Saturday, December 12, 2009

Your Horoscope with our resident Astrologer, Madame Teakay: Sagittarius (November 23 - December 22)

Sagittarius - November 23 - December 22

Noble and considered, yet a fun-loving party-animal when called for, the first two weeks of December are when your nature comes into its own as the festive season gets underway. In short, you're one of those annoying 'I love Christmas' types who won't stop wishing everyone they meet a very merry Christmas whilst being blissfully unaware that most people they do this to are gagging to lamp them one. Never mind, though, because January's credit card bill will put you in your place. I'd advise sending them a monkey before the new Moon on the 16th so that you can avoid those stupid charges.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When you're ill, why do you feel worse at night?

I feel like a hitherto undiscovered cranial dairy has made some kind of massive breakthrough regarding the efficiency of cheese manufacture and is producing more than my head can contain. As a result it has built up and is in the process of being forced out of all the major orifices associated with my noggin. Tripled with this are a general fog around my senses and a nasty cough that invariably results in chewable, bitesized but textually objectional nuggets of mucous.

Yes; I have man-flu.

The thing is I've had man-flu all day. And yesterday. And on Friday. During the evenings and night times I have felt pretty much as described above, but during the day I have been a little more able to function close to what is, for me, normality. Half an hour or so ago, as I was catching some of the runnier* produce of my skull-dairy, I started to wonder why this was, and had a quick search.

As always, what follows is the result of a few minutes' research on a subject I know little to nothing about. Please don't use it to make life-changing choices or as evidence in a heated, medically-themed debate. If anyone knows better, please comment!

I came across two ideas that make a little bit of sense to me. They are:
1. When you're lying down everything** redistributes itself around your body. For example, excess cheese manufactured in your head won't necessarily be fairly shared amongst your body parts by the workings of gravity. Instead, it just stays where it is until the forces of pressure conspire to force it out of your nostrils.
Except that I'm not currently lying down, and I still feel like someone's kneeling on my throat whilst forcefully emptying can after can of squirty-cream into my nostrils. Here's no. 2:
2. Your body is not a static thing. Throughout the day, various cycles are played out. Some of these involve different levels of hormones and other chemicals being manufactured, distributed, used up, excreted, ingested or defibrillated***.
It makes sense, to me, that different levels of different chemicals at different times should make you feel... different. It's not too much of a leap in the thought process to think that maybe that could have an effect on the way your body deals with having a cold (sorry; man-flu), or on the way that you perceive your symptoms.

Convincing, no? But while I was surfing through a number of responses to similarly titled questions, I came up with an idea of my own (at least, I think it's my own. I didn't wilfully plagiarise it from anywhere). I don't think this is a definitive answer; far from it. If it has any place in answering this question at all it's as one of many possible factors that all contribute to the same effect:
3. During the day you're generally busier than you are at night time****. For example, on Friday I was at work teaching all day. On Saturday I was wrestling my way through Lincoln's Christmas market for most of the day, and today I visited one my other-half's grandparents, visited one of my own grandparents' graves, and went for a birthday lunch with yet another. In the evenings I have generally loafed a bit; my attention has been allowed to wander from grappling with people who think maths is the worst thing in the world, people who think it's acceptable to blow fag-smoke in your face and people who can't quite remember where they live (respectively), to dwelling on my own miserable blocked-yet-leaky situation.
My point is that feeling crapper in the evenings than during the day may be due in part (large or otherwise) to the fact that you simply have fewer resources available for thinking about it when you're busy.

I could, of course, be completely wrong.

* Particularly mature Camembert or Brie? Or just some forgotten Dairylea, perhaps.

** Well, not actually everything. Your feet, for example, don't end up near your ears. Unless you're into that kind of thing.

*** Yes, yes, I know. Just checking that you're reading.

**** This obviously doesn't apply to night-shift workers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More on the global warming email 'conspiracy'

Just a couple of links following up on yesterday's post. Please pass them on to anyone you think would be interested, or even more importantly anyone who likes to talk about how climate change isn't happening whilst labouring under the delusion that they actually know what they're talking about. For the majority of you, these links are intended as alternative viewpoints to the avalanche of denialist claims that are doing the rounds on the interweb at the moment. I'm struggling to find anything that's even nearly as considered and reasonable from the camps of the climate change deniers, and believe me I've searched.

This is a post I've been waiting to read for a while now. To be more accurate, it's a post I've been trying to get my act together and write for a little while now, but Michael Le Page appears to have done it for me, and better than I could have. But then he gets paid for it.
In it, he addresses six points that we've all heard deniers spout, and explains clearly and calmly why they're all bunk.

It's a followup to this post, and goes into a little more detail and shows a little more of the passion that I've come to expect from Phil's blog posts in which he rages against the antiscience machine. It's fairly long, but I think that his main points are that context is key, and that any interested party should take care to consider what is available of the evidence* for themselves rather than simply following the loudest ranter, regardless of which side of the argument he or she is supporting.

* Remember, folks, something is not necessarily an established fact simply because it has been posted in video form on youtube.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Global warming is all a BIG DIRTY LIE!

30,000 scientists are gearing up to sue Al Gore over his Inconvenient Truth, and a hacker has exposed dirty rotten cheating and lying going on by way of exposing their emails to the world. This means that global warming isn't happening, and even if it is it certainly isn't caused by human activity.

This post is dedicated to everyone who read the above and did this:

I'm not going to talk about the distinct lack of evidence* that is put forward to support the claims being bandied around in the first paragraph of this post. I'm not even going to dwell on the fact that slurring the name of a scientist and saying horrible things about his mother doesn't actually make his claims false, or even poorly devised. I'm certainly not going to complain until I'm blue in the face about the sheer stench of the nonscience that's being flung from many of the corners of society that viciously grab and manhandle any conspiracy theory that happens to saunter seductively past their newspaper-clipping-adorned window.

I'm not going to do any of that because I'd just end up reiterating the things that other people are saying (a good place to start reading, if you're the kind of person that likes to take a balanced view of things rather than  grasping at conspiracy theories just because they sound cool, is over at Bad Astronomer).

My gripe is more to do with The Point. The point appears to have been lost, forgotten, misunderstood, or simply ignored by disturbingly large numbers of people.

The trouble with the idea of global warming is not whether or not it is happening**. Climate change (not strictly the same thing as global warming, but often bagged together anyway) is happening. Climates change; that's what they do, over time. The issue is with whether current warming rates are anthropogenic in nature. If human activity is, in part, to blame for global increases in temperature then, the theory's supporters say, we should be doing something about it.

But what? The ideas are many and varied, but in general, the sensible ones usually boil down to reducing waste: of energy; of resources; of time. Even if climate change is not being significantly accelerated by human activity, what is wrong with any of that? Why do so many people become almost apoplectic with rage at the thought of using less energy? Why fight so vehemently*** against conserving resources and freeing up time (in the long run).

Yes, there are many people who would seek to take advantage of such a situation to increase their own standards of living at the cost of others', but give me just one situation in which this would not be a risk! As with many ventures, reducing our own impact on the environment would incur certain risks, but it is surely a worthwhile goal even if that impact is tiny to begin with? If we are intelligent, considered and responsible, then we can reduce these risks to a minimum at the same time as increasing our return.

Reducing our waste means improving our efficiency, and improving our efficiency means that each unit of energy, resource or time that we have available to us is worth that little bit more.

And who wouldn't want a little bit more of any of those three things to play around with?

*Youtube videos are not evidence, in and of themselves.

** No, it isn't. If you are about to argue that global warming isn't happening at all, please re-consult your Usborne Book of Climatology and come back later.

*** If unconvincingly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Photography - Christmas 0.1

We had Christmas today.

Emma's sister Nikki has brought her boyfriend, Mats, over from Sweden for a visit, so we had an early Christmas Day Evening, complete with present-opening, large dinner and too many sweets.

I took the opportunity to play with my camera again. I didn't get many that I think are particularly good, but some capture the feeling of the evening nicely, and a couple are quite interesting (I think).

This is Nikki. It's been eleven months since she last visited, so she's beginning to develop an association in my mind with Christmas. Another couple of years and the two will be indistinguishable, which may cause problems. It was great to see her again, and even better to meet Mats for the first time!

She keeps trying to convince Emma and I to move out there too, and to be honest she really doesn't have to try as hard as she is because I'm really tempted anyway, and I know Emma is too.

I like this photo because I caught the flash on Nikki's camera... small things amuse me. It got me thinking about the idea of a series of nested photos all taken at the same time of people taking photos at the same time... but that's quite sad, so I'll stop there.

This is Emma. She's opening presents under the watchful knees of her mother. This particular present was a box of origami flowers (unmade, naturally). I got a 'Dashboard Jesus' (current favourite for this year's "Most Ironic Present" award and unlikely to be beaten by anything other than an actual Resurrection* Experience Day) and a 'make your own Mini Cooper' kit. So that's two items of evidence that Nikki knows where my buttons are.

Up close and personal with the Christmas tree decorations. If you look really closely you can actually see me in this picture. Good job I wasn't taking photos in the buff, then. Or was I...?

My sisters-out-law in our living room. What with these two and the fire, I was trying to see how much hotness my camera can take. I guess it's pretty sturdy. Will have to up the ante and include Emma next time.

Emma's hands deftly depackaging another gift. I quite like it even though nothing's in focus. I can't remember what was in this one, but it was undoubtedly entertaining. I can tell by the shape that it wasn't the Magic Unicorn Sticking Plasters with Free Toy Inside!**

I think I have a thing about fire. It takes nice photos- you get plenty of light, which means a nice fast shutter speed, so you have the effect of movement from the flames, but nice sharp images of the more solid components. Also, there's a lot of contrast, which I think can look good.

I really like this one. I set the shutter speed using the light sensor as a guide, but as I pressed the shutter release Emma's nan took a photo with her camera. The flash was caught in my image, and it has really washed out a lot of the colours. The reindeer in the picture appears to be undergoing a visitation of some sort (this may have something to do with my newly acquired Dashboard Jesus). I think he needs a name. Any suggestions?

Saving the best, in my opinion, 'til last. I think this looks great! Again, I was just playing around with the contrast given by fire in an otherwise unlit situation and thought this scene might make a good photo opportunity... Rather posh-looking, dontcha think? The skittles represent Mats's cracker winnings, and the tea-light/slate combo is a present we received from Nikki last Christmas.

Has anyone else been having any pre-Christmas Christmasses?


** The Free Toy Inside! was a tiny model of a cupid complete with bow and arrow. Which was promptly thrown at me in what I assume (or choose to believe) was a display of affection.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to organise your Wii channels

This took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out this morning, so I thought I'd post briefly about it in the hope that I can save just one person from fiddling futilely with their Wii for quite the same duration.

If you want to move your Wii channels around, simply hover the Wiimote's pointer over the channel you want to move, hold A and B at the same time, move to an empty slot and let go. That easy.

You can move channels to one of the other channel 'screens' by performing the above and hovering over the + or - sign at either end of the channel screen for a short while until it changes, then dump it where you fancy in the usual way.

Bear in mind that the slot you want to move a channel to has to be empty, so you may have to move another channel out of the way first.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A discussion about 2012

Mainly because responding in Facebook is tedious and uncomfortable, but also because I think it's quite an interesting discussion:

There are some people who believe that the world will end in 2012. There are all sorts of weird reasons put forward for this, and none of them have any respectable scientific backing. It still makes for an interesting debate, though. I've been having a heated debate via comment responses on Facebook, and I thought I'd bung it here so that anyone with an interest (on either side of the argument) can have a look, maybe even join in.

I'm going to post the relevant parts of the discussion so far 'as-is'. My responses will be italicised. It starts just after this link was posted.

ah mon amis... dont believe anything NASA write up. This close to the date of 2012, they'll be trying to defuse mass hysteria by covering documents.
Here is a quote from the link you sent me about the most valid bit of information on it (the solar flares) it said this:

Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?
A: .......The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

But if you take a look at the official governement NASA website, the information clearly states that there will be (and again i quote):

"This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," "

Check the link yourself:

"most intense solar maximum in fifty years"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that the world ended after the previous high (which would have been a bit more than 50 years ago and, by definition, higher than the one predicted from 2012).

Ok well, an eductaion is always a good thing so if theres anything ive got wrong then tell me, because im always keen to learn. =)
As far as i'm aware the only thing stopping solar flares burning us alive is the magnetic field of the Earth, which has been reported to be rapidly declining at an increasing rate over the last 150 years, and loosing between 10 and 15% of its original strength since then. [How am i doing so far ? :P]
So what might not have effected us 50 years ago might have more serious consequences now, especially since some scientists are suggesting that we're well overdue a full magnetic reversal, which would leave us pretty vulnerable.

And to answer how the Earth could heat up from something other than global warming; This is based on the theory that the Earths 1990's temperature rise was not from atmospheric conditions, but from the solar activity heating up the Earths core.

It's been apparent recently in scientific studies, that the Earths temperature has decreased since all the global warming uproar from Al Gore, which shouldnt be happening in relation to what's been said about Carbon Emissons. It'd be more likley that this is related to the quite phase of the solar flares from 1986-1996.
The reason the Earth could have been previously heating up then, if this makes sense, is due to the effects of the previous solar flares, which have now gone into their quite phase- expected to fire up again and peak in 2012. It'll be interesting to see if the temperature starts to rise soon!

The Earth's magnetic field is reducing at a rate of around 5% per 100 years (so not as rapid as your source suggests). At this rate, it'll take about 2000 years for the field to disappear completely, not 3 as required for your 2012 scenario. As you mention, the Earth undergoes a magentic pole reversal every so often, and we're way overdue for one. There will be an increase in ground level solar radiation because of this. This has, however, happened in the past, and there is no evidence that the world has ended during any of those transitions (still here, ain't it?). Nor is there evidence of mass extinctions around the time of previous pole reversals.

By what mechanism would solar activity heat up the Earth's core? I have heard this assertion a number of times, but it's always without the backing of any science whatsoever.

Global warming is a fact: On average, global temperatures are rising. We are, in fact, still coming out of the previous ice age, so it stands to reason that temperatures should be rising. What's in question is the assertion that human activity is causing /undue/ temperature elevation. Whether it is or it isn't doesn't change the fact that temperatures are rising. This doesn't mean that temperatures can also drop on shorter timescales without fitting in with the general trend, and such variations around the trend are a well documented statistical phenomenon and don't need spurious psuedoscientific explanations! It won't be interesting if they start to rise again soon, because it's all but certain that they will. What would be interesting is if they /didn't/ carry on rising.

And as you're evidently interested in the end of the world:

Oh any excuse to plug your blog! Haha

Hell yes! I wants more questions!

LOL you and your cheap methods of advertising!

I hear ya B. However, the rate at which the magnetic field is decreasing is steadily increasing and is expected by some scientists to happen extremely rapidly, after all- does it not stand to reason that once the more the magnetic field begins to destabalise, the faster the process will happen?

So perhaps this could all unfold within 3 years bearing this in mind?
Past reversals of Earths history have even indicated the speed that im suggesting here. For example, archeologists have found wooly mammoths in mid-stride with food still in mid-digestion in their stomachs frozen solid from the last estimated polar shift, indicating great speed of enviromental changes. (wasnt this polar shift classed as mass extinction?)

Weakening of the magnetic field aside, whats expected to happen in 2012 is a reversal. At what point in the weakening of the magnetic field does the reversal take place? Perhaps we're not so far away from that point now?

Scientists have considered that the Earth as displaying symptoms such as abrupt changes to weather patterns, merging seasons and, as mentioned, weakening of the magnetic field that suggest just this.
To name but a few others that we see with our own eyes- did you watch the news this summer? About all the ladybirds that ended up migrating 'accidently' to Brighton due to the magnetic field weakening to the point that even animals cannot properly navigate using Magnetoreception anymore!
Also, killer bees from South Africa, i think, ended up bizarely in France of all places!

Although Earths core may or may not not be directly effected by the activity of solar flares, the Earths atmosphere undoubtebly will be. The point i was trying to drive home was the correlation between recent solar activity and the recent trend of Earths temperature, which has so far been attributed to CO2 emmissions. Periods like the Maunder Minimum show a huge correlation throughout history.

Cheap advertising is the best kind :-)

It doesn't 'stand to reason': A detected increase in degeneration has been factored into current expectations, and the idea that the decrease in magnetic field strength would proceed faster than expected /must/ be backed up by some kind of scientific evidence - at the very least a mechanism must be proposed. No evidence; no proposed mechanism. Therefore simply stating that it might happen and then believing that it will based entirely on presumption is, frankly, nuts. You may as well state that it could just as easily stop abruptly tomorrow. You are simply looking for possibilities that will fit in with your 2012 'theories' and then accepting those possibilities without any evidence.

Perhaps it could unfold within 3 years instead of 2000, but that would mean major errors in our understanding of numerous areas of science (not to mention mathematics!), from geophysics through to the nature of electricity and magnetism. Compare this to evidence of previous pole reversals- they have all happened over the course of thousands of years; hundreds if they're particularly quick. Why would this one be different?

Your mammoth/ polar shift statement is, as far as my knowledge and studies lead me to believe, entirely made up (not necessarily by you). I'd need some serious evidence to even think of starting to believe that. As far as I am aware (and a few minutes of research appears to corroborate this), the last pole shift was around 800,000 years ago. The last mass extinction was 65,000,000 years ago, and the most widely accepted theory (and best evidenced) for /that/ is a bloody great rock from space, not pole reversal. The evidence you cite is wishy-washy at best, and I'd be prepared to bet money on it being entirely false.

I would have thought it'd be obvious at what point in the weakening a field reversal takes place! The field has to reduce to zero and then be regenerated. That's the only way a magnetic field can be reversed- the magnet is essentially demagnetised, then re-magnetised the other way. We are, by all sensible methods of estimation, at least 2000 years away from that point. Not 3.

Changes in weather patterns, seasons and the weakening magnetic field do not suggest that at all. In fact, the first two are more likely to be attributable to changing global temperatures than an effect of the third, and the idea that they're precursors to a magnetic field reversal holds no weight whatsoever.

There are reports of migratory animals making cock-ups every so often for all sorts of reasons. They are highly sensitive to magnetic fields, and human activity causes all sorts of weird fields to pop up all over the place. It is an anecdote; it is not evidence, and your assertion that it is 'due to the magnetic field weakening to the point that even animals cannot properly navigate using Magnetoreception anymore' is unsupported. You conveniently leave out the effect of changing climates on migratory habits (even of those animals that use the planet's magnetic field to navigate).

Yes, sunspot activity has an effect on Earth's weather; that isn't disputed. I'm disputing its relevance to the end of the world; specifically in 2012: there is no evidence that suggests 2012 will be any more likely to play host to the end of the world than any other year.

Right, we're now up to date, so I'm going to start inserting my responses in KM's latest reply. This should make it easier to follow! I'll be in italics as before.

Righty then Briggs, i'm back and with quotes for you this time.

The last mass extinsion wasnt 65,000,000 years ago as you say.
By Definition:" An extinction event is a sharp decrease in the number of species in a relatively short period of time."

Such as the last' ice age', and all those mammoths. Which would make it only 10,000 years ago. And just as likley as theory as the 'bloody big rock from space' idea, it could also have been due (and most likeywas when taking my references to come into consieration) to an extrmeley rapid change in climate.

O.k, if we're going to be pedantic, the last major mass extinction was, as I say, 65 million years ago. The last minor mass extinction was, as you say, 10,000 years ago. Neither of these timescales even nearly coincides with the last magnetic pole reversal, so my point still stands.

Whilst we're on the topic of mammoths and how that source may be entirley false, here's three reliable sources that suggest otherwise:

My problem wasn't with the idea that mammoths (and other creatures) have been found with unusually well-preserved innards. My problem was with the idea that these findings support the idea that we're all going to die horribly in 2012. They don't lend any credence to the assertions whatsoever. In fact... (comments after each link).

>perfectly Preserved mammoth, bbc news:
No comments whatsoever about cause of death. Certainly no indication that the cause of death was a magnetic pole reversal.

> “Siberian permafrost where her body was so perfectly preserved traces of her mother's milk remained in her belly.” :
 Cause of death given to be suffocation in mud (I notice how you conveniently omitted that from the beginning of your quote!), and not anything related to magnetic pole reversal. Before you talk about preservation in mud being brought on by the after-effects of magnetic pole reversal, there are some considerably more plausible ideas mentioned in the comments at the end of the article.

> “They wondered how the stomach contents remained half decayed while the animals froze? This is a problem since it takes a long time to freeze an animal as large as an elephant. A quick freeze came to mind. How could such temperatures be reached on earth, especially when apparently they were in a fairly temperate environment before the quick freeze?” :
This is a creationist website. Most staunch creationists have absolutely no regard for science, sense, reason and other such things. This article does not disappoint in that regard! A simple quote from the second paragraph displays the level of ignorance that the writer has of numerous scientific disciplines:
"Many questions arise as a result of these strange discoveries. Why would the woolly mammoth, bison, woolly rhinoceros, and horse be attracted to Siberia?"
Of course, being a creationist, the writer has a complete disregard for the ideas behind evolution as well as other disciplines within the biological and geological sciences. Thanks for posting it, though: I literally Laughed Out Loud at a number of points whilst reading that article.

Interestingly enough, this backs up my 'weightless' theory that a polar change can indeed happen rapidly, as aposed to gradually over hundreds of years. An ice age would have happened gradually of course, so how would a rapid freeze fit into that? Perhaps, a rapid polar shift.

None of these links back up your idea (not theory) that magnetic polar shifts can happen orders of magnitude faster than any of those in the past that scientists have been able to investigate. Apart from the absurd creationist article, of course, but that's because it uses the distinctly imaginative trick of using Absolutely No Science Whatsoever.

To provide you with further proof of this, an ice core researcher (Jørgen Peder Steffensen), from the Centre for Ice and Climate at NBI ,University of Copenhagen, pulled up some fascinating data which doesnt make it look as though the transition from our last 'ice age' happened gradually at all :
“Our new, detailed data from the examination of the ice cores shows that in the transition from the ice age to our current warm, interglacial period the climate shift is so sudden that it is as if a button was pressed”

1. Reference?
2. So what? A rapid transition from our last ice age doesn't in itself point to a rapid magnetic polar shift. You still have made no tangible connection between the two.
3. We haven't yet left our last ice age.

Like....a polar shift? We're overdue both a polar shift and an ice age, isn't that just a little bit coincidental?

Or it could be that someone had a big red 'stop the ice age' button and pressed it. That 'theory' is, as it stands, just as scientifically backed as your magnetic polar shift 'theory'.

There are other points you made about the speed in which the shift could take place that arn't particularly valid too.
For a start, there is no evidence that the expected speed can be calculated accurately 100%:
"The task of finding an accurate reversal record seems to be all the more difficult because the magnetic field weakens considerably when it switches direction" - A study published by Science News.

Nope, that's true. Nothing that relies on statistics can be calculated 100% accurately. However, we can develop an expectation based on collected data. This expectation is actually highly unlikely to be fulfilled exactly, but the further a prediction falls from this expectation, the lower a probability can be applied to it. Events with a low enough probability can be discounted. Your assertion that a magnetic pole reversal can happen more than a thousand times faster than all the evidence collected to date suggests is a considerable distance from this expected value of around 2000 years, and will have a correspondingly low probability.

So really, theres no conclusive evidence that supports what youre saying. And besides, scientific results from research into such events are never reliable enough for the conclusions drawn from them, even with our current state of technological progress.

That depends on which part of what I'm saying you're looking at. Much of it is scientifically accepted (there is no such thing as 'conclusively proven' in science), and are in no danger of being overtaken by your entirely unsupported ideas. Some of them are the most likely members of a wider range of possibilities, of which your assertions are rather further down the pecking order, and that's only if they're sensible enough to be considered in the first place.

As an example; A researcher named Gibson and his team ,including scientists from NOAA and NASA, compared measurements from the current solar minimum interval, taken in 2008, with measurements of the last solar minimum in 1996 and reported back saying,

"Although the current solar minimum has fewer sunspots than any minimum in 75 years, the Sun's effect on Earth's outer radiation belt was more than three times greater last year than in 1996. The new observations from last year are changing our understanding of how solar quiet intervals affect the Earth and how and why this might change from cycle to cycle. “
Correct. Again, though, this has no relevance to your idea that a magnetic pole change can be all but instantaneous.

Also, couldn’t unforseen astronomical events change whats expected to happen according to calculations? The gravitational effects of planetary alignments expected in 2012 are so small that it wouldn’t create a crisis on earth, but what problems will arise as the magnetic field weakens further? (as it already is doing and has been doing for 150 years now.)
Wouldnt the extra gravitational pull could be enough to tip the balance and throw the earth into a speedier pole reversal at such a vulnerable time?

The gravitational effects of the Moon on the Earth are many, many times greater than the effect of all the planets combined. Even an alignment (which isn't even due in 2012, so I don't know why you've mentioned it!) wouldn't cause any noticeable effect.

My point is, that science is changing all the time, and not necessarily because its advancing in the same direction. We can't be certain what's going to happen when we're talking about things we dont fully understand.

That is also true, but there's a big difference between not fully understanding something and screwing up what we do understand, chucking it in the bin and just making stuff up because it sounds good.

The mayans on the other hand, appear to have knowledge from sources we cant explain, the full extent of which we have no idea of.
It's ancient advice worth taking onboard when you consider that up until the 20th century, the mayan calander appears to be the most advanced system of tracking galactic time.

The Mayan's were avid astronomers and made lots of observations. This, coupled with a decent understanding of maths, allowed them to make their own calendar. It's very different to ours, yes, but then so are the multitude of other methods of tracking the years that other civilisations have dreamt up. This doesn't mean it's special. It's just a calendar. They didn't have special knowledge bestowed upon them by divine forces, as you seem to be implying. They just liked maths. In fact, in terms of a solar year, the Mayan calendar is actually less accurate than the Julian calendar, and substantially less accurate than the Gregorian calendar. So yes, the Mayan calendar was advanced for its time, but ours is distinctly more advanced, which is understandable.

It should be looked to as 'learning from your elders'.

They would be our 'elders' only if their civilisation (and accompanying development) had developed further and for longer than ours. They didn't.

The possibility then, that their predictions for 2012 are accurate cannot be discounted and should be included in any estimations of the events which are to unfold, especially if several factors coincide with the given including-

Who's predictions? The Mayans? What predictions? As far as I am aware they made no predictions about the year 2012; their calendar just ends in that year. And saying it 'ends' is not entirely accurate either: their calendar was cyclic- it repeats on a 13,000 year cycle

- The over due ice age
We're not overdue for one of those, and any sensible estimates for the next one don't fall within the next 3 years.
- The over due pole reversal
Which may, according to current estimates, happen in around 2000 years. That's quite soon in the timescales that we're talking about, but the chances of it happening in 2012 are so low as to be considered zero.
- The alignment of the planets
What alignment of the planets? There is no alignment due. Not even nearly. This is one of the stupidest parts of the 2012 hoax- it's not even almost slightly true even if you squint a bit and pretend you're in la-la land.
- The inexplicable climate change
It's not inexplicable.
-The unusual behaviour of animals due to this and the changes to their magnetoreception.
I've heard of no such behaviour outside statistical likelihood.
- The weakening of the Earths magnetic field
Which is incredibly unlikely to have reduced to problematic levels within the next 3 years.
- The solar maximum that we'll be expereining, due to peak in 2012.
As you've said already, such things can't be predicted with 100% accuracy. Current estimates put the next solar activity peak somewhere in 2013, having been improved upon since the 2012 date was calculated.
- The accelerated rising temperature of the Earth
You've stated somewhere above that global temperatures are actually falling.
- The unprecedented Geotectonic instability ( between 1997 and 2007 (incl), a period of only 11 years, there were 99 earthquakes with magnitude 7.0 or greater : This is more than a six-fold increase)
- The rapid dissapearance of the polar ice caps.
This is the same point as at least two others above, neither of which have any sensible link with anything related to the 2012 hoax.

At this point one might suggest the signs of the times point to global warming, and that would previously have been the case if it werent for the complete lack of correlation between CO2 emmisons and that of global warming:

Haha! You state there is no correlation whatsoever, and then show me a graph which implies at least the possibility of the opposite! O.k, so the fact that both lines on the graph are rising on average doesn't actually confirm a causal link, but saying that it proves a "complete lack of corelation between C02 emissions and that of global warming" is laughable!
Also, I don't know where you got your data from, but that graph is a pretty poor choice for either proving or disproving a link between the two sets. A plot of the moving averages would give you a distinctly clearer picture, and I'd suggest performing some proper statistical analysis on the raw data before making wild (and counter-supported) assumptions.

Perhaps, then we have to look to the next logical conclusion that could result in such effects on our Earth.
It's more logical to leave the possibility of a 2012 cataclysm open than to deny it all together since there is no conclusive evidence either way.

In that case, it is more logical to worry about the destruction of the planet by a mutant space-goat next Thursday than to deny it all together since there is no conclusive evidence either way. My point is that there are more important, more likely things to worry about. You can't possibly plan for every situation, but planning for fairy tales ahead of more realistic possibilities is lunacy.

From a survival point of view (yo ho ho) it's also better to be on the safe side ;)

Expect the best, prepare for the worst, and all that jazz.

I'd respond to these two statements, but it'd amount to not much more than a copy-paste of my previous paragraph.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

iplayer now available on Wii!

Just got home from work and started up the Wii to complete the daily weigh, and I had a message waiting for me. It was from those strange anonymous bods at Nintendo who let you know when there's something new, or an update, available to download.

Today it's the new BBC iplayer channel.

The Wii's internet channel was reduced in price to nothing at all a little while ago, but from the offset things weren't quite right. For me, one of the biggest promises of the Wii's internet capabilities was being able to watch BBC TV prgramming that I'd missed when it was aired*. This was a promise that was broken, and my faith in the system damaged somewhat.

But now Nintendo and the BBC have not simply fixed the internet channel / iplayer disagreement, but have actually bundled iplayer into its own dedicated channel. This means that, once downloaded, iplayer is available directly from the Wii's channel screen without having to faff around with going into the internet channel and then spending time or bother navigating.

As I type, I'm testing it out using something from the other night that I meant to watch but forgot about: Alan Davies' Horizon program "How long is a piece of string?"**

First impressions
A link in the original message took me straight to the relevant download page. The download itself was free, and took around 2 1/2 minutes to complete. Back to the Wii channel screen (that's the first thing you see when you start the Wii), and the BBC iplayer channel had been installed.

Starting the iplayer up from here was simple, just the same as any other channel. It took longer to load than other channels, but this makes sense to me as it isn't just relying on the local machine, but downloading information over the internet as well.

The result was a player that looks very much like the BBC's website version, with small differences to make it easier to use with the Wiimote.

I found the program I was after fairly quickly, selected it, and its info player loaded. A nice big 'watch this now' button later, and the show was buffering. It wasn't too long at all before the show started playing.

It has been playing for 25 minutes or so now, with no jumps or stops for buffering, and the visual quality, whilst definitely less than I'd see watching a television program as it is aired is actually not bad when you consider that the Wii is not a high definition console: it's perfectly watchable on my 42" TV, so it can only look better on a smaller screen.

* I am both busy and forgetful whilst also not being the kind of person to watch much telly. Which means the few things that I want to watch, I usually miss.
** It's very good, actually, and recommend a viewing if you read this in time. But I am saying that from the point of view of a mathematician with an interest in physics, and an obsession with astronomy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Your Horoscope with our resident Astrologer, Madame Teakay: Scorpio (October 24 - November 22)

Scorpio - October 24 - November 22

Quiet and thoughtful, many people underestimate you and feel the sting in your tail as a result. Never more true than this month, when certain people will go off on one for no particular reason and blame it on the meek and restful soul that they think you are. Give it to 'em straight and make them curse the day they underestimated you. As a silent predator, you have shed the clumsiness of your Silurian ancestors (not to mention the gills and other immediately noticeable accoutrements), and therefore will make easy work of the delinquent who scratches your car on the 9th, as well as the snotty jobsworth who refuses your refund as the moon enters its last quarter on the 16th.

* You know who you are.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

SPAG woes - could of / should of

On Facebook, Twitter and all manner of other websites and bases for written communication, I'm forever seeing people assert that they 'should of' done something or other, or that someone else 'could of' attended some function. Indeed, taking a brief break to check my Facebook news feed, I see that someone has only this minute responded to one of my friends' status updates with "he should of spun webber* out". This is one of those written misconceptions that gives me a brief facial spasm every time it is inflicted upon my retinas.

The thing is, most people who commit this crime against the written word have no idea they're doing it. So rather than confront everyone who makes this mistake personally**, I'll address it here for anyone who cares about the state of their written communication to browse in their own time. Don't worry, I won't tell anybody.

What's the problem?

  • You could of told me!
  • Oh, man, you should of been there.
  • You shouldn't of done that, punk.

None of these sentences actually means anything. They make no sense whatsoever. If you say them in your head, though, they sound almost exactly like something that would of*** made sense:

  • You could've told me!
  • Oh, man, you should've been there.
  • You shouldn't've done that, punk.
That apostrophe**** is telling you that something has been missed out. In each of the cases above, it's ' ha', so if those sentences were to be spoken in full with no laziness of diction, we'd say:
  • You could have told me!
  • Oh, man, you should have been there.
  • You shouldn't***** have done that.
So there you have it. 'could of' makes no sense; 'could have' is much better. 'Should of', 'shouldn't of' and 'couldn't of' don't make any sense either. Try 'should have', 'shouldn't have' and 'couldn't have' instead. If you really can't be bothered to type the whole of the word 'have', then use an apostrophe: 'could've', 'should've' and the rest will do the job when it comes to both making your sentence sensible and calming my pulsing temple when I'm reading it.

Where does the misconception come from?
I think that's fairly easily solved: say both of the following sentences out loud:
  • Mavis should've gone to the shop to get some milk, but didn't get dressed in time.
  • Mavis should of gone to the ship to get some milk, but didn't get dressed in time.
They both sound (almost) exactly the same: the " 've" bit sounds just like "of" when included in a sentence being spoken using the relatively lazy diction that most of us use in normal conversation. It's perfectly understandable to think that some people will think they've heard 'could of' when in fact it's actually 'could've' that has been said.

To SPAG-nazi types
Feel free to correct anything you think is wrong with what I'm saying, or to point out any typos or mistakes that I have made myself******, but please try to distinguish between genuine mistakes and matters of personal style, experimentation, deliberate rule-breaking and possibly ineffectual attempts at humour.

* The lack of capitalisation even though this is someone's name is a gripe for another post; another day.
** That would take longer than the life I have left to live, and would probably have the effect of shortening that life anyway.
*** Yes, that's my attempt at humour.
**** That's one of these, if you're not sure: '
***** Here, the apostrophe indicates some different letters missed out. In this case, "shouldn't" = "should not".
****** Thanks, Jo.

Friday, October 30, 2009

SPAG woes - an introduction

SPAG stands for
specifically within the English language.

Now, I'm not perfect with my SPAG usage (if asked my SPAGuality, I'd say I was 'experimental'), but speaking English is something that most English people are taught to do almost from birth. Most of us start being taught to read and write it a relatively short time later. I'd say that practising something for such a large part of your life should make you quite good at it, yet so many British people can't speak or write a decent sentence for toffee and, even worse, simply don't care. What does it matter if you don't know where to put an apostrophe, which 'their' to use or even what a semi-colon looks like?

It's not important. It doesn't matter. It's a waste of time learning these things because everyone still knows exactly what you mean even if you miss out every vowel and don't bother with punctuation at all, don't they? But it vexes me. It makes my stomach acids bubble to read through my Facebook news feed and see apostrophes being abused, homophones being interchanged willy-nilly and lazy spellings infecting a sentence that may otherwise have turned out to be a pleasant read. Why does it prod at the less savoury parts of my psyche? Here are some reasons:
  • If someone has written (or typed) something, I'd like to think it's worth saying. If something's worth doing, you spend time on it, you craft it lovingly and you make it your own and as perfect as it can be. If I were to slap some letters down on a page with randomly interspersed items of punctuation and no regard for conventional spelling, I would feel that it's not that important to me. If that is the case, then why bother saying it at all?
  • The rules of SPAG are there for a reason*. That reason is to unify communication; to ensure that we can get our message across unambiguously** using the tools at our disposal. Sometimes it's harder than others, but in even the most simple of sentences changing so much as a comma's position can alter its  meaning dramatically.
  • Writing is an art form. You don't have to be any good at it to take part, but I am of the opinion that you should at least try. My writing is not by any means flawless, but I do make an effort. Otherwise, what's the point in doing it at all? Ignoring spelling conventions and denying the existence of punctuation is a textual version of inarticulate grunting, and I don't know anybody who enjoys being on the receiving end of that.
I'm going to write a series of blog posts on the theme of commonly misused or misunderstood uses of the English language. I'm sure these will be well-read and massively popular, and I would welcome comments and suggestions from both of the people who will read them, especially if I've got anything wrong. I'd also like to suggest the possibility of somebody 'guest-blogging' on the subject: I know there are people on various of my friends lists who have a similar bee in their bonnet yet are much more qualified than I to comment on it. If you're interested, let me know. Or just write something and send it to me.

* That's not to say we can't break them from time to time: I break many of them all the time. If we didn't break rules, we'd never make any progress. But breaking rules and being ignorant of them are different circumstances entirely.

** Although one of the more fun things to play with is the double meaning. But that's an example of rule-breaking as opposed to rule-ignoring, as commented on in *.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Photography - CaM rehearsal

First off: CaM stands for Chimes at Midnight. It's a new (almost foetal) band that's being built from the ground up. The idea is to learn a bunch of songs (very) loosely centred around rock ballads from the 80s and see if we can seduce some people into wanting us to play at their weddings. CaM's website is at .Feel free to have a look, but there's not much there at the moment. With any luck, after today's extended rehearsal there should be some photos, mp3s and maybe even a video or two up there within the next couple of weeks.

I took the opportunity of the all-day rehearsal to play with my D60 again. Today I tried to play around with 'interesting'/ alternative viewpoints. As usual, these are reduced-quality versions to save on bandwidth and web hosting. If any of my bandmates would like copies, I can send the full-quality versions. Just ask.

Here are some of my efforts:

Meet Jennie. She's CaM's singist.

This is a microphone stand. The blurry guy is Chris. He's CaM's keyboardist.

This is my Pod. It makes me sound like I do when I'm playing. It has lots of buttons and is a beautiful piece of equipment!

Chris and Jennie singing something. Can't remember what.

Chris's keyboard, with Chris blurred in the background. Some people would say he's best viewed like this, but those people would be horrible, nasty people who don't deserve to be listened to.

I really like this one for some reason. It's mine and Paul's guitars, with a bit of my Pod thrown in for good measure.

Microphone and very blurry drum kit.

Pensive Chris. He was not, as far as I am aware, deliberately posing for this pic.

Most of our gear, including our drummer, Mike. Not sure whether he counts as gear or not. Did you know that you can tell how straight a stage is by looking at which way the drool falls out of a drummer's mouth? By the way, the guitars aren't dead. They're just resting.

I think this is the best photo of the day. Taken with a nice wide open aperture, hiding behind a cymbal and manually focussing (not very well, I'd admit) on Jennie and shouting "Oi, Jennie!" just before pressing the shutter release button.

This isn't a great picture, but I had to include it because:

  1. I didn't get any better ones of Paul.
  2. Paul would be upset if I didn't include a picture of him.
  3. Paul looks very silly in this picture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to save money - Odeon Premiére Reward Card: worth it?

As always, please read my disclaimer before acting on any information contained in this post.

Odeon cinemas have recently introduced their own reward scheme. The idea is similar to other reward schemes in that you receive points every time you visit the cinema and buy tickets and food. You get 10 points for every £1 spent, and you can redeem these for tickets and food. Tickets give the highest return, so I'll concentrate on those in this post. The catch is that you have to pay for the card in the first place. However, you do get a certain number of free points depending on which level of membership you opt for:
  • Classic membership is £1.99, and you get 100 free points
  • Deluxe membership is £4.99, and you get 500 free points
  • Ultimate membership is £9.99 and you get 1000 free points

Is it worth it?
That depends on who you are.

If you're an avid cinema goer and attend fairly regularly you'll build up enough points to redeem a ticket for a seat every now and then. If you're buying for a family, and you buy food each time you go, points will rack up more quickly than say, me going by myself and not eating anything, and you might get a few free tickets a year out of it. Having said that, even if you only go once a year, you'll still accrue points and as long as you keep going long enough you'll eventualy build up balance enough to redeem, even if that takes you 14 years.

In short, it depends on how often you go on average as to whether it's worth the time and effort, and there's no hard-and-fast rule for this.

Which level of membership should I go for?
That depends on where you are.

Different Odeons have different ticket price tarrifs, yet the number of points you get per pound stays the same. This means that the more expensive your local odeon is, the more worthwhile buying a reward card is.

How worth it is calculable using maths:
The price of a standard ticket at my local Odeon is £7.30, and to buy one with reward points would cost 800 points. This means that for anybody who mostly visits Kettering's Odeon cinema, each point is worth:
730p / 800 = 0.91p.
This means that:
  • If I buy the Classic membership for £1.99, I get (100 points x 91p =) £0.91 worth of points for the price, giving me a loss of £1.08.
  • If I buy the Delux membership for £4.99, I get (500 x 91p = ) £4.56 worth of points, meaning that I lose £0.43.
  • If I by the ultimate membership for £9.99, I get (1000 x 91p = ) £9.10 worth of points, which is a loss of 0.89.
Bear in mind that any loss in the initial purchase will eventually be absorbed by extra points that you earn with your purchases (it's a one-off joining fee, but there's no limit to your savings), so if you decide to get a rewards card it makes sense to go with the membership level that gives you the lowest loss. So for me, that's Delux membership.

To work out your own, do the following:
1. Work out how much your points are worth:
Divide your local cinema's standard ticket price (s) by 800:
w = s / 800

2. Work out how much the free points with each level of membership are worth to you:
Multiply how much each point is worth (w) to you by the number of points you get with each level of membership in turn (fc for classic, etc):
  • Classic: fc = 100 x w
  • Deluxe: fd = 500 x w
  • Ultimate: fu = 1000 x w

3. Work out the difference (d) between the price you pay for the 'free' points and what they're worth to you:
  • Classic: d = £1.99 - fc
  • Deluxe: d = £4.99 -  fd
  • Ultimate: d = £9.99 - fu

4. Pick the membership level that gives you the lowest value for d.
Note that getting a negative number for d means that you'll actually be making a profit. Getting a value of 0 means that you break even.

Extra tips
To save even more money:

Final note...
If I'd checked my email an hour earlier, I could have just directed you towards this.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Photography - Learning as I go...

I had a chance to have another play with my Nikon D60 DSLR this weekend. We went to the AMEF Strictly Culture event at the Pemberton Centre in Rushden, followed by the New Music Nite Weekender at the same venue. I started off playing with the automatic settings again, but filming and photography guru (and all-round nice guy) Andy Eathorne was there, and he gave me a few tips for getting started with the fully manual camera setting. Andy showed me just how easy the camera is to use in manual mode- the hardest bit is remembering what all the different settings do!

Anyway, here are edited highlights of my efforts with a few comments:

These are photos of the TARDIS video comment booth at Strictly Culture. I was playing around with shutter speeds here; the picture on the left was taken with a faster shutter speed than the one on the right, resulting in a darker, yet sharper image. On my camera's screen I preferred the second photo, but now I've seen them both in all their glory, I think the first one is probably the more effective image.

A belly dancer. I was playing around with ISO settings in indoor situations (the darker the situation, the higher the ISO number, in general. Yes, I know that's very basic, but when I say I'm new to photography I mean it). This is about the best picture I managed to take. Wish I could have got a sharper pic before she'd finished (because that would have taught me more about aperture/ ISO/ shutter speed combinations than failing to do so did, of course. Why, what were you thinking?)

Mucking around with shutter times again, under Andy's tutelage. I set the shutter speed to 'bulb', which means that you hold the shutter button down for as long as you want to expose the image, and then let go to close the shutter again. After pressing the shutter button I held the camera as steadily as I could on Emma for around 20 seconds, then turned around and waved the camera around in front of the ceiling light for a second or two. I think this is a pretty cool effect.

Taking advantage of the groovy colours from the lighting at the NMN Weekender in conjunction with the hotness of Emma.

This is approximately half of This Band Called, who headlined the NMN Weekender. They're a pretty good band, even if half of them weren't there. I was trying to work out how to take a decent photo in low/ unusual light conditions. I opened the aperture as far as it'll go (to let in as much light as possible) and then tried to find a shutter speed that gave a decent compromise between image sharpness and exposure.

Playing with focal depth this time, again under Andy's expert eye. The first picture was taken with a wide open aperture (low f-number), and then manually focussing on Emma before adjusting the shutter speed and taking the snap. The second picture was taken with a smaller aperture (high f-number), still manually focussing on Emma. The higher f-number (smaller aperture) increases the focal depth, meaning that the slide-y doors behind Emma are more focussed in the second picture than the first. Much of the fuzziness in the second image is caused by the slower shutter speed required for the smaller aperture.
A quick note because I didn't realise this at first: Such effects with focal depth must be done as 'zoomed in' as possible, as a wide-angled shot naturally increases the focal depth of the lens.

A close- up shot taken using the ambient light in the area in which we were standing.

Everybody loves mashed potato!

This is a blogged response to a post over at No Love Sincerer*; an extended comment, if you like. It put me in mind of a mashed-potato-related incident in my own history, and I'd like to share it here. It isn't actually my incident, and I wasn't even there at the time, so I'll do the protagonist the favour of keeping him (or her, of course) completely, utterly and totally anonymous in order to spare her (or, indeed, him) the shame that may result from the tale I am about to tell**. But I do see myself as being officially involved, as I was instrumental in solving...

The Case of Why the Mashed Potato was Weird
It was a cold, dark night, and I was talking (via email, if my memory serves me well) to my friend, who for the sake of argument I shall call Robin***. We were indulging in our usual repertoire of banter, debate and irreverent nonsense, and the subject of his surviving an entire week at home alone whilst his parents were on holiday inevitably shoulder barged its way into the discussion. It seemed that on one evening, tired of morsels of food packaged in polystyrene and acquired from the local chippy, Robin*** decided to have a go at cooking something. He decided upon the classic British dish that is bangers and mash, and set to work.

Upon completion, Robin*** confided to me, the bangers were done almost to perfection, if a little on the crisp side, but the mash was... weird.
'In what way?' I enquired.
'I don't know... just... not the same as they are when my mum makes them. Not unpleasant, really, but... strange.'

Now, I'm no culinary expert, but I do feel that I have a fairly solid handle on the process of making mashed potato, even if I don't often actually perform the necessary incantations, so I suggested that he went through his experience step by step, and I'd see if I could spot any glaring errors in his recipe. He agreed:
1. Peel potatoes.
2. Wash potatoes.
All good so far, as far as I can see.
3. Chop potatoes into quarters.
 Sensible move: reduces cooking time, helps to ensure even cookage and aids the mashing process.
4. Rinse potatoes once more for good measure.
Steady on there, mate. Don't want to go making extra work for yourself! What are you worried about? Solanum flu?
5. Place potatoes in saucepan.
Still tallying with my mashed-taters recipe, old chum.
6. Pour oil into saucepan.
 ... huh?
6. Pour oil into saucepan.
... um... huh?
6. Pour oil into saucepan.
You did say oil, then. Er... how much oil?
Just enough to cover all of the potatoes.
And then what did you do?
Cooked them.
On the hob? Submerged in oil? in a saucepan?
I think I'm beginning to see why your mashed potatoes turned out a little different from those your mum makes. Can I ask what the result was like?
A lot more soggy than my mum's, and a different colour- golden. And they were crispy on the outside, too.
Right. What did you do with them at this point.
Mashed them, and served them with the sausages, and ate them.
And I can only assume from the very fact that we're having this conversation that you didn't die as a result, which deserves congratulations in itself.

I went on to point out the error that, in my estimation, he had made, and outlined steps that he could take to avoid making the same error during future mashed potato making attempts. The event happened a few years ago now, but it still gets brought up whenever his parents go away without him**** and, indeed, whenever self-cooking***** enters any particular conversation.

Well, I find it funny.

To end, here's something from my youth...

The fact that that video played a part in my upbringing may explain a lot.

* View, follow, befriend, etc.

** See, Robin, I'm quite nice really. I apologise if any of the following is in any way inaccurate or didn't actually happen, but I can't find the original email and I'm writing for a public (if very small) audience, so feel I should make an effort as far as embellishments are concerned.

*** An assumed name.

**** They need to, now and then.

***** That's cooking for oneself, not the cooking of oneself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hallowe'en is EVIL!

Woke up this morning to Sarah Kennedy telling me that the Belvoir* Angel, a church mag that had been delivered to around 500 householdsin an area of Leicestershire, contained an article entitled Halloween isn't a treat - don't be tricked. The article was, it seemed, an attack on anyone who felt like doing anything at all beyond the ordinary daily grind on the evening of October 31st. It proclaims that all who celebrate Hallowe'en are "siding with the Devil and all his works," and the evening is a "concentration on evil and making fun of potentially dangerous situations," during which "normally law-abiding people damage the property of those whom they should be good neighbours," and "In some cases, they bring fear, especially to the elderly."

I think somebody got out of bed on the wrong side.

O.k, there are always going to be be people who take the revelry too far at Hallowe'en, but is the same not true for other occasions? If one person throws a kebab at a window on Christmas Eve, or during Diwali, does that make everyone who is celebrating either of them a devil-worshipper? No. It makes one person an idiot. The same is true for Hallowe'en. Yes, some people will go out on 31st October and be intimidating, possibly violent and may commit vandalism, but these will be a pathetic, embarrassing minority: only intimidating, violent vandals will take part. Most trick-or-treaters will be out for the novelty, the fun, and the social aspect. Party-goers will, on the whole, simply be out to have a good time.

I am particularly annoyed yet another example of religious indoctrination being used to attempt to control people: the article was, according to the sources I have read, aimed at revealing the derogatory effects of celebrating Hallowe'en on our nation's youth, and implies very strongly that anyone celebrating Hallowe'en will go to hell. I start to fume when people use their superstitions to instil fear in order to control the thoughts and actions of anybody, but I am especially concerned when it is aimed at children: it is just plain wrong, and I hope that the bloke who wrote the article is feeling very, very stupid indeed, along with anybody who o.k'd it.

Call me forward-thinking and partly sane, but I'm of the opinion that improving the attitudes and actions of the kind of people who go out to cause trouble during celebrations such as Hallowe'en, especially those at the younger end of society's spectrum, should begin with education about what it means to be a citizen of today's world, rather than with fictional threats of eternal damnation.

At best, the writer's stance detracts from the real issues behind trouble-making at Hallowe'en (or any other celebration event). At worst, it is potentially damaging to the minds and egos of any vulnerable people who are reading the words of somebody who is supposed to be a good example to them.

News just in...
It appears that the Bishop of Leicester has commented that he doesn't agree with the content of the article, and that it is 'overstating the issue'. Even some other religious-types have commented: a pagan representative has described the article as 'absolutely religious', and imply that it's more than a bit offensive to them, what with Hallowe'en originally being a pagan festival, and all**.

All is not lost, then.

* Pronounced 'beaver'.

** That doesn't seem to matter at Christmas, though...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Royal Mail part 2 - In the lion's den

This post carries on from yesterday's waffle about the Royal Mail, and my comments on how efficient, reliable and generally wonderful I find them*.

Parcel delivery
Parcels are, of course, only delivered when most people are at work, and the scrawled note that's shoved through my door afterwards appears to have been done so in frustration and surprise every time. "Why is nobody in?!" But I can cope with that- Royal Mail workers don't want to have to work when everyone else is in the pub or doing their weekly shopping any more than I do, and it's a clash of timescales that has processes in place to deal with it.

When delivery is attempted at one of the numerous households that are, surprisingly, unoccupied during working hours, there are a number of options that the diligent delivery person can take**:
  • The 'left with neighbour' box can be ticked.
Which neighbour is rarely noted or discussed, and many an evening has become a merry stroll up and down the road to see who has been the lucky recipient this time.
  • The 'left in a safe place' box can be ticked.
This is when the fun really starts: the final resting place of my package often has me wondering whether either my deliverer or I have a misprinted edition of the Oxford English dictionary with regards to the word 'safe'. Some true examples of 'safe' places that I have personally experienced:
 - The item has been left propped up against the front door.
 - The item has been left in one of the recycling bins.
 - The item has been flung with gusto over the garden wall, fence or gate***.
  • The 'returned to your local Post Office' box has been ticked.
This is where the fun takes a running jump, and the surreal back-end collection room of the post office comes into play.
Firstly, my local post office, which is inside a comfortable 8-minute stroll from my house, is shunned in favour of the one in Kettering, which is a 20-minute drive away.

Arriving at the more distant branch on a Saturday morning involves the following steps:
  1. Join the queue of disgruntled customers that is already snaking its way across the car park.
  2. Wait for around forty minutes as the queue continues to grow behind you at a much faster rate than it is shrinking in front of you, until you enter the tiny room with the reinforced glass partition.
  3. As you near the front of the queue, tempers begin to fray as there is one person behind the glass who quite clearly has just wandered in off the street and has not yet been told The System****. 
  4. When the next person in the queue hands over their 'sorry you were out' card, it is dropped in the bin, and the grubby notebook is consulted, presumably to find out if it makes any more sense than last time.
  5. The stranger behind the glass then proceeds to look under his coffee cup, behind the calendar, and in, under and around the bin before scratching his head and wandering out of the back door, where someone appears to be very noisily playing basketball with someone else's***** package.
  6. If you're lucky, the guy will return at some point. If you're extra lucky, he'll be holding a package. If you're luckier than a lottery winner with a blackjack, it'll be yours.
Sometimes the guy returns with a shrug and asks for your phone number so that you'll go away in the erroneous belief that they'll call you when (if) they find the package that they have so lovingly filed for you.

I've even been there when a particularly infuriated lady has enquired as to the possibility of a colleague stepping in to help out. The bewildered guy behind the glass stated, in all seriousness, that he's the only one there, evidently oblivious to the large and saggy man slurping on a large and saggy burger that everyone in the cramped, sweaty and pungent room can see through the glass.

In fairness...
It's not just the Royal Mail. Of the many delivery companies that I have had cause to deal with, not one has shone out above the rest as an example of good practise to be followed by all. I strain to recall a time when I haven't had to make a twenty minute drive to the back end of nowhere after an attempted package delivery. Even less easily recalled in my mind is an occasion in which I wasn't greeted by the sight of generic delivery company employees either engaged in an active sporting activity or otherwise just beating each other senseless with somebody's undelivered package.

* Not very.

** With none of these options, though, is there any indication as to who the parcel is actually for.

*** O.k, so this may well render the package 'safe' in some senses of the word, but has the added benefit of making sure that the parcel and/or contents are also 'broken'.

**** Another possibility is that there is no System.

***** You hope.