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Saturday, January 31

NEWS FLASH

Mobile phones don't cause cancer. Not that I've been saying this for years, or anything.

There will be some real content from me soon, I promise.
posted @ 2:47 PM -

Wednesday, January 28

Clearly, the West Pier Trust need to use the Force

posted @ 6:06 PM -

Jedi by the Sea

Apparently Brighton has a higher proportion of Jedi than anywhere else in the UK.
posted @ 10:29 AM -

Comedy crime of the year

Avocado laundering. Courtesy of Fluggart. Read his account, because I am speechless.
posted @ 8:38 AM -

Tuesday, January 27

virus alert

There seems to be a particularly fast-spreading virus about. Nothing radical needs to be done about, because the anti-virus software makers have already incorporated it into their data files, so just make sure your virus scanner is up to date and you should be OK.

posted @ 9:41 AM -

Monday, January 26

so many places I haven't seen

And this is even though the map makes my progress look far more impressive than it really is, because it shades all of Russia & Canada when I've been to a handful of spots in each, and all of the USA, China & Australia when I've only been anywhere in the Eastern quarter of each. Ah well. I have a whole lifetime to fill in the gaps. Hopefully I'll live to see the day when there is a choice of safe overland routes from the north to the south of Africa.



create your own visited country map

too many sources to credit; just work your way through my blogroll to see some of them, though admittedly most use the visited states [of the USA] map on which I do less impressively, even if almost as well as at least one American who filled one in....
posted @ 10:59 PM -

can't live with'em, can't live without'em

I see I have allies, in my hate-but-dependent relationship with mobile phones at least:
A third of US adults hate mobile phones. Yet, despite their loathing of this "must have" gadget they also admit that they just can't live without them either.
I am rather less dependent on my mobile phone these days than I used to be, just because my social life is simpler. I'm more likely now to just go to someone's house than go downtown, but even so there have been times when having a mobile has saved a lot of hassle, and times when I've really regretted not having it with me (it could have saved me an hour-long journey across the slightly unnerving ghetto of East Cleveland, for a start). I still find mobile phones intensely irritating though, and it's nice to know I'm not alone.

posted @ 9:44 AM -

Sunday, January 25

What are we becoming?

I've just seen a news story that has shocked me more than anything I've read in years:

Half of voters unwilling to accept a Jewish PM

For a few years, anti-semitism has been rising in Europe, and many peoples' criticism of Israel has been veering uncomfortably close to criticism of all Jews by association, through a nasty linguistic creep: Israel becomes The Jewish state, and Jewish Israelis/Israeli Jews become simply The Jews. At the same time, I've always felt that people who talk about this becoming a serious problem in Britain were being melodramatic. This survey makes me seriously question whether I was wrong.

posted @ 1:53 PM -

the independence of The Independent

When the Murdoch-induced tabloidisation of The Times [no link because they expect us overseas readers to pay for the privilege of reading their tawdry rag, and as long as there is better quality news available free I'm not willing to support that] made it no longer worth reading, I switched to The Independent as my main UK news source. I wish there were such a thing as a 'paper of reference' which just reports information with clearly set apart commentary. I think the closest we have to that is the Financial Times, but it has bias towards specifically financial news (unsurprisingly) that is stronger than my own interests, and it can be too dry for my taste. So I found myself reading The Independent, because the Telegraph too often annoys me with its knee-jerk right-wing bias, and The Guardian likewise with its uncritical champagne socialism. There was a time when The Independent's editorial line was less blatant, and more in tune with my own feelings.

That time is long gone. I've found myself reading it less and less as I find myself questioning how much each article has to do with facts and how much with the desire of people of a particular political grouping to re-affirm their existing beliefs. Two things in particular have been irritating me—the inability to sympathise with Israelis and general desire to bash Israel at the slightest opportunity, and the virulence of their Bush-Blair hatred—both of which have reached the point that I no longer take the paper's coverage of such things seriously. I am no fan of either Bush or Blair, but the extent to which the world seems divided between people who don't accept that they can do any wrong at all, and people who aren't willing to say anything positive about them just pisses me off. It also means that when The Independent runs a special on Blair on the brink I can't help reading the articles in contrarian mode, looking to defend someone who I really would rather see pushed out of office, just because the tone of the articles winds me up so. It's rather sad really.

Note on Israel: I rarely mention the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in public because my views, by virtue of being middle of the road, combined with my general love of playing devil's advocate tend to drive people to extreme anger. I don't even talk about it very much among friends, because then I tend to get too worked up, because it's all so depressing. Never mind that the whole thing is so ludicrously politically charged that I know even my use of the word Palestinian is enough to offend some people. But having mentioned it, I ought to say something.

I have no time for any person or group of people who can not empathise with both sides. By this I mean that it is incomprehensible to me how someone can be so partisan as not to have some sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, who are clearly one of the most abused groups of people in the world. They have been screwed over as much by Arab politics as by Israel, but in any case they are screwed, and Israel's treatment of them frequently disgusts me. On the other hand, I am equally disgusted by the inability of much of the Left to empathise with the plight of Israelis, who live in daily fear of bombings, and most of whom probably would support a peace deal, even with some sacrifice, if they could be convinced that it would really be the end of the conflict. The person I've seen whose point of view I have most time for is the Head Heeb, who has evidently had a similar experience to me—saying I've been called both a self-hating Jew and a "fanatical, maniacal Zionist," often for the same opinions—but evidently not being as cowed by these reactions as I am.

There are therefore very few news sources whose Israel/Palestine [yes, I know the use of the word Palestine is going to upset more people than Palestinian, but when even strident Zionists are saying that demographics will force a two-state solution on them it seems absurd to deny that there will eventually be a state of Palestine, for better or for worse] coverage I even read. I can only think of three in fact: the Christian Science Monitor (don't be put off by the title, it doesn't proselytise, and it's the best US paper I've found) and the Economist, both for coverage that seems to me to strike a tone of moderation, and Bitter Lemons, which publishes strongly partisan op-eds, but puts articles from both groups side-by-side, for an overall balance.

oh dear. My footnote is longer than the original piece I tacked it onto. This is also part of why I tend to avoid this issue: the strength of feelings it generates drives me to tread so carefully that concision is impossible.
posted @ 6:39 AM -

Friday, January 23

two questions

I've recently put up a map of the USA on my wall. No longer need I wonder where the hell a place is when people talk about it. But anyway, it has time zone boundaries marked on it, and they seem very strange to me. See, in Canada, the time zones follow province boundaries, except for one time change within Ontario, because Ontario is just so huge that it wouldn't make sense to keep the westernmost part on Toronto time. Likewise in Europe there are no time changes within countries (except possibly Russia, but I think even the whole of European Russia is on Moscow time). Yet there are plenty of US states with time changes going from one county to the next. Why?

And on a completely different note, I installed some hard drive monitoring software after my computer played up over the holidays. It keeps reporting deteriorations in one measure, known as Load/Unload Cycle Count, and at the current rate this will reach a threshold value in May. Does anyone know what it is, and whether it's important?
posted @ 11:52 AM -

Thursday, January 22

on snow and seagulls

I remember when I first moved to Brighton, I loved the sound of seagulls, because it made me feel like I was on holiday. Over time, the novelty wore off, and I became gradually more sensitised to how irritating these creatures were, arguing loudly while I tried to sleep, and tearing open bags of rubbish so the streets would smell vile in summer. I had been wondering if something similar would happen to me now with respect to snow. It just did. This afternoon I came out of a lecture in a windowless room, and saw that it was snowing, and my first thought was shit, that's going to make getting home a hassle, before I thought about how pretty everything is when it snows.

posted @ 3:51 PM -

Wednesday, January 21

Two quick links:

I had heard about this research before, but thanks to Cindy I now know what drugs do to spiders.

And Michael Jennings emailed me a beautiful piece from The Onion: Scientists Abandon AI Project After Seeing The Matrix.

posted @ 9:40 AM -

Tuesday, January 20

trying to make sense of American politics

Don't worry. This is not going to be a rant about the status quo (though something tells me that tonight's entertainment may prompt one of those), so much as me trying to understand the political system here, which is very unlike what I'm used to.

[note: I started writing this early on Tuesday afternoon, and then I had classes to go to and stuff]

I arrived in America at a good moment to observe this, because it was just as the Democratic nomination circus was starting to heat up. I got to watch some of the early debates between the candidates, and be thoroughly unimpressed (I think Dean is the only good performer out of those who might stand a serious chance of getting elected—Sharpton is good at playing to the crowd, and Kucinich on a good day is [intentionally] hilarious, but neither of them command enough support to count as serious candidates—but he's said too many things I disagree with for me to support him, and even as someone with no affection or respect for Bush I find the extent to which he defines himself as the anti-Bush distasteful), but also to find the whole process fascinating.

I just don't understand the process by which the Democratic Party (and as far as I know the Republicans would do something very similar if Bush were being challenged for their nomination) choose a candidate. Not as in I don't see how it functions, but as in I don't understand why they do it this way. It seems hugely damaging to the eventual winner's chance of winning the real election.

For reference (and for the benefit of American readers), I ought to explain how I think it works in Britain. In Britain it is customary (though technically not necessary) for the leader of the ruling party to serve as Prime Minister. This means that there is no direct election of the Prime Minister, or of the head of state (that, technically, is the Queen's job, but the PM is much more important). Instead, the elections for the House of Commons choose a ruling party, and this indirectly determines who will be PM. The choice of party leader is made by the parties, as opposed to their voters, and it doesn't necessarily coincide with general elections. As a rule, a party leader keeps the job until either they retire, resign or are putsched from within. In any of these cases, the parties try to keep the succession battle short (a few weeks) and toothless, so news media don't get too many chances to cover party elites attacking each other. In particularly stark contrast to the US, parties try to keep changes of leadership as far from general election campaigns as possible, so that the leader going into an election has had a couple of years (ideally) to be recognised as the public face of his [it almost always is a he] party, and to score points with the electorate.

In America, by contrast, the race for the opposition nomination started at the beginning of the year preceding the general election. I think it's always this way, and I think there are times when both parties do this (for instance after a president has served two terms, because that's a legally imposed limit), but in any case this is what the Democrats did last year. The campaign for the nomination is almost as intense as the eventual campaign for the presidency, longer, and every bit as negative. It has had the effect of getting the Democrats into the news far more than in the past couple of years (when they were shamefully cowed into not really functioning as an opposition by Bush's with us or against us rhetoric in what was admittedly a difficult time), and galvanising them into actually criticising the government (what an opposition should be doing week in week out, surely?), but I'm sure it must damage them. The trouble is there has been so much negativity, with the weaknesses of each candidate being picked apart by their own side, and what positive campaigning there has been has had more to do with why candidate x is the right one to bring down Bush than anything about why candidate x would make a good President.

In trying to understand this, I can sort of draw an analogy with mate selection in biology [bear with me here]. Many animals (I seem to recall the giant panda being a classic example of this, but I digress) have courtship rituals that involve surprising levels of violence. This can even go to the point of threatening the life of the male or female. The canonical natural selection explanation of this is that these sorts of courtship amount to a very effective sort of mate selection; the mates that survive these trials are also the ones whose offspring will be tough enough to reach breeding age themselves. But I'm stretching the analogy somewhat. For a living organism, the maxim anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger may well hold, and for the male it doesn't really matter if he dies soon after mating. For a political candidate, all the mud slung in this phase of the race will still be sticking when they assume the mantle of challenger to the presidency.

So this brings me to my first question: doesn't the method of selecting candidates give a sitting president an enormous incumbency advantage?

The other thing I find particularly odd is the geography of the campaign. In a sense, letting registered voters choose the candidate brings the decision much closer to the people than the British system. But different states vote at different times. This gives Iowa disproportionate importance, because it chooses first (and this year it's already been responsible for Dick Gephardt dropping out of the race), and means that a number of states don't even necessarily get to vote, because the nomination may well be known by the time their primaries or caucuses come round.

So this brings me to another question: doesn't the staggering of primary/caucus dates disenfranchise part of the country and give disproportionate importance to a handful of states?

And finally, I find the length of the campaign utterly bewildering. It means that the opposition candidate has to have been a full time presidential candidate for 1-2 years, which means that if they do win they will have been doing nothing but campaign for the year or two before assuming the Presidency. Surely that's not good preparation for the serious work of running the country?

posted @ 11:43 PM -

Friday, January 16

Brain Drain

My mum's just pointed out that this week's Time Magazine has a cover story of great interest to me, all about why Europe is hæmorraging scientists to the US.

posted @ 2:54 PM -

switch?

I've recently discovered that my fellowship entitles me to up to $2,000 towards educational expenses, which I suppose goes some way towards making up for the unexpected $2,924 shortfall in its tuition coverage. I've just claimed a chunk out of that to cover the painful amount I've shelled out on textbooks so far, and I think I'll spend the rest on a new computer. I'm looking for a second laptop, because then I can turn this one into my leave at home machine. The only technical spec that needs to be any better than this one is the RAM (because if I wasn't buying a new computer I'd upgrade that instead), but I'm also going to get something lighter. Seeing as I do the bulk of my work with an external monitor plugged in it's worth me going for a smaller screen size (12"-14") and external drives (seeing as I use them rarely enough that I wouldn't always carry them with me) in exchange for having a lighter load when I commute.

Within Windows-based machines it's a relatively easy decision—just shop around the various manufacturers and see who gives me the most bang for whatever I decide my budget will be—though any comments on good or bad brands would be most welcome. The difficulty is that I'm very tempted by the Dark Side. For years I've admired MacOS as being in many ways better designed than Windows, and iBooks are just so pretty, not to mention that Vinay and Scott seem to get excellent service from Apple and are pretty good advocates for the brand, just by virtue of being such obviously happy customers.

In the past I've always had a good reason for sticking to the monopolist operating system: their monopoly. It has suited me to use the same OS as most other people, especially when I was teaching practical courses on Windows machines, but also for reasons of compatibility, and I've been tied to compatible upgrades so I can keep using my old software. That's all becoming irrelevant now. I no longer teach software, and if I do manage to get into teaching (I discovered today that I'll just be grading scripts again for this term) at Case it's very unlikely to be platform-dependent. I can download most of the software I want to use (I'm not sure about Visual Studio) free and legally from university IT Services (because they've bulk-bought for all students). File compatibility is not an issue because everything I send and receive these days is via the internet (either email or FTP), and Mac Office files are unproblematically compatible with Windows Office ones. Networking itself is no problem because 802.11b is as good as ubiquitous as far as my needs are concerned (in other words, it's in my apartment, the other peoples' apartments where I occasionally take my work, most of campus, a couple of coffee shops and at least one all-night diner). Besides, my supervisor, who is likely to be the person I'm most consistently exchanging data with over the next few years, uses a Mac. And I can even plug in my 2-button mouse.

The only real worry left is the learning curve of having to get used to a new interface; though I think MacOS is wonderfully designed, I feel lost using it because things aren't where I'm used to finding them. That might just be worth the trouble. So, should I switch?
posted @ 10:51 AM -

questions of race

Having recently been asked to fill in the most stupidly worded ethnic origin question I have ever seen on a form (the options were: African, Oriental, Native American, Other and leave blank if unknown) reminded me of one of my pet hates. I invariably take issue with these sorts of question. I have two complaints, firstly that one should never be asked for such information on application forms (this one wasn't an application form, so the principle of asking the question doesn't strike me as problematic), but secondly that the categories given are invariably wrong in some way.

If I answer at all (I often just refuse, and write a little note explaining why I refuse: in short because it's easier to not use racial criteria to judge me if you don't know my race in the first place), I usually find myself either ticking the Other box or specifically writing in Jew, which I have never seen as a category. I do this partly because if people are going to gather such information it's important that we do get counted, and not just folded into the general White category, but mainly because treating us as part of the majority is factually wrong. Yes, we have white skin, but if Black and Asian get broken down into subgroups, so must White. I don't know what the norm is here in the US, but in the UK Asian normally gets broken down very far, into several subgroups from the Subcontinent, and at least one for East Asians (which still leaves plenty of people out), while everyone with pale skin is simply lumped together as White. This is still nowhere near as offensive as being expected to tick Caucasian though. Not only are the Jews nothing to do with the migration out from the Caucasus, but Aryan means Caucasian, and let's get this straight in case anyone can forget: Jews are not Aryans, and I find it deeply insulting being expected to categorise myself as one.

But anyway, where this takes me is that there are a few ways to at least improve the choices given, if the race question must be asked. I would prefer to just have a blank for people to fill in, though I guess whoever has to process those forms ends up with a lot more work deciding what the categories are post hoc. Alternatively, we could use very broad categories that just look at appearance, which still capture something useful about who has to deal with racism (a Jew doesn't have the same sort of problems walking through an aggressively white district as a black person, because at least our identity is less visible), and be fair to all groups. Or we could break down all subcategories to an even depth, and fill pages with this question (which I would support if only because the extra cost would make people think twice about whether they need to be asking it). If Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian Muslim are separate categories, than Jew certainly should be, and perhaps even Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

This leaves me with a question though, because I can't presume to speak for all Jews. Do Jews want our own box to tick on such forms? I do, if we must accept having these forms at all, but at the same time it reminds me uncomfortably of the last time we were asked by non-Jews to identify ourselves separately. Is it more important to stand up and be counted, or to use the advantage that we have (at least in any country I've had to think about such things in) in looking like the majority and being able to fit in?

posted @ 9:49 AM -

Thursday, January 15

small steps and giant leaps

So yesterday Bush made the announcement we've been expecting about the future of the space programme. It seems he wants a much more ambitious space programme, leading up to manned Mars missions. This is self-evidently very cool, but is it good?

While space exploration is interesting in itself, there are already the predictable complaints that this costs money on which there are more pressing demands. I have no time for that sort of argument. I'm sure with supporting materials from NASA it would be possible to answer it in concrete terms with an enumeration of the value of all the inventions that have spun off from the space programme so far, but that is missing the point entirely.

The objections are an instance of the moneythatcouldbespentonhospitals fallacy. It all rests on the assumption that budgets are finite. Clearly a given year's budget is finite, but how much money we have to spend on hospitals in 10 years' time depends on how successful the economy is. It's impossible to quantify how much the country as a whole will profit from something like an ambitious research programme with no direct applications in sight, but there must be benefits.

There is the issue of spin-off technology, which probably gets a little over-hyped because it's the easiest one to justify to a sceptic and back up with numbers, but is real and substantial all the same. There are others that I prefer to look at because they are closer to my own biases. For starters, the money spent on space research isn't all eaten up by the building of rockets; a lot of it ends up being pumped into universities, and this pleases me in particular because it's one of relatively few major non-defence sources of funding for my kind of research. Then there are the longer-term benefits, because space exploration getting into the news makes it far easier for teachers to get kids excited about science, and we will benefit if more people leave school wanting to be scientists and engineers.

The objections are all very short-termist. Fix our hospitals NOWNOWNOW without worrying about the future, and so on. There's no doubt that Bush has timed the announcement for maximum benefit in election year—what sort of politician wouldn't?—but that doesn't detract from the fact that he's doing something good, and something pleasingly long-term in its ambitions. If I'm right about the benefits of this, they won't pay out until well after the end of his presidency.
posted @ 10:45 AM -

Tuesday, January 13

email troubles, again

A very specific one this time: Case's network can not connect to the ISP that hosts my domain. This has two consequences: it seems to be impossible to see this site from a Case computer, and mail sent through Case's outgoing mail servers to my eldan.co.uk email doesn't get through. If you use those servers, you must also know my Case email address; please use it instead.

posted @ 9:52 PM -

something I like to read

I grew sick of the whole GM food debate many years ago. In fact it's the main thing that turned me off Greenpeace and an array of other groups who claim to represent causes I believe in but seem by their actions to just be dogmatically anti-new-technology, regardless of the inconvenient tyranny of facts. I have always believed that there is nothing inherently good or bad about the technology of genetic modification itself, but rather that individual GM plants need to be evaluated on their particular merits. To pick an easy example: Golden Rice hurrah, crops designed to allow the use of more agrichemicals boo.

Anyway, the reason I'm harping on about this now is that the UK government have been showing signs for a while that they intend to ignore the public's distaste for GM food. Until today I was worried that they would react by going to the opposite extreme and just finding ways of bringing any and all GM crops to farms. It seems I was being unduly pessimistic: they are doing exactly what I want them to do, approving some GM crops but not others, based on sound science.

posted @ 9:38 PM -

The Department of Homeland Insecurity

I know I go on about this a lot, but the amount of stupidity in the name of security pisses me off more with each passing week. I've just been reading an article about how British Airways will accept air marshals if they can be convinced that a given flight is made safer by their presence (in itself a perfectly sensible position, of course), and I'm particularly struck by two quotes from it. First, from Rod Eddington (chief executive of BA):
I am a fan of vigilance, and British Airways makes no apology for its strict security measures. But I am not a fan of needless bureaucracy. Last week's delays [on flights to DC] were due, in part, to the fact that a total of 22 different agencies claimed a reason to check one passenger list.
And then there's the story at the end about the paranoid scrambling of two RAF fighters amid fears that a particular aircraft was about to be hijacked. The grounds for suspicion:
...the two men who were reportedly overheard saying "we've been planning this for six months - let's do it" were debating the merits of a family reunion with a long-lost aunt.
As for the experience of going through airports and Immigration these days, I think Mark Morford hits the nail on the head with his Scenes From A Sad Airport. In fairness I ought to point out that my most recent US airport experience was a happy one, because Miami International have got their act together in a way others haven't: security was both thorough and efficient, so I only had to wait 10 minutes or so to get through, yet at the same time had a comforting (and very unusual) feeling that if I had something suspect on me they would have noticed. But then the basic policies are wrong: while knitting needles and my one inch long pocket-knife have to go in hold baggage, I was able to carry two glass bottles onto the plane. The trouble is, many airports would go out of business without the duty-free booze income, and you can't very well sell it to people and then tell them they can't take it with them.


Update: Evidently it is still possible to get ammunition onto a plane in the US. As I have said before, I would resent the things I'm griping about less if I actually believed they made me safe.
posted @ 8:35 PM -

Friday, January 9

rotund madams

The paper has been submitted. We'll hear in 5 weeks whether it's been accepted. All is good.

As usual, there are all kinds of things I would like to have had a chance to do. The really nice thing about today is that because this is my PhD and therefore ongoing, I'll get a chance to do them. I'm used to writing term papers which I am compelled to drop as soon as they are handed in, whereas the 'further work' part of this one is practically a manifesto for my next year or two of research. Now I feel like I'm doing what I came here to do.

posted @ 10:39 PM -

Thursday, January 8

Crunch time

Since the end of last semester, I've been working full-time on one thing: a paper I'm co-authoring for the Simulation of Adaptive Behavior conference this summer. This is why I've been so much happier and less stressed, in spite of still putting plenty of hours' work in. In any case being able to get deeply stuck in to one task is far less stressful than constantly switching between small assignments, and since getting the computer back into working order I've been reasonably confident that the deadline was reachable, whereas last term I often knew it was just not possible to get everything I needed to done on time. In fact the only reason I didn't get into serious trouble last semester is that the professor I had the most work for made quite a few allowances to make my life easier. But the biggest improvement is that while last term I often felt like I was having to do things that were only a means to an end, lately I've been working on the stuff I actually came here to do, and a long day of this feels much more like a day well spent.

Anyway, The Deadline for this conference is Friday January 9th, which the more astute of my readers may notice is right now. The precise deadline is midnight Pacific Standard Time, which is 3am Saturday where I am, though I sincerely hope we don't end up pushing close to that hour. I have little doubt that we'll make the deadline, but it's going to be a hard and tiring day.

After that, I have the weekend off. Really off, as in there will be no work for me to feel like I ought to be doing. I can clean my apartment properly, and give my bike the tender loving care it's been weeping for since they first salted the roads in the area, and relax. Until term starts on Monday, but this term must be better than the last one. More on why I think so after the paper has been submitted. Possibly a few days after.

posted @ 10:41 PM -

You'd better not mess with Major Tom

I went to see David Bowie last night, with Melinda, and it was fantastic. I don't have time to write one, so I'll be lazy and link to her review. It's all true, but I'll just add that it was all the better for me because I wasn't sure what to expect, because the only other time I've seen him live he was actually quite dull. Oh, and his current touring band is outstanding, incorporating a bassist who is the first person I've ever heard take a Freddie Mercury vocal line and do it justice.
posted @ 9:44 AM -

Wednesday, January 7

hardware troubles

Lately, the two pieces of hardware I depend on most have failed. The more annoying was my laptop, which on the way back from Miami decide it simply wasn't going to boot up any more. That's why this page went quiet for a week even though I'm no longer under excessive pressure (more on that later, but basically being me is much more fun now than it was a month ago), and it stopped my overdue attempt to write long emails to all the people I've not kept properly in touch with lately in its tracks. More seriously, it had the only copy of most of the data from 10 days of work, and everything I've been doing since my exams ended is for a deadline this Friday. Somehow (at least in part because the reasonable level of pressure I'm under now is much less than the insanity of December that I feel positively relaxed) I didn't succumb to panic, and by the end of last week I'd managed to get it working again, and back up all the data in case the problem recurs, but it was one hell of a scare all the same.

Then on the weekend I fell foul of Cleveland's Third World roads. Coming back from a film night (we watched The Boondock Saints and Office Space, ate lovely baklava and drank some good wine and fine whiskey) at Vinay's place, I hit a pothole large enough to stand in, and burst a tyre on my bike (and unlike my ludicrously spoilt situation last summer I do now only own one bicycle). It's something I've been expecting to happen for some time, because the roads round here are actually worse than in rural Thailand, but very annoying all the same. It's the back wheel too, which makes it a relatively fiddly and messy job to replace, so I'm using the buses this week and leaving the tyre replacement till the weekend, when I was planning to do some more involved bike maintenance.

And now my wireless keyboard seems to be playing up a little. It starts dropping letters when I type fast, which is not amusing when I'm trying to write a paper. I think I can fix this by finding the right channel for it to communicate on though—my guess diagnosis for the problem is that one of the 6 other wireless transmitters I have within 10 feet of it is interfering—and failing that I can use the laptop's integral keyboard and send this fairly new piece of kit back to be replaced.
posted @ 12:50 PM -

Monday, January 5

Oh shit, I'm a criminal

FBI Issues Alert Against Almanac Carriers
The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, "the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities." But it warned that when combined with suspicious behavior — such as apparent surveillance — a person with an almanac "may point to possible terrorist planning."
If I had more time on my hands I'd play a little game: how many cities (including New York) have I wandered round in the past 2 years with a map, a book filled with profiles of cities and states and information about waterways, bridges, dams, reservoirs, tunnels, buildings and landmarks (in my case tourist guidebooks, but they contain the same sort of information the FBI are talking about in almanacs), doing nothing but examining the area, with the aid of my high-resolution, zoom-lens equipped digital camera? Oh, and I was born in a Muslim country.

The circumstancial evidence is in and it proves that I must be a terrorist; I just haven't realised it yet. All those times I've been harassed entering the US the all-knowing Immigration monkeys had in their infinite wisdom picked up something I had failed to notice, and they made a mistake by letting me go. Next time I'll just save them the trouble and turn myself in.
posted @ 4:07 PM -

is there hope for humanity?

Some things make me wonder if it isn't time for another Flood.
posted @ 9:45 AM -
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