any,
   And they flew to Shanghai at great speed.

They flew to the Eastern Sea, they did,
   To a land renowned for its tea,
After meeting consultants, it didn’t take long,
To set up a company based in Pudong,
   Which seemed like the right place to be.
They went to Hangzhou to interview folk,
Who worked with computers and English they spoke,
Some they were good, but others were tricky,
And the interview room was so hot and sticky,
   But Hangzhou seemed the right place to be.
Much and a lot, much and a lot,
   Are the times they changed their clothes;
For in the Summer the weather is hot,
   In Hangzhou that’s just how it goes.

They rented some temporary space, they did,
   Terribly far from the Rad;
They bought a big fridge and stocked it with cheese,
And plenty of loaves of bread they could freeze,
   For the Brits are sandwich-mad.
And they passed the night in the Shamrock bar,
And each of them said, 'How lucky we are!
A pizza for lunch, a banquet for tea,
Then out on the piss till half past three,
   Do you think that is terribly bad?'
Lots and many, lots and many,
   Are the beers they had to consume;
Drinking the Guinness till there wasn’t any,
   And they stayed in a hotel room.

And all along they looked for an office;
   An office with lots of space,
They found a big building so terribly tall,
That wasn’t much more than some floors and a wall,
   But they wanted to rent out the place.
On a hot summer’s day, to the tenth floor they climbed,
With holes in the floor that they had to mind,
But construction work went terribly slow,
So they had to go somewhere-else, you know,
   It’s all about guanxi and loss of face,
Often and ever, often and ever,
   Were the times they had to wing it;
Off the top of their heads, being awfully clever,
   By the seat of their pants, they did it.

And after a year they all came back,
   After a year or more,
And every one said, 'How fat they’ve gotten!
They've been to West Lake and have banqueted often,
   And they’ve seen the tidal bore!'
They drank their health, and asked them to speak,
Some words of Chinese, and they asked if they eat;
Rats and snakes and ducks with their beak,
And bits of bone chopped up with their meat?
   And would they go back for more?
Few and less, few and less,
   Are the people who’d ever believe it;
That they went to China and made a success,
   Who’d have thought they’d ever achieve it?

(with apologies to Edward Lear)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Russell's Teapot

If Bertrand Russell were alive today it would be his birthday. Here's a description of his teapot: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

When you're stuck in the rain in Hangzhou
And it's rush hour too
All the cabs are changing shifts
And they’ll not stop to pick up you
You wonder what’s going on
Down the side roads off of Wensan Lu
They’ve got some pink-windowed shops there
But cutting hair’s not what they do

Now if you’re in the Shamrock
Please tell them thanks a lot
I nodded off in the bar
A little after three o’clock
I didn't have the strength
To carry on drinking in that game
Now we’ve got to do an interview
And I don’t even know the man’s name

Who are you talking to?
Could it be the goddess of gloom?
Speaking good English
While spreading poison all around the room
Were you taken in?
Hanging on each and every word
Who can know the truth?
When you doubt everything you’ve heard

Down to the Shangri La
Or over to the Hyatt once again
You must pick one or the other
But you’ll stuff your face just the same
If you're lookin' for something lighter
We can go to CenturyMart KFC
Or down to Fifth Avenue
For beef-rice, diet coke or tea

Now all the authorities
Turn up uninvited just like that
Drag us into meetings
At no notice, at the drop of a hat
If we ever have to see
that Lord Mayor once again
Then we’ll probably have to tell him
Exactly what he can do with his chain

I started out on Qingdao
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they'd join in
But that baijiu, it sure was rough
At that stinky tofu banquet
The vice-mayor tried to call my bluff
So I'm going back to England
I do believe I've had enough

(with apologies to Bob Dylan)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mud, Blood and Poppycock

I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘Mud, Blood and Poppycock’ by Gordon Corrigan which is about Britain’s role in the First World War; some excerpts can be found here (www.johndclare.net/wwi3_Corrigan_quotes.htm). Like most Brits of my generation, I’m sure that my main assumptions about the Great War have come from Blackadder Goes Forth (www.geocities.com/televisioncity/8889/bladder4.htm); so it was interesting to see this military gent demolish many of the myths about it. I particularly liked his description of the dimensions of a standard British Army latrine (16 feet deep) and just how many years it takes to fill up (he recalls one that had been used by 200 men for 6 years and still wasn't full at the time it got blown up - he doesn't explain how that happened, perhaps someone threw a cigarette down there).

His most interesting observation for me was that the reason they got soldiers to advance slowly in a line across no-man’s land during an offensive was so that they didn’t get shot by their own side, apparently this was especially true during the Somme because the troops were mainly raw recruits who couldn’t cope with anything too sophisticated in terms of battle plans; after the Somme, as the new recruits became battle-hardened and could specialise in different roles, they were able to refine their tactics and consequently suffer fewer casualties, which was nice.


When I weighed my banana the other day, I was overjoyed; being such a big one, it was twice as heavy as a standard portion of fruit (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2642423.stm), thus making it easier to attain the UK Government's target of having it five times a day.

For more on bananas, see here: www.newscientist.com/channel/earth/mg19025513.700-a-future-with-no-bananas.html
the mythical lamb-banana

Monday, May 15, 2006

Round Objects

some RMB, yesterday
I hadn't realised that the Chinese word for their currency, yuan, means round object (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renminbi). Those pictured here are clearly rectangular.

Which, of course, puts you in mind of the episode of Yes, Minister where Jim Hacker writes round objects on a document which he thinks is nonsense, only for Sir Humphrey to send it back asking who Round is and why he objects.

There are more round objects in today's news: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4766897.stm

Today in History

History, of course, began exactly 5000 years ago today, when writing was invented in ancient Sumer (modern day Iraq). Those first pieces of writing, made by poking the end of a reed into a clay tablet, will have long since decayed into dust; but we can guess with reasonable certainty that the very first words written were: 'You ain't read nothing yet!'

The rest, as they say, is history.

Poaching Fish, Spanking Monkey

As an innocent in the world of blogging, I wasn't sure how people go about choosing their blogging name. One method is to base it on your astrological signs, which would make me something like, 'Poaching Fish, Spanking Monkey'; but I pooh-poohed that as, like all pisceans born in the Year of the Monkey, I consider astrology to be a lot of nonsense. So, working on the idea that someone’s blog is like a little history of themselves and remembering that elephants are extremely funny even when they are trying to be serious, I arrived at: HistoryElephant.