Saturday, April 14

I know that some people claim the new A-Level system that has been introduced in the UK creates a greater workload. However, let's face it, no-one really did that much work at school anyway. I find it very unlikely that the amount of work done at home has ever significantly changed over the last decade and I very much doubt it will change in the near future, simply because of the way teenagers think and work. In any case, it's not as if there's been a huge shift in the A-Level system; you're basically just making every subject modular and asking everyone to do one more subject. No big deal.

It's true enough that individuals will vary wildly in how well they can study and revise different subjects; however, if you watched any student who made complaints about being overworked, most of the time you'd discover that during the time they're supposed to be working, they will in fact be either procrastinating, having fun or complaining about too much work to their friends.

That's not to say that this is a bad thing. Procrastination is good, in moderation (who said that I have to make sense?). I just believe that students will latch on to any changes in the schooling system as a reason for why they can't do more work - they're cunning, students.

Don't mistake what I'm saying for an endorsement of the new system; by increasing the number of subjects to be taken, the government was hoping that people would opt for a broader range of subjects, e.g. people doing three sciences might take an arts subject. Unfortunately - and predictably - that hasn't happened and said 'three sciences student' simply becomes 'four sciences student'.

Now, when you come to university, everything changes...

/ forum / 07:05 pm GMT

You just know it's a slow news day at the BBC when they run a story about one of their correspondent's cats.

/ forum / 03:24 pm GMT

Just a quick note to say that I figured out what was wrong with the forums; some of the files mysteriously wiped themselves, including (and this really irritated me) my own member file, thus preventing me from reaching the admincenter of the forums and fixing everything quickly. It's all fixed now, simply by my rewriting a few of the files from memory (that's my memory) and some template files. Bloody computers. Well, strictly it's the programmers' fault but they can talk back.

/ forum / 12:55 pm GMT

Friday, April 13

Ribena is a very important part of my life. I should really say Ribena Toothkind, considering that the other versions of the cordial simply don't match up on taste and aren't as healthy. But it's all Ribena.

I must've gotten hooked on Ribena perhaps up to a decade ago although my real consumption only started maybe four or five years ago. Ribena is one of those rare drinks that is extremely tasty yet also very versatile; simply by changing the amount of dilution, you can vary the taste. And of course the possibilities don't end there; Ribena can be used in conjunction with 7-Up and indeed any sort of alcoholic spirit (however, I don't really do the latter).

As any true Ribena connoisseur will tell you, Ribena is best served as cold as it can get without turning into slush; this is what prompted me to say, when asked how I liked my Ribena, "chilled."

Ribena does have one sticking point though; it requires extra preparation. Some might argue that this preparation time is simply a prerequisite for its unrivalled customisation and personalisation facilities but in today's modern world, time is the limiting factor - and I'm ashamed to say that sometimes I have to agree. Of course, there are workarounds. The best trick is to simply get a large drinks container and prepare batches of Ribena at a time, thus reducing overall preparation time. I've found that this works well although it does significantly increase my consumption as I can take a swig any time I want.

For the real Ribena power-drinker, you'll want to keep this batch safely in the fridge. Alternatively, a trade-off which I employed for a few months was to keep a container of chilled water in the fridge which I could add to Ribena for a pre-chilled drink. It's true that ice can also chill a drink but it just doesn't do it quick or fully enough.

A neat trick that works is to take a glass of 7-Up, put a few ice cubes in and then carefully add some Ribena. If all goes well, the Ribena will stay at the top of the glass, sending tendrils further doing, providing a very aesthetically pleasing look which will be sure to wow anyone watching.

The bottle pictured above is a special two litre plastic bottle. At first I thought this was a blessing since it obviously saves money and reduces the amount of time spent putting a used bottle in the rubbish and opening a new bottle (you may laugh but it all adds up). However, the truth is that the plastic bottles inevitably do not provide the same amount of protection as glass bottles, resulting in unpleasant experiences where, upon unscrewing the cap, a small quantity of cordial will leak out.

/ forum / 11:05 pm GMT

Thursday, April 12

According to someone from sci.space.policy, this was a recent question on the USA 'Millionaire' TV show:

On what did a US spacecraft land in Feb of 2001?

A) Moon B) Mars

C) asteroid D) comet

The person used all three life lines. The phone a friend wasn't sure. 50/50 left in Mars and Asteroid. The audience didn't know. Regis (that's Chris for people from UK) kept saying, "It's always those NASA questions that get them."

When I looked at this question, I thought, 'Huh, I don't know the answer to this immediate.' Of course, I worked it out eventually through the process of elimination (it's when NEAR landed on the asteroid Eros - 'land' probably isn't the best term so much as 'fell'). Anyway, as such it's not really a fair point to use as an indictment against the lack of general knowledge about space; perhaps it's more relevant to the fact that it wasn't really covered in the media.

Chatting with a friend last night, we came up with a new rule in interpersonal relationship dynamics: the 'inevitability factor', e.g.

"Oh, we've been such good friends for so long, we might as well go out/have a date/sleep together/get married."

I'm aware that this is in direct opposition to the 'friends zone' rule, as postulated by Bright, Kauffman and Crane ('The One With The Blackout', Friends 1:7), wherein as soon as you pass a certain point of 'being friends', you are no longer considered dating material, but as is the case in all this circumstances, situations vary.

/ forum / 11:49 am GMT

Tuesday, April 10

I'm officially pleased as 3.14159265359...; I just found out that my Astrobiology website was mentioned in a very professional-looking newsletter (that's a big PDF file, by the way), specifically page 10 of the February 2001 issue of Learners Online. Not only that, but they recommend that students should read one of the essays I wrote, talk about it in class and make posters about it! It gladdens my heart to think that my name will soon be cursed by schoolchildren across the globe as they grumpily read my essay and try to think of deeper meanings within it that I never thought of. The circle of life goes on.

/ forum / 10:58 pm GMT

I finally got around to speed-re-reading Excession by Iain M. Banks and, after a fair amount of flicking back and forth between various parts, I feel like I've really understood the plot threads. And if you think that was bad, then consider how an economics professor I know had to draw a flowchart in order to understand all the relationships within the novel (it'd probably help you understand it better).

The thing is, despite the fact that I didn't really know what was going on for the first few times I read Excession, I enjoyed it hugely. Very strange. It's a slightly anomalous book for Banks; with the notable exception of Use of Weapons, all of his science-fiction (and most of his other books) are relatively straightforward and linear. Not that I have a preference either way.

Everyone is getting very excited over the release of Black and White, a new god-game by Lionhead which has (perhaps justifiably) been hyped for at least the last two years. I'm sure that it is a good game, but I can't seem to summon up the enthusiasm to play it or really any other game that requires a lot of time. The last 'proper' game I played for an appreciable amount of time was The Sims (I also played The Typing of the Dead quite a lot).

And all of this is quite confusing since I'm extremely interested in the state of the game industry; I subscribe to a magazine and check out the news sites daily. If I had to say which game I'd really like to be playing now, it'd probably be some Nintendo 4-player game that involves large amounts of shouting and grudge-production.

I can draw an interesting parallel with this to my attitude towards food and snacks. A few years ago I'd pick some cereal or crisps or biscuits at random (trans.: 'from an advert off TV') and eat that voraciously for up to a month. Then I'd simply stop eating it and move onto something else. As time went by, the intervals between stopping and picking up something new grew longer and longer as I exhausted all possibilities and now you won't see me eating crisps unless I'm in a pub or someone else has bought them for me. Ditto for many other snack foods (apart from the eating in pubs thing). Maybe the neural structures in my brain are too prone to become desensitised to a particular pattern of stimulus from the taste-buds. I don't know.

Naturally, none of this extends to my addiction to Ribena Toothkind (it has to be Toothkind or nothing).

Bit of news about the website: I got rid of the comments option on weblog posts and introduced a link which will take you to the 'Weblog Discussion' area of my forums. I prefer this arrangement because it allows more persistent and viewer-friendly discussions; it doesn't have the immediacy of just clicking on the 'comments' button but it's not that much more difficult to get used to.

And yes, I know you have to register to the forums to post anything, but it only takes half a minute. For the record, I'm against mandatory registration to use services on the Internet for the reason that it puts people off and is invariably a waste of time, and in any case when the upgrade for the forums is released, registration won't be mandatory.

/ forum / 09:15 pm GMT

Interesting thought: How many words do we read a day? I must read at least as much as there's in a good-sized novel due to all the news and articles I read daily from the Internet. Not that it's particularly thoughtful material for the most part, and I admit that I speed-read a lot of it, but it's an interesting question...

/ forum / 12:51 am GMT

After having done a few hours of revision this evening I decided to slog away at this website a bit more and managed to improve some small things that aren't really obvious, and no, that does not mean I did nothing. The very fact that the improvements will be hard to spot simply shows the excellent condition of the website in the first place. Or something like that.

Anyway, I'd just finished feeling proud of myself that I'd understood (part of) a manual on how to do website commands in Apache and fiddling with some error message settings, when it popped into my head that I should go and fix some settings in the new messageboards I'd set up.

While waiting for the administration page for the messageboard to load up, I diverted my attention to a search I was conducting on another page. Then I stopped, and looked at the other page wondering what the hell I was supposed to be doing. My short term memory fizzled to a halt and I stared at the monitor with a completely blank expression for a few seconds, reading the various links and options in a hope to trigger some kind of word association.

The problem, I think, is that we multitask a lot more these days. It's a rare moment when I don't have at least two browser windows open at the same time and another ICQ messaging window beeping away -

[Digression: I seem to be becoming habituated to hearing the 'dong-dong-dong-ding' of an ICQ incoming message; I hear it, but it just fails to register on my consciousness, so I end up abandoning conversations in mid-flow. It's very annoying, especially for the other person, I'd imagine.

[Digression^2: I can't stand the custom sounds in ICQ. I had to get rid of the 'Uh-oh' of the incoming message notification or else I'd have... (smashed the monitor? thrown the speakers out of the window?) gotten very upset. I know that there are other ICQ clients that can read out who is messaging you, but predictably they're only available for Linux and Mac. Well, probably not, I'd be surprised if they weren't around for Windows but I haven't been looking hard (trans.: at all)]

- and that's only because I have a fast net connection at university. At home I might have half a dozen windows open so as to maximise use of the bandwith so I'll always have something to read. Which is of course a very strange way of reading content - a discontinuous, non-linear way which results in people only reading bite-size chunks of maybe a maximum of 1000 words at a time, if that. Does this mean that the method of accessing the Internet is inherently less suited to presenting complex issues that take up a lot of words?

In fact, is this even important? I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with presenting information or news in smaller, more immediate chunks, and the Internet (accessed through PCs, not e-books or anything) will always be a supplement to media that we can use now.

Question: There's a commenting feature here. I've also set up a messageboard. Which is better for the discussion of issues raised here? Or are both good?

/ forum / 12:35 am GMT

Monday, April 9

As you might have noticed, I've completely re-jigged everything at Vavatch. It's something that I've been meaning to do for a long while and I'm quite pleased at having moving the website to a new hosting service and also getting everything up running in just one morning. There's also a new messageboard which I've been playing about with, and this weblog is now running on new, more advanced and stable software.

The entire site should be a lot quicker and a lot easier to navigate (hence the whole photo.vavatch.co.uk and weblog.vavatch.co.uk) and there's a lot of increased functionality.

[Digression - I've been saying that a lot lately without really specifying what I mean.]

Some stuff of course hasn't been tidied up; there are probably a lot of broken links around the place (for which I created a nifty customised 404 page) and other stuff looks out of place or a bit ugly. This will get remedied sometime during this week.

With this new hosting service I'm on, I can also run mailing lists and use 100 pop3 addreses @vavatch.co.uk; when I've got time (i.e. not anytime soon) I might offer some of those pop3 addresses to readers here.

The Karma thing at the bottom - it's a way of rating posts here. It probably won't stay long since I'm bound to get annoyed by all the negative scores. The archives are still working fine.

/ forum / 11:29 am GMT

Powered By Greymatter