Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dawks And His Newsletter

You'd think that readers leaving comments at the bottom of newspaper articles only started in the early 2000s.

But it dates back to at least '96. That's 1696.

According to Slate,

In 1696, British publisher Ichabod Dawks left blank space in his pages for readers to supplement the words he printed. The first edition of Dawks's News Letter, dated Aug. 4, 1696, told readers, "This letter will be done upon good writing-paper, and blank spaces left that any gentleman may write his own private business."

And it spread to the colonies:

....the Boston News-Letter, first published in 1704. Its proprietor, John Campbell, deliberately left blank space in its pages so subscribers could annotate and otherwise append their ideas and "news" to the newspaper. These amendments weren't aimless jottings, either. Newspapers were routinely shared after purchase, and the notes readers added in the spaces and margins were designed to edify the friend or acquaintance the reader next forwarded his paper to.

Makes me wonder if this continued throughout the 18th century, and what impact it had on the American Revolution....

And makes me think that Ichabod needs to be a little better known, he's not even mentioned in wikipedia!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Ensemble Darkhorse

I've never seen the TV Tropes website mentioned on another blog. Which is strange, because it's a pretty massive, informal wiki-type site that looks at writing techniques, plot devices , characterisation and a whole lot more in TV, film, literature, anime etc.

I've tried to explain the site to people, when I speak about their eyes tend to glaze over.....

But anyway, for example, the "Badass Bookworm" character trope includes Indiana Jones, Hermione Granger and Siegfied Sassoon.

An example of a plotting trope is "It's a wonderful plot", typified by the film "It's a Wonderful Life" with other examples being the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", and a very dark episode of "Rugrats"....

But the site goes beyond fiction - and this is my reason for writing about it here - there's even an entry for Nick Clegg , who is categorised, amongst other things as an Ensemble Darkhorse, But Not Too Foreign and a Casanova....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Tetris History Of The USSR

Otchen horosho.

Hat-to: Hit and Run

What Do You Get For £1.2bn These Days?

I'm pleased to see Lib Dems like Roger Williams raising huge question marks over the government using Philip Green as an advisor:

Roger Williams, Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said that while Green was "very capable", the reports of his tax arrangements should be "looked at" by HMRC and the Treasury.

"We are very keen that artificial arrangements are minimised," he told the Guardian today.

The paper points out that:

Green, known for partying with model Kate Moss and X Factor svengali Simon Cowell, as well as his business acumen, banked the biggest pay cheque in corporate history in 2005 when his Arcadia fashion business, which owns Topshop, paid a £1.2bn dividend. The record-breaking payment was paid to his wife, Tina, who lives in Monaco and is the direct owner of Arcadia. As a result, no UK income tax was due.

£1.2bn? What does that buy nowadays? Looking around the Guardian website, I found something that nearly matched up:

Avastin prolongs life but drug is too expensive for NHS patients, says Nice

Campaigners last night criticised the health watchdog after it ruled that a drug was too expensive to be prescribed on the NHS – despite evidence that it can prolong life in bowel cancer patients.

Avastin (bevacizumab) can help patients with advanced bowel cancer which has spread to other organs, usually the liver and lungs.

It is the standard treatment for the illness in many countries around the world, and is currently being trialled for use in other cancers, including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said it had considered the drug, including a risk-sharing scheme from the manufacturer Roche, but still considered the price too high for the extra benefit it gives patients.

Avastin costs almost £21,000 per patient and an estimated 6,500 people per year could be eligible for the drug.

The efficacy isn't fantastic - it only adds an average extra 6 weeks to life expectancy, but it can do better than that:

A teacher diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer today said she was extremely disappointed the health watchdog has turned down a "life-saving" drug for use on the NHS.

Barbara Moss, 55, (below) said she was "living proof" that Avastin works.

In November 2006, she was given three months to live after doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her liver. After two treatments of Avastin, her grapefruit-sized tumour shrank to half its size and she could have surgery. She has been in remission for 18 months.

I note that £20,800 x 6500 = £1.35 billion .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thanks Coalition, Thanks Lynne

I'm quite chuffed to see the announcement that wheel clamping on private land is going to be banned in England and Wales. In the past year or so I've heard of cases in Rayleigh where someone has been charged about 200 pounds extra, just for paying by card. And I've seen instances where the vehicle was apparently parked on the public highway, and still got clamped.

So well done - especially to Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem minister overseeing this.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Here's an artistic puzzle for you.

One of my favourite videos on the net is this cute one of a Mum showing her very young daughter how to dance - the music is Nouvelle Vague's version of "Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With". Apart from being fun to watch, it's a scene of a parent enjoying life with their child (two children, actually) in the security of their own home.

Now, if you go to that YouTube page, a couple of links will take you to the website of the artist Sophie Collier. (I don't know if she's the Mum in the video).

And there's a painting that's a puzzle. It's called "The Black Swan Problem and Ms Collier describes it as follows:

The Black Swan Problem references a theory put forth by 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In asking "how many swans does one need observe before inferring that all swans are white..." he points to our tendency to create general rules based purely upon what is factually observed, since we cannot easily or immediately see what is happening elsewhere.

At first glance, this painting depicts an imagined, seemingly inviting and safe refuge of a father and daughter watching the box in opulent and comfortable surroundings. But this is misleading: upon closer inspection there is a less predictable view to be teased out.

The painting has now been shortlisted for stage 2 of the John Moores Painting Prize for 2010

Here's a small image of it - for a bigger version click here.

So this is a scene that's superficially similar to that video - parent and daughter in the security of their own home - except we are told there are other things , perhaps more weird , to be found.

I'm trying to work it out - I've spotted a couple of things so far. Can anyone else see anything?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Guardian's Pledge Tracker

I'm sure I'm not the only Lib Dem blogger still trying to work out whether the coalition is going to be good, bad or ugly.

For now, I have my doubts, but I'm prepared to give it a chance to work. I shudder when I read about the possibility of nature reserves being sold off, but nod in agreement when I see that the Audit Commission is being abolished.

The Guardian has now come up with a little gadget that will aid my thinking on the subject - their "Coalition Election Pledge Tracker" It's worth a look...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First They Attacked Evolution. Now They Are Attacking Physics.

It's alarming how being a "Conservative" in America is starting to mean "Anti-Science". Hence "Conservapedia" which is a kind of right-wing creationist alternative to Wikipedia.

Now it's criticising relativity. Key quote:

The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.

The "Volokh Conspiracy" (which is basically a US intelligent,right-of-centre/ libertarian blog, concentrating on legal issues) has a very readable set of comments on the issue here.

Let's hope this kind of stuff is kept out of UK schools, eh?

You Must See The Dimly-Remembered Flip Side

I just thought I'd mention that one of the very bits of British SF ever is now uploaded onto YouTube.

It's the play "The Flip Side of Dominic Hyde" and part one has had only 2,523 hits - which is absurdly low.

Whether you are a fan of SF and watched ever minute of this season's Dr Who and "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel", or think you loathe science fiction and prefer Jane Austen, do yourself a favour and watch this.

Dominic lives in a clean, quiet minimalist hit-tech future that's perhaps a little too quiet. The word 'happy' seems to have disappeared from people's vocabularies and been replaced by the word 'complacent'....

Sunday, August 08, 2010

2053 Detonations

This thought-provoking and rather eerie animation shows every nuclear explosion from 1945 up to 1998.

It begins slowly, but there's a sort of flash flood of detonations in the 1950s.....

Before you watch it, see if you can answer this question - where did the first nuclear explosion take place in Africa? (that's not including the natural nuclear reactions that took place in what is now Gabon, 2 billion years ago).

Hat-Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Changing the Borders

A slightly sardonic video from the Economist changes Europe's borders.... not to mention coastlines!

Hat-Tip: Hit and Run

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Eastern SF

On the website, there's an interesting article about the return of politically charged Chinese SF. As an SF fan who had never even heard of any Chinese SF before reading this, I've been intrigued. The article centres on a new novel that was published last year in Hong Kong but is now circulating widely :

Chen Guanzhong's China 2013 presents a fairly Orwellian view of China's future. Although Chen has said he does not think his novel is like 1984, certain parallels between the two are pretty obvious. Key Orwellian concepts such as a "memory hole," "doublethink," and "newspeak" find echoes in Chen's novel, and the antagonist is a party official reminiscent of O'Brien, a character in 1984.

As the novel's plot unfolds, on the day that marks the beginning of an unprecedented world-wide economic crisis, the U.S. dollar falls by one-third. The same day, China officially enters what its leaders call "the prosperous time." Every Chinese person accepts this happy coincidence, except for two men and a woman. The three remember events differently: They believe that a month, somehow been lost from public memory, separates these two events. And they set out to recover memories of that lost month.

I don't know if it's translated into English yet...

Monday, August 02, 2010

More Evil-Looking Than Anything On Doctor Who

If you are looking for a website about animals that's a bit out of the ordinary, try Ugly Overload. Their strapline is:

"Giving ugly animals their day in the sun. We avoid the simply tragic, diseased, or maimed." That's where I found the above picture of a Kitefin Shark.

As the authors so ably put it:

Its creepy skin and having its eyes where its nostrils should be might be impressively ugly enough, if that weren't overshadowed by the fact that its eyes are totally the wrong size and in fact seem to come from some other animal entirely.

Ah well, ugliness is only skin deep.
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