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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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8:23am on Wednesday, 27th August, 2014:

Quids In

Comment

The recent televised debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond regarding the up-coming Scottish Independence Referendum was again a hit-and-miss affair. Personally I think it would be disastrous for Scotland to hitch their wagon directly to the EU rather than to the EU via the UK, but probably not make a lot of difference to the rest of the UK if they chose to do so. I don't get a vote, though.

Here are some points that the Better Together campaign might wish to note:

1) By accepting Salmond's constant reference to Scotland as a country, you're handing him the initiative. Although it is a country, you'd be better off referring to it as a nation.

2) Salmond's insistence that an independent will get to keep part-ownership of the pound in the form of a monetary union is backed up by his belief that the UK will have to capitulate or Scotland won't accept its share of the UK's national debt. The UK can reduce its national debt by the amount due to Scotland whether Scotland likes it or not. Whether Scotland accepts it or not is irrelevant: what matters is whether the financial institutions that Scotland will want to borrow money from will associate it with Scotland or not.

3) The UK's gold reserves are, thanks to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the bare minimum required to gain entry to the euro. If Scotland does have to join the euro as one of its ill-considered plan Bs, it won't be able to immediately as its share of the UK's gold reserves won't be anywhere near enough.

4) Salmond is trying to change the referendum to a vote against the current coalition, a bit like what happens in by-elections. He accused Darling of supporting the Conservatives, hoping that Scots who hate the Conservatives will turn to independence. Independence is a long-term decision, not a short-term one. Just because the Conservatives are almost wiped out in Scotland now, that doesn't mean they'll always be so. They used to be the largest party; indeed, most Scots nationalists were Conservatives 50 years ago. Darling really should have taken Salmond to task over his short-termism.

5) The written constitution that Salmond wants for Scotland includes things that really shouldn't be part of the constitution, for example not allowing nuclear weapons on or in Scottish territory. Some of those decisions are nothing to do with independence and shouldn't be in a written constitution, either. They're policy matters for the government of the day.

I have a feeling that there will be a lot of undecided voters who will vote yes when they're looking at a ballot paper. If Scotland wants to become another Eire, well good look to it and I wish it well, but voting for the charisma of one party leader is not the way to decide on a nation's future.



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11:33am on Tuesday, 26th August, 2014:

Wrong Line

Anecdote

One of the greatest benefits my ancestors thought fit to bequeath me is that of never getting a headache. I like to mention this from time to time so that the other 199 people out of 200 who do get headaches can be envious.

I inherited my superpower from my mother's grandfather, who also never had a headache. It's one of the cornerstones of my understanding of why I don't get headaches. Today, however, I learned a disturbing fact: I had attributed the condition to the wrong great-grandfather. It wasn't the Scottish one who stung himself with bees to get rid of rheumatism (my mother's maternal grandfather), it was the Yorkshire one who never ate a banana (my mother's paternal grandfather).

This has really shaken my sense of identity. Still, it doesn't alter the fact that I don't get headaches, so tra-la-la!



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1:31pm on Monday, 25th August, 2014:

Unique

Outburst

From the BBC News magazine:

Red hair is the rarest of hair colours, and accounts for only 2% of the world's population. The highest percentage of natural redheads in the world live in Scotland, with 13%. Ireland comes in second at 10%.

BBC News went to find out why redheads are so unique.

When even the BBC uses "unique" as a synonym for "uncommon", it's time to think of a new word to mean there's only one of something. Following the example of German word construction, the obvious solution would be thereisonlyoneofit, but I suspect that this doesn't really have the succinctness necessary to catch on.



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3:29pm on Sunday, 24th August, 2014:

Free-For-All

Anecdote

I was planning to mock an advertisement for Manchester Metropolitan University I saw on CivFanatics earlier today, but I closed the window by accident. No problem, just reload the page and wait for the ad to show again.

Well, the ad didn't show again — not in the 15 minutes I continually reloaded the page, anyway. There were a few ads for phones, one for the New York Times, one trying to raise money for Syrian refugees, one for mortgages and the rest for games. Well, I assume this one was for a game:



Looks legit...

They weren't just for any games, though, they were free games. OK, well two weren't (Lego Fever and a Farmville knock-off), but the rest were:



Of these, Rift showed most by far: maybe half of all the ads were for Rift.

Two of the games had more than one ad for them:



There were another two for Bleach, both advertising it as being in live open beta rather than being free (or dead open beta). One of them was of a different crazy-looking guy and the other was for a different woman with boobs bigger than her head.



There was also one as that was both live open beta and free:



The thing is, if every game is free, "free" rather loses its impact. Indeed, it starts to look more like "suspect": you know they're going to try get money out of you somehow, but how?

Hmm, a game with gameplay that's all about avoiding paying... Yes, that could work.



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11:16am on Saturday, 23rd August, 2014:

50p

Weird

There are some weird 50p coins out there:



Nice to see that Britannia has got out of her wheelchair to play some bowls, though.



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12:56pm on Friday, 22nd August, 2014:

Ringing

Anecdote

Someone left a message on my university phone number back in, oh, I don't know, March or sometime. Ever since then, the phone in my office has been ringing every 15 minutes. I don't know how to stop it, but in part that's because I haven't looked: I actually like having it ring every 15 minutes as it means I don't get so absorbed in something that I lose track of the time and miss appointments. It also means I don't nod off (well, not for more than 15 minutes anyway).

Today, there was no ringing of my office phone. There was yesterday, but not today. Someone must have reset the system; either that or messages expire of their own accord after enough months have passed.

I'm thinking I should maybe call my number from home and leave my own message on the answering system to reinstate my handy time-reminder. I don't suppose the people in the office next door would complain if I didn't, though.



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7:50pm on Thursday, 21st August, 2014:

244

Weird

From this week's MCV:



244? Hmm, I'd be interested to see a list of those, given that there are only 193 member states in the UN (plus two observer states and 11 non-members); even FIFA has only has 209, and it includes countries that are parts of states (England, Wales, Scotland and Northerin Ireland count four times, rather than just once for the UK).

What is it with MCV and geography?



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7:56pm on Wednesday, 20th August, 2014:

Joking Aside

Comment

Look up a list of English language idiomatic expressions on the Internet — they're not hard to find. Choose one that's a bit descriptive  — "water under the bridge", say, then use it once in a sentence both literally and as an expression: "I argued with my wife about rerouting a river, but it's water under the bridge now". Voila: an easy-to-construct and mildly amusing joke.

"I bought an umbrella this morning. Well, I was feeling a bit under the weather."
"A castaway asked me to give him a job, but I said no. He looked washed up to me."
"I'm always arguing with my brother about Photoshop. It may sound trivial to you, but he blows up everything out of proportion."
"The waiter said I looked like the kind of person who would steal pepper. I took it with a pinch of salt."

Congratulations: you are now capable of writing a joke capable of winning the best joke award at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Puns also work. Next time you want to think of one, climb up the inside of a church steeple and be inspired.



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5:53pm on Tuesday, 19th August, 2014:

Poppies

Anecdote

I was in London today to meet an old friend. I diverted via the Tower to take a look at the ceramic poppies they have there for the centenary of the start of World War 1:



It's a lot more powerful than I was expecting it to be.



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6:51pm on Monday, 18th August, 2014:

Lorry Names

Anecdote

My flights to and from Münster were booked using Flybe, but the aircraft were operated by Stobart Air. As any driver on UK roads knows, all Eddie Stobart lorries have female names (most of which have two components; three or one exist but are quite rare). I didn't see a name on the aircraft I flew on, but I did see names on the service vehicles:



The little truck on the left is called Julie. The air fuel tanker on the right is called Gasolina.

I think they may have made up one of those names...



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2:39pm on Sunday, 17th August, 2014:

Munster Vignette

Anecdote

I've taken off my phone all the photos I took in Münster during my recent visit, so it's now time to bore you with some of them.

There were several of these large hobby-horse installations in the city, advertising a show jumping event:

No wonder Germany is so good at show jumping if they have it as a spectator sport for ordinary people.

This is St Lambert's Church, as seen down the main street of the old town, the Prinzipalmarkt:

A close-up view shows three cages, in which were kept the leaders of the Münster Rebellion of 1534-1535.

As you may have surmised, the rebellion did not end in success...

This is the rather less pretty cathedral, which had a food market outside it when I was there:

It looks quite new, mainly because it is: it had to be rebuilt following a visit by the US Air Force in 1944.

Here's a white tower:

I've no idea what it is apart from that it's a white tower.

This shop sign uses a rather unfortunate choice of font:


This is the Pinkus-Müller brewery, where we had the conference get-together. It's the only remaining brewery from the 150 or so that used to be in the city:

Obviously I wouldn't have bothered showing you a picture of it if the street hadn't looked so quaint.

This sculpture or whatever it is features a bunch of hands holding stuff:

It was handy in a different way, too, as I could use it as a landmark to find McDonald's.

Here's the town hall, which isn't far from the cathedral:

I took three photos of it but the sun was behind it for the other two. Fortunately, the changeable weather placed a cloud there for me on the third attempt so it didn't show up entirely in silhouette.

One of the streets in the centre has stars on it, each of which is inscribed with a different person's name:

Either Münster is the birthplace of hundreds of celebrities or there's something else going on here.

Several of the churches in the old town have this black-and-white style, in which the towers are dark and the main body is white:

I don't know if it's deliberate or not but it's quite effective.

From the menu of the restaurant we went to after the first day of the conference:

"I don't know what this stuff is, but if we fill it with pork it's sure to be fine."

Excuse me, do you know how far it is from Münster to York?

Ah, OK, thanks.

There are bicycles everywhere in Münster. Here's a mass of them, but it's not unusual: I could have taken the same kind of picture in many side streets.

Of course, if I had done you wouldn't have had the opportunity to think, "hey, he was right about that thing they have with not cleaning church towers".

This is the magnificent Schloss, where our conference was being held:

There was a similar one at the Multi.Player 1 conference in Hohenheim. I rather like the way that Germany handed its old stately homes over to universities, rather than demolish them (which is what we did in the UK in the late 1940s, at the rate of one a week).

This little house was in the grounds of the Schloss:

The reason it was there was because the show jumping competition I mentioned at the start of this post was held in the Schloss's grounds, and this was part of one of the jumps.

The view of the cathedral from inside the Schloss positions the steeple of St Lambert's right between the cathedral's towers:

This reputation Germany has for prowess in engineering goes back a long way...

This sculpture is in the Botanical Gardens at the back of the Schloss:

Yay for science!

This is the view of the Botanical Gardens from inside the Schloss about 20 minutes after I took the previous photo:

Not only is Münster known as the bicycle capital of Germany, it's known as the rain capital of Germany, too. Never fear, though! They have these:

Yes, that's a vending machine for umbrellas. They're €4 each, although shops only charge €2.95.

It looks as if the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster uses the same marketing agency as the University of Essex:

Surely there can't be two agencies producing slogans this bland?

You can always rely on Windows:

No matter where you are in the world, it's always going to do this at some point.

The guys depicted on the War Memorial look to be attacking each other:

That explains a lot.

Finally, here's the view from my hotel room:

That's the Aasee beyond the trees. It's a lake. Given the amount of rain the city gets, if it weren't there now it would be within a week. It's quite pretty, though.

So that's Münster!



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12:33pm on Sunday, 17th August, 2014:

Stars, Planets, ...

Anecdote

From this week's Essex County Standard:



The moon is a planet?

There are so many people seeking so few jobs in journalism, how come so few of those employed have even a basic knowledge of science?



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8:38am on Saturday, 16th August, 2014:

Something of a Spectacle

Anecdote

I don't wear glasses, which is somewhat unusual for a person in their 50s. I have some glasses, but I don't need them. This is because my left eye is good from close up to the far middle distance and my right eye is good from the near middle distance to infinity. Lots of other people have this asymmetry with their eyes and still wear glasses, but that's because if they don't then they get headaches. I never get headaches under any circumstances, so I have no problem. I only really notice it if for some reason my vision from one eye is occluded, for example if I were looking at something in the distance then someone stood in the way so that only my left eye had a clear view. Indeed, that's how I found out how it worked.

Last weekend in Oxford, I noticed I was getting a stye on my left eyelid. It swelled up during the week, and I still have it today. I'm hoping it's not going to turn into another eyelid-surgery cyst, but it could. Apart from making me look odd, which offends my vanity, it seems to cause my eye to relese some kind of oil which blurs my vision. Blinking will either clear it for a few seconds or make it worse; running my little finger over my eyeball will definitely clear it, but I'm reluctant to do this because, well, it involves running my little finger over my eyeball.

The net result is that my right eye is being asked to handle close-up work it's not good at. I can force it to focus on my laptop's screen, for example, but that's going to make it hurt if I do it for too long. Fortunately, suspecting that I was getting a stye on my eyelid, I took the precaution of bringing my reading glasses with me. I tried them out last nightin the hotel: it makes no difference for the left eye, which is still blurry, but the right eye can focus on stuff at a reading distance.

I'm thinking that maybe I'll dig them out of my suitcase to do some reading while I wait here at the airport. Then again, there's free wi-fi so maybe I'll just look at cat pictures or whatever's on the Internet these days instead.



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9:18pm on Friday, 15th August, 2014:

Flea Market

Anecdote

Last night I walked past the restaurant we were eating at 3 times without spotting it. I had to switch on data roaming to find it on a map, so may be bankrupted by the charges upon my return.

Tonight was at a restaurant attached to the conference venue (well, it was in the grounds of the Schloss) so it was easy to find. I discovered that there was an all-night flea market on in Münster along the premenade (an avenue of treas following the course of the old city walls). At 10pm I therefore said farewell to my hosts and left to see if anyone along the 4km route was selling antique playing cards.

It started to rain.

The reason I couldn't find the restaurant yesterday was that the original restaurant (along with many others in the old town) had not fully reopened following a city-wide flood caused by torrential rain a month ago, so the conference organisers had to go with one slightly off the beaten track. This evening, I got a taste of that rain. It's heavy, persistent and relentless (a bit like the German economy). I got back to the hotel with my legs drenched beneath the knee, my bag (containing the laptop I'm writing this on) leaking water through the zip, my left arm (not covered by my umbrella) wet through my jacket; only my shoes remained watertight, but they're not going to look pleasant tomorrow.

Maybe I'll give the flea market a miss.



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12:54pm on Thursday, 14th August, 2014:

Who, me?

Anecdote

My badge here at the Multi.Player 2 conference has my name as Richard Bartels.

I suspect I fell victim to a German spell-checking software...



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