Sunday, 3 June 2012

Of Celebrations and parallel parking

It's been a while since the last update, but (and I'm not trying to be tedious here) the British weather celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee in the only appropriate way it could. What a wonderful day for a street party (love the name of the shop)!

Roll on the Olympics! What marvelous advertising for British summer weather. 
With any luck and a repeat performance: Usain Bolt will become the first sprinter in history to achieve a world record for the 100m dash and the 100m swimming freestyle at the same time! 

It's just been that sort of day. On a round trip to the shops I came across this remarkable bit of parallel parking. Only slightly more impressive if the car had been up a tree! Note the undisturbed hedgerow in front, behind the Merc, and even between the Merc and the verge! The driver was unhurt: and initially traveling in the opposite direction, further more he managed this at his first attempt. Impressed or what? 
Bye for now.
Err Just when I thought it was safe to be impressed by the Merc's driver's abilities there was this slightly less successful attempt about a hundred yards / meters away...

Curiously this one ended up on the track you can see. The entrance for which is 50 meters / yards away.  It would have been so much simpler just to drive to the entrance to the field and turn along the track...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Coming home to roost?

Last week I watched that wonderful documentary programme called Top Gear. Dr Clarkson (I believe he has an honorary doctorate from the University of Anglia Caravan touring club) was remarking on how global warming (for what I understand he gained his doctorate) had increased the size of bird droppings.

Well what a coincidence! A day or so later, as I was driving just south of the river, past where the BSkyB headquarters are, a bird, which I identified as a Roc flew over the BskyB building.

A Roc is seldom seen in the UK outside climatically controlled buildings.  A Roc’s home environment is hot and steamy. This is very close to habitat found (I am told) in the UK only in Cannabis farms.

The bird, must have escaped from some nearby head office where it had been kept without seeing the light of day for (judging by it size) 5 to 10 years. It flew low over the BskyB headquarters. Its aim was uncanny. Fortunately I was able to take a picture before the torrential rain of the past couple of days deleted the evidence from the company hard drives – sorry washed it off.

I hope you like the sediments...

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Of Lions, Bears and an “Italian” meal

This story goes back some time. I’ve been lucky enough to go trekking in the Canadian Rockies. It has to be said it was a few years ago now. I still have very fond memories of my one and only experience of horse riding. Once one has sampled a gentile trot, occasional gallop and a bit of grazing in the foothills of the Rockies, repeating the exercise elsewhere seems mundane to the point of ...well pointlessness.

A piece of Rocky granite now sits on a shelf on the other side of the room. If some future geologist or archaeologist ever finds it, they may be puzzled how a piece of the Canadian Rockies came to rest close by the river Thames on a completely different continental plate. The Rockies were, and with dedicated Canadian care and attention still are, a beautiful and serene place. It was my one experience of horse riding. I’ve never really felt that I wanted to dilute that equine relationship.

Whist driving back from the horse ridding camp, we spotted a brown Bear was exploring the side of the road. We stopped an watched from a safe distance. Evolution has trained Bears that, it if comes to a fight , they simply take a swipe at your head. They are easily strong enough: your body will stay in one place and your head will do a passable impression of a tennis ball served by Rafa Nadal. It’s true to say that everyone and indeed every animal works better when their head is firmly attached. Bears have, it seems, an innate knowledge of this. No messing, they go for your second favourite organ and play pate-cake.

A little further south, in Yellowstone national park Bears compete with Wolves as the top predator. Since Bears hibernate for the winter, the Wolf packs have it all their own way during this snow laden, freezing period. It seems that a twenty years ago, the park was in quite a stressed state. The Elks were destroying the trees by over grazing and north of the park was turning into a barren wilderness. Man had wiped out the Wolf population 70 years earlier. Wolves were reintroduced and started cutting the grazing population, which actually became more healthy because the wolves inherently knew how to spot the weaker members of the herd and naturally singled them out for attack. The biologists discovered this from analysis of the remaining bones. Simply, Wolf packs chose the easier prey to catch. In much the same way as Bears have evolved to know that a quick decapitation stings the prey. They use decapitation quite a lot and solve the food supply problem in one single easy to use process. A sort of built in Ursine swipe card for easy shopping.

But what of the Wolves I hear you ask? Well by common acclaim they performed their task of top predator with astounding success. The grazing Elk population was cut by 10%, bushes and willow saplings started grow, reaching a couple of meters after previously being gnawed off at nearly ground level. This in turn allowed the Beaver to bounce back (and who does not approve of a bouncing Beaver?). Numbers increasing 10 fold. Streams became much slower as the dams built by the Beavers created large pools and meandering brooks as opposed to fast flowing torrents. Associated fauna and flora transformed the landscape. Fish stocks recovered in the larger and more varied waters created by the Beavers. More...

Further south, emboldened by the unusual success of this manmade intervention in restoring bio diversity, a similar exercise has been carried out in the retirement state of Florida. Here the top predator was a big cat. The panther to be precice. This animal whist not extinct, had sufficiently small numbers that its gene pool was too limited. Pumas from Texas which are closley related to Panthers were intoduced to improve genetic diversity.  Rather than the caldera of Yellowstone national park, naturally restricted by surrounding high terrain: in Florida the reintroduction was in grass and swamp land adjacent to actually quite sizable populations. I think we can all agree this is a much more exiting prospect. How much has been accomplished in weeding out the old, overweight, infirmed and more vulnerable of Florida’s residents is at this point uncertain.

What is known is that a similar experiment in Italy has met with significant opposition when Bears (preferring more substantial German cuisine to an Italian meal) hopped across into Austria and were promptly dispatched by the somewhat upset Bergermeisters.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Of scams and scammers.

I must admit that if I get a scam call, if I have the time, I will often do what I consider is a civic duty and keep them talking for as long as possible. At least they will not be calling my Mum or indeed any other person who gets easily confused when it comes to technical matters (viruses on PCs), fitted kitchens, changing electricity supplier etc...

The other day, at the end of a long day I got a cold call....

With low cost phone calling cold calls have escalated.
I’ve kept a transcript of the call and thought it would be nice to translate the scam claims into non technical terms.

"Hello Mr Beetmain" (sic), we are monitoring your PC have received an alarm. Yes?

Translation: We have got your name from a telephone book and if you haven’t got a computer you are going to tell me now. If you haven’t, this call is going to be short.

We are monitoring computers in the Henley on Thames area.

Translation: We are on the Henley page of the telephone book.

Your PC has been running slow and our technicians can help you.

Translation: At some time your computer has run slowly and I’m prompting you to remember. I'm not going to talk about price because later we are going to stiff you for all we can get.

Your computer is infected with viruses Yes?

Translation: There is no way I can tell that your computer is infected. I can’t connect to it (yet). However, the odds are that you don’t know this, nor do you know how to tell if your computer is infected either. You probably dont understnd that the most popular forms of antivirus software start running by themesleves and can slow your computer down when they are giving your computer a full check up. There is no way I’m going to tell you helpful things like that.

We know that in the area of Henley on Thames there are "huge amount of infections"

Translation: It’s a racing certainty that there are some computers in Henley that have viruses; I’m going to try to scare you now. By the same logic: if you live in Henley, its very probable that you have walked down Henley High Street.

I decided to string this guy along. My good deed for the day: whist he was talking to me he was not calling some poor sole who would be taken in by his alarmist spiel.

"Your ip address is blinking in red."

Translation: The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and my front door is white, but red sounds more dangerous.

So I asked: where is it blinking in red?

"On the main server"

Translation: This sap I’m talking to has to know there are computers called servers. Techies often refer to “the main server” in films and on TV. In the same vein Scotty says to Captain Kirk, “The Dylithium crystals are exhausted, she cannie take it any more Captain.” Don’t know what this means but it sure sounds good and helps the action along.

“What main server?”

No answer....

Translation: This must be a different episode of Star Trek. Thinks... back to script. To be honest I did not actually hear him turning the pages, but there was a long pause and a change of gears.

"We are the people who look after all the computers in USA and Canada and UK"

Translation: Need to say something sounding authorative here to regain control. There must be some organisation that controls computers (mustn't there?) so he might as well claim to be a member of it.

"We are authorised multinational company"

Translation: The boss told him (authorised) him to do the scam and is boss is one nationality and he is another.

"These infections the red errors are boneaires, yellow warnings are virus infections"

Translation: Oh well try as I might there is no such word "boneaires" he spelt it out. It is in the same category as "contrafibularities" from Black Adder 3 - simply made up to annoy Dr Samuel Johnson when he delivered his first dictionary to the Prince Regent.

Are you in front of your computer?

Translation: Are you in front of your computer?

You need to restart your computer: go to the windows button and press restart.

Translation: You don’t need to restart you computer, but if you do, from what you tell me, I’ll determine if the computer is a Mac or a PC and you are gullible enough to do this you’ll probably do silly things I ask later.

I was guided to a thing called the application log: this is (if you don't know) a diary that the computer keeps. If there is a real problem, then a well written program will report issues either back to the developers, record them in the transaction log, or both. On the other had Viruses work by stealth and will not usually lead to recording anything in this log if they can avoid it.

"Yellow warning are viruses" in the transaction log.

Translation: Yellow traffic lights mean you are going to crash into a house by the side of the road.

"Don't click on any of the information entries: it will cause your machine to crash"

Translation: Don’t click on any of the information entries, you might get a message which show I’m talking utter rubbish.

Tell me what CPU usage is reading over the next 30 seconds: what was the last reading? That's the important one.

Translation: This sounds quite knowledgeable. If I was really trying to help, we would look on the next tab to find which programs (possibly your antivirus) were using the CPU. Thank goodness I didn’t slip up and say “CP three 0” out of Star Wars instead of CPU like I did last week.

We are "ClickToFix"

Translation: We might be “ClickToFix”. Whoever we are, we are certainly trying to scare you into some outrageous support charges for support you almost certainly don’t need.

They gave their phone number as 02088199744

Translation: more here

Happy New Year

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Of Students and student things

Now I have to come clean here: I was once an undergraduate myself. So this may count as the pot calling the kettle black (a phrase in its self appropriate to the days of open fires heating utensils and so diminishing fast from our collective consciousness). Understand then that I write this with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

My company employs a few students. In the past I have tried this without success, may be it’s the fact that they are now in debt for their course fees or I’m recruiting from exactly the right cross section of society. As an old friend observed when we were discussing this over a dinner, in our days, in this situation we probably would have been awkward SOBs who would not have taken “yes” or indeed “no” for an answer! If we understood the problem, we would have then spent our time looking at it from every angle and insisting that our (new) way of providing a solution was far better than the one requested urgently by the boss. Definitely not worth employing!!

Employing students is not without its hazards: hygiene being the most prominent. After a gentle persuasion that a coffee cup was recyclable by virtue that it could be washed and used again. This process demonstrated its ultra modern green credentials. This was opposed to the “green” as in mould (which could naturally be encouraged by the significantly less energetic approach of leaving it hidden in some warm part the office for a suitable number of weeks).

Armed with one success, you need to know this is only the first step of several. The next phase of student coersion has still to be undertaken. A fine example of this was the purchase of new mugs. At this point we had not discovered the gravitational forces that caused the cups to be promoted to a bioengineering role and accumulate in selected culture friendly locations. The new mugs had stickers on them which were apparently impossible to remove. This difficulty frustrated all attempts to resolve over several days. It therefore came as some surprise to those finding this insuperable obstacle that the application of hot soapy water caused the adhesive labels to simply float off. The degree of wonderment that this revelation provoked can only be likened to a million pound lottery win. Clearly the combination of hot, soapy and water was an incredibly rare and possibly previously unencountered magical combination.

So what is it with students? Its actually a reasonably well know fact that the reason for the appellations “spotty” and “teenager” going hand in hand is that their body's immune systems are at their height during these years. More recently its been discovered that an over hygienic environment can lead to allergies caused by immune systems spoiling for a fight. These symptoms can be relieved by giving the body something to work on: for instance hook worms. It seems reasonable to assume that students somehow inherantly understand that giving their immune system something to fight by actively embarrassing scruffy, untidy, lets not beat about the bush, dirty surroundings are simply protecting themselves from other allergic reactions.

Now all I have to do is explain why students are able to detect those special properties of sunlight before midday so causing a vampire like aversion to the early hours (6am to 2pm)

PS If you enjoyed this, you may also like Tom Roush's blog

Monday, 30 August 2010

Of Wellies, Goldfish and cookies.

There was a newly married couple and just as they were getting into bed, the husband said: “I didn’t want to mention this before in case you were shocked and it stopped us getting married, but there is a position I’ve always wanted to try. It’s called the wheel barrow position.”
“Oh” said the wife “what does it involve?”
 “Well, you get down on your hands and knees, and then you straighten your legs. I get between your legs, pick them up and way hay... off we go!”
“OK said the wife, just promise me outside, we won’t go past my Mum’s House!”

Coincidentally, I’ve just been on a once in a lifetime holiday... No way I’ll do that again...!

A few days ago I went to Ceroc Newbury: it’s a Jive dance venue under the Ceroc franchise. Last night we had a special evening based on West Coast Swing. The class was taught by Brent & Kellese Key

We were introduced to a new description of your “centre” or core. This is the part of the body which represents your point of balance. Some describe it where you feel the pressure when you hold your breath and try to breath out (try it). This does not work if you have a cold as it then appears to be between your ears! It is somewhere between your knees and your chest. Some consider it as one of the 5,382 erogenous zones that a woman has. Unfortunately this may not narrow it down. Kellese refers to it as her “cookie”. For Brent it’s the berries and branch. Much of the class revolved around correct positioning of the “cookie”. It was very instructive.
It’s the Reading festival – noticeable for its rain making powers, greater even than Glastonbury. Actually it’s about half an hour into the start and at the big Tesco’s in town they have already sold out of the years’ supply of wellington boots, socks and presumably anything waterpoof.

When I got back in the car after the shopping expedition: the iPod came out in sympathy and decided to play Louis Armstrong’s wonderful World – “I see skies of blue... and clouds of white... ... and I think to myself; what a wonderful world.” I looked up: somehow “I see skies of grey and clouds of black” just doesn’t seem to have the same impact...

Actually I spent the weekend dancing. Now at the event I went to: there are classes every hour and a half spread over the day. The classes themselves last about an hour and typically will cover 3 dance moves.

The format is a demo of all three moves, then step slowly through the first until there is a reasonable chance of doing it with some degree of similarity to the demo. The second part of the move is then demoed again and practised. The first and second are linked together and practised. The third part is then demoed and practised. At which point the “teach” then says: from the top: all three parts together.

At his point I feel l have the same memory as the apocryphal gold fish. What was that first move??? Time to do both a passable impression of a goldfish – both in memory and the jaw dropping, mouth opening “ah”. F$%^£$&... I just did that  fifteen minutes earlier! The problem is that goldfish don’t have such a bad memory. Experiments teaching the fish a link between various signals and food have shown that a dozen or so repetitions can teach a Goldfish when or where food is provided which they remember for weeks.  I have since resolve to try to raise my game. Can I at least equal the performance of a Goldfish when it comes to dance moves?

Stay tuned... 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Some years ago a very bright chap called Steven Hawking published a book. Much to everyone’s surprise it rose to the top of the best sellers list. There was some debate as to if people who bought it actually read it. Indeed it was suggested that some acquired it just to have “A brief history of Time” sitting on their coffee table when people came round. No matter to this day, at over nine million copies sold, it is the most coffee tabled book in science.

By contrast even a scientific book of the first order as Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in print for a hundred years has print runs or editions only of thousands or tens of thousands of copies even though counting all languages there may have been a hundred editions.

No matter that it takes Professor Hawking a significant part of a minute to programme a sentence: the jokes in ‘brief history’ give the book a status second to none.

Darwin’s contribution to humour probably peaked when he gave eventual rise to the Darwin awards for selfless individuals weeding themselves out of the gene pool.

Hawking’s success has given rise to a number of physics trying to repeat his triumph. One of the more recent attempts has been a book called “The trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin. Now when you see a book with a title “The trouble with Physics” it can be one of two things. The most obvious is someone with creationist beliefs who thinks Sarah Palin represents a credible view of scientific arguments in much the same way as Albert Einstein would make a credible entry into the Miss World pageant. Even ignoring the fact that he would be 130 and counting, having died in 1955 he must be in a serious state of decay.

Well (thankfully) “The trouble with Physics” does not fall into the above category. It attempts to explain the dilemmas modern Physic without resorting to impenetrable equations that not even the guys that developed those same equations really understand.  I’m currently about 2/3rd of the way through the book. It has moments of humour, but it’s starting to get heavy going. I suppose I can sum it up in a few paragraphs.

There are five areas where modern Physics has big problems. The first (two) of these is that there are two very good theories which explain the universe as we know it. One Quantum theory. The  theory of the very small and specifically something called ‘the standard model’ produces the results found in experiment to an astonishing degree of accuracy. Every experiment we have been able to make over the last forty years has produced results which agree with it exactly. Another theory: Einstein’s general theory of relativity explains the phenomena throughout the Universe and no experiment or astronomical observation over the last 50 years has yet found anything which in any way contradicts this theory either. Ice creams all round to the Physicists you may say.

There is one major problem. According to ‘the (Quantum) standard model’ nothing has any mass (gravity). Clearly this is wrong. But I heard you say it agrees with experiment exactly. It does, but gravitational effects where atoms and sub atomic particle are concerned just don’t show up (they are ever so small). There is another major problem: Einstein’s Theory is equally and catastrophically wrong when it comes to predicting stuff on the sub atomic scale. When things are much larger than the sub atomic scale Einstein hits the bull’s eye with unerring accuracy. At the sub atomic level Einstein is about as wrong as you can get.  The problem is that it’s the same universe that we are living in and is being described by both theories.

In some ways this is not really a problem for Physicists: combining these two theories is what they are paid to do. It’s a bit like mixing oil and water. They don’t mix! So working on trying to mix them can be a life time occupation.  More Physicists have worked on this problem for more years than ever before and got nowhere. This book is about the ‘fact’ that a large number of Physics may have found the very first example of ‘perpetual motion’. There is a theory called ‘string’ theory. It has so many varieties that you can just choose the one that fits and if you then find it doesn’t fit, then there is always another just beside it that can be chosen to fit better. It like throwing dice until you get the series of spots you want. It says nothing about the next throw. Physicists have been throwing these dice for the last 30 years.

To sum the book up, it’s about the craps table of modern Physics. Still someone may just be able to find a way to load the dice. That is very much a part of human nature.