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Friday, May 29, 2009

Quantum theory

I've had an idea. An agnostic is someone who is not sure whether there is a god or not. But suppose, in the light of modern physics, there was such a thing as a quantum agnostic: someone who simultaneously does and does not believe in god. It's not that they are waiting for evidence of one or other, it's that they are waiting to be measured.

I rather like this idea of Schroedingers God, and it's given me the germ of a short story. But then, pretty much everything gives me the germ of a short story in the week before or after going to the writers' circle.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Current affairs

As I'm always moaning about how rubbish everything is today, I thought it important to point out that I do not withdraw from modern life into order to live in the past, refusing to trade the certainties of reaction for the uncertainties of revolution. That's not true. I tale a keen interest in current affairs and always try to be bang up to date on the key issues affecting Britain. Here I am just a couple of days ago reading the Saturday newspaper.


Not this Saturday, obviously, but Saturday, 19th February 1881. I'm reading the Illustrated London News for that day. The editorial I was reading said, amongst other things, that...

[Britain] should be glad to get out of Afghanistan without any breach of national honour, but it is even at this moment doubtful, notwithstanding the obvious and declared decision of the Government, whether we shall be able to give complete effect to the policy we have resolved upon.

Well, well. Now if I had been reading an actual Saturday newspaper for 23rd May 2009, I would have been reading about Jordan and Peter, MP's expenses and the finals of Britain's (not) Got Talent.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Here's some news of interest to 0.0001% of the population: government ministers and pop stars, basically. BA's new planes won't have a first class cabin.

British Airways is eliminating the First Class cabin on its new plane. I'm not surprised. First Class costs thousands out pounds more than business class, and the only substantial difference between the two services is that First comes with a free pair of cheap pyjamas and a lobster salad. [From BA getting rid of first class in new planes]

Based on my only ever expedition in BA First Class, I would say that the pyjamas and lobster ravioli (not salad) were very good indeed. The seat was bigger and the duvet much more comfortable than a blanket. But the seats didn't have power sockets and they weren't as comfortable for working in as the business class seats, which I think are more ergonomically designed. And I thought the toilets would be much nicer, but they weren't. Surely, however, the big story is that the economy has been so devastated by a decade of New Labour that there are no people who want to travel in first class any more. The bankers can't afford it, and it's not grand enough for our elected representatives.

The government is seeking to rent a private jet for the use of Foreign Secretary David Miliband. [From BBC NEWS | Politics | Miliband seeks private plane hire]

I'm flying on BA tomorrow, so I'll see if I can find a suggestion box. I've got a few ideas about what to do with the space vacated by first. I was thinking what about a little TV lounge, as it can be enjoyable watching a funny movie with other people, or perhaps a games room so that you can play Call of Duty against other passengers.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lend me your earphones

I feel it my duty to report when I get a great new product that I'm very happy with. So "hear" (yuk yuk) we go. I lost my Shure in-ear earphones for my iPod. Well, I say lost. In fact they were almost certainly lifted by an (unsanitary) tea-leaf at a London hotel. I left them on a wooden cabinet and when I came back they had gone. Anyway, they were three years old, so I didn't grieve, I just got out my credit card and wandered into an iPod (etc) shop. I asked the assistant what he recommended: I wanted good quality in-ear headphones, good for speech as well as music, with a microphone on the cord. The assistant pointed me towards some earphones I'd not seen before, the V-moda in-ears. I bought them. Later on, when I was going shopping, I plugged in my new earphones and set off. The first track up on my shopping playlist was "Let the music do the talking". Not the Aerosmith version, but the Joe Perry Project version. I was stopped in my tracks. The sound was astounding. The clarity, response and "depth" of the sound pulled me up sharp. I had no idea that new earphones would be so much better than my old ones. I love the fit, I love the cloth cord (just the right length, and with a convenient lapel clip), I love the microphone. But most of all I love the way they sound. So much so that I've gone and blogged about it.

I'm listening to my the Paul Jones Rhythm and Blues show from Radio 2 right now (not on the radio, naturally, but on my iPhone -- I used iPlayerGrabber to pull the show down into my iTunes) and it's Little Feat up at the moment. Wow. The music is crystal clear, rich and full. I can't recommend these earphones highly enough.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Years ago, I read an essay by P. J. O'Rourke called "Just enough of us, far too many of you". I think it was in "All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death" but I can't confirm this in seven seconds of googling so we'll move on. Anyway, I remembered the essay when I read that noted BBC naturalist David Attenborough

has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank on population growth and environment with a scary website showing the global population as it grows.

[From David Attenborough: Our planet is overcrowded - opinion - 15 May 2009 - New Scientist]

I'm really uncomfortable with the word "optimum" here. For one thing, I'm sure all of the members of the Trust see themselves as part of the optimum population, so clearly they are thinking that there are some other non-optimum people who are going to be somewhat reduced in number. Fair enough, I suppose: they are entitled to think this. I think they should be a little more up front with their name though: what about "More Tigers, Less Indians"? It's snappy and to the point.

I have New Scientist in front of me, being a subscriber to said publication. Nowhere in the article does Sir David mention how the optimum population might be achieved other than some vague talk about persuading women to have fewer children. He doesn't, for example, discuss the most sensible and straightforward approach. If the Trust could persuade millions of people to join up and pledge to hurl themselves lemming-like off of cliffs at the age of (say) 50, then the population would be under control within a generation. And there would be less unemployment too. If they are not going to adopt this morally unimpeachable self-help approach, then I fail to see what plans they might be considering. Mass starvation? Mandatory contraception for people who are too poor to look after their children properly? (Wait a minute: that's a quarter of the population of the UK -- a decade of Labour maladministration means that a great many of our citizens would qualify for such a programme.

The children's minister, Beverley Hughes, said that in the current economic climate, "meeting the 2010 target is very difficult. It is very difficult to model the impact of the recession on child poverty".

[From No progress on child poverty, new figures show | Society |]

I would have thought that modelling it was rather simple: it will get worse. But not to worry, the UK is, apparently, the 24th best place in Europe for children to grow up. Let's hope the Optimum Population Trust don't set the bar too high.

Child Poverty Action Group has published a briefing drawn from a new league table of child wellbeing in European countries, in which the UK comes in 24th place out of 29 countries.

[From CPAG Press Release: New child wellbeing league table: UK in 24th place out of 29 European countries]

I have no sense that we are certain to make the cut.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, May 08, 2009

Every day, in every way

As the tide of ignorance moves up the estuary of British society, it is threatening to turn into a Seven Bore of Stupidity.

A shopper was left baffled after she went to Asda to stock up on picnic equipment and was asked for proof of age to buy a set of teaspoons. The shop assistant reportedly informed the customer that someone had once been murdered with a teaspoon, and therefore age identification was now required.

[From Shopper asked for proof of age to buy Asda teaspoons - Telegraph]

The shop assistant had clearly made this up, having no idea why proof of age were needed to buy teaspoons. Oddly, the made up response seemed entirely plausible to me. I can imagine Jacqui Spliff announcing it, displaying an appropriately grave face, on breakfast television with no-one batting an eyelid at the pointless illiberal fatuous measure. Yes, Eamonn Holmes, might intone liltingly, something must be done about the teaspoon menace. Had I heard, half asleep at 10 to 7 in the morning, that the Home Office was working on a teaspoon strategy, I would have groaned and turned over, but would not have thought it April Fool's day.

Who knows why Asda are policing teaspoon sales? A number of theories are floating around on the web, ranging from worries about sharpened teaspoons being smuggled into jails to teenage boys using teaspoons from the fridge to delay premature ejaculation (I genuinely have no idea how: I did some pretty unusual things when I was a teenage boy, but I'd never even heard of this one). Personally, I suspect that teaspoons may have been classified as drug paraphernalia, and we have thus become a society where drugs are freely available to every teenager in Britain but teaspoons are not, which seems a fitting doom for a once-proud nation.

P.S. Since I wrote this, but didn't post it, I went on to do a bit more googling and have discovered, I think, the truth. Which is even more disturbing, in a way. It transpires that the shop assistants do not think for themselves at all: so when the POS terminal tells them to check age, they do unquestioningly. Hence a 75-year old war veteran found himself having to prove he was over 18 to buy a bottle of wine. Anyway, the likely explanation for the teaspoon event is, as is so often the case, a programming cock-up: the POS system was supposed to flag up proof of age demands for knife purchases, but somehow the code was flagging all cutlery. I imagine the people responsible have been fired and I hope Asda outsource their programming to Vietnam or somewhere in time to start registering people for the Second Home Secretary's flagship national identity card scheme.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Evidence-based misery

One of the reasons why things are getting, generally, worse is because people are getting, generally, stupider. Now you may dismiss this as the opinion of a curmudgeon reaching 50, but there is concrete evidence to support my depressing assertion. Consider, for example, the report (which I think I saw in New Scientist but can't at this instant remember) that a fifth of the UK population believe horoscopes today, compared to only a twentieth in 1950. There you have it in black and white. The gene pool is lapping around our knees already, and in another century or so it will drown us. Instead of evolving into super-intelligent beings enjoying the fruits of the universe, we're evolving into patients in a mental asylum whose doctors, nurses and other staff have been dying from a mysterious disease.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]