Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rocks off v Off this rock

Here's a question I posed tonight, and couldn't quite be arsed to work out an answer to: Given current levels of mortality, what is the average number of children per couple needed to maintain the total population at a steady state? I suspect it's somewhat less than two.

This may ultimately be an important question if we don't get off this rock...

(and is population growth control the only sure way to limit carbon emissions?)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Multiple Virgins

My broadband has been provided by Virgin since I first got it many years ago. The service has always been fine and I've never had any problems. Following the recent change in the regulations for people providing these things, Virgin have merged with NTL (I think) and now provide land phones and stuff like that.

I rarely use my landline, so my cost of calls is generally close to zero. However, by switching my main call provider from BT to Virgin, I was able to get cheaper broadband. No extra cost on my BT bill (it'll just be line rental I think) and a reduced monthly broadband cost was something of a no-brainer so I changed over.

I then got an email from Virgin confirming I had done this. This was fine because I had. Then, over the next six hours and fifty-five minutes, I got four more emails from Virgin, all identical to the first one. This was odd, but also fine. Then I got a letter from BT saying I had done it. Which was also fine because I had done it.

Then, today I got five (count 'em!) letters from Virgin telling me when the new phone service would be active. This was less fine since it seemed like a bit of a waste. They all had exactly the same info on, so at least I have no contradictory information to deal with. Five emails and letters seems a little excessive though.

I figured that as long as they don't actually charge me five times then I'll be ok. But when I checked my credit card just now I found they had charged me once only, but for £1 less than I expected (just £13.99). So now I'm a bit confused.

Guess I shouldn't complain as long as it all works. Touch wood.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Argos Roulette

I nearly found a fun new game just now. Take the online Argos catalogue, and enter meaningful seven digit numbers. For example, dates of birth, phone numbers and so on (possibly with some digits removed to get down to seven). And see what fun items you get!

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any numbers that worked.

But I did think of a way to turn it into a fun party game! Just take turns entering random numbers with your friends. Then the first person to actually get an item has to buy it there and then from the online shop! Hours of fun!

(I think I might be using "fun" in a new way here...)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Road to Cleverness

I've restarted (from the beginning) Roger Penrose's book, The Road to Reality (not to be confused with various Bob Hope films). It's a big book, ostensibly aimed at the non-specialist, that attempts to cover most of modern maths and physics, and unlike most similar tomes, it doesn't shy away from the maths. It even has the odd exercise for the reader.

The first time I tried it, a couple of years ago, I got a bit stuck a third of the way through. This was despite me having a degree in mathematics. I'm hoping that I'll persevere better this time and actually get to the end. So far I'm up to chapter 5.

If I finish this whole book, I will officially be clever.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rapping In The Pub

We went to The Yorkshire Hussar for lunch today. Although it was quiet upon arrival, it quickly got busy with a few large groups who arrived just after us. Food was good, and cheap as always.

We sat in the main bar but could see through into the front bar. What we could see happening in there was a little odd. Here's the view:

Look carefully and you'll see a number of men dancing in a circle with swords, performing the Northumbrian Rapper Sword Dance. They had brought their own music and everything. Apparently they were practising for a competition.

I don't think people should be allowed to take swords into pubs - any pub worth its beer should ask you to check in all weapons at the front door. Swords are dangerous at the best of times, but the combination of swords, dancing and alcohol can only lead to "accidents".

The people there appeared to have all their own limbs, and none of them were missing chunks of ears, noses or fingers so maybe they were relatively safe. I'm glad I was in a different room though.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poetry Warning

I'm giving serious consideration to having a Poetry Week here in the not-so-distant future. It'll be fun. Everyone likes poetry. One brand new original poem a day, every day, for a week.

Alright, it probably won't be fun. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tea is fun

I love fruit teas and herb teas and generally weird teas. I have documented this on these pages in the past. Some of them are great. My favourite is Orange, Mango and Cinnamon. Last night I had a chocolate flavour tea (not sure how that works). But my least favourite one by a country mile is Dr Stuart's Liver Detox tea. It contains "Dandelion root, centaury herb and milk thistle" and it tastes absolutely vile. Very bitter. I know a few people who've tried and it and not found anyone who thinks it's remotely pleasant.

Despite this I like to have one from time to time to see if my tastes have changed and I now like it. It worked for coffee and beer when I was younger, so why not Liver Detox tea? So far there has been no change, but I will persevere. I still have many bags left.

I was wondering if anyone knew of any even more unpleasant (off the shelf) teas that I could try? If so, I'll see if I can get hold of them and do a taste test.

Tea is fun.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bed-side Lighting

About three years ago I bought a couple of bed-side lights. Today I finally got round to buying an extension cable so that the second one could be plugged in. Shame really, as I had a contingency plan that when the bulb expired in the first one I could just switch-a-roo the whole lights and prevent having to find a new bulb from some shop somewhere. Another fine plan messed up by common sense.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Sights of Oxford

I went down to Oxford this weekend to visit my sister, BiL and the Nephs. Never having been there before, I wanted to have a look around (even though Oxford is officially the enemy). It was probably not quite as nice as I expected... I was expecting something more like Cambridge, but in fact it's more like any old small city with a few older buildings in among the newer ones. Maybe if you bother to go inside the colleges it's more interesting, but to me these days, one college is much like another.

The main hobbies in Oxford are rugby and sword-fighting. In the following picture, you can see people participating in both of these activities. I didn't get too close in case a blade were to go astray and nick me.

Oxford Sword-Fighting

The next picture is particularly exciting and I think really captures the essence of the town. It shows three tramps sleeping on benches in a graveyard:

Oxford Tramps

We spent the afternoon having a wander around and then headed back home. In the evening, I took a two-year old to the off-license, had some nice tea and then drank beer, cider and port, ate some 100% cocoa chocolate and some ginger Wensleydale. The cheese was very good indeed...

Incidentally, anyone who says that I only went down there because I knew that they had recorded Tuesday's Life on Mars, which I had forgotten to do, is completely wrong. :-)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Train Juxtapositions

I was on the train today and couldn't help noticing the following things. Behind me, a physicist was having a conversation with a stranger about electron beams, solar flares and plasma weapons. In front of me I could see two women watching a film that may have been Dirty Dancing on a laptop computer. Overall this was an audio-visual combination I had not encountered before. I found one part of it much more interesting than the other...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Putting Zelda To Bed

Just over two weeks ago I decided to replay Zelda: The Wind Waker and try and finish it (four years after originally trying to do this). Tonight, I did this!

Whilst not perfect, it is a lot of fun. The sailing didn't seem so bad this time, and remembering some of it from before probably helped me go through a bit quicker than I would have done otherwise. And I also didn't bother with some of the sidequests that I did last time.

It feels like I've achieved minor closure with a part of my life I'd thought I'd never return to. I will sleep contentedly tonight.

Later in the year... Ocarina of Time: Master Quest?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Running and Eating

I've just found out that my entry for the 2007 Great North Run has been successful. Darn - that means I actually have to do the bloody thing again (and more annoyingly, the training too). I supposed it gives me an incentive to go out and do the running again, I've been pretty lax this year so far.

Today is also Valentine's Day. Not generally one of my favourite days of the year as it's all far too artificial and forced. I especially hate going to restaurants - full of horrible couples who probably hate each other and have only gone out because they can't face another evening sitting in watching Eastenders on the sofa.

So this year I've decided to cook. It's going to be three courses with actual candles and stuff.

Starter: Pate and toast with Bramble Chutney. A lovely starter which is minimal effort since the pate and the chutney are pre-made. I will have to prepare the toast though.

Main Course: Chicken with Orange and Black Olives, served with Potatoes and Nice Broccoli. This is the main part. I made it for myself once and I think it was nice... it was a while ago.

Desert: Hot Cross Bruschetta. I've made this one up myself. It'll be toasted Hot Cross Buns with some raspberries on top. Might be nice, might be horrid. But I had some spare Hot Cross Buns so I figures I may as well try and use them.

I probably should go and start doing some preparation. Or open a bottle of red wine, at least! Yes, that sounds like a better plan :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Charity Survey

I get a bit annoyed when charities send junk mail with pens in. I got one today, and from the outward appearance of the envelope it looked like a survey. Since it had a pen inside I figured I could complete the survey and send it back to the Freepost address they had conveniently provided:


Monday, February 12, 2007

Scrobble time!

Several months ago my brother in law sent me an email asking me to play with him on Last.Fm on the internet. Because I am lazy, I ignored this until the weekend when I finally signed up and can now share what I'm listening to with the world (see sidebar, right).

The site is essentially a social networking site based around music, and it tracks what you're listening to (at home or on iPod) and then uses this to build a profile of your listening habits. It can then use this to create a personalised online radio station and play you other songs that you might like. I tried this just now and got a Coldplay song and a Franz Ferdinand one. Both good (if not exactly cutting edge). Theoretically it should be something you can listen to and hear music you might like that you haven't come across before.

Maybe it's just me, but scrobbling songs (the process of sending the data on what you have listened to to the internet) is a little bit addictive - it's like collecting Pokemon or something.

If you want to be my friend on the site (you could be number 3!) then my user id is Lint01. See you there (or not...).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Missing Memorials

The following message was posted on our work intranet this week:

"I would like to contact all staff to see if there are any War Memorials in any offices that Group Archive are unaware of. If any office has a War Memorial (mounted or stroed [sic]) please could they let me know.
My contact details are ______ ____, Group Assistant Archivist, ____ _____, e-mail
Many thanks."

I found this to be quite an odd message. In my working life I don't recall ever coming across an old forgotten about memorial anywhere. Not even in the back of the stationary cupboard (which amusingly keeps moving about the office at the moment!) or under the stairs or in the toilet cubicles. Sometimes you find the odd old newspaper has been left there, but never a war memorial.

Also, war memorials are normally quite big. And heavy due to being made of rock. How would one ever get one in to an office in the first place? And if you did, it's hardly likely it would be forgotten about. In most offices it would become a major talking point when you brought visitors in - "Look at our war memorial - we brought in after the Crimean war - it makes a great hat stand". That sort of thing.

Maybe in the old days, drunk insurance clerks would wander around the streets of English towns stealing war memorials in the same way that students steal traffic cones today. It's possible. But unliklely, because as mentioned above they tend to be big and made of stone.

I'm confused.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What happens if you go to the pub with mathematicians (2)

I set you a problem on Monday and promised you the answer "tomorrow". It turned out I was using a slightly generalised sense of the word, and I meant "on Thursday". Anyway, the answer is 19 people and the strategy for doing this was emailed me on Tuesday by Chip which saves me having to write it out for myself!

"This is a bit of a weird situation, where writing the problem down exactly in mathematical language solves it for you! I'd started typing this by setting out my assumptions, then I was going to work on the 2-colour case and generalise from there, and as I was doing that, I realised I'd actually nearly typed the full answer! (This is with two unstated assumptions - 1. that the prisoners know all of the possible hat colours in advance and 2. that all the prisoners can hear everything that's said in the room).

If they are true, then you can always guarantee the survival of everyone except the first guy, and he'll survive with probability 1/m (where m = number of hat colours). What the prisoners do is assign a number value to each of the colours - let's say black = 1, white = 2, red =3, etc., then prisoner 1 adds up the colour values of all the other people's hats (call that T), and says the colour that corresponds to T mod m. Prisoner 2 can work out what his hat colour is by adding all the hat values he can see (call that S) and then his hat has colour (T - S) mod m, and lather, rinse, repeat. Prisoner 1 survives if his hat happens to be colour T mod m - I think it's reasonably self-evident (translation - I think it's so obvious that I can't put why into words!) that his survival can never be guaranteed."


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Apple Stuff

I quite enjoyed watching the new Mac adverts featuring Mitchell and Webb (ok, they're not exactly 24, but I do like M&W). They inspired Charlie Brooker to write an article for The Guardian website. He's wrong in pretty much every way but it's funny nevertheless.

In other Mac news, I was pleased to read Steve Jobs' comments this morning regarding removing DRM from electronically purchased music. This is good news as DRM is shit. It has no redeeming features. I have absolutely no objection to paying money for intellectual property, but DRM is just a pain in the ass.

So I hope Mr Jobs actually means this and makes it happen. Because if he does I'm likely to buy a lot more music that I'd be too embarrassed to buy from a shop :-)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Secret Cake

I think my girl has been trying to cook me a secret cake. Clue: she asked me the other day what my favourite sort of cake was. Clue: When round her flat just now, I wasn't allowed in the kitchen and the flat smelt strongly of lemon cake. I'm not sure that subtlety is one of her strong points...

Monday, February 05, 2007

What happens if you go to the pub with mathematicians

In the pub tonight we were discussing hat problems. Not the sort that involve whether a plaid hat goes with a blue coat or not, but the mathematical or logical kind of one.

Here's an example (answer tomorrow):

There are 20 prisoners (it's always prisoners in these things). Each of them will be given a hat to wear which will be coloured with one of 20 colours. Some colours may be repeated. The prisoners will be made to stand in a line in a courtyard so that they can only see the prisoners in front of them. They cannot see their own hat, nor can they see the hats of the people behind them.

Once in position (they are all blindfolded until they are there) the prisoner at the back has to state a colour that he believes his hat is. If he is right he lives, if not he dies. Then the prisoner in front does the same. And so on until the guy at the front.

They are allowed to consult beforehand to determine a strategy to follow that will ensure as many of them as possible survive. Assuming they then follow this strategy, what is the maximum number of prisoners they can guarantee will survive?

And more importantly, have I stated this somewhat convoluted problem properly so that a) it has a solution and b) it has the solution I expect?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tasty Tasting Rooms

We went to The Tasting Room for dinner last night. I've been there a couple of times before, but not for a couple of years ish. It was very good. The food was excellent and the service was great - really friendly and helpful (though I think they did forget our cheese for a little while).

There was a whole series of these in the toilet, doing the alphabet thing in a rhyming fashion:

This one was my favourite. All of them depicted children coming to a messy end though.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Animal predictions

In America yesterday, a groundhog predicted an early Spring. In England today, some turkeys predicted that we will all die. Point to England.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Running Again

I went running this evening for the first time this year. I haven't been out since mid-December when I finished the Run-a-thon 500. I'd then always planned to have January off to fully recover from any residual minor injuries and just generally have a bit of a rest. It's been quite nice.

But now we are in February, I can start again (isn't it nice to have rules to live your life by?). And this time I don't have to stick to my artificial restrictions like not stopping during runs for the mileage to count (isn't it nice to not have to live your life by any rules?) so I can work on improving my "technique" and getting a bit faster.

I don't have any actual running goals this year but I have entered the ballot for the Great North Run again. Getting a better time than last year would be good. But that's as much of a target as I plan to give myself.

Taking it easy.