Thursday, 27 November 2008

For vs. After

One of the things which irks me the most when reading articles online is the Americanism "named for".

For anyone reading this who thinks that "named for" is correct British English - it's not - correct British English is "named after".

To my mind "named for" means something else.

"Bob couldn't think of what to call his pet hamster, so thanks to his daughter, it was named for him"

To me (British) there's no way of telling what the hamster was called from that sentence - but to an American (or to a British person who's got it wrong) the hamster would be called "Bob".

Even worse that this is the, slightly rarer, turn of phrase "anagram for". I don't even think this one is correct US English - I think it should be "anagram of" wherever you are.

Anyway, rant over for tonight :-)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snow? Call that snow?

It snowed yesterday – in case you didn’t notice. Well it did in London anyway; I woke up and looked out of the window to find the garden covered in snow.



The first time I saw substantial quantities of snow was in Stockholm, quite a few years ago. When I was growing up as a kid there was the odd flurry - even enough to build a snowman once or twice during my childhood – but real deep snow is something I first saw in Stockholm one February day.



For those who’ve never been, the weather in Stockholm is beautiful at various points throughout the year. The summer is amazing, and when the city is covered in snow it also looks pretty stunning – although I wouldn’t advise venturing out without a hat. But I hope I don’t offend too much of my Swedish friends when I say that the weather in November in Stockholm is really rather dismal. It’s not cold enough to snow and look picturesque and yet it’s wet enough to be raining almost all the time. If you imagine a grey, wet day with darkness falling not long after lunch and temperatures just cold enough to be uncomfortable to stay outside in, then you’ve pretty much got Stockholm’s November climate in your mind.



I think it’s the unpredictable nature of the British climate which makes us unprepared for any extremes of whether. You hear people who’ve spent time in Sydney complaining that houses in the UK generally aren’t air conditioned – through those of us from the UK would turn the argument around and say that it’s rare to find a house in Sydney with central heating. Of course, you don’t need central heating in Sydney that many times in a lifetime, whereas air conditioning would be nice in the UK most summers. But the point is that fitting every home with both air-conditioning and central heating would be expensive, and although I do know of houses with both – it’s fairly rare. So, it wouldn’t be economically viable to install both in every house so you go for the one which is most use – and though it does get hot here in the UK in the summer, it rarely gets VERY hot – and I’d argue, hopefully without much resistance, that there are more “cold” days than “hot” days per year here in the UK.



The UK lies at that annoying point in the world climate where it’s never really very hot nor very hold – it’s the product of being neither near a pole nor the equator and having a maritime climate, I guess. But I actually quite like it this way. I like the thrill of sometimes having to deal with a cold day in August, and the ability to sometimes be able to go for a country stroll on Christmas Day. The only thing I dislike about the UK is the quantity of rain. Now, I can already hear the cries of “you call that rain?”. I know that some countries have more rainfall, but the rain in the UK is like that in Stockholm in November. It’s cold and miserable and clings to you like it’s raining glue rather than raining water. It’s also unpredictable. In some places, you can set your watch by the nightly rains during the monsoon; not so in the UK. You can guess it’s probably going to rain, but the only guarantee is that it’ll happen at exactly the moment you decide to pop out to the shop without your waterproof coat on...



Or an umbrella – but don’t get me started on umbrellas...

Friday, 21 November 2008

The BNP

It's interesting to note that there are 3 people on the BNP membership list with the surname Black - I'm surprised they let them in ;-)

Expanding filler...

A return, today, to the subject of blogging. Well, in part at least. Over the past few days, I’ve drafted a few entries to go in here but decided not to post them because they were far too serious and – maybe more importantly – not actually very interesting.
Self-censorship is a very important thing, and it’s one of the hardest things to learn if you’re writing. I have recently started writing songs again – the change work situation for me means that I’m actually getting to spend time in the UK, and hence have the time to sit at the piano late evenings and twiddle – and one of the hardest things involved in that process is learning to cast away things which “don’t quite work”.
One of the down-sides to being the sort of person who buys albums rather than singles is that you’re stuck with having the “filler tracks” in your collection. This isn’t a problem when you are sifting through the library to find something to listen to – but when you’ve put a random selection of tracks onto your mp3 player for the walk to work and find that in some cruel twist of fate, your PC has randomly selected a load of album filler for you to wade your way through.
There are very few bands who are immune to the curse of album filler. I guess the pressure to get an album out and generate some sales for the record company can lead to the process of dumping the bad tracks being a luxury beyond means. The most commonly cited example of a band who typify the need for dumping bad tracks is Queen. Even the most ardent Queen fan would be hard-pushed to argue that the quality of the albums is anywhere near the quality of the singles. Of course, there are a few great songs on the albums which didn’t make it into hit singles (“Teo Torriate” springs to mind immediately) but there’s also a lot of dross too. In the case of Queen, you can’t argue that they weren’t capable of the two things needed to make a filler-less album..

a: the ability to write fantastic songs

b: the ability to know a fantastic song when you hear one

Another example, less commonly cited but still well-known enough to be worth mentioning, is the “Use Your Illusion” double-bill from Guns and Roses. There are some absolutely amazing songs spread across those two albums – but there’s equally a lot of dross. And this is a case where taking the contents of the two albums and picking enough great songs to fill one album would’ve made a much more impressive work.
So, I’ve waffled on about those bands who I think have fallen foul of the curse of the filler track – but are there any albums out there which I don’t think contain any filler? Of course there are. I don’t spot any filler on Ziggy Stardust, nor on Dark Side Of The Moon. It’d be hard to point at the filler on Wish You Were Here, or even on Automatic For The People.
Then, of course, there are albums which consist of nothing but filler – witness “The Id”, the second album from Macy Gray for a perfect example of that...

But, as someone who ocassionally writes songs, I know how hard it can be to dump something you've worked on for so long. I've written songs, spent hours and hours recording them, honing them - and unfortunately they're still crap songs - so they have to be dumped. It hurts every time, though.

Monday, 17 November 2008

I was wrong.

A postscript now that I've had time to think is that it's not possible to construct such a Sudoku. Well, the question itself is logically flawed.

I've stated that the puzzle must have a unique solution. But before you make the move and write in the number 1 in the particular location above, the puzzle (by definition thanks to the question) has multiple solutions.

Hence the question is flawed itself, and I am stupid.

Oops.

I wish I were better at playing chess...

I’m not bad at playing chess. But it’s one of those things I wish I were better at, but for which I don’t have the time (nor the motivation to make time) to work on in more detail. I used to play chess when I was younger, and wasn’t bad then – just as I’m not bad now. But for some reason, I have this notion in my mind that I should be better at playing chess than I am. I like to think as myself as the “kind of person who should be good at chess” so to be rather average when finding my way around the chess board feels rather unrewarding.



I feel the same way about Sudoku, as it happens. It’s the sort of thing which you’d think a Cambridge Maths Graduate should be able to do. But I’m not actually very good at them. I understand the logic behind solving a Sudoku but find its application rather boring, usually. When solving Sudoku, there are usually only a few types of logic needed to solve the puzzle. But I’ve never seen the fact that a Sudoku is supposed to have a unique solution used as a logical step in finding that solution. It would be, in theory, possible to construct a Sudoku puzzle where a number must be placed in a certain location in order to guarantee a unique solution; placing any other number there would lead to the solution not being unique, and hence must be incorrect.



At least I think it’s theoretically possible to construct such a puzzle. I’m not entirely sure...



Talking of things of which I’m not entirely sure – back to the subject of chess. I’ve never understand why it’s not possible to build a computer system which can beat any human opponent at chess. I don’t really understand the problem of getting computers to play chess in much detail, but I’d one day like to hear a simple explanation of why Garry Kasparov could manage to beat an enormously powerful computer at something like chess. Also, on a related note – I’d be interested to know whether it’d be possible to allow a computer to learn how to get better at chess over time. All algorithms for playing chess that I’ve read are non-adaptive (probably not the correct technical term) but I’d be interested to know whether there are any chess solving programs out there which can learn as they play.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I think my ears may be a funny shape.

I've tried numerous in-ear earphones over the years, and none of them fit. Either they fall out as I'm walking along, or the clips are the wrong size for my ears, or some other such problem. It's very distressing as not only is it hard for me to listen to Terry Wogan on the walk to work of a morning; I'm also starting to think that my ears are somehow irregular.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

It's about time someone had the courage...

I'm not usually one to get political about such things, but it's about bloody time that someone had the courage to do this...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/entertainment/newsid_7724000/7724426.stm

Freude, schöner Götterfunken

So, Barack Obama has won the US presidential election. I really tried to distance myself from the coverage of the campaign; the constant barrage was turning into overload as election day approached. However, I did wake up at around 5am and flicked on the TV just to see if the result was in yet. I turned on just in time to see Obama give his speech live from Chicago. Much as I’d tried to avoid the election I did actually feel quite an emotional sense of relief that he won.



Of course, one man can’t change the world. But Barack Obama is just what America, and the world, needs right now. A good friend of mine said at the weekend that Barack Obama gives Americans the chance to be proud of being American again – without the need to add “sorry about our president” as a post-script. There really does seem to be a tangible sense of optimism spreading out from the election result.



I think the first benefit of Obama having won is the fact that George W is effectively prevented from doing anything stupid for the remainder of his term of office!



The second benefit, of course, is that Sarah Palin (the scariest woman in the world – she is utterly terrifying!) will not get to inflict her ridiculous, right-wing nonsense on anyone for a while at least. If you’re interested in how scary she is, a quick Google of her political positions will (hopefully) scare the living daylights out of you. A little bit of Googling does reveal her true colours. Go on, have a read. It’ll give you nightmares.



Of course, I’m making an assumption that everyone reading this is a left-wing liberal. Well, given that readership of this blog is likely to be “me and me alone” I’m pretty safe in my assumption I think.



Whilst on the subject of politics (though I’d personally like to think that the question of whether to vote for Sarah Palin would be a question of ethics rather than politics) I do wish the papers would stop their “harbinger of doom” approach to the economic crisis. Yes, we know the economy is in negative growth (I refuse to use the “r” word, even though strictly that’s what negative growth is) but at the heart of the problems we’re seeing is a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence between banks (i.e. they won’t lend money to each other, just in case things go wrong in the few days it takes for the cheque to clear...) and a lack of confidence in consumers. The government in the UK (who I rarely defend) are spending a lot of money (that’s true, the papers have that bit right – though they’re not spending as much as the papers claim...) to try to get the economy moving again. I would suspect that most of the people behind the half-arsed attempts at economic journalism in the tabloids haven’t heard of Keynes – but I would suggest that they go and buy a book and do some reading.



Of course, Keynesian economic theory is just that – it’s a theory – and I’m nowhere near versed enough in economics to launch into a debate on the merits of a Keynesian approach to reversing a period negative growth (avoided it again!) but I’d be interested to read such a debate. But that’s not the point. The point is that Gordon Brown may not be a fantastic orator, or indeed a great Prime Minister, but he does know his way around an economics textbook, and whilst some eminent economists (Alan Greenspan, for instance) would probably disagree on the reliance upon Keynesian methods, the way the government is behaving is based on economic theory and isn’t just the willy-nilly writing of cheques that the tabloids seem to be describing it as.