Saturday, May 27

Using a fake car crash to convey a message to teenagers (not to crash cars, obviously). I remember hearing something like this in the UK, where some guy was told that his family was killed in a car crash; they'd recreated it perfectly, run news stories, even constructed a scene with two burning cars in it. The guy was understandably distraught, and then they wheeled his family out, alive and well. It'd be interesting to know if anyone else has heard of this.

I didn't think I'd ever see it - someone defending the twisting of history to pretend that the British didn't capture the Enigma machine (U-571) and were just a sideshow in WW2 (Saving Private Ryan). The comparisons the guy draws are insulting:

"Who came up with pasta first, the Chinese or Italians? Everybody wants to be the best. If there is something good out there, and if there is any way possible to stretch and make it ours, we will."

We're not talking about pasta here, we're talking about the role millions of people had in WW2. Of course the British are upset - I don't think we can be expected to be much else.

Obligatory weblog community note: Vavatch Orbital is painfully clawing its way on to the hallowed sidebar link lists of other weblogs, including Prolific and Linkmachinego (thanks guys!). I really should get around to updating my link list.

6:53 PM | permalink | discuss

Big Horizon, a travelogue by Stephen Reid, is a great piece of writing by a guy from England touring the US. Well worth reading, if just for his comments on the American rail system. [sigh]. As a veteran traveller on the deplorable British rail network, I can sympathise with his comment:

"Put it this way; in comparison to a standard class seat on a British train, travelling coach on Amtrak is like being in First Class while having your ass continuously rubbed by a supermodel."

3:38 PM | permalink | discuss

I remember watching a programme on TV about high school proms in the US, and how they generally involve ridiculously large amounts of money and preparation, which isn't really how we do it over here with our school Leavers' Balls; they're an altogether more relaxed affair (I just had mine yesterday). But I was reminded that US prom companies are making inroads to the UK, and so decided to do some research.

Unfortunately, I got sidetracked and reached this page entitled Make it a Sober Night. I think it could have been useful for, well, pretty much every single person at the ball, teachers included.

Lots of interesting facts about the world population. There's been a lot of talk about the 'Low Variant Population Projection' shown in the graph; apparently people are worried not that the population is growing too fast, it's that it's going to start declining too fast. Something about how the population could end up halving every few decades.

12:22 PM | permalink | discuss

Friday, May 26

In fact, this reminds me of the (almost certainly untrue) story that I was told.

Starting an interview with your usual irascible Cambridge don, a student being interviewed for English was called in by the professor. The professor didn't say anything for a while, as he was hidden behind a copy of the Times, presumably reading it. He lowers the newspaper for one second and intones, "Impress me." He then raises the newspaper and continues reading.

The student promptly takes out a lighter from his pocket and then sets fire to the newspaper.

Now, I can't remember whether there was a happy ending to the story [do you remember, Colin?] but all the same, it's a bit of light relief.

5:32 PM | permalink | discuss

The whole Laura Spence Oxford/Harvard furore has taken over the front page of the broadsheet newspapers now. Here's a note I received from a reader:

"Apparently there were only five places available at Magdelene for Medicine [the college she applied to]. Of the 5 people given the places, three were from private school and two were from state schools. These numbers are exactly reflective of the applications made for the places. In fact, one of the two successful state school applicants came from the same town as Laura Spence and goes to a normal comprehensive. Just thought I'd add fuel to the fire...." [thanks to Telf]

Buried within this page is a comment I wrote the issue - see if you can find it.

[snip long, protracted and bloody rant about foolishness of whole issue]

The point is - it's bad enough when people make judgements of situations when they aren't in possession of the facts. But that's nothing compared to when people wilfully ignore all the facts that point to the opposite of what they're saying. Doesn't anyone have the courage to admit that their prejudices are flawed, they haven't considered all the facts and most importantly, that they're wrong anymore?

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." - William James [snipped from Fionna of the Culture's sig.)

5:23 PM | permalink | discuss

I have got to get myself a feed of BBC Parliament. To think that televised debates of the seat of government in the UK could be so funny...

"...the bizarre nature of the BBC's microphone-placement became apparent, as random words from backbench conversations filtered through. "Shame!" obviously came up quite regularly; but "Sausage!", "Nuts!", "Fishy!" and "Plastic bag!" enlivened what seemed to be David McLean, MP, saying: "As I said in the introduction to my introduction" over and over again."

10:40 AM | permalink | discuss

Thursday, May 25

Give me a break. Would people stop whinging about this Laura Spence interview debacle at Oxford? Laura's school has frankly been acting childish over the whole issue, as has herself. I have several friends who applied to Oxford; they were without a doubt some of the most intelligent people I've ever met. They weren't accepted after their interview, so they just dealt with it. And so should she.

Were my friends from a 'poor region'? Were they hell.

It's nothing short of prideful boasting to say 'Oxford rejected me, but now I've got a scholarship from Harvard. Oxford is so stupid.' Harvard has a $14 billion endowment fund. They pledge that every student who goes there will be catered for financially. Laura hasn't been given a scholarship; she's been given exactly the same as every single other student going to Harvard has. She hasn't applied to study medicine at Harvard, she's applied to do biochemistry - which I'll note is not the same as applying to do medicine at Oxford.

Oxford has at least 3 applicants per place, all of whom are the top of their schools. Two of them, statistically speaking, will be rejected.

Harvard has around 12 applicants per place. 11 of them will be rejected. Some of them will come to Oxbridge to study. Do they make an outcry? No. Because Harvard is a hell of a competitive university, and inevitably many people are going to be disappointed. It's the same situation with Oxford.

If you're going to apply to the second (or third) best university in the UK, then you have to accept that it's going to be a tough job, no matter how good you think you are.

7:37 PM | permalink | discuss

Wednesday, May 24

Viagra doesn't work on women. Well, there's a surprise.

The newMetropolis science and technology museum in Amsterdam is, without a doubt, the best museum in the world. Not only are the exhibits ridiculously fun and involve lots of interaction, buttons to press and neat things going 'Beep' and cool graphics, but they all work. I could spend days in there. Caters for all ages, and it even had Internet terminals lying around the place which I could use to send email with (and this was two years ago as well!).

Even looks cool, as the photo that I took above attests.

4:04 PM | permalink | discuss

The strain's beginning to show; the growing wave of teenage violence in Japan.

I've got a fairly good friend who lives in Tokyo, Tak, who I met in Cornwall when I went to see the eclipse. We were talking about the different education systems we have, and I asked about cramming schools. Essentially, almost all teenagers in Japan go to cramming schools so they can pass the University entrance exams. A bit excessive, I thought, but perfectly understandable since a lot of my friends have gone to revision courses for their A-Levels.

What I did find incredible was that to get into the better cramming schools, you have to pass an entrance exam. So what's resulted is that there are pre-cramming schools that coach you to get into the 'proper' cramming schools that coach you to get into university.

It'd be interesting to find out how much brighter the Japanese teenagers are at the end of all this compared to American or British students, although a better way to put it would be 'how much more do they know - and does it help them?'

Speaking of schools, this article is absolutely right: "Can we agree that four 9-year-olds pinning a classmate to the playground while a fifth boy mounts her and makes ''humping'' motions is, for lack of a better word, wrong?"

The boys were justly suspended. Yet their parents and supporters claim that they're too young to know what's right and wrong, and it's just a bit of innocent fun. Bullshit. So, what, you just let them get away with it, because they're too young? Are you telling me that's there some kind of intrinsic cut-off point where boys are magically bestowed with the wisdom of Morals, before which they're simply automatons?

There is nothing that can be said in these boys defence. That anyone should even try and pretend that they didn't know what they were doing is in severe need of a psychiatrist, or preferably a jail sentence.

Vavatch Orbital has been reviewed... I feel so proud. "Where else could you find a Gilbert and Sullivan parody about blogging, an explanation of the calving process of glaciation, and an excoriation of Camille Paglia, all in one easy to bookmark location?"

2:43 PM | permalink | discuss

Tuesday, May 23

When icebergs break off from a polar ice shelf, the icebergs are called calves (and the process is known as calving). You learn something new every day.

No doubt this latest calving will be pointed at as more evidence of the greenhouse effect (which it isn't).

9:13 PM | permalink | discuss

So. The first of the A-level exams, General Studies (also known lovingly as The Pub Quiz), is over. Unlike previous years where candidates were treated to the most esoteric questions the examinators could think up, we were given such gems as 'Which of these five movies didn't Steven Spielberg produce.'

And 'The Times is:

a) A Conservative Newspaper
b) Government Funded
c) Both
d) Neither'

I got the feeling that they were taking the piss on that last question. Mind you, I managed to get the most unlikely combination of authors and subjects into the same essay (Ben Okri, Helen Fielding, Iain Banks, the Culture, Use of Weapons, This Life, etc).

Who wants to be an astronaut? Clever idea.

Britain beats NASA to Mars (sort of). This reminds me of the time I heard about the Beagle 2 Project Leader, Colin Pillinger, appeared on Newsnight. Apparently he got the stuffing kicked out of him when he was asked the question 'What's the point of going to Mars?' Difficult question, hard to defend against when your opponent starts to use emotional blackmail and that mularky. Of course, that's no excuse. He should have defend the space programme a bit more than that (not that the UK has a space programme worth speaking of, but that's another thing entirely...)

4:02 PM | permalink | discuss

Monday, May 22

[taken from today's Internet Oracle digest]

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply. Your question was:

> Why?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:


Because no-one told him not to.

Because he could.

Because it was just bad luck.

Because he thought it was a good idea at the time.

Because, on the island of Sumatra last August 23rd, a butterfly flapped its wings one extra time.

Because your mother went to a party in her senior year in high school and just happened to meet a young man on liberty from the Marine Corps, who she fell in love with and married.

Because in the fall, chlorophyll is removed from the leaves by the trees, which allows the natural color of the leaves to be seen.

Because people get tired and need time to rest.

Because they love each other.

Because there are very few things in the world that are permanent.

Because it's traditional.

Because brass gets dull-looking when it's exposed to air, so it needs to be polished every once in a while.

Because kitties don't live as long as people.

Because the "y" in "ye" is actually a Germanic letter called a "thorne" which is pronounced like a "th".

Because the book of Isiah was actually written by at least three people.

Because water evaporates and goes up into the air and makes clouds.

Because she loves you very much.

Because a new tooth is coming in, soon.

Because ducks are lighter than water, but fish are heavier.

Because there are starving people in Ethiopia.

Because there are some bad people in the world.

Because they choose to be.

Because there are also many, many good people in the world.

Because they choose to be.

Because they would rather be good than bad.

Because they just do.

Because I love you.

Because. Just because.

You owe the Oracle a good-night kiss.

3:34 PM | permalink | discuss

I love the Internet. There's no doubt about it, without the Internet I'd have had a lot less opportunities. I say this now because I've just had the chance to talk to a screenwriter who's been approached to work on the new Foundation movie, based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.

This, to say the least, is something I find hugely cool. Asimov's Foundation novels are among the most well-known and loved SF series in existence. So this screenwriter asks a mailing list I'm on for a crash course on the Foundation, and since I don't have anything better to do I go and type up a not-so-short summary of 1000 words, within 30 minutes of the original posting, for which I was thanked.

Could this happen without the Internet? I think not. Is the Internet a 'soulless and dehumanising system'? I'd say that the only people who could believe that are people who don't really use it.

I was browsing around the Internet and found two books whose titles speak for themselves: 'Seven Highly Effective Habits of Efficient Teenagers' and 'How to write love letters.' How far have we sunk, I ask you? How far?

I find it unspeakably offensive that Camille Paglia would defend the NRA by saying:

"...crime statistics from other countries [do not] carry much weight with me. Only the U.S. has a complex Bill of Rights with a First Amendment guaranteeing "freedom of speech" and a Second Amendment guaranteeing "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," which remain our protection against government tyranny."

Yes, how could I forget, all the European countries are of course democracies just waiting for that chance to lapse into despotism. Don't be a fool, Paglia. Your Bill of Rights doesn't mean that other countries don't defend free speech any less than America does. Dare I say it, it's another example of America thinking it's the world's only true democracy.

10:25 AM | permalink | discuss