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Saturday, December 16

Today, I saw definitive proof that space tourism is taking off. While mooching about W H Smiths in the vain hope of finding a birthday card that wasn't overpriced or had a bad sense of humour, I spotted a line of boxes offering such adventurous things as helicopter lessons, trips in tanks, MiG flights and so on. After a few seconds consternation in which my thought processes went:

1) Woo, MiG flights
2) Seems like an awfully small box to fit a MiG in...
3) Hey, there's some writing on this box
4) A ticket, you say...?

I concluded that this was a very clever marketing ploy by W H Smiths because until they'd done this promotion, the only way of getting these activities was by mail order or some equally time-intensive shopping method.

That was when I spotted a box at the line of the line proudly claiming 'Space Trips.' Naturally, I gravitated over towards it, shocked that W H Smiths had, without my knowledge, acquired of themselves a man-rated orbital launcher that was so cheap it apparently only required a '100,000 deposit'. After having visions of myself marching up to the cashier's desk and slapping down my credit card, I read the small print that said, 'It is expected that the space launch will take place between 2003 and 2005, pending on the development of RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) technology.' I believe I also saw the term 'Purchase of this product does not guarantee a flight into space.'

I plan to get a photo of this box as soon as I can and present it to that poor sap Dennis Tito, who's paying $20 million to fly into space. Why, if only he went to W H Smith's first, he'd be able to save over 12 million!

That was irony, in case you were wondering.

Still, you've got to hand it to them, W H Smith's are definitely long-term thinkers...

8:50 PM | permalink | discuss


Thursday, December 14

Yes, that special time of the week has come again - the time when I look at my stats logs and become horrified with the number of people who put up with my writing, and the dawning realisation that I don't actually have anything to say today. The time when, I'm sorry to say, I have to start basing my posts on what you're writing.

X-Files (and why I hate it) - I'll admit that there have been good episodes of the X-Files. I'm even prepared to say that I told everyone who'd listen that it was the best show ever during its first few seasons (I was about 11 years old at the time). But for any story to mean anything, it has to have some sort of conclusion, and I never saw any evidence for that happening to any plot threads during the X-Files. All stories have to come to an end.

My tidy desk - Generally, when I tidy up my desk or indeed anything whatsoever, the untidy stuff tends to be shoved away in some small corner where it eventually makes a bit of a mess. In the meantime, more detritus which I fool myself into thinking that I 'need' builds up on the desk, and the net result is that in a few thousand years time I'll have packed so much rubbish into my cupboards that they'll collapse into a black hole. 'This time', I resolved to myself a few days ago, 'will be different. This time, I'm drawing a line in the sand, being firm but fair...'

And so I continued on this trend of repeating mindless aphorisms to myself as I shoveled away armful after armful of rubbish into plastic bags, desperately trying to distract myself from breaking down as I threw away a two year old letter (and other such similar stuff) that no longer bears any relevance but might, conceivably, possibly, be important some time in the future.

Which is the reason why my desk is now tidy, and still remains tidy to this very minute.

Terminator 3, self-population regulation and the confused French - I certainly don't pretend to know how the hell the writers of Terminator 3 will attempt to sort out the time travel paradoxes, because it makes no sense to me. Another question you might ask yourself is why do they bother sending it back in time when they could just use it in the 'future/present nuclear wasteland' against the beleaguered human resistance?

Why? Because if they did, then they wouldn't be able to spend tens of millions filming a 747 crashing into the ground, would they? (and odds on are that the T-1G will walk out of that crash in true cinematic indestructibility style).

9:59 PM | permalink | discuss


I have a strange relationship with the semi-new quiz show, The Weakest Link. While I think it's strongly compelling viewing, I'm horrified at the amount of incorrect answers that the producers have. Once in my life, I'd always believed that UHT (in UHT milk) stood for Ultra High Temperature (probably because I heard the answer from some badly researched quiz). In another quiz, I discovered that the real answer was Ultra Heat Treatment. Yet today, in The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson declared that Ultra Heat Treatment was wrong, and the real answer was Ultra High Temperature.

I can just see the researchers in my mind now... "UHT, that's, uh, Ultra... something. Something to do with heat or temperature. Ah, what the hell, the contestant probably won't get the answer so what gives. Now, what about this capital of Luxembourg business..."

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely certain that UHT stands for Ultra Heat Treatment, and I lay the blame for my indecision solely at the feet of quiz shows, damn them! However, I am sure that another of the answers on The Weakest Link is wrong - specifically, the date for the first successful transfusion of blood. I read earlier today in the Guardian Science supplement that the first transfusion was carried out in the Royal Society in the 17th century, a far more reputable source than The Weakest Link, who claim it was the 20th century. Anyhow, it's a woolly question which really depends on what you mean by 'successful'.

The Guardian's been a great source of information for me lately, and I'm sure it'll be the same for President-Elect Bush in their specially written article for him called The world: a primer. A quote:

Cuba

Vast, evil empire funded by cigar exports. This sinister nation exerts a massive and dangerous influence on global security which must be held in check at all costs. The rest of the world is in full agreement with the Bush administration that Fidel Castro represents a significant threat to world security, as opposed, say, to being a laughable speechifying bore with comical facial hair whose biggest achievement to date is failing to have suppressed the Buena Vista Social Club.

9:33 PM | permalink | discuss


I have a strange relationship with the semi-new quiz show, The Weakest Link. While I think it's strongly compelling viewing, I'm horrified at the amount of incorrect answers that the producers have. Once in my life, I'd always believed that UHT (in UHT milk) stood for Ultra High Temperature (probably because I heard the answer from some badly researched quiz). In another quiz, I discovered that the real answer was Ultra Heat Treatment. Yet today, in The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson declared that Ultra Heat Treatment was wrong, and the real answer was Ultra High Temperature.

I can just see the researchers in my mind now... "UHT, that's, uh, Ultra... something. Something to do with heat or temperature. Ah, what the hell, the contestant probably won't get the answer so what gives. Now, what about this capital of Luxembourg business..."

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely certain that UHT stands for Ultra Heat Treatment, and I lay the blame for my indecision solely at the feet of quiz shows, damn them! However, I am sure that another of the answers on The Weakest Link is wrong - specifically, the date for the first successful transfusion of blood. I read earlier today in the Guardian Science supplement that the first transfusion was carried out in the Royal Society in the 17th century, a far more reputable source than The Weakest Link, who claim it was the 20th century. Anyhow, it's a woolly question which really depends on what you mean by 'successful'.

The Guardian's been a great source of information for me lately, and I'm sure it'll be the same for President-Elect Bush in their specially written article for him called The world: a primer. A quote:

Cuba

Vast, evil empire funded by cigar exports. This sinister nation exerts a massive and dangerous influence on global security which must be held in check at all costs. The rest of the world is in full agreement with the Bush administration that Fidel Castro represents a significant threat to world security, as opposed, say, to being a laughable speechifying bore with comical facial hair whose biggest achievement to date is failing to have suppressed the Buena Vista Social Club.

9:33 PM | permalink | discuss


Wednesday, December 13

Dog-gammit, I despise Blogger (the system I use to publish this weblog) and the cursed way in which it eats up my posts... looks like I'm going to have to write it all over again. Bah!

A photo I took today while gazing mindlessly out of the window:


My research for the TED11 talk is coming along surprisingly well, and I've had a few new ideas which I might even have time to try out before the conference, if all goes well... Anyway, here's a piece on Salon which is related to what I want to talk about, in a way, about the troubles fan sites are encountering on the Internet.

From The Times' summary of tonight's X-Files episode:

Tonight's episode involves a cave, a teenage boy on a murder charge and a shaft of light that makes you go all funny. It began as a routine investigation. A had bashed B with a torch, but with an unusally heavy blow. There may be a force at work. It might be some kind of territorial or spiritiual entity drawn to the turmoil of adolescence, like a poltergeist. It could also be spectrum manifestation, although there were no light-streaks, auras, atmospheric distubances or translucent figures. Force-equals-mass-times-acceleration, so there may even be a rational explanation.

But then Scully and Mulder run the evidence through a spectro-graphic colour-attribute generator in their quest to find a vortex, a gravitational aberration, or at the very least a unique chemical composition capable of producing psychokinetic or paranormal powers. And that's when their eyes meet.

I'm not certain whether the author of this piece (David Chater) was taking the piss, or actually describing the show, or both. Anyway, I'm in no mood to find out since I haven't watched the X-Files for over a year so I'm not about to break the habit now. Ever since maybe the third or fourth season when they producers decided to turn the storyline into a load of bullshit involving aliens, clones and cancer, which even they probably didn't understand, I went completely off the show.

6:22 PM | permalink | discuss


Sorry I haven't been able to update recently, I've been busy researching my TED11 talk.

No, wait, that's a lie. I've been loafing around watching DVDs, doing never-ending piles of laundry, going to the gym and then subsequently regaining any lost calories by going to the pub. Although I probably did lose a few more after the pub when we went to the waterfront to play chicken with huge waves from the sea. But hey kids, it's not safe if there isn't a guide rail! Mind you, you could still get wet. I didn't, but that's only because I'm quick.

That's not to say I haven't done any research - and if you're interested in the idea of large (and small) companies sponsoring volunteer online communities (with a slant on the youth), please email me, or get in touch. I'd like to talk more about it here, but it's probably not a good idea to do so before I actually give the talk.

12:26 AM | permalink | discuss


Monday, December 11

Finally back home, and I can start working on the huge pile of DVDs that have accumulated in the time I've been away (admittedly, I bought most of them myself, but that's not the point). I'd forgotten how funny Cold Feet was.

I also was able to try out my new digital camera, the Canon Powershot S20 - a couple of small test shots are below, linked to slightly larger versions.

My miraculously tidy desk My miraculously organised bookshelf

After I realised that I didn't actually read about 80% of the books in my bookshelf, I completely reorganised it to the books that I do read, which effectively means that it's full of good science fiction and science reference books. From the lowest shelf (in the picture) to the highest, its:

- Series of paperbacks by Asimov, Clarke, Banks, Baxter, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brin, Ken MacLeod, Peter F Hamilton and Philip Pullman
- Books that are 'isolated' for some reason - maybe I've only got one book by the author
- First edition hardbacks; the very best of my collection, along with a load of old photos
- Impressive looking science reference and textbooks.

I've also updated my About page since it seems to get dangerously out of date every three months.

6:28 PM | permalink | discuss


Sunday, December 10

In about an hour, I'll finally be leaving Cambridge (for this year) to go home. This last week has been completely atypical - a sort of dreamtime with no lectures, no work and gradually decreasing numbers of students.

So, the last few students left in Trinity that I know made a farewell trip to Starbacks last night, where I promptly scorched my tongue to hell and back and came to the conclusion that coffee is only good if it's so sweet it doesn't taste like coffee anymore (and that caffeine actually does keep you awake at night). Oh, and we also went to the music room where I listened to a friend who's only been playing the piano for two years make an extremely impressive rendition of Liszt's La Campanella.

My theory about playing musical instruments is that it's best left up to you as to whether you do it. This friend of mine started playing the piano perhaps 8 years after me, but he was so motivated that he'd practice for hours every day and evidently zoomed past my skill level in a matter of months - he didn't have to be told to do it, he wanted to do it. Anyway, hearing him play it revived my long-dormant taste for piano playing and maybe, if it stays awake for long enough, I can try and get back into the swing of things. I might even bring my violin to university next term.

11:10 AM | permalink | discuss


 
 

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