Showing posts from 2014

This Year's Christmas Cards in Statistics (or... "How bored can one person be at Christmas?")

Someone said to me the other day "it's a very glittery year for Christmas Cards, isn't it?".  So that got me thinking - how many Christmas Cards do have glitter on them these days?  And so I looked through all the cards sitting on our sideboard, and I counted.  The result is below... So there you have it.  40% of the cards we received this year have glitter on them. But that's not very rigorous, is it?  So before I start going deeper into some stats about this year's Christmas cards, let me tighten things up a little bit. Firstly, sample size.  Well to tell you how many Christmas cards we received would be vulgar, and definitely "not a very British thing to do" so I'm not going to tell you the sample size.  But I will tell you that it's large enough that these figures are pretty meaningful.  Of course, the sample is biased by the fact that we only received cards from people we know - and we probably do know people who fit more

Frying bacon in goose fat

It's Christmas time again.  I can't say I'm a great fan of Christmas. The enforced fun, the endless invites to parties, the queues at the supermarkets to buy huge quantities of food that nobody will ever eat.  It all just leaves me cold. Don't get me wrong - we do put up a tree, and do send out cards - I just don't really go in for the boozy nights out and the artificial inflation of my mood to match the artificially inflated moods of those around me.  We're not all happy at Christmas and no amount of painting on of smiles and singing of carols is going to force us to be. Christmas doesn't make me unhappy. It doesn't make me feel anything to be honest.  It washes over me as I hide away from the work parties and drunk people on the tube of an evening.  I isolate myself from it as much as is possible. Earlier this week I was in Starbucks and after I had paid, the guy behind the till did this strange manoeuvre towards me.  Pointing at me with both hands

Nothing is missing

A couple of years ago, these adverts started to appear around the place for the annual poppy appeal. The idea is that they make you feel something in response to not wearing a poppy.  "How would you feel if you weren't the one wearing a poppy?". I resent the assumption that everyone wishes to advertise their charitable donations by wearing a visible symbol.  You simply can't assume that everyone who isn't wearing a poppy hasn't made a donation. Wearing a poppy has become too empowered over the years.  No longer is it "something that some people wearing around this time of the year" but it's turned into a obligation. You do (genuinely) gets looks and stares and sometimes even get asked about it if you approach 11th November without wearing a poppy on your lapel. I am a poppy-non-wearer.  I never wear a poppy.  But then again I never wear any other charitable symbol.  Not a red ribbon, nor a pink ribbon, nor a wristband or red nose. So

The passing of time

I am starting to feel old.  I don't mean that I'm starting to creak and need to hold the banister when walking up the stairs, but I mean that things are happening around me to make me realise I'm not 20 anymore. I mentioned on Facebook, the story of the survey on the phone, so apologies if you're already read it there, but I repeat it here as it didn't help stop me feeling old. A guy called and was from a survey firm.  Having done a few such surveys before I actually don't mind doing them, and he said this one would only take a few minutes.  He asked me a few questions about Brazil, and whether I'd go on holiday there.  He asked whether I knew of any events happening in Brazil, and I said "I think the World Cup is in Brazil, but don't know whether it's happened yet. Has it?".  He then went on to ask me whether I went to the World Cup. I presume he was reading from a script rather than being that stupid. Anyway, we got to the end, and

Funerals? God, no!

In recent years, I've lost two close relatives.  My Grandmother died not that long ago ( see here for her story - it's worth a read ) and back in 2010 my Dad died ( see here for a rather different take on the aftermath of a close family death ). When my Grandfather died, over ten years ago, the thing to do was to get a vicar to do the service.  Neither my Granny nor Grandfather actually believed in God (strangely, my Granny's logic was that no God would've allowed the things that happened to her family to happen, and that's when she lost her faith) but it was just the thing to do. A few years later, and my Dad was ill.  He'd been ill for years and he knew the end was coming.  He had managed years at home thanks to getting on the internet, home grocery deliveries and Amazon for DVDs.  Although he didn't get out of the house much, the computer kept him connected to the outside world. But in 2010, it was obvious that the ten years of living with COPD were


I had a dream last night. I dream often, although last night's dream was particularly vivid. I was on a plane next to man who I took to be Canadian.  I may have presumed he was Canadian because he was wearing a red checked shirt.  Anyway, he appeared halfway through the flight.  He told me that he had suffered from the "Broadport Slip".  Broadport was the town where it first happened to him.  From time to time, he found himself slipping forward in time.  He would walk through a doorway, or wake up, and find that years had passed by, and the world had become alien to him. He was eternally sad and detached, for every time he got close to someone, he'd find that at some point - it could be tomorrow, it could be next week - he'd suddenly find years had slipped by.  Those he loved would be old.  They would have moved onto new friends, new families.  Or worse, they would have died, having spent the last twenty years of their lifes wondering where he was after the da

Doctor Who Cares?

I used to love Doctor Who as a kid.  It appealed to my sense of fantasy, my sense of escapist adventure .  I remember going to the exhibitions in the early eighties.  Tom Baker was the first Doctor I remember in any real detail.  Boy, does that date me. Anyway, when it came back a few years ago, it was fun.  The first series, with Christopher Ecclestone, was a bit clunky as it found itself, but at least we had a Doctor.  He was a character.  Not quite human, not quite alien.  He doesn't quite understand people, but he empathises with them enormously.  He cares, but not to the point of syrupy nonsense.  I liked it.  A shame he only last one series. And then there was David Tennant.  At first he didn't have the gravitas of Ecclestone, but it came. It came by the bucketload.  He did "dark", he did "playful" he did "lingering looks at the camera".  And then he started to fall in love with Rose Tyler, and it all started to go wrong. For me, the thi

A month

Has it really been a month since I posted in here?  How does time fly by so quickly? I think it's a sign of age catching up with me that the weeks, the months and the years seem to fly by so quickly. I find it hard to believe that it's four years since my Dad died.  And three years since we went and scattered his ashes in North Wales on our way to a holiday in the Isle of Man.  Four years. When I was a kid, three years was such a long time.  Three years was the difference between going to secondary school for the first time, and thinking about taking my first GCSE.  My outlook on life was so different between those two points, and yet the truth is that my life now isn't that different to how it was four years ago.  I do have a different job, but other than that, my life hasn't really changed very much. I have learned a bit more French that I knew before.  Tried (and ultimately failed) to learn how to swim and been forced to give up playing badminton thanks to a sl


A while ago, I wrote about cashpoints with personality .  It gets worse.  There was a recent update to GMail on Andoid which now displays a cheery message with a picture of a smiling sun when your inbox is empty. I realise that I'm in somewhat of a minority because I operate at Inbox Zero, but  that doesn't mean that those of us with a mail management system which moves things out of the inbox need to be greeted by a Tellytubbies-style smiling face in return. Is this inevitably what happens as technology becomes more mainstream.  Where there used to be useful messages there are now platitudes and phrases so dumbed-down that pretty much all of the meaning has gone from them? I don't like the idea of a future where the ideal is a robot who trundles up to your side and says "hello, how may I help you?".  It feels like shooting in the wrong direction for us to strive to make our machines as human as possible.  I don't believe in a dystopian future in which t

Physics and more physics

Today, we went to the Open Day at the NPL in Teddington.  The NPL is a big building full of physics.  Some chemistry, but mostly physics.  And it's proper physics.  Lots of it. It's hard to explain just how much fun it is wandering around the NPL.  It reminded me of one of the better BBC science documentaries.  You know the ones.  On BBC2 or BBC4 and presented by a scientist who loves their subject.  It was like one of those, but one that you could walk up to and touch and ask questions about. So much stuff I could talk about, so I'm just going to present my ten favourite things from the day... 1. A very echo-y room The reverb chamber is a small-ish room where things echo. A  lot.  there are no parallel surfaces and no right angles.  Standing waves can't easily get set up.  A single noise will reverberate around the room for 30 seconds with the door closed.  Having a conversation in that room involves a lot of whispering and straining to hear above all the noise

In defence of Christianity

It's been quite a few years for battering Christians.  Firstly, a Christian says that the floods were caused by the gays, and then UKIP start to mention Christianity in the same breath as some of their other rantings, and the two become linked together.  It's simply not fair. Christianity is not a political party.  It's not a political standpoint at all.  It's simply a name for the collection of groups of people who have certain faith.  To say that because one Christian says something, that's what "Christians" think is as fallacious as saying that you saw someone with red hair in a restaurant the other day picking the tomatoes out of their salad, and therefore all ginger people must hate tomatoes. I should declare an interest at this point.  I am not a Christian.  I'm not a Muslim either. Nor a Jew.  (Although with my Mother's mother being Jewish, I know some would argue the last point.)  But anyway, I am an atheist.  That means I don't be


There are things which wind me up.  Plenty of things.  I do have a few blog posts brewing in my mind and I was concerned that if wrote a string of blog posts all of which consisted of me railing against a particular thing, then I may come across as grumpy.  So I'm going to get a few things off my chest and then move on.  Here are a few things which have the ability to disturb my calm. People who grunt in the gym It's good to breathe in and out at the right time during exercise.  Breathing out during the exertion is generally good technique.  But there's no need to grunt.  The only reason I can think of to grunt is if you want other people in the gym to look at you. People who have long conversations in shops There's a queue of people.  We will want to pay for our stuff and get on with our day.  I know it's nice to interact with the staff, but when they hand you the receipt that's your time over.  It's like when the Queen shakes your hand at an inve

Nine and a bit hours locked in a metal box

I don't dislike flying.  I don't actively enjoy it.  I guess I just find it a bit boring and quite quickly descend into staring out of the window in the hope that something interesting happens.  Although about the greatest chance of seeing excitement out of the window is if an engine catches fire or something.  Which I don't really want to see. And so yesterday, I flew across the Atlantic. To here.  Vancouver. The journey over went quite quickly.  I actually got talking to my seat neighbours on the plane. Well talked at by one of them.  She was drinking a lot of Baileys.  She put it in her tea (yes tea, not coffee) and over the icecream they bring you in the middle of the flight. Over the years, I've morphed from one of those people who try to take everything onto the plane to avoid the baggage wait into someone who checks in as much as humanly possible.  I didn't even take a coat onto the plane.  Just a few books.  And a copy of the Guardian for the crossword

Animals is bad enough - but a cashpoint?

I was at a cashpoint at Canary Wharf today.  I went there specifically, because there's a cashpoint there where you can get USD and it's easier than bothering to leave time at Heathrow or faff around at the airport at the other end. I just wanted a bit of cash to get me from the airport to the hotel when I get to Seattle. Anyway, that's not the point.  The point is that the cashpoint was referring to itself as "I".  When did that start to happen?  "Please wait whilst I am counting your money".  It really said that on the screen. I mean it's one thing that people attribute human emotions and thoughts to animals, but a cashpoint?  It's bad enough that Innocent Smoothies say "I contain twenty bananas" or whatever but I can do without a cashpoint referring to itself in the first person. That's all.

Nightmares and coincidences

It's been a while since I wrote in here.  It's simply that I've not really had anything that exciting happening.  I've been struck by coincidence recently.  Made it's the new series of Jonathan Creek has set my mind into "lateral thinking" mode. Quite often, I'll have a song come to mind which I don't have on my phone, and thanks to the wonder that is Amazon MP3 download, I can have it on my phone within seconds.  I do that with some utter crap - I admit it.  But only a week or two after I downloaded "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper" it was featured on the Graham Norton show on Radio 2 of a Saturday morning.  "That's weird" I thought to myself.  It's a great song - three minutes of space-themed innuendo set to a disco beat - but odd that I should download it on a whim only for it to feature on Radio 2 not long after. It's the same with crossword clues.  I do the Guardian crossword rather than The Times.  On


When I was a kid, I used to wonder about the prizes on Bullseye.  They'd introduce the prizes when talking around the prize board, and you'd see a VHS player or a barbecue laid out for display.  I used to wonder, if they won the prize, whether they'd pack it up again and send them that one - or would they have another one they'd send to the winning contestants.  And in that case, who would get the display model? Did Jim Bowen have a huge stash of crap HiFi systems at home he'd carted home from the show? I imagined that big prizes like cars (and the speedboats on Bullseye) would be borrowed by the production company, and then if somebody actually won one, they'd go out and actually buy one.  But that whole arrangement didn't seem worth it for a couple of chairs or a crystal decanter. I was watching an old (Terry Wogan era) edition of Blankety Blank on Challenge the other day.  It was much more raucous than I remember.  Kenny Everett was a guest, and he wa

Horses for courses

I've always thought that key to success is the ability to change your behaviour to suit your audience.  This weekend, we went down to a lovely little restaurant on the south coast.  The weather was cold and windy but the rain wasn't too heavy and it was a very pleasant weekend. It was my partner's birthday and they celebrated this fact by piping the words "Happy Birthday" onto the dessert place in chocolate.  It was a nice touch and most importantly, pitched perfectly for the recipient.  We've all been to restaurants where they dim the lights and play "Happy Birthday" really loudly over the PA and bring out a cake covered in candles.  Everyone cheers and sings and it's a jolly lot of fun.  Except that me - and most people I know - wouldn't find that a lovely birthday treat - it'd just be crass and unpleasant. The sign of a good restaurant is one which can judge the situation and do it just right for the recipient. But it's not ju

Be careful what you say

I always try to be careful what I say.  I don't always succeed, and from time to time I do say things I wish I hadn't, but generally I try to think of how what I say - and how I say it - may affect someone else. I was thinking the other day of my time back at Symbian, many years ago.  Back in the day, I moved down to London for work, and was just settling into a new job, a new flat and the idea that I now lived in London rather than just visited.  I was young, excited and eager.  All of those things have worn off with the years, but back then I was keen.  Back at Symbian we used Lotus Notes for email.  Yes, really.  It had this peculiar habit that whenever you set an Out Of Office message, it would retrospectively send a message to all the people who had emailed you during the day.  I'd never used it before working at Symbian, so I wasn't to know this.  A few months into working there, I had a week off and so set an Out Of Office, as did everyone else.  Unbeknownst to

Laying my insecurities burr

I have an accent.  We all do.  Even those without a “regional” accent in England, for instance, have a way of pronouncing words which is different to other people’s way of pronouncing the same words.    I’ve recently decided to pick up French lessons again after a few years away from it. French is the only language other than my native English which I can use to any degree beyond “stringing a few nouns together”.  I am very self-conscious speaking French, though.  In French lessons over the years, I’ve spent quite a long time working on pronunciation.  French vowels are – in the main – very different to English vowels and the key to making what you’re saying “sound French” is largely about getting the vowels to sound French. But doing so exposes the accent I have in English.  I have a Liverpudlian accent when speaking English.  It’s really mellowed over the years, but it’s still there and one of the places where it comes across most strongly is in the vowel sounds.  When I’m s

It wasn't a ghost...

... in fact it wasn't really anything at all. A few days ago, I w rote about hearing a voice in the middle of the night .  I had a few ideas at the time what I may actually be hearing, but it was only a couple of nights ago when I had the chance to try out my theory and see whether it was what I suspected.  And it was. I actually found it quite an interesting puzzle.  It's a bit like watching a magic trick and trying to work out how it's done.  The first thing you have to do is draw the line on the things you're not going to consider as answers.  So when trying to work out how a trick is done, this is the point at which you'd say "the magician did not really make the rabbit appear from nowhere".  You have to disconnect what you actual saw from what you think you saw.  And so I had to stop thinking about what I think I heard, and think about what it was that I actually heard. I've written in the past about  pareidolia.  It's the thing which c

Ghostly voices in the night

So this is an absolutely true story.   The other night, I woke up at 3.14am - the mathematician in me wouldn't forget that time.  Everything was quiet and dark, but I could hear a male voice.  It sounded like a distant radio.  Only one word every now and then was actually discernible, but it was a male voice talking slowly and deliberately as though talking on radio.  It was a calm voice. I lay in bed trying to make out the words, but couldn't make it out. It was - annoyingly - just too quiet to be made into sentences and understand what it was saying, but it definitely sounded like a male voice.  Almost insistent like a DJ on talk show making a point.  Rising and falling, and the odd word being discernible amongst the mumble. After listening to it for a few minutes, I decided to investigate.  My first thought was that my bedside radio had turned into on (or I had knocked it and turned it on) with the volume very low.  But no. It was turned off.  As was the radio the othe

Overly helpful - but totally useless

I quite often pop into Holland and Barrett in Chiswick.  It's a shop I love and loathe in equal measure.  They very often have great offers which make ingredients such as cashews, almonds and other bits really cheap - but equally they do stock a lot of new-age pseudo-medical homeopathic-herbal bollocks too. The staff are very friendly.  So friendly, that it makes it hard to dislike the sheer amount of time they take just to put something in a bag.  They ask for your reward card and then try to push an over-priced and (probably, although I've never read it) content free magazine on your for a couple of quid.  I know they probably have a little sticky label inside the till drawer telling them how many they must shift per week per person, but it still grates.   The worst thing of all is the way the passive aggressive way they have been told (obviously, as they all do the same in every branch) to ask for your reward card by saying "do you have your reward card with you?&qu

I don't like 2014 so far

2014 seems to be quite a wet year.  It's not stopped raining and it's quite windy too. I don't like 2014.  It's too wet. Of course, that's nonsense.  But it's not a million miles away from the response you get if you ask for advice on holiday destinations. "How was ?" "It was terrible, the people are all very rude the whole time!" "How many times have you been?" "Oh, just the once" And it turns out that someone was just slightly brusque with them in a supermarket on the second day and suddenly the whole population of is decried as rude. We're currently in the process of trying to find somewhere to go for a few days to get a bit of warmth in the winter this year.  It seems that whatever destination you mention, someone has something bad to say and it's generally based on a sample size so small as to be meaningless. Of course, people are made to be good at deducing things from tiny simple sets.  Ev