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Friday, December 30, 2011

TeaKay's Post-Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy

We've all indulged to some extent this festive season (as with all festive seasons), and I'd venture to bet that most of us have over-indulged: I know I have. And the post-festive period sees all sorts of ventures, regimes and rituals designed to get you back to your muscular, toned and ready-for-anything self. The thing is, these solutions to festive bloat are all (to varying degrees) expensive, ridiculously complicated and complete bunk.

Here's one that's cheap (barely more than free, in fact), simple (requiring only a small handful of household items) and scientifically well-established.


TeaKay's Post- Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy
I'm using the base principles of homeopathy to create this wonderful, tried-and-tested detox remedy, and the most basic of homeopathy's principles is the 'law of similars'. This is the idea that 'like cures like' and was coined in 1796 by founding father of homeopathy, German physician Samuel Hahnemann, when he realised that ingesting cinchona bark produced symptoms similar to malaria and therefore must cure it*.

From the same logical basis, one of the main issues with regards to overindulgence during the festive season is that of dehydration: it is the root of much of the headaches, nauseous feelings and general malaise experienced after a bout of prolonged self-inflicted gastric abuse. One readily available substance, salt, is known for being hydrophilic (one reason why you're not supposed to drink seawater, especially if already dehydrated, as it can make the problem worse), so that's what we'll use in our remedy.

You will need:
The next step in preparing a homeopathic remedy is that of serial dilution. I'll explain how this works as we go through the steps of preparing your remedy, but first of all, here's a list of things you'll need:
  • Some water. Tap water will do, but if you're feeling flush (no pun intended) you might like to go for something posh, distilled and bottled. You'll need a lot of it.
  • Some salt. You'll only need a teaspoon or so.
  • Some 1 litre bottles (empty).
Preparing the remedy:
Now proceed according to the following instructions, referring to the footnotes for extra info from time to time:
  1. Fill up the 1 litre bottle with water and add the teaspoon of salt. Mix it up thoroughly until all of the salt has dissolved.
  2. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the solution you've just made and pour it carefully into a new bottle. Top it up with water until the bottle is full, and mix**.
  3. Discard the previous solution. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the new solution, pour into a new bottle and mix with another litre of water***.
  4. Repeat step 3 until you have done the whole process 30 times****.
  5. Take the bottle (closed) and clonk it on a bit of wood a couple of times. This part of the process is called succussion.
  6. Drink a glass of the final solution.
  7. Feel thoroughly detoxed.

I've suggested diluting this mixture in this way 30 times as this is what's generally used for over-the-counter homeopathic remedies. According to homeopaths, the more you dilute something, the more potent it becomes. To put this in some kind of perspective, if you dissolved a teaspoon of salt into a ball of water the size of the Sun and then dipped a glass into it, you'd be more likely to get just one molecule of salt in your glass than you would be to find a single molecule of salt in your final bottle of TeaKay's Post-Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy.

Of course, in a 'real' homepathic medicine, the final step is to take one drop of this final solution, drip it onto a sugar pill, package it up with other slightly damp sugar pills and sell them in Boots*****.


But wait...
Towards the beginning of this post I said that my remedy was scientifically well-established detox remedy!

I wasn't lying: by the end of the preparation, when you carry out step 6 you're actually drinking a glass of water (the statistical likelihood of their being any salt at all in what you're drinking is so low as to be ignored completely). This is one of the best substances you can take to help your body's natural detox mechanisms do their thing. Alongside a well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise, there is no better detox regime (or post-festive weightloss fad, for that matter) to be found.




* This 'law', as with all the best assertions produced by the field of alternative medicine, has remained completely unsupported by scientific evidence right up to whatever time and date it happens to be as you're reading this.
** If you've done this right you should have 10ml of your original salt solution dissolved in 100 times as much 'pure' water.
*** This is equivalent to mixing 2 teaspoons of your original solution with 100 litres of 'pure' water.
**** This step is equivalent to mixing two teaspoons of your original solution with 10,000 litres of water. The step after is like mixing 2 teaspoons of that original bottle with 1,000,000 litres of water. By the time you've done it 30 times you could get the same dilution effect by taking 2 teaspoons of your original solution and mixing it with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 litres of water, but this is about 150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times how much water there is on the whole of planet Earth. In fact, that much water in a ball out in space would be bigger than the Sun. Much, much bigger than the Sun.
***** Other gullible high street chemists are, unfortunately, available.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Squeezing On a Jet Plane

"Honey, it's the '90s, remember? Microchips, microwaves, faxes, air phones."
Holly McClane, Die Hard 2 (1990)

I'm watching Die Hard 2 (well, it is Christmas. Sort of.) and it has struck me that Hollywood describes aeroplanes (airplanes, if I'm to enter into the Tinseltown spirit. Which I won't do again.) as great warehouse-sized apartment blocks of the air: luxurious, spacious, mini-holidays in their own right, with a continuous supply of champagne and smiles, and more leg room than you can swing a cat at. And all this after an air-conditioned leisurely stroll through an equally spacious and underpopulated departures lounge and showhome-worthy plane-boarding-corridor-thingy.

But Holly Mclane, McCaulay Culkin's parents and goddamned mutha-truckin' snakes don't fly budget airlines.

I went to Sweden over Christmas, and flew as cheaply as possible.

You know those coaches that reach the end of their usable lives, and too many bits have fallen off to get away with carting around the general public, and then go on in their dotage to ferry kids to and from school? Well, not many people know this, but when they've fallen apart to the point at which they can't even let children on them any more, they get sold to a budget airline company who slap on a pair of wings, shoehorn an extra row of seats between each row of seats, and get a criminal to spraypaint RyanMiJet on the side.

The seats themselves are roomy and comfortable if you're five. Any older, and they're rather cramped. I was sharing half a seat with the person to my left, and he was the other side of the aisle. The person to my right would would have had good cause to apply for a restraining order, and by the end of the flight the only decent thing I could have done (were we not already going out) would be to propose. The only comfortable (indeed, possible) place to put my knees was adjacent to my ears.

In-flight, various attendants made sure that fliers who were sitting on top of each other across the central aisle did not get too friendly by continually rolling a battering ram up and down the plane from which they attempted to sell food, drink, scratch-cards, perfume, cigarettes, train tickets, London Eye entry, kittens and small children at twice the price and half the size that they are available for in the airport (which are, in turn, available at twice the price they're available for at service stations, which, in their turn also, are available at twice the price they're sold for anywhere else).

On the outbound journey the take-off and landing were fine. Inbound, the take-off was fine. The landing was the airborne equivalent of coming down the stairs in the dark and mis-remembering the number of steps. It felt as if the pilot had managed to manoeuvre the aeroplane to somewhere above the runway, thought "that'll do" and turned the wings off.

And there wasn't an air phone in sight.

Here's a clip from a really bad, scientifically ignorant, but inexplicably watchable late 90s movie that has only tenuous relevance to this post and has Liv Tyler in it:




I'm filing this under 'a lie', but that's really not too accurate and I've done it only to cover myself: 'artistic licence' might be more accurate.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Min Jul Enfaranhet!

I was lucky enough to spend Jul (Christmas) in Sweden this year, and I'd like to share my experiences of a culture slightly different to the one I'm used to at this festive end of the year.

The most striking difference between a traditional Swedish Christmas and a traditional English (or British) one is that the focus in Sweden is on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day in England. On Christmas Eve, the day was spent preparing the house and food. In the afternoon, Mats's family arrived*, introductions were made, and the stilted conversation that accompanies a meeting of people from different cultures who speak different languages began. This was aided by the serving of glögg, which is essentially the same as our mulled wine but sweeter, served in much smaller glasses or cups with a spoonful of raisins and nuts.

I have to say at this point that Mats's family were really, really lovely to us. They put us to shame with their ability to speak English**, and were nothing but welcoming and friendly from the minute they came through the door.

Swedish Christmas Eve, round 1.
Then the food started. It was explained to me that a traditional Swedish Christmas meal consists of seven courses served as a buffet, starting off with cold foods (potatoes, eggs with caviar, pates, and the well-known multiple varieties of pickled herring) moving through to hot foods (and larger plates) such as pork ribs, ham and meatballs, and finishing off with a selection of sweet stuff (much of this was fairly recognisable, and variations on a theme of what we might eat for dessert over here. They don't have Christmas pud, though.) The food was a nice variety of things I was familiar with and things I hadn't tried before, which offers a nice opportunity for having new experiences whilst staying near to your comfort zone!

The meal was interjected with the occasional outburst of song followed by a chorus of "skål!" and the knocking back of whichever alcoholic beverage you have to hand. We enjoyed including an English equivalent in which we sang a verse from an English Christmas song, shouted "cheers!" and gulped down a drink. We also imposed our own traditions in the form of Christmas crackers. We'd smuggled these dangerous explosive devices through customs in order that our hosts wouldn't miss out on the paper hats, pathetic bits of plastic and appalling jokes that we Brits hold so dear.

As for the drink... Mats's brothers-out-law had made their own snaps (think of the German schnaps, and it's essentially the same thing- a highly alcoholic drink served as shots), which I was encouraged to try. Numerous times. It was strongly flavoured with saffron, a flavour that either grows on you or that I just don't like (I haven't worked out which).

Swedish Christmas Eve meals go on for hours. Unlike our tradition of mounding everything on to one plate and wolfing it down as if the world is ending, the Swedish affair was a lot more laid back, at least when it came to the food. During the meal a neighbour in a tomte outfit (Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas: take your pick) called round and had a chat with the youngest member of our bunch, Jolina (I think I've spelt that correctly, and she's three), after which she opened her Christmas presents (remember this is still Christmas eve).

After we'd eaten, we charged our drinks and the family got together and opened their presents. This really was an unusual aspect for me, having grown up with the night before Christmas an agonising torment as we watched the clock and waited for Christmas day to arrive so that we could start filling the living room with torn paper.

Beyond this (I won't dwell as I didn't have much to open given RyanAir's modest baggage allowance and immodest extra-baggage fees), we settled down to a surprisingly successful bilingual (and mixed teams) game of Pictionary. Again, I won't dwell, other than to say it was massively entertaining and my team (of which I was the only English member) trounced the opposition to an almost obscene degree.

Christmas morning sees, as I understand it, a breakfast as hearty as the previous night's meal (with some of the leftovers making an appearance) and just as many people joining in. I really liked a porridge-y like addition, which was actually more like rice pudding with bits of mandarin orange in it.

On the afternoon of Christmas day we went to visit Nikki and @OhCrazy1's uncle where we ate a traditional English Christmas meal and opened some more presents*****.

Boxing day saw a visit to some more of Mats's relatives, who were similarly welcoming and bestowed similar amounts of food and drink upon us.



In all, Sweden appears to be a typical modern foreign country to the UK, in that They Do Things Largely The Same There. But it's the little differences that make things interesting.







* Mats is Nikki's boyfriend. Nikki is @OhCrazy1's sister. We were staying with them for the four days we spent in Sweden.
** From not knowing a word of Swedish a week ago I can now count to twenty with a fair amount of confidence*** and construct higher higher numbers with a bit of concentration, and utter a few monosyllables with something approaching childish conviction. Most of the Swedish contingent, however, were speaking English with varying levels of what can only be described as fluency. Honestly, it's embarrassing how lax we are over here with regards to putting the mileage in towards learning to speak other languages. For a Swedish kid, being bilingual is far from unusual, and many Swedes**** can speak 3 or 4 languages with some degree of proficiency.
*** My, erm, cousin-out-law, I suppose, was kindly helping me to practise counting to ten in Swedish only yesterday afternoon. She's three years old.
**** The swede (as in the vegetable) is not, incidentally, known as a swede in Sweden. It's a kålrot over there. Apparently our name for it comes from it being referred to as a "swedish turnip."
***** Which I cleverly avoided having to pay extra to take home by drinking it all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Season's Greetings!

Hello dear readers*!

I'd like to take the time and the opportunity to wish you all the very best of the season, whatever the 25th December may mean to you.

If you're a Christian (and you lot seem to feel that you have the monopoly on this date, which is why I've put you first) I hope you have a great day doing what you do. Please don't give people of other religions (or none at all) a hard time if they've decided to take part in your festival in order to exchange gifts, eat, drink and be merry, and generally be nice to each other. Is it really such a bad thing if they do that whilst leaving out the god bits**?

If you're not a Christian and you're taking the opportunity afforded by a day off work to put your feet up, eat too much, maybe indulge in a tipple or two and spend time with family and friends, then I hope you're doing a damned good job of it. Consider a glass raised to you!

If you're not taking the time out to do anything by way of seasonal celebrations today, or you're celebrating something other than Christmas, then good on you. I hope it turns out to be a useful, restful or enjoyable day for you whatever it is that you're doing.

And please remember, whoever you are, the real reason for the season!



* Yes, both of you.
** If you seriously think that this is a bad thing, then perhaps you need to be taking a good look in the mirror rather than spending your time judging others. Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reasons to be Clearful: Why I Like to Write Proper

Back in the early 80s, hair rock band Van Halen had a clause in their contract that said something to the effect 'there shall be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area'*. This included a comment that not following this clause could result in Van Halen packing up and going home (and/or trashing the backstage area).

Pointless, right?

Equally pointless is making sure that punctuation, spelling and grammar rules and conventions are adhered to when you're writing things, especially when you're posting them online. I mean, what matters is what you've got to say, not how you say it.

The thing is, if you go deeper into the Van Halen story you find that for Dave Lee Roth** & co. this M&Ms clause wasn't simply a bout of rock'n'roll prima-donna-ishness. It was about making sure things were done right. As a big touring band, many of the clauses in their contract involved technical issues, and many of those involved safety considerations. The idea was that if they got to their backstage area and found that this most pointless of all clauses had been catered for, then it was a fairly good bet that the really important ones had been covered. If there was a brown M&M in attendance, this was a small alarm bell that something may be amiss, and then they could get the right people on to checking things with a fine-toothed comb. Or just trash the place and leave.

This is how I approach things I come across on the internet (or, indeed, in any written form): If there are brown M&Ms in the text (i.e. sentences and proper nouns aren't started with capital letters, punctuation marks are placed seemingly at random and apostrophes are growing with wild abandon out of the most unusual of places), then it raises a suspicion in me that maybe the meaning and content of the text itself might not be all that worth reading. Put a slightly different way, if the basics (such as looking up the correct spelling of a word if you're not sure, or working out whether a colon or a full-stop would be best) haven't been covered, then how on Earth can I be sure that you haven't skimped on the decidedly more difficult task of making sure that what you're writing is considered and reasonable?

The answer is that I can't.

Of course, a piece of writing that has perfect grammar, imaginative syntax and spelling straight out of whichever academic tome is the authority on such things*** is not necessarily factually correct and imbued with sense and reason, but it does give the impression that a little thought has gone into it at the very least.

So take note, please, those of you out there in cyberspace who do things like post links to pro-creationist and pro-geocentrism websites on the contact form of a [not as] popular [as I'd like it to be] astronomy questions blog, that typing in ALL-CAPS followed by strings of exclamation marks is the online equivalent of barely coherent ranting, and every misplaced apostrophe is the uncontrollably ejaculated spittle that hits my face as a result, and it won't be given the time of day.



If you've got this far and know that you, yourself suffer from some grammatical blips from time to time, you could do worse than have a flick through some of the posts I've written with the hope of providing some help for those who never really 'got' the rules. They're under the SPAG tag for this blog. Maybe you're as fed up with people getting it wrong as I am, in which case you might think it useful to find the specific misdemeanour under the SPAG tag, and quietly point the offender in its direction.







* This is not, apparently, urban rock-legend, but true, if Snopes.com is any kind of authority.
** Who, totally irrelevantly, shares my birthday.
*** It occured to me after writing that sentence that the reference book I'm alluding to may well be a dictionary.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kids, caving and coal: The Robert Jeffery Centre, Govilon

It's not often I post about specific school stuff, but I've spent the last week away on a school trip and felt the need to write about it.

I took my year 7 form to the village of Govilon, near Abergavenny, at the South-Eastern end of the Welsh Brecon Beacons National Park. We stayed at the Robert Jeffery Centre, which was set up in 1971 (originally called Govilon Field Centre) by the Kettering Old Grammar School Foundation as a base for staff and students from Kettering schools while they took part in various courses.

Now, the centre employs specialists to run a wide range of courses. From Monday to Friday of last week myself, two other members of staff from my school and twenty-seven students took part in hill walking, night walking, caving, climbing, abseiling, orienteering and river-walking activities, and looking at the website I see that these are only a small selection of the wider courses available.

I don't want to talk about those, though: you can take part in such activities in a multitude of places throughout the British Isles, so I'd rather waffle about the aspects which may be specific to this particular centre.

First of all,

The Accommodation...
The lads stayed in one dormitory, the girls were split between two smaller rooms, and we three members of staff each stayed in our own room. This meant that every sleeping room was in use by us throughout our stay - there are beds for 36 people in total - so it felt like it was our own home from home for the week. There were plenty of showers and toilets for both staff and students and, despite visiting Wales in December, we were never cold (whilst inside the building...)


The Food ...
... was included in the price that the students paid, and it was better than the food you'd pay more for in a hotel: I had a cooked breakfast and cereal every morning, a packed lunch (sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and a piece of fruit) every day, and a three-course meal every evening. Hot chocolate and biscuits were provided as a supper time treat each night, and a couple of flasks of hot chocolate were brought along to warm up the kids after the colder, wetter activity days.

The food was prepared by a small team of ladies who also took care of other behind-the-scenes things at the centre including cleaning. They were all lovely in every way, friendly and approachable, very flexible and were even kind enough to put one of my boys' sleeping bags in the wash after an unfortunate nocturnal puking incident.


The Instructors ...
... were not only skilled and experienced in their fields, but also with regards to working with children. They built up a working relationship within minutes of meeting them, managed their behaviour perfectly and were patient to almost saintly levels. My kids all adored each one of them, and I can't fault the way they worked with my form, keeping their interest whilst keeping their behaviour in check!


The Kit ...
... for each activity was supplied or sourced by the centre, so the students didn't need to buy any of their own before coming. This included wellies and waterproof tops and trousers, so all we needed to bring was a decent supply of T-shirts and sweaters, alongside hats and gloves.

All in all my form and I had a fantastic week, for which we can't thank the staff and instructors at the Robert Jeffery Centre enough. If you're looking for somewhere to take your class for a week of fun, team building and outdoor activities*, then I can fully recommend the RJC in Govilon (yes, I did say it was for Kettering schools, and this is indeed who they mainly cater for, but I understand that they do let schools in other areas in on the action too). Here's that website again:


Oh yeah: I mentioned coal in the title, didn't I? One of the activities I didn't mention above was a trip to Big Pit. I'll give that it's own post.





* And also an opportunity for them to develop such skills as packing a bag with required equipment, thinking for themselves, and not forgetting to wear socks when spending a day on a mountain in Wales in December**.
** Yes, this actually happened. Twice.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I'm Striking

I'm a mainstream maths teacher, and I'm off work today, taking part in the public sector strike on pay and conditions, specifically centred on pensions cuts. I feel that simply taking the day off and staying silent isn't doing my bit, so here is my main reason for taking part:

Teaching, as a job, a career, is a demanding one, if you're going to do it right. Schools need the best candidates with the best backgrounds and the best experience if they're going to get the best out of the students under their care. In this at least, the current government seems to agree with us, even if I don't entirely agree that the 'best' candidates for a teaching role are necessarily the ones with the highest degree classification (as seems to be the feeling from those on high).

Mathematics and science as subjects are currently under-subscribed in terms of teaching staff. This is great news for maths and science teachers as it means that they essentially have their pick of the jobs as many schools are struggling to fill vacancies in these areas. This means, however, that it is even more important that decent candidates with specialisms in these disciplines are attracted into the career. This, too, seems to be agreed by our representatives in government, with many of the initiatives in the link above directed specifically at graduates in the sciences.

Where agreement falls down, however, seems to be in the pay, working conditions and pensions department. Cutting pay*, reducing pension entitlements and increasing workload sends out entirely the wrong message. The message that is being sent out is one that teachers are little more than a drain on society, that we are relatively unimportant, and that the work we do doesn't require half the skills and experience that are suggested by the measures supposedly being introduced to lure top graduates into the profession in the first place.

While there are a number of factors behind my decision to join in with strike action, this is easily the peak of the pile: schools need the best quality candidates to ensure that our society's children get the best from their education, yet society itself is doing its level best on a daily basis to degrade teaching from a legitimate career option to a last-chance desperate grab at a career when all else fails.

Every time you complain about teachers; their massive holidays, their ludicrously high pay, their ridiculously short working hours, you are pandering to this frankly idiotic misunderstanding of what the career of teaching actually involves. If you are strong in your anti-teacher beliefs, please consider where you have acquired them: if they have come from anywhere other than your own, personal, adult experience, then I would encourage you to get in touch with a mainstream school local to you and try volunteering to teach for just one day. If it really is that easy, and you'd be happy to do the work for the money and benefits that are being offered, then apply for a training course, especially if you have a background in maths or science.

With society's continual and unfounded teacher-bashing, governments find it much easier to take liberties with our pay and conditions, and the whole shebang becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you tell us we're rubbish and reduce pay and pensions and increase workload accordingly, so the best current teachers leave and the best new candidates take their skills elsewhere, so the standard drops, so you tell us we're even worse, and the government panders to that, dropping pay, reducing pensions and increasing workload, so more people leave (or never sign up in the first place) and the standard continues to fall.

So yes, that's largely why I'm striking. Apologies for any ranty bits. As always, I'm happy to discuss any sensible comments anybody makes, but I'm likely to either ignore or respond witheringly to any unfounded hyperbole (it's unfortunate that it's so common as to be worth mentioning when entering into a discussion about teaching...) so please, please make sure your comments are appropriate.


P.S: If you're a teacher, please fill in this poll about whether or not you're striking! Your reasons and thoughts either way would be much appreciated, too.




* We've had a pay freeze for the last two years. With inflation still positive, this means that although our pay essentially stays the same (numerically), the value of that number decreases year on year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Poll for Teachers: Are You Striking on Wednesday?

Next Wednesday sees strike action in the education sector* to a degree that I haven't yet experienced in my career. My union, the NASUWT, voted overwhelmingly for strike action, and also for action short of striking (i.e. 'work to rule') commencing on Thursday.

So, teachers, are you going out on strike? And, please, don't take this poll if you're not a teacher in the UK!

Are you going out on strike next Wednesday?
 Yes
 No
 I haven't decided yet.


  
pollcode.com free polls 

As ever, please feel free to comment below, whether you're a teacher or someone who doesn't work in the profession. I'm happy to discuss any sensible issues with anybody!



* And other public service sectors.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Freddie Day, 2011!

I was late for work (again) this morning, but for once I'm glad of it, as had I been the efficient, organised and timely individual I no longer even attempt to portray myself to be, I'd have missed Chris Evans playing this song just after the 8:00 news:


Why does it matter?

On today of all days it matters most. Today is the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of one of the world's greatest showmen. A man who embodied the spirit of rock and roll and paid the price for it, dying of AIDS-complicated bronchial pneumonia on 24th November 1991.

Freddie, along with Brian, Roger and John, have helped me out in various emotionally taxing situations in the last 20 years or so, most recently this morning in the inevitable already-late-for-work traffic queue.

Thanks, Freddie!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#nokindle - "It's a Hassle to Recharge it all the Time."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

The e-ink pearl technology that I've already gushed about means that the Kindle uses approximately no power at all* to keep a page on the screen. Unlike other handheld devices, then, the only time it's using battery power is when you press a button or it's using the wireless connection. When you turn the wireless off...

I need to charge my phone every night, my iPad every few days, but my Kindle easily manages a month between charges. That's about as hassle- free as you can get with a battery-powered device.




* Actually, this is a lie. The truth is that the Kindle uses actually no power at all to keep a page on the screen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#nokindle - "... But an iPad Does So Much More."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Yes, it does.

But that's like saying I'm not going to buy a digital music player because I can't drive to places in it. My car and my iPod have different purposes, much like my iPad and Kindle. I can listen to music in my car, but there are limitations to that functionality that make my iPod (or other such player) a worthwhile purchase.

O.k, that's a bit of a flippant analogy, but it's not a billion miles from the truth. Yes, I can read ebooks on my iPad, but it's not as good an experience as reading them on an e-book reader because that's not what it's for. No, I can't play Bejeweled Blitz on my Kindle, but that's not what it's for. You buy the two items for different reasons. If it's reading books you're into, the Kindle wins hands down. If it's a tablet PC you want, then why are you even considering a Kindle?

Another thing to consider is the price. As I type, the lowest spec iPad2 from Apple costs £399. The lowest spec Kindle from Amazon is currently retailing at £89. The iPad costs nearly four and a half times as much. Of course it does more!

Friday, November 18, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Read it in the Dark."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

How many glow-in-the-dark books have you ever seen?

You can read the Kindle in the dark in exactly the same way as you can read any book in the dark: by switching a light on. This is possibly the most ludicrous anti-e-book argument of the lot.

No, the Kindle (and most other e-book readers) is not backlit, and many of the anti-tech brigade scoff and cite this as a failing: It really isn't. The difference in screen technology is precisely what makes arguments such as "computer screens make my eyes tired" and "you can't read it in bright sunlight" null and void. It also contributes to a significantly longer battery life than any other portable device beyond the wristwatch.

If it really is a big problem for you, you can buy a clip-on reading light for under a fiver, or you could fork out a few quid more for a protective case with built-in reading light. Do you see this as a particular failing with traditional books? Then why should it be one with an e-book?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Read it in Bright Sunlight."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

For the same reasons as in yesterday's post, reading your kindle outside is not the same as using your phone, tablet or laptop outside. The contrast is so much better and the reflectiveness of the screen so much less that it really isn't as far, again, from a real book as you may imagine.

Over the summer I read my Kindle whilst walking into town in the midday beating sunshine on a number of occasions and suffered no discomfort for it*. The only respect in which a real book wins in this situation is that it provides better cushioning when walking into lamp posts.




* In terms of being able to read, that is. It was far too hot and I got sweaty and grumpy, but that's not the Kindle's fault.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#nokindle - "Computer screens make my eyes tired."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Same here, but what's that got to do with a Kindle?

The kindle doesn't have a computer screen in the classic sense: it's not backlit and doesn't even use the same technology (no LCD, TFT or even CRT going on at all). It uses what, to me*, is the niftiest thing about the whole kerboodle: e-ink pearl. In short, the screen is made up of pockets of ink that are moved around whenever you 'turn' a page. The result is the most 'real book'-like screen that I've ever seen, with excellent contrast and next-to-no glare**.

The Kindle (and other e-books worth talking about) are about as close as you can get to a real book without picking up a real book, in terms of visual comfort. I haven't noticed any eye strain beyond that generated by reading a traditional book: my eyes are tired out by computer use as much as anyone's, and my Kindle's closer to the bookshelf than it is to the desktop in this respect.




* A big, raving geek.
** I've managed to get a level of glare which makes my Kindle's screen unreadable, but only after trying.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

#nokindle - "You Can't Use a Kindle in the Bath"

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

Of course you can. You just need to make sure your hands are relatively dry, and that you don't drop it. These rules are identical to those for reading a traditional book in the bath, although I will concede that the stakes are higher due to the cost of replacing a Kindle compared to that of most books*. However, I'd be prepared to bet a couple of peanuts (and maybe even a brazil or two) that my Kindle could take a quick dunk as long as it was thoroughly dried and then left in a bag of rice soon afterwards (although I wouldn't want to try this on purpose), which wouldn't necessarily be the case with a standard paperback.

You can also buy special cases, such as the Aquapac, to make bathtime reading safer, and this is something you just can't do with a 'real' book unless you only get through one page per soaking session (in which case, again, you're doing it wrong). In fact, with my covered Kindle I can even read a book in the shower. Beat that, Luddites!


It just crossed my mind that you could probably manufacture your own cheaper but less reusable waterproof e-book cover with a sandwich bag and some duct tape. But don't quote me on that.




* Although it's not necessarily, as my friend experienced, as high as you might think.

Monday, November 14, 2011

#nokindle - "For me, a book is about the smell, the feel of the paper etc..."

This is part of my 'nokindle' series addressing a few misgivings about e-book readers (with a specific focus on the Kindle because I have one) that I feel are unjust. The introductory post is here.

If the title of this post describes you then, in all honesty, you're doing it wrong.

If, for you, a book is largely ornamental, then you certainly won't like an ebook reader. I've known people like this; people who buy books purely for their prettiness and without any intention of actually reading them. For me, and I assume many bookworms, books are about the words; specifically which words, the order they've been put in, their sum total, and their abstract emotional and intellectual effect on the intangible 'me'. That these words are written down somewhere, that they're clear and comfortable to read, is enough to convey the purpose of a book. To me, a book is not about what the words are written upon, but the words themselves.

Don't get me wrong; the smell of a musty old book is something I find particularly pleasurable, and the feel of crinkly paper between my fingers only adds to the sensation. But owning an ebook reader does not mean that you have to renounce books in their physical form; I have solid, tangible bookshelves with solid, tangible books on them, and no desire to get rid all, or indeed any of them. Now, however, I concentrate on buying in hardcopy form those books which hold a particular attraction to me and go towards defining who I am. I own copies of some books both in traditional form and on my Kindle.

Owning one does not preclude ownership of the other. In fact, I have downloaded copies of a couple of books for my Kindle for free (The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example) that I intend to find solid versions of in particularly aesthetic form; hardback, first edition, limited edition, or the like. If I had bought a paperback version of the book in its cheapest form (as I no doubt would, not knowing how much I'd like it before I had read it) I'd struggle to justify looking for a particularly nice version for my bookshelf.

So, to summarise: you won't want an e-book if books, to you, are primarily something to look at. If, however, they're something to read, then I don't see this issue - given that you're still allowed to buy paper-based books - being a problem.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#nokindle - Introduction

My name's Tom, and I'm a Kindleholic.

I acquired mine last Christmas as a gift from my mum, and I love it. If I could have received some level of commission for each one that friends and acquaintances have bought since I've had mine, then I'd have a little more beer money to hand.

[If you don't know what a Kindle is, take a look here: Amazon's Kindle Store. Other e-book readers are available, but whilst specifics differ, the principle remains fairly consistent.]

Aside from these folks, however, I have heard a number of arguments from people who are opposed in varying degrees to the very idea of an ebook reader. Far be it from me to try to change the minds of those who wish to stay faithful to the classic book form for their own reasons; I wish only to iron out some creases in what I see as misconceptions and some outright fallacies harboured by those who haven't truly experienced the technology.

Don't get me wrong; there are some very good reasons not to buy an e-book reader which include, but are not limited to the fact that you have to download and read an inordinate amount of books before the device comes close to paying for itself; we've all already got huge stacks of real books that we haven't read yet (so you can at least wait before parting with your readies); some of us don't read that much anyway. Some of you may feel that I'm cherry-picking the silly and/or misinformed arguments against Kindles and other e-readers, and those of you who do will be absolutely correct: why would I bother attempting to debunk a perfectly good argument?

So I shall be posting my responses to some of the more prolific misguided ant-ebook sentiments under the "nokindle" tag. As a brief disclaimer, my own experiences are mostly specific to Amazon's Kindle device, but much of what I have to say is, I assume, applicable to many electronic book readers.

As always, feel free to comment, agree, disagree, and ask questions!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Favourite Film

I've recently penned (or keyed?) a guest post for my good chum Carlos's blog, The Cycling Monkey, on my favourite film, which can be seen as a bit of a review. I won't tell you what it is here, because that'd be like opening all your presents on Christmas Eve (I'm looking at you, Sweden), but I'll include some tantalising clues before I sign off. Those of you who've seen the film will probably get it from these tips, and those who haven't won't have a clue what I'm talking about (free to those who can afford it; very expensive to those who can't).

  • Richard E. Grant, in real life, is a teetotaller, and got drunk for the first time in his life to get proper insight into his character. Apparently he "filled a tumbler with vodka, and topped it off with a bit of Pepsi." That's damned fine acting from him, then.
  • The book that the film is based on (which was never published) ends with the principal character pulling the trigger of a shotgun whilst drinking wine from the barrel. The film doesn't finish like this.
  • The second main character's name is never mentioned in the film, but is widely believed to be Peter Marwood.
  • There's a scene in the film where the principal character drinks lighter-fluid. In rehearsals this was, naturally, water, but when filming the water was replaced with vinegar (without telling Grant).
Carlos is looking for other people to write guest posts about their favourite film, so head on over and get in touch with him if that's something you feel like doing!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Exotic Dining, Kettering

It's my birthday tomorrow (Monday), and as a modern working life doesn't allow you to celebrate your birthday on your birthday if you're silly enough to have one on a weekday, some friends and I went out for a meal last night (Saturday).

There is a point to including this image.
You'll just have to keep reading to find it.
We went to Exotic Dining on Newland St., Kettering (it's above Millets, opposite the cafe that my Granddad affectionately refers to as "Holy Joe's").

I've eaten in restaurants that occupy this spot before, but none of them seem to stick around for long. Exotic Dining may well break this trend. It's a bright, fairly small but welcoming and far from cramped Indian restaurant that describes itself as "a nouvelle cuisine of Indian & Fusion". The waiters are polite and friendly, and most of my friends were already seated as the final two of us arrived after a cheeky pint at the nearby and highly recommendable Alexandra Arms.

The menu was unlike that of any Indian restaurant I've eaten in before. Many old favourites were available in the 'Golden Oldies' section - kormas, vindaloos, baltis and the like, as well as some 'English' staples for the really unadventurous - but the bulk of the menu is populated by the Tandoori section, their Exotic Cuisine section (grouped by chicken, lamb, seafood or vegetarian) and their Signature Dishes. You can see each of these menu sections in detail here, but it appears to have changed since these were added to the website as the dish I had on Saturday isn't listed. For the more adventurous, there are dishes available that are based around rabbit and even camel.

For my starter, I had two meat samosas. These were the biggest I've ever seen, and very tasty although a little on the dry side for my preference. As my main course, I had a beef brisket, served in an 'Indian gravy', which was, in my limited understanding of posh food*, much like the sauce I'd expect with a balti. If I believed in such things, I'd say that this course was little short of divine- the beef fell off the bone with the merest coaxing, the sauce was full of flavour and there was plenty of it, and the rice and naan that I ordered as accompaniments were both perfectly cooked.

The dessert menu was much the same as any other Indian restaurant: uninspiring. But you don't go to an Indian for the desserts; indeed, the only real draw on the dessert menu at a standard Indian restaurant was that picture that looked slightly filthy if you looked at it too quickly and with a dirty mind. Alas, that image seems to have disappeared. Nevertheless, I had some mint ice cream encased in a chocolate shell, and I sampled my friend's chocolate torte. Both were basic, obviously bought-in affairs from the same place that seems to supply all Indian restaurant dessert menus, but were edible all the same.

In terms of price, I think the evening came to around £35 per head, although my friends wouldn't let me pay my share (not that I'm complaining). For that, we got a few rounds of drinks and enough food to make even my stomach start to stretch at the seams.

All in all, the service was friendly and helpful, the surroundings were clean and spacious, the drinks were standard, and the food was fantastic. I'd recommend a visit for anyone wanting to try something a little off the beaten track, but with clear signs back to the highway. If you're thinking of going, make sure you book. It wasn't over-populated, but it is quite a small place so it's worth picking up the phone: contact details and opening hours are available on this page.

I really should take photos when I'm thinking of writing a review. Ah well, the photo at the top of this post doesn't show the restaurant, but it does show my birthday present which was given to me and unwrapped at Exotic Dining. So there is a link, see?




* 'Posh' food being anything more advanced than a chip butty.

What A Feeling!

On Friday night (that's October 7th, 2011, for anybody reading this from the future) I went to see The Feeling play at the HMV Institute in Birmingham. In case anybody doesn't know who I'm talking about, here's the first single, Sewn, from their first album, Twelve Stops and Home, released in 2006:


I've seen them once before, at the Roadmender in Northampton. That gig was a pre-album tour of smaller venues in which the band tried out some tracks from their soon-to-be third album, Together We Were Made (released in June 2011), the first single from which being Set My World on Fire:


I was tempted along to the Birmingham concert based on my memories of the Northampton gig: The Feeling are a multi-talented band, with most of the members playing a variety of instruments throughout the performance (lead singer Dan Gillespie Sells plays guitar on most tracks, but also plays piano now and then, and even took over bass guitarist duties from bassist Richard Jones for part of one song (who was busy playing drums alongside Paul Stewart at the time).

Both performances were more than just a bunch of guys playing some music: at the Roadmender, the guys were lively and animated as they played, and filled the stage at all times. In Birmingham, the concert was noticeably more lavishly produced, with choreographed routines and projections on a screen behind the band, which included visual effects, pre-recorded video (the concert started with some fan-made vids from Youtube) and inventive use of live video.

Despite some PA issues (there were a few incidents of feedback, and apparently the sound guys were wrestling with the volume controls all night), the performance was a treat from start to finish with a good mixture of new tracks and old favourites, and even a cover of Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al thrown in too. Starting an encore set with I Thought It Was Over is a stroke of genius, but I was expecting it because they did it in Northampton too.

And as a special, if dubious, treat for anyone who's continued reading this far, another video. This isn't a music video, however; it's one of me being interviewed outside the HMV Institute whilst queueing to get in. It's more than a little cringeworthy, but I'm including it because I have no shame.


A Survey: Your Favourite Flavour Quark

Hi folks,

I'd really appreciate it, if you haven't done so already, if you'd take this brief survey for me. I'm trying to gather some data so that I can show my department the power of Google docs, and show some ways in which it might be used in the classroom to further learning & teaching.

Don't worry if you don't understand the question- that doesn't matter: just pick one!

Thanks! Here's the survey:


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jurassic Park

The next classic film to be re-released in cinemas* as a celebration of its release on Blu-Ray is Jurassic Park.

Back in 1993 I was an 11-year-old** dino-obsessive with the privilege of going to see the much-hyped dinosaur-resurrection movie Jurassic Park at the now non-existent Palace Cinema in Wellingborough. I remember at the time being wowed by a ground-breaking and trend-setting Speilbergian mixture of animatronics and CGI effects, and assaulted from all angles by a story that was at once emotional, witty, suspenseful and terrifying, whilst providing nourishment for my already well-developed geek-streak.

Here's the original trailer:


So, in 2011, when I heard that this movie - one of few that stand out from the background of many movies that I saw as a child*** - was being re-released, the decision to go and see it was not one that really had to have any thought put into it. This time, I took a trip with three friends to the Cineworld at Northampton's Sixfields complex.

Some things have changed since I last saw the movie; back in 1993 my parents bought my ticket, and alongside a drink and some popcorn they got change from a fiver. In 2011, my ticket plus a bag of M&Ms had me breaking into a £20 note. Also, having completed a maths degree in the interim, Doctor Ian Malcolm's previously impressive mathematical topic-dropping and elucidation had turned into a list of words gathered at random from The Ladybird Dictionary of Mathematics. Other than that, however, I didn't notice a lot of difference: my childlike excitement at seeing dinosaurs brought to life was still there, and the effect was much the same as it always was due to the fact that the visual effects don't seem to have aged at all- they hold themselves favourably against many much more recent big-budget movies, and even blow a few of them out of the water. The film was still, to my more adult mind, alternately funny, emotive and terrifying (and yes, I mean terrifying rather than simply scary); the storyline kept my attention, and the imagery, now-iconic sound-effects, and classic musical score tickled my senses in much the same way as they did eighteen years ago.

I had the dual pleasure of attending the screening with one friend who also remembered the film from the first time round, and also two friends who had never seen it before. Both said they enjoyed the film, and I certainly enjoyed noticing them as, in the scarier and more fraught moments of the film, one squirmed in her seat in fear, and the other almost ripped her boyfriend's arm off in terror.

If you've never seen Jurassic Park, I thoroughly recommend taking what's left of the opportunity to do so on the big screen. If you saw it first time around, go and relive part of your childhood. Sometimes movies don't age very well, but this is one that hasn't aged at all.




* The last one I cared about being Back To The Future.
** About the same age as Lex.
*** I can even remember that we sat toward the back-left of the cinema screen in which we saw it, and that I also had a bit of a crush on Lex at the time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What's the Difference Between a Grape?

I cracked this joke earlier, but then I started to wonder about the actual answer to the question of what the difference is between raisins, currants and sultanas?
By Paweł Kuźniar, via Wikimedia Commons
A bowl of raisins, including sultanas (and possibly currants)

It turns out that 'raisin' is an umbrella term, meaning that all currants and sultanas are raisins (but not all raisins are sultanas or currants). A raisin, then, as most of you are probably aware, is simply a dried grape. Currants and sultanas, then, are dried versions of grapes of a specific variety.

Currants are the dried incarnations of Black Corinth grapes, from Zante.

Sultanas, traditionally, were dried forms of the Turkish sultana grape. More recently, the name is applied to any raisin made from any variety of white grape, or any variety of red grape that is bleached to look white.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy 65th, Freddie!

Today is (almost was, and some could argue would have been...) the 65th birthday of one of my life's biggest influences - despite him having died only 9 years into it.

Happy birthday, Freddie.






On a more personal note, I'd also like to mark today and let Cindy, Chris, Abbie and Bobbie know that my thoughts are with them after having laid John to rest earlier today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Twenty Books You Should Have Read!

A short while ago Carlos over at Neuromancer wrote a blog post detailing his Ten Books You Should Have Read, and then asked for suggestions from other people. I went one louder and wrote my own list, and then twisted his arm until he published it as a guest post.

You can read my list here, along with some rather nice comments and a plug for BlogstronomyTeaKayB’s Ten Books You Should Have Read.

EDITED to add:
Here's Jennie's list: 10 Books you Should Read

Are there any that you agree with? Or disagree with? Which books have we, collectively, missed off our lists that should in your opinion have made an appearance? Carlos would like to know for a future post!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Titanic Artefacts Exhibition, O2 Bubble

On Tuesday Emma (@squiggle7) and I went to the Titanic Artefacts Exhibition at the O2 Bubble in what used to be known as London's Millennium Dome. Next year will see the 100th anniversary of arguably the world's most famous disaster, and the official salvor-in-possession, RMS Titanic, Inc., has put together this exhibition to showcase its findings and commemorate the tragic event.

I was impressed before we'd even got through the door, as upon handing over our tickets (you are given a half-hour entry window when you book them) we were supplied with a boarding pass in the name of an actual Titanic passenger (mine was that of Mr George Dunton Widener, returning from a European trip with his wife, son and two servants, and travelling first class).

I loved this idea: it introduced a personal aspect to the experience that may otherwise have been difficult to achieve. At the end of the exhibition there was a list of all 2,228 passengers and crew separated by travelling class and whether they survived or perished in the accident*.

Modelling contemporary dress on the Grand Staircase
Just before we entered the exhibition we had our photo taken in front of a green screen. In the inevitable giftshop at the end, an image of us standing on the Grand Staircase was available to purchase for the ludicrous price of £8. We declined!

The exhibition itself was very well laid out: it was spacious and separated into a number of sections that allowed you to progress chronologically from the Titanic's conception in 1907, through its design and construction (which began in 1909), its launch and fitting in 1911, its departure from Belfast and its maiden and final voyage in 1912, and the wreckage's rediscovery and gradual research and salvage from 1985 onwards.

Each room was equipped with large wall plaques providing narrative and illustrated with reproductions of areas of the ship, punctuated with many and varied artefacts retrieved from their resting places on the North Atlantic sea bed since the Titanic's rediscovery. There are regular snippets of personal stories from some of the passengers and crew, many accompanying personal belongings surprisingly well preserved after decades lying alone on the sea floor.

The penultimate two rooms are easily the most poignant, with the first detailing the sinking of the ship including written accounts from survivors, cgi reproductions of the actual event using data gathered from expeditions and even a reproduction iceberg made of actual ice. The second contains the previously mentioned passenger and crew list, which goes a long way towards illustrating the disparity between the numbers of people Who survived and of those who lost their lives.

The final room showcases the technology used and the achievements made since 1985 with regards to investigating the wreck of the Titanic and salvaging some of its contents and debris, and the leads you into the gift shop. The gift shop has long been one of my favourite places at any event, and this one had plenty of innovative options to keep myself, if not my wallet, happy.

I would recommend this exhibition to anybody with even a passing interest in contemporary history, the tragedy specifically, or science and technology during one of the most prolific periods of Britain's recent past. If you're planning on going, however, you'd better get your skates on: the exhibition's only open until September 29th, 2011!





* George Widener, his son Harry and Their servant Edwin Keeping died in the sinking. Eleanor Widener and their servant Amalie Gieger survived.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How not to get hit by scam links on Facebook

I've seen a recent surge* in the most unlikely posts from the most unlikely people on my Facebook friends list, offering such varied things as free KFC, sub-epidermal spiders, newsreaders' breasts, and videos of fathers dropping their daughters. All of these links have one thing in common: They don't offer what they say they're offering. Instead, they automatically make a post on your Facebook wall, luring people on your friends list into clicking them and thus spreading themselves.

I'm struggling to see a point to this, as the links themselves don't seem to be designed to install any kind of virus or malware on the clicker's system, nor do they (appear to) allow a third party access to their Facebook account. Maybe it registers a click or an ad-read somewhere, and someone's getting a couple of pence for every thousand or so views. Whatever the reason, these links are an invasion, however small, of our privacy and we all have a duty to stop their spread. As with real-world viruses, the best way to play your part in stopping your friends and family from being affected by them is to inoculate yourself against them.

Thankfully, in the world of Facebook scam links, this is easy to do:

DON'T CLICK ON THEM

"Yes, durr," you're thinking. But in all seriousness, how hard is this to achieve? Most of the links I see cropping up on my Facebook wall that turn out to be scams are blindingly obvious as such, so I don't click on them. However, it is also blindingly obvious that there are many people out there who don't find them blindingly obvious, so here are some things to look out for / do / not do when someone posts a link on Facebook (or anywhere else, for that matter):
  • Don't click blindly: get the old grey cells working first:
  • Does it look like something that that person would post? If it's grandma Mabel, is she really likely to be posting to all and sundry a link to a video showing a weathergirl's wardrobe malfunction?
  • Read the status text accompanying the link. Is this written in the poster's usual style? If your grammatically fastidious buddy posts a link accompanied by "your guna love this!!!!11!", that's a dead giveaway.
  • Have the links been posted by a number of your friends already? This is especially important if the friends doing the posting are not known by you to be connected in any way.
  • If in any doubt, don't click. If you're desperate to see breasts, spiders, accidents, stupid things and gore, there's a wealth of material available on relatively safe sites just an internet search engine away.


But I've already clicked. What do I do!?

As I've already said, these links appear to be largely harmless to the clicker- they're just designed to spread themselves for some reason, possibly farming link clicks for monetary gain. So don't worry too much. In order to protect your friends and family, however, you need to remove the offending post from your news feed.

To do this, go to your profile (click on your name in the top left-hand corner of the Facebook website when you're logged in), locate the post in your news feed and hover over it with your mouse. A grey "x" will appear to the upper right of the post. Click this and choose "remove post". It'll ask you if you're sure; say yes.





* As I type, three of the five posts I can see on my Facebook news feed are fairly obvious scam links.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Google+ Plan

As much as I try to avoid getting all het-up over brands, I have to admit that I'm a bit of a Google fanboy. O.k, so they appear to be trying to take over the world, which in some people's eyes makes them about as bad as Microsoft, Apple, McDonalds and SuperDry. The biggest difference, in my eyes, is that they're doing it without making me pay anything.

Their latest offering is Google+, a social/networking effort that's trying to add itself to that list currently populated by the likes of MySpace and Bebo, and arguably headed by Facebook, with Twitter setting up a bit of an orthogonal branch to the genre. I'm giving it a try for two reasons:
  1. It's a new, free toy and as such must be played with.
  2. I am, as previously stated, a Google fanboy.
But as a social networking platform it won't work unless there's someone to be social or to network with. At the same time, many people don't want to join unless they can be assured it works and is better than what they use at the moment. Bit of a catch-22, and it's where geeks like me and thee come in.


So here's my Google+ plan:
  • I want to find people who are mutually interested in linking up on Google+ for whatever reason to expand my contact base. I'm happy for this to be almost indiscriminate, though it would probably help for networking purposes if we had something in common. Take a look at my Google+ profile and see if there are any mutual interests going on.
  • After a few weeks (or however long it takes to get a decent number of people in my circles and me in theirs) I'll make a series of posts designed to fish out people with different interests or backgrounds and sort people into dedicated groups for each of these.
  • Hope that Google+ doesn't go the way of Wave and Buzz*, and that they continue to develop it and introduce the features that I'm desperate for.


What am I expecting?

My thoughts at the moment are that Google+ might become that mid-point between Twitter and Facebook; a happy medium between the useful but restricted quickfire interactions of Twitter, and the inane FarmVille-in-your-face-ing of Facebook. It appears to be a bit better set up with regards to networking and collaboration on a professional level, with Circles doing what Twitter's Lists should do but don't whilst being more fluid than Facebook's Groups and Pages.


Add me!

The only way Google+ can be useful is if there are people to interact with, so get the ball rolling and sign up. At the moment you'll need an invite, so feel free to send me a private message somewhere with your email address and I'll send you one, or just ask your Twitter and/or Facebook contacts- someone will have one, I'm sure.

And then take a look at my profile: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103867628699779359922

Please consider adding me to your personal circles if you've got any of the following in common with me:
  • Location: You're in or around Kettering in Northamptonshire, England
  • Professional: You're a teacher at any level with a particular interest in maths and/or science (I'm a secondary maths teacher)
  • Personal: You like/ are interested in reading, science fiction, mathematics, science, astronomy, playing guitar, classic rock music, Doctor Who, the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, real ale, religion (I'm an atheist), blogging, technology, Queen (as in the band, not the monarch), pseudoscience (like homeopathy etc. And I mean laughing about/ debunking rather than practicing), general geekery, errrr, lots of other stuff (check out the tags in the bar on the right-hand side of this blog)



* Buzz is now entirely unnecessary in the shadow of +. I hope they phase it out or integrate it properly with +. Come to think of it, Wave could possibly be more useful as a collaborative tool within +, but that's just thinking out loud.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

#project365 day 183: Spent the day at RAF Waddington's...

Imag0206

... air show today. This has to be one of my all-time favourite planes.

If this were an audio blog I'd have tried to treat you to the experience that is the sound of an Avro Vulcan taking off, but in order to do so I would have to install a high end bass speaker system actually inside you.

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#project365 day 182: These are not...

Imag0207
... the pictures relevant to today you're looking for.

Damn; they caught me...

#project365 day 181: Empty spaces, what are we living for...

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... abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody want a pension anymore?

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#project365 day 180: Strike...

#project365 day 179: Free- range, home- grown...

Imag0200

... delicious and completely finished scrambled eggs.

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#project365 day 178: We were allowed...

Imag0199

... to take our ties off today!

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#project365 day 177: Another...

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... blue Sunday.

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#project365 day 176: It's not Jennie's...

#project365 day 175: First comedy gig...

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... in quite a number of years. Jon Richardson was... disturbingly like listening to my own ranting internal monologue. Only funny.

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#project365 day 174: I am so geek...

#project365 day 173: Ofsted...

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... are in for their monitoring visit tomorrow. Eek!

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#project365 day 172: After being encouraged for some time...

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... I have finally started to read this.

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