Monday, 17 August 2009

On Friends...

The epic is over. Let me explain...

Earlier this year, when I'd come back late afternoon from doing long days of genetics experiments in a laboratory, not knowing how long my university project would take to finish, I would come back to college and relax for a short while by seeing if there were any episodes of Friends on satellite channel E4 which I could watch to unwind and feel happy about the world again.

In fact, I'd used Friends for this purpose for a long time. I think I got into it when I was about 15, when I got hooked one Easter holiday from school. I'd watch T4 mornings on Channel 4 and they'd broadcast 2 episodes every day throughout the school holidays. In fact, I ended up watching the final ninth and tenth seasons when they were being broadcast for the first time in the UK on Friday evenings, so I'm very glad I caught it during its original run.

Further to this, I used to catch the first halves of episodes on weekdays before I'd have to leave to catch the train to go to high school when studying for my GCSEs and A-levels. These were good times.

However, going back to earlier this year, coming back from the lab one day, and finding myself catching the last 3 episodes of the final series, I thought I'd go back to my room and try to find the pilot online to see how much it had changed over the years. This made me realise that I'd only seen patchy collections of episodes, and although I may have seen runs of consecutive episodes, I wasn't watching it in such a way that I could best appreciate the humoir and storylines that I knew ran from the start to the end of the 10 series.

So I embarked on a quest to watch all 236 episodes in order online, which has lasted me almost 6 months to this day...

Friends has to be one of the best sitcoms ever, if only for its continually good standard over its ten-year run. Watching from the start in order really endears you to the characters and the plots in that you actually care about what happens to them more. That said, it is what it is, an enjoyable comedic story that gives you a good laugh. (Although it did almost start affecting my real life at one point when I nearly started renting a flat above a coffee shop!)

During this run I stopped myself from doing several other things I will do in the near future:
  1. Buy the Friends DVDs to watch them in a legit way. I will now at some point buy the complete collection (15th anniversary edition), so the makers will get their money back from my enjoyment...
  2. Complete the Sporcle quizzes on Friends episodes and Friends guest stars.
  3. Download the official Friends screensaver.
Oh by the way, watching long-running TV shows like this is very rewarding if done in moderation. But take my advice: at somepoint find some non-spoiler synopses and look for a pretty inconsequential episode in the middle of a series. Skip it. I say I watched all 236, but I've actually saved one from the fifth series which I will watch on a rainy day in the future and be grateful for experiencing one more episode for the first time. That will be a happy day...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

On 9.58...

So, having watched Usain Bolt on this day last year in the Beijing Olympics men's 100m final I was in awe as the apparently drug-free Bolt destroyed the competition to win with a world record time of 9.69 when he clearly wasn't concentrating over the last 20m and wasn't going flat out - the showman that he is. So you might say my reaction was a bit like this...


So today, it was another big occasion - the 100m final of the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, and watching his heats, I could feel that he might do something special in the final should he go flat out.

9.58s!

WTF?! That is like over a tenth off the current record! In an event where the record had never been broken by more than 0.05 seconds since digital timing started! And in a headwind too!

Scientists are always coming up with new models for how fast the human race can run 100m, i.e. the limits of human possibility. They started revising these models when Bolt ran 9.69 seconds; the may as well throw them out of the window now! Let's see what he can do in the 200m...



http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=42907909

Sunday, 9 August 2009

On Purple...

It's nice to know that, even in the ever-changing world of the world wide web, some things stay relatively constant over time. It gives us a sense of security. It's also nice to know that, even in the ever-more-advanced world of the world wide web, some things are as technologically simple as they always used to be.

With this in mind, I bring to you a screenshot of the current page one is redirected to when visiting www.purple.com, as well as a link to the Wayback Machine's archive of the same website over the last 11+ years. Awesome!


Friday, 7 August 2009

On Chelsea Fans...

I wonder if there's any top division football club in the world where fewer fans filling the stadium each week actually come from the area the club is representing...

Kensington and Chelsea only has 159,000 residents and the team's football stadium isn't even in the same borough!

That is all.

What - were you expecting something more controversial?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

On The Count of Tuscany...

That is to say the last track off Dream Theater's new album Black Clouds and Silver Linings

I've been listening to this album a lot since I bought it a few weeks ago and it really gets better with repeated listens (even though the track they chose to be the single is probably the least good in my opinion.) It is in my own and indeed many fans' opinions their best album for a decade. I personally think The Count of Tuscany is their best track since the 45-minute titular epic from the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album.

This track is just so balanced. It starts off with a really nice broken chord acoustic theme. In fact, the first chord is a minor 9th! After a wonderfully tasteful lead guitar solo this then leads up to a driving metal section where the vocals kick in. Granted, John Petrucci's lyrics are pretty appallingly bad, but the musical talent makes this not so much of an issue - I even don't mind the slightly unmelodic Mike Portnoy vocals on this track! You then get the obligatory technical wizardry section from all four instrumentalists before another tasteful guitar solo brings in a very, very chilled volume-swelled guitar section which conjured up memories of Pink Floyd and Yes - actually gives me goosebumps!

From there on starts the best ending to a prog epic I have ever heard, building up into a repeat of the opening solo and theme above some beautiful keyboard patch harmonies. I am so buzzed about the prospect of hopefully playing this one day with some friends at university.

Here is the first half of the track. But if you don't have time for an epic 19-minute prog song, just press play on the second half down below and appreciate it while it is on in the background! Also the comments for that video form one of the greatest threads ever...

Oh, and actually go and buy the album! It's a good time to get into Dream Theater!



Wednesday, 5 August 2009

On Lazy Songwriting...

Another thing which consistently manages to grind my gears is lazy songwriting. As far as I can tell, this is divided onto two categories:
  1. Throwaway music deliberately written to sell records. Usually songs of this type re written my some kind of mogul like Pete Waterman, involve the same old chords rehashed into one of about three different orders, melodies repeated in descending sequences, and a cheerful and bubbly vocalist/group of vocalists whose image is probably better than their pre-autotuned voices.
  2. Rip-off music, made by people who don't have any original ideas or whose original ideas are musically worse than those songs of category 1. So they pilfer, copy, and/or blatantly steal ideas from previously recorded songs often with a well-worked formula for shifting records without giving any credit where it's due.
Now I suppose I don't have a problem with the concept of songs of category 1 per se. It's not like I buy most records of that ilk and if someone has the knack of writing hit records, I'm not one to begrudge them of making a shedload of money out of it.

Songs of category 2 are the ones I am really against. It just really is the laziest possible way to squeeze money out of the music business. The most annoying thing about it is that, so much of the time, these lazy songwriters get away with it because they have powerhouse legal teams.

Just to be absolutely clear about the sort of thing I really dislike, I'll take a moment to make clear what I think should be allowed:
  • Covers - which are required by law to give credit to their original songwriters so they aren't really an issue for me. Covers allow bands just starting out to get more well-known, especially if they release something which sticks very rigidly to the original whereby the band gets credit for their competent playing abilities, or if they release something which breathes fresh life into the song they are covering by approaching it in a totally different way which of course involves some degree of originality.
  • Sampling - Because it actually takes skill and originality to see the potential in just small clips of existing audio material and presenting it in a totally different context. Fatboy Slim and Timbaland have made an art form out of this, among others. Oh, and of course, where something is sampled, credit is once again legally due.
  • Classical Chord Sequences - Because some chord sequences are so entrenched in Western musicality that they will keep up coming up again and again whether people intend it to or not. (Also it would be impossible to police.) Examples include, the chord sequence of Pachelbel's Canon, (the use of which in popular music is lampooned excellently in this clip,) the classic cycle of fifths sequence used in hits such as I Will Survive, the twelve-bar blues sequence, and the chord sequence made popular by the Eagles' Hotel California.
I think that within these guidelines, songwriters have a responsibility of being aware when their songs are using exactly the same chord sequences or melodic ideas as another song and subsequently altering their material to avoid any conflict of interest. I'd have thought that any songwriters worth their salt wouldn;t want their material sounding the same as anybody else's anyway. I'm just a casual creator of music but I know if I'm composing and I think it sounds pretty similar to a piece of music I already know, I'll be so frustrated at myself that I have go back to change it into something that sounds deliberately less familiar. Actually, if it sounds like something else, that is OK. It's typically allowed to pay homage to something as long as no passages sound the same as that of which you are attempting to create a pastiche.

Some songwriters seem to have negated this responsibility. Whether or not they have broken the law is up to the courts to decide. I don't know who *cough* wrote Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind" but everything about it sounds awfully similar to UB40's "Kingston Town"...



And Cascada... how lazy are you for copying yourself ?!



I even think I spotted more lazy songwriting on the radio this week. Please compare Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" with French pop singer Alizée's single "Jen Ai Marre" from several years ago.




You heard that here first!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

On the Left!

I just took a political spectrum quiz on Facebook. Apparently, on a scale of left to right from -10 to +10, I am a moderate lefty at -4.7!

Stupid American scaling. I'd probably be virtually dead centre of the UK spectrum. It's just that the moderate right of America are so conservative compared to the moderate right of the UK it just shifts everything sideways... probably...

I'm still more likely to vote Conservative than Labour in the next general election anyway, even if I am a massive lefty. (Actually I'll almost certainly vote for the current Independent MP if he stands again as he lacks the sleaze and dishonour of most politicians.)

Actually this post was meant to be largely focused on something else...

I find it so annoying in the situation where I'm walking through an area with bodies/furniture/walls on both sides, someone's walking towards me, there's just enough room for us to pass without either of us breaking stride, but we're both approaching pretty centrally. What frustrates me is when that person then moves to their right as if to pass. But that's my right of way, surely?

This is the UK and we drive on the left and catch trains on the left platform. At middle school we were even told to walk on the left-hand side of the corridor! Why should people break with that unwritten rule as extended to everyday pedestrian dilemmas? We would then avoid the 5 second-long awkwardness where both people alternate sides until one person politely lets the other past.

Why, people, why?

Bah!

Monday, 3 August 2009

On In-Jokes... Continued!

So there must be millions upon millions of in-jokes out there, only known to a select few. (I myself probably contribute towards around 1000 of these!) I find this in itself fascinating as it goes a long way to showing how subjective something like humour is, and yet there exist other breeds of humour which transcend contextual boundaries to be enjoyed by millions. Some things we find funny transcend even language and cultural boundaries.



Actually, a few things have crossed the boundary from being in-jokes to being well-known and appreciated by the wider public, things that in my opinion have made the world a sillier and altogether slightly better place...
  1. Lolcats

    Of all the image macros which usually originate somewhere like the Something Awful forums or YTMND, and are more often than not perpetuated ad nauseam on 4chan, lolcats are the most famous in the public domain (although not necessarily the funniest). Basically follow the pattern of about 0.01% of in-jokes on internet forums in that they are created by geeks with not much else to do with their time before being picked up by the masses for some kind of cutesy appeal. Still the humour in adding captions to the natural funny nature of cats' expressions has apparently been know since Victorian times, even though it didn't really become more mainstream until the popularisation of "I can has cheezburger?". The best formula for a lolcat is evidently improper use of the English language, a cat with a daft face or in a stupid position, and often a reference to popular culture.




  2. The Wilhelm Scream

    Which is a sound effect used in a lot of movies or cartoons when a character falls a great distance or in other similar scenarios. For a long time it held in-joke status among film sound deigners when one of their number took a tape labelled "man being eaten by alligator" from the little-known film Distant Drums, and started to incorporate the effect into the movies he was mixing, including notable George Lucas films such as Star Wars. As it has now been incorporated by geeky film crews into over 100 movies, awareness of the soundbite has increased, and it is now something that true film buffs keep an ear out for at in every new movie.



  3. Where the Hell is Matt?

    Three of my favourite videos on the world wide web have been contributed by former software developer Matt Harding who, bored of programming games where the object was to destroy the world, decided to travel around it to appreciate its beauty instead. Apparently, he was known among his peers for a silly dance he would perform at office parties. This led to him being prompted to perform this dance at the various locations he would visit while being filmed on video by one of his travelling buddies. The first video was a surprise internet hit, and led to a sponsorship agreement with gum company Stride for a second trip with an even more impressive backdrop. With so many responses asking him to go to various countries so they could join in, they decided to film a third video in which anybody would be able to join in dancing with Matt if they wanted to.

    The results are amazing. The joy on people's faces at doing something completely silly is evident for all to see. I defy you not to smile :-D



Sunday, 2 August 2009

On Anthropomorphic Food...

I don't know whether it's just me or whether it is just something about the human psyche, but whenever I eat food that takes on the appearance of something with a face, I always end up eating around the head/face and saving that part till last. It's almost as if I'm allowing it still to remain anthropomorphic, allowing it to experience its last seconds on Earth, until the last. possible. moment.

This actually sounds unbelievably stupid... especially given that I'm an avid meat-eater. Having said that, how many people do you know who eat a Lindt Bunny head first?

And could you bring yourself to eat a piece of cake that looked like this?!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

On Alanis Morissette...

From time to time I feel the urge to buy on CD what tend to be described as "classic" albums. Previous urges have led me to buy such history-making albums as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dark Side of the Moon, and Nevermind.

This time, I decided to buy Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette.

So I've been sitting here in the study, checking my e-mails and catching up on my blogging while listening to the album all the way through, as is a requisite to truly appreciate a "classic" album. Needless to say, it is angst-ridden brilliance! I probably can't add anything that people haven;t said about this album before but I think the track You Oughta Know stands out as one of my favourite moments. The bitterness in Morissette's singing really comes through. That, coupled with guest appearances from Flea and Dave Navarro from RHCP fame on bass and guitar respectively, probably make it one of the best [breakup] songs ever!

While listening to it I looked up her discography and was surprised to find out that when she was 16, she was a dance-pop sensation in Canada! Never saw that one coming...









No. I didn't see Matt LeBlanc coming either...

Friday, 31 July 2009

On In-Jokes...

As an outsider, trying to interact in a conversation where my closest friends and I are just casually talking as a group must be a pretty unfathomable thing to do. If you know me and have noticed this, I am sorry.

I would say my closest friends basically fall into three groups: one consisting of friends from university; one of friends from high school; and one comprising a couple of long-term friends from first school. I do realise that for anybody outside any of these groups, once we've started chatted, the forum is pretty impenetrable to virtually all other people, that includes people trying to interact across these groups, although I have been working on making the latter two groups interact more!

Part of the reason for this impenetrability is the custom slang we use. However, The biggest reason is the choice of conversation topic. Apart from standard small-talk and a small amount of sensible discussion his usually includes, but is not limited to:
  1. Shared experiences - the foundation upon which friendships are made in my opinion. For example, memories of specific lessons at school.
  2. Proposed ideas for future shared experiences - which often comically involve high degrees of implausibility.
  3. Shared musical or sporting interests - which are often very technical and/or almanac-like in their nature.
  4. Things we all find funny. For example, comedy shows on TV, YouTube Poop, internet memes.
  5. Gossip or recollections about mutual friends and acquaintances, commonly involving over-exaggerated or completely fabricated extensions of their characters
  6. Ridiculous long standing in-jokes based on all or none of the above...
  7. J.J. STOKES!

(I know there exist only 2 or 3 people in the universe who could possibly find point 7. funny but hopefully I will have succeeded in making those people spit out their tea...)

The point is, the closest friends we have will be the people we meet and become friends with first of all because they share similar interests or experiences to ourselves. These people will then become the people with whom you will go on to experience life. Upon intricate memories of these experiences, long-standing cryptic jokes will be made, and these complex jokes in turn reward long-term friendship (just as running gags reward long-term viewers of a sitcom.)

Sometimes a group of 2 or more people will already be friends by the time you find out that you have a lot in common and start to become friends with them.

In this instance you have the option of either letting them carry on with the old in-jokes and inevitably end up forming new in-jokes with them as a way of cementing your blossoming friendship, or politely asking the origin of the old in-jokes and cement friendships that way.

Often, the latter process can be a frustrating affair and rely on one of those "you had to be there" moments we all find awkward. However, sometimes the process can be rewarding, and the act of retelling the story which led to the recurring gag can be rewarding in itself.

But then again, sometimes, especially in my circles of friends, the jokes are just too stupid...


TO BE CONTINUED...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

On BBC News...

I know there are now lots of advocates for ITN news and now, more than ever, for Sky News and CNN, but I have always been a traditionalist when it comes news broadcasts and I always come back to the Beeb for my daily dose of journalism. I just think everything looks and feels more professional about their coverage compared to the tackiness of other channels and they really cover the big events well.

The BBC is obviously in a unique situation compared to virtually all news outlets in the world. The Government allows them to be funded through a television licence fee. In accordance with its charter the BBC is answerable only to the viewing public as to what it broadcasts within certain legal obligations. It is also unique in that, as part of its charter, it pledges impartiality from any political allegiance. In its news coverage, it must represent everyone yet no-one in particular - something that is overseen very stringently by OFCOM.

BBC News, and its programming, is constantly under scrutiny from other media outlets - online, in the newspapers, and from their competitors - none of whom needs to remain unbiased in their coverage. In any political or contentious issue, the belligerents on one side of the argument always seem to accuse the Beeb of being partial to and favourably representing the stance of the other side.

At the end of the day, resolutions to these accusations are rarely found as any alleged bias is usually so subtle that the any observed impartiality is largely deemed subjective. However, sometimes it has turned out that the BBC did indeed misrepresent one side of the argument, such as their reports that the Labour government "sexed up" a dossier about WMDs in Iraq, which were based on unreliable sources (notwithstanding how true the allegations actually were.) Of course, repercussions were felt all the way to the top and the relevant heads rolled.

However, these instances are few and far between. When presented with them, the BBC news team once again has a unique task - to report on its own mistakes impartially, something which they always do with great professionalism. It almost makes me feel sorry for the BBC that they are generally very good at remaining impartial and unbiased, and yet when they slightly stray, albeit just because of the personal bias of one of their employees, the consequence is that the whole corporation gets tarnished.

Still, I believe they are deservedly one of the most trusted news sources nationally and globally. As UK residents, we don't receive BBC World Service but it is apparently highly regarded all around the world and even though the BBC is regarded as "unsafe" and banned by West-hating regimes in some parts of the world, they still have correspondents in more countries than any other news service. At least, the BBC is once again legally broadcasting from Zimbabwe.

In addition to this, the BBC News website is one of the most viewed websites on this side of the Atlantic. In my opinion it really does provide the best coverage of the general happenings in politics, international news and sport. There's always something interesting amongst their recent science and entertainment articles as well. Also, it must be the single most linked-to website from my friends on Facebook barring YouTube.

One thing that really grinds my gears still is that awful theme music - the stuff that Bill Bailey describes as sounding like some sort of "post-apocalyptic rave". Why on Earth don;t they bring back the awesome music and graphics from the old Nine O'Clock News from the early 90s?

It really gives me chills at how good it is - that's the kind of music that makes people proud to be British!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On Daily Photo Projects...

Noah takes a photo of himself Everyday for 6 years...



Many of you will already have seen the above viral video comprising the first 2000-odd images of this project flashing by at a rate of 6 per second set to a haunting piano score. When i first watched it almost 3 years ago I must say I was enthralled by the beautiful simplicity of the idea. Every day he held a camera at arm's length and took a picture of himself with the same neutral melancholic expression in a range of locations in and around his home at at work.

For some reason I found this compulsive viewing, although the other people I showed the video to at university were divided as to its worth. Personally I find it amazing how a whole life can be condensed down to a few minutes of images. I also like the idea of maintaining a thread of continuity across such a long period of time, during which so many things in life will inevitably change, yet the taking of the photos and the person in the image remains constant. Perhaps though that's just the emotive music having an effect!

I suppose I can appreciate how it could be seen as boring. Noah's not exactly the most exciting person to watch seeing as between the ages of 19 and 25 his appearance doesn't really change all that much bar his fair flopping all over the place and even that seems to be kept within a length range of about 2cm for most of the shots. Still, by the look of his latest photos, he's looking a bit more haggard and sporting scruffy facial hair, so I shall look forward to his next video.

Anyway, like it or loathe it, from the number of views it has had on Youtube, he is probably one of the most successful Visual Arts graduates ever in reaching an audience. That, and the video has had what has been described as the greatest praise any visual media can have, to be parodied by the Simpsons.

Having been interested by this video, I started to look at others of the same ilk.

I must say that my favourite is this one by Jonathan Keller who actually started some time before Noah. I think this is made better by the speed at which the photos whizz by, which allows you to get a greater impression of the change in his appearance over a long span of time, made all the more clear by the precision with which he poses each day and centres his eyes for each shot making up the video. Furthermore, he experiments with his appearance a lot more than Noah, with glasses, and a variety of cuts to his hair and facial hair, especially near the end of the video.


Keller has also compiled a list of other notable obsessive photo projects, including this one of a man who has photographed himself every day for 17 years (!), which I encourage you to browse through if you have been interested by the above (and of course there are loads more on YouTube).

I must say I tried doing this for myself starting in January 2007, which made me realise just how much of a bother I would have found it to take one every day! I found it pretty hard to pose in exactly the same neutral (?) way all the time and I ended up missing a day before a month had gone by. I guess I'll just have to remember my youth through standard photos, but I can deal with that.

Besides, making a blog post every day has been more fun so far!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

On Epic Beards...

Some people have the ability to grow really epic beards. In this context, epicness can constitute great length, great thickness, or great shape.

Some people do not have the ability to grow epic beards.

Some people may have the potential to grow an epic beard, but haven't yet reached the stage of their life where this potential can be fully realised.

I have a beard. I try to keep it neat. Sometimes it looks OK in the mirror. It always looks bad in photos which probably means it looks bad to everybody else. I hope that I am in the third category above and that it will one day look good!

Until then, it's coming off from tomorrow...

R.I.P. Billy Mays - you had a truly epic beard. Mine will never be as good as yours!




Monday, 27 July 2009

On the Simpsons Theme...

Danny Elfman is one of the most successful and most prolific television and film music composers of the last 30 years. However, amongst the majority of people who know that name already, seldom will not have discovered it through wondering who created that catchy theme at the start of The Simpsons.

To say it is a catchy piece of music is an understatement. I mean there can't be many people who haven't had the first five notes running through their head at some point in their life...

...which is probably something to do it's use of the jarring yet unforgettable tritone interval present between the first and third notes (C to F#) complemented by the angular underlying harmony.
At least it resolves itself to the more conventional harmony of a G so we don't get too put off my the tritone - the so called "devil" of music!

My own geekiness about music theory aside, The Simpsons Theme, is probably one of the public's favourite TV theme tunes, and even though it was originally recorded by a full orchestra (with frills such as a saxophone and a glockenspiel!) that hasn't stopped people around the world from recording their own versions, with various degrees of success, and posting them on the internet for our enjoyment. Now, I have spent many hours over the years watching people play this, I have collated the best ones here - so that we no longer have to fall victims! (By the way, the best one's at the bottom...)

Firstly, perhaps the most famous (at least the most viewed with ~10,000,000 views) - Zack Kim on not one, but two guitars!



Also with over one million views, Sean Gordon, showing us what is possible with one guitar and no amps...



We know that bassists hate guitarists getting all the glory. Well, not to be outdone, here is Steven Melensen with 80,000 views...



And to complete the rock band, here is Andrea Vadrucci on drums (although he does cheat a bit by using a backing track!)



Mixing things up a bit, we have the Carpe Diem String Quartet, albeit with only 1500-odd views...



And an even stranger quartet with only 400 views comprising tubas and euphoniums...



Now, to the bizarre, with an accordion arrangement by Sukun...



Of course, you don't need instruments to play the theme of The Simpsons, here's the a capella group Canvas...



And finally, the best of all the pianists (and in my opinion all musicians) attempting this piece of music, adding real flair and pizzazz (although I might be swayed by the addition of the Gracie Films jingle at the end) - Tal Zilber...

Sunday, 26 July 2009

On Confidentiality...

I don't have any problem about this country's current confidentiality laws as far as I understand them. It does raise some interesting issues in my mind about the logical meaning of a sentence though.

For example, say Joe Bloggs brings his teenage son Fred into a GP surgery and waits outside the consultation room while Fred goes in to speak with the doctor about his (um...) genital herpes. The consultation goes fine but when the GP opens the door to let Fred out, his father is there, asking the doctor a question...

Father: Did Fred come in to see you about his genital herpes?
Doctor: Fred may or may not have come in to discuss genital herpes. I'm not obliged to disclose that information.

And this probably hasn't breached confidentiality law.
However, if the conversation goes as follows...

Father: What did Fred come into see you about?
Doctor: Fred may or may not have come in to discuss genital herpes. I'm not obliged to disclose that information.

The doctor's answer is the same logically. As much as you break down that sentence he has said exactly the same thing. Yet it seems he has disclosed extra information compared to the first answer. There is an implication, a subtext, that Fred has genital herpes, that didn't seem to be as present in the first answer. Therefore, I'd imagine that the second answer is more likely to be found to be breaching confidentiality laws than the first.

Interesting...

What do I conclude from this? That the logic that governs language can't deduce every implication of a sentence and is thus context-independent, whereas the law that governs what can or cannot be said through language is highly context-dependent...

At least that was my conclusion!


Edit: Apparently, there is a whole field of linguistics called Pragmatics devoted to the contextual differences we apply to language such as in my example above. Awesome!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

On Team Kit...

The internet is a big place. I like to think I know good places to look if I want to find something I will find interesting or funny, but unfortunately, with the internet being so big, it's impossible not to let some things pass you by.

With this in mind I always keep a watchful eye over the Facebook homepage when I can, particularly the right hand "Highlights" column. This is the place where if one of my 600+ "friends" has posted something particularly funny, it will show up here having been commented and liked by a least a few of my other "friends". Two such links appearing here in the last few days have concerned new strips of sports teams, for reasons I will discuss shortly.

In Britain, the team sports which are followed by the most people are undoubtedly football, cricket, and rugby in its union and league codes.

Of these, only football and rugby strips are actually high profile in any way. (Cricket is either played in the traditional whites or the one-day cricket colourful pyjamas which are pretty tacky and horrible at the best of times so I'm going to largely ignore them, but the same principles basically apply.)

Of all the football and rugby team kits in the world, very few will ever feature any colours outside of red, blue, black, white, green, navy or sky blue, with the occasional splash of yellow, gold or claret. (I am very glad that Chelsea's away strip is no longer completely fluorescent yellow - euch!) Furthermore, an unwritten rule states that only Holland are allowed to play in orange.

Combinations of two or three of the above colours are largely acceptable. The rugby union side Harlequins are typically allowed to get away with more because they're, well... they're harlequins! I say combinations are largely acceptable because some combinations are so foul they defy common sense to choose for strips, which are usually a large source of revenue for a club, each of which usually has a devout fan-base who will go out to buy the latest shirt(s) every year before they attend the first game. Some clubs (insert Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc. here) are lucky enough to have supporters around the world to whom they can sell shirts.

Obviously the board of Newcastle United, who are losing money more quickly than the current government (disclaimer: that may or may not be true) aren't bothered about getting some money back through the sale of their new away strip, as they have come up with this ghastly concoction of yellow and orange stripes which makes them look a bit like bannoffee pie.


Even, though team strips dipped into the more unusual combinations of acceptable paints come and (usually pretty quickly) go, one team has done the unthinkable.,,

That team was Stade Français Here, because I can't phrase it any better than this, is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

"In 2005, [club president] Guazzini went further and chose to shock the ’’macho’’ world of rugby by introducing a pink away jersey, pink being one of the rarest colours used by sports teams."

So you will understand that, when I tell you that this rugby team were playing in shocking pink shirts, I mean it on about 3 levels! Yet apparently this seemingly crazy idea struck a chord with the apparently fashion-loving Parisian crowd, as they sold 20,000 of them for the 05-06 season (compared to about 3 for Newcastle's away strip this season - see above.)

Following this, they went on to stir up more discussion have pink lilies on their 06-07 season home shirts. However, having followed up a link on my Facebook homepage, as alluded to earlier, I have come to the conclusion that the kit designers for Stade Français's 2009-2010 season have really excelled themselves. While the home strip is pretty mundane by their crass standards, their away kit is pink (again) with a baby blue print of Blanche de Castille surrounded by stars. However, on seeing their third strip, I was astounded...

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you their alternate strip for the current season.

(I recommend sunglasses before viewing this image...)


WOOOW!


Friday, 24 July 2009

On Dramatic Animals...

A lot of my recent blogs seem to have been pretty lengthy and boring to read. It needn't be that way every day.

So today I offer you the ultimate choice...

Dramatic Cat...
Photobucket

...or Dramatic Dog?
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VOTE NOW!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

On Kindness...

One day I hope to become a doctor. Whatever I decide to specialise in my primary aim will be the same: to have a reputation for being (1) knowledgeable and skilled in my subject area, and (2) kind to my patients and colleagues. It sounds simple enough but these are probably the two things which the majority of people value most in a doctor. Whereas no clinician can realistically go without being knowledgeable or skilled for too long before they get struck off, basic kindness is something with is perhaps neglected a little by too many. Being kind involves treating each patient as a person first and foremost, a person with their own individual personality and requirements which need to be understood and appreciated in order to make the best mutual decisions in their healthcare, rather than just as another case, a problem to be solved, or a statistic in a database.

In the meantime, it is a trend that has been noticed by many over time, that people on the whole are getting less polite and less thoughtful about others. I'm not talking about people's friends and family necessarily, as much as I am the strangers we meet every day. It's about little things like smiling, using P's and Q's, holding doors open, offering helping someone at the train station with their luggage, and not ignoring the homeless person at the side of the road. These are the simple yet kind things we could reasonably expect from the majority (rather than the minority) of others if society hadn't partially disintegrated. And I know I'm guilty sometimes for doing some of these things too infrequently.

It's not all doom and gloom though...

One recent notion has been that of performing so-called random acts of kindness above and beyond those described above. These typically involve cheering up or assisting a stranger that one will probably never see again or even never see at all! They can be monetary or otherwise, extravagant or simple, for loved ones or for strangers - there is no set formula for what one of these acts constitutes, other than that the result makes all the parties who leave the little microcosm in which the act occurs happier than when they entered it.

The Random Act of Kindness Foundation was apparently set up in 1995 and has been promoting the worldwide soreading of kindness ever since. However, it was one of my favourite films, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (or just Amélie outside of France), which popularised the concept and where it also caught my attention.

This is a top-notch film - 5 stars in my estimation. I just fell in love with the character of Amélie - who appreciates (and deprecates) the small details in life just as I like to do. I also love her random acts of kindness, such as when she the blind man she sees every day at the Metro station by the arm and walks him along the street to road to the station temporarily giving him the gift of "sight", something which obviously gives his character a fuzzy warm feeling inside!



This whole concept just makes me think how much I'd like to cheer up people as a hobby, through unexpected leftfield acts, in addition to helping them in more conventional ways. Now imagine if everybody did the same, how much misery would be lifted from our 21st Century society, because whether the effects last for minutes, hours, days, weeks or a lifetime, happiness is certainly infectious...

Here are some ideas to try from the RAK Foundation's Twitter blog (KindTimes) plus a few extras:
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  • Give someone a flower.
  • Visit a nursing home with smiles and friendly conversation.
  • Help your neighbour with gardening.
  • Pay for the person behind you at a toll booth.
  • Buy a homeless person their favourite hot drink.
  • Write a kind note and stick it on the inside of the door to your building.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

On Top of a Hill!

Today my family and I decided to go on a nice ride through the Worcestershire countryside, as we had done on the same date last year.

To remember the day I took my new point-and-shoot digital camera, an insurance company's replacement for one that had been stolen in Newquay last September. I say new because it only came into my possession a couple of weeks ago due to a number of reasons albeit primarily my own disorganisation about getting it sorted.

Of course, through losing the camera in its case, I also lost the memory card that was inside it, as well as a mini tripod i was housing in the case. So this Sunday just gone I made use of an awesome offer at Morrisons of one 4Gb SDHC memory card for just £7, which I was delighted to find, after I'd put it into the camera this morning, gave me the ability to capture and store about 1500 images at a 10 Megapixel quality or 70+ minutes of video footage. Also at one point today, when we stopped in Worcester to buy some birthday cake, I was able to nip into Jessops to buy a replacement mini tripod.

Later on, the opportunity arose for me to climb up the Herefordshire Beacon (one of the Malvern Hills) where I had taken some nice pictures on my old camera the year before.
There was one I remembered I had taken last year which I thought was a particularly scenic photograph [see below] so I thought I might try to recreate that with the new camera to compare the image quality, but without my laptop with me I had to rely on my memory to orientate myself correctly. Also, whereas last year it was a beautiful sunny day, today was drizzly and blustery. However, with a little cropping and resizing the photos line up pretty well. (Click to expand)


As an exercise in comparing cameras, it was rather fruitless! Today's photo seems less crisp but then the lighting conditions were not as favourable. However, the resolution is slightly better so hopefully, given comparable weather, the new camera will outperform the old one in quality.

What strikes me as most interesting when comparing the two images is, firstly, the very distant scenery near the horizon being more distinguishable in the damp, gloomy conditions of 2009 as opposed to the summery haze of 2008 and, secondly, how this photo shows the rotation of the crop fields in the foreground between harvest years and fallow years...

Well
at least I found that interesting!

Of course, despite the fact I was alone on the hill, I couldn't leave without taking a phoney tourist photo to use on Facebook using my tripod and a self-timer. It's me trying to be inspired by the landscape which inspired Edward Elgar to compose some of his most famous and beautiful pieces, including the Enigma Variations, when he lived in Malvern and used to walk the same routes over a century ago.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

On Bacon Cheese...

We, the cheese-consuming population, are always searching for novel ways to enjoy our cheese. Having said that, we are also fond of familiarity and will often resist trying new and exotic cheeses except on special occasions. In day to day life I rarely encounter anything outside of Cheddar, Wensleydale, Stilton, Brie, Edam, Emmenthal, Parmigiano, mozzarella or the branded processed cheeses you can buy in the supermarket, including cheese in a tube.

Therefore, the ongoing challenge is to use your brain and palate to experiment with concoctions of the above cheeses with each other and/or with other food in order to find your own personal cheese combination holy grail. I refer you for instance to one idea proposed by the creators of The Fast Show:



Often, early pioneers have done most of the work for you already. I regularly buy one of the presets in my favourite local sandwich shop at uni consisting of Brie, bacon and chicken on a white bread panini, the so-called BBC, but the lovely staff still question my motives when I upgrade the above sandwich by dropping out the bacon and adding sausage, tuna and chicken in a Cajun sauce. (This can then serve as the day's sole meal when the canteen isn't open at the weekend!)

Now last year, two good friends of mine went on a road trip round Scandinavia and flicking through their photos of the trip on Facebook brought up the following image,

underneath which Pete had written: "How does bacon/cheese in a tube work? We did not dare discover..."

I was immediately jealous of the opportunity they had spurned and posted in response: "OOOOOMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGg - my life would be virtually complete if I found that..."

Of course, we are all capable of a little hyperbole and silliness in Facebook comments! (Aren't we?)

Nevertheless, Pete returned triumphantly from his second visit to Sweden this week with a tube of BaconOst! Which he presented to me today!!

I am of course overjoyed. Primula only dared make squeezable ham and cheese, not ballsy (or Nordic enough) to go the whole hog *cough* and make squeezable bacon and cheese! Initial tasting sessions were positive - I look forward to putting some BaconOst on my sandwiches tomorrow, and experimenting over the weeks to come with BaconOst in combination with other savoury delights!

Tack, Pete! Mitt liv är nu lite mer komplett!

Monday, 20 July 2009

On That Baby in the Sun...

Today is of course the 40th anniversary of the first time man ever landed on the Moon, accomplished by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the Eagle lunar module. I like the Moon, so I photographed it using a point-and-shoot digital camera I had to hand during a lunar eclipse in 2007.

Surely landing on the Moon was one of the single biggest achievements in mankind's history. In honour of this, I'm going to spend the rest of this post talking about... the Sun.

Now, the title of this post might be a little confusing. It's not to be taken literally or a start. This is probably a good thing as, should a baby ever actually end up anywhere near our nearest star, they would almost certainly perish and a new generation of health-and-safety jobsworths would immediately attempt to plan a way of printing the words "KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN" on the Sun's surface. Neither, I might add, am I talking about any baby recently featured in The Sun newspaper - apparently Britain's favourite tabloid. Those of you on the same wavelength as me will have immediately understood, from the onset, that the title is a reference to that bloody awful sun-baby amalgam from Teletubbies.

Ever since I first set eyes on this horrendous creation I have thought how vulgar it is. Fair enough, each 20-minute episode of Teletubbies is set over the course of one day, initiated by the Sun rising and closed with the Sun setting over Teletubbyland while the credits roll. But who on Earth came up with the idea of making the Sun a light-emitting baby? And why?! And how come I can't even be spared the relative sanctuary of the rest of the show without the Sun interjecting
every couple of minutes.

The only plausible reason I can think of for the presence of the baby is that humans have been shown neuroscientifically to mimic the actions of similar beings around us (including via recently discovered mirror neurones). So maybe a happy baby was a a psychological ploy to make young preschoolers mimic the smiles and also feel happy whilst watching the show. But it's not even as though the child is always happy. Sure, there's giggling and {shudder} cackling, but then sometimes she looks really stern and sometimes she just stares...

(Also she makes that horrible gurgling noise babies often make...)

It's not the baby herself who is the problem. I just find the concept immensely unsatisfactory. According to the Wikipedia article on Teletubbies, the Sun was played by 7-month-old Jessica Smith. I have nothing against Jessica Smith. Bearing in mind that the show was first broadcast in 1997 (and that the producers seem to use the same baby footage week after week) then she must be 13 by now and I hope she enjoys a long and happy life free from enduring the potential psychological trauma caused by seeing a luminescent version of her face irradiating computer-generated saccharine over the drug-induced world below.

Rant over. Producers, you have a lot of explaining to do...

Sunday, 19 July 2009

On Religious Superiority?

A thought experiment for your consideration:-

Two people (1 and 2) undergo moral development over the exactly the same period of their lives and at exactly the same rate. They form identical principles, philosophies and belief systems and, for the sake of argument, each lives their life altruistically, selflessly, and exactly as the other would in the same situation.

The only difference is that person 1 bases the way they live their life on the principle text of religion A and person 2 on the principle text of religion B. Each text asserts that it is the only true text and that only followers of that text are righteous and will be rewarded for their lives. Each text encourages proselytisation.

Suppose a person 3 comes along, a fervent follower of religion A. Person 3 is told only the information of the first paragraph. Will this person be able to decide which of persons 1 & 2 will be rewarded for their lives? Will person 3 be able to decide which of 1 & 2 should attempt to persuade the other to convert?

Of course not!

What if person 3 is then told the content of the second paragraph? Now person 3 knows which religions each of persons 1 & 2 follow. Why should this make the difference?

My personal beliefs are that nothing can justify this difference. Food for thought...

Is my experiment a vast oversimplification? Yes. Obviously no two people share identical principles, philosophies and belief systems. However, few people can argue against altruism and selflessness being fundamentals of leading a good life, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof (and I am deliberately ignoring objectivism). Regardless of whether anything happens after life, surely adhering to these fundamentals is something we should agree on as being more important than the route one takes to get to them...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

On Jargon...

n. The specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group.

That's the third definition of jargon according to answers.com. More about this coming up. But first I digress...

I don't want to labour the point too much but I really have enjoyed watching the golf coverage this week.

Scroll down three paragraphs if you have no interest on my comments of golf!


The scenery has been awesome; the play has been fantastic. Above all else though I have enjoyed the commentary. I always do. Most of the time the extensive BBC team stick to task but from time to time they digress to matters away from the televised action. Wayne Grady will often talk about a particular Australian golfer's family/residence/etc. or how about Australia's chances in the Ashes. Ken Brown will often muse about the beauty of nature or poetry.

However, it is the always entertaining commentary of the ineffable stalwart of the BBC's golf coverage team, Peter Alliss, really is one of the main reasons for watching the golf on TV - whether it be the disbelief of the BBC letting him make his possibly sexist but probably well-meaning remarks about women's golf, the exaggerated and borderline homoerotic comments on players' shots and the swings that produce them, or his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game's history, often through personal experience (such as his recollection today about spending time on the course with Harry Vardon, who was winning majors at the turn of the 20th Century!)

I was especially amused by his comment today about a lucky hop Tom Watson had off a grassy knoll en route to landing his ball on the 17th green: 'Ooh, Tom! The golfing gods are with you, Tom. Old Tom Morris looked down and said "Aye..." '

Hello if you've just joined me again.

My major point is that a lot of my enjoyment of the golf commentary is a reward for sticking with it when I first started watching years ago, taking the time to figure out what all of the jargon they were using meant, and researching just a little bit the basic history of the last 100 years of the sport. See, I reckon there is a close relationship between the amount you know about a particular sport, particularly its jargon, and the enjoyment you can get out of that sport, with critical points representing the ideal amount of jargon to know for both casual and avid armchair sports fans alike:
(The graph doesn't go through the maximum negative enjoyment value because people can probably derive limited enjoyment from just the moving pictures)

Point in case? A close friend of mine used to find cricket boring and impenetrable until a cricketing buff mutual friend of ours took the time to explain some of the main ins and outs of the game to him (no pun intended). Now? Well... he at least finds cricket more tolerable and during some of the faster-paced games mildly enjoyable! He is represented by the first critical point. Another case study is my relationship with baseball. On the above graph, I used to be at about the first critical point. Again, a third party was involved to explain to be some of the finer points of the rules and some research into what all of the stats actually represented brought me up to the second critical point!


This principle probably doesn't just have to apply to sports commentary; it can apply to music, art or virtually anything! Discussions with my friends at uni about different subject areas we study has shown me that the more I know about the terms they are using, (and jargon is pretty much unavoidable with a lot degree level science and philosophy it seems,) the more likely I am to truly appreciate it and not just have to nod my head politely. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way (especially between the two critical points!)
although it must be said (as just pointed out to me by that cricket-tolerating friend) that jargon is just one part of acquiring a deeper understanding of a sport, something that I think you can probably learn to some extent indirectly just learning the lingo. I have just isolated jargon as it is probably one of the most obtuse things about any particular sport a novice viewer encounters.

After all that I leave you with a wonderful photograph of Ailsa Craig, a granite Scottish island which forms part of the wonderful backdrop to this year's Open golf. (Picture taken by Paul Hart, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence)


Friday, 17 July 2009

On Golf...

I've never played golf. Well, the closest I've ever come to playing golf is the putting green in Stourport-on-Severn. (I'm not sure that counts!) It's not that I've never wanted to. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be a complete fish at it. As a juggler and a musician I think I probably have decent enough hand-eye co-ordination to give it a good go and I enjoy most other sports with the hit-ball-with-funny-shaped-stick theme.

The things holding me back are probably two-fold:
  1. The concept of spending so much money (on clubs and club membership) just to hit a ball around some lawns probably goes against my subconscious instincts.
  2. The fact that my mom seems so against golf in general, describing it as a "game for wimps". Could I dare take up a hobby which would lead to me being classed as a "wimp" my OWN mother?
You know, I really would like to find out whether or not the reputation for that pedantic and conservative "country club"ethos and mentality is actually justified and I do reckon it would be good fun but I suppose it's one thing I'll set aside until I get challenged by a future boss to a match. That way I'll be almost guaranteed to lose and, according to things I'm sure I've seen on TV but can't but can't fully recall, that's probably a positive thing for a healthy relationship with one's superiors.

As it stands, putting greens are as far as I (rarely) go. Having said that, I enjoy very much watching golf on TV, especially when whole days of BBC schedules are cleared to make way for coverage of The Open Championship. I am writing this blog post two days into the current championship. Following two rounds, Tom Watson, who turns 60 this year and has long retired from the full-time PGA tour, has shot a leading score of 135 or 5 under par. In comparison, Tiger Woods, athletic, powerful, skilful, undoubtedly deserving of his long-term status as world #1, and the massive pre-tournament favourite, has shot 145 or 5 over par, missing the cut. There is something just... nice... about the old guard showing the new breed how to play the game properly, winding back the clock for one last hurrah, something which applies just as well in any sport, but has particular resonance in golf where players aged 16 and 59 can legitimately (yet rarely) compete against each other at the highest level.

Good luck Tom Watson - I hope you continue to play well this week and maybe you can even outperform Greg Norman's 3rd place finish in last year's Open...

Of course, I cannot write a blog about golf without discussing what is one of my favourite traditions of all time and certainly one of my TV highlights of the year. This is the presentation of the Green Jacket and with it membership to one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world to the winner of the year's Master tournament in the Augusta National Golf Club's "historic" Butler Cabin. Oh what fun it would be when good old American Southern boy-turned-bigwig Hootie Johnson used to introduce the champion to the worldwide audience and, of course, his "good friend" Jim Nantz to ask the new chamion questions about his day's fine play. Alas, Hootie Johnson retired as Chairman of the club before the 2008 ceremony but 2009's presentation brought back memories of those awkward introductions of yesteryear which had been missing in 2008.

Here is 2006's presentation. You either "get" why this is funny or you don't. It can't be explained. I'm sorry if it's the latter...