The quality of offense is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the lunatic fringe.

October 20th, 2011

Last year I got dragged into an overlong debate on Twitter after linking to a blog. It was a highly articulate and reasoned account by the mother of a child with trisomy 21, of how she’d become upset while in the front row of a Frankie Boyle gig when he’d resorted to the traditional stereotypes assigned to people with Downs Syndrome. He’d clearly noticed she was upset and started talking to her. What he should have said then was: “You know what, you’re absolutely right. But the fact these other 2,999 morons laughed means that here, now, I was doing my job.’ He didn’t say that, and instead his response left her feeling humiliated.

The weird thing was that in all the responses I got and the debates that followed, people didn’t mention ‘upset’ or ‘humiliation’, but insisted on the comedian’s ‘Right To Offend’. I didn’t see anything offensive in Boyle’s comments. Thoughtless and unfair, but not offensive.

Even if the ‘offense’ card could stick though, the fact was that Boyle wasn’t making any great satirical point. He wasn’t trying to make his audience think. If there’s anything offensive to me about Boyle then it’s that a man who can appear so intelligent and sharp when guesting, unscripted on You Have Been Watching, is so heavily reliant on the lazy stereotype and tired cliché of a 70s stand-up for his normal day-job schtick.

BBC4’s Holy Flying Circus last night reflected how the like of Python, Thomas & Lee and Parker & Stone have suffered at the media’s insistence that balance is best represented by inflating the offense taken by the lunatic fringe. Any ‘right’ to offend was hard-won at their hands. In the light of that effort (and heritage), offense without a point is an abuse of the comedian’s privileges. Abuse it too often and you end up with Rowan Atkinson fighting to preserve it in a court of law. That, and whatever it is that Top Gear’s become.

The constant invocation of ‘rights!’ also means that, any point that *is* being made or discussion to be had is drowned out by the dead-eyed howl in defence of the straw sacred cow. Twitter’s current hullabuloo sees Ricky Gervais expanding on his argument from ‘Science’ that the term ‘Mong’ is no longer associated with Downs Syndrome, with intelligent replies from the likes of Richard Herring. It’s an issue for which there’s no right or wrong answer. It touches on censorship and the changing use of language but, like raising the Titanic, it’s still too soon for some to contemplate.

Given the highly personal nature of the issue to people like Nicola Clark, I’m guessing Gervais himself is pretty offended by the self-appointed defenders of comedy simply slinging sub-Chaucerian abuse at her, having dismissed her argument as some kind of affront to free speech.

Most depressingly of all, it suggests that the defenders themselves are now becoming the lunatic fringe.

Nobel Prize, please.

January 25th, 2011

Earth, being a sphere, has 360 degrees of longitude. The 24 hours of its day are each marked by 15 degrees. Fifteen west of London local time is GMT+1. Fifteen to the east an hour in the past.

At London’s latitude, 15 degrees of longitude covers both 1,037,000m, and 3,600s

Dividing distance by time reveals that London is spinning at 288.055 m/s

And that over the course of 89s, London will spin 25.6km

So proving that this photograph shows a rip in the fabric of space-time.


The Thingy That Ate Stuff.

October 20th, 2010

The King took the note from the man with the tray and proceeded to read it aloud.
Its contents were such that it caused quite a stir round the court, (which had drawn a large crowd.)
His cousin, it seemed, who ruled over the hills
wished to tell of his kingdom’s most terrible ills
and how he was: ‘frankly, fed up to the gills’
with some terrible Thingy that ate stuff.

The King took a moment to ponder the note and consider just what it might mean.
He called for his knights, who’d known no such beast in all of the lands they had seen.
So the King told them all to prepare their fine steeds;
To check that their armour had not gone to seeds;
To collect all the things that a Knight Errant needs
and to seek out the Thingy that ate stuff.

Now the King’s noble knights were all bold, brave and true, yet each one felt distinctly afraid.
So they all hurried down to the Smithy to order new razor-sharp swords. (With gold braid).
At sunrise next day you could see them leave town.
The King watched them go with a sad, worried frown,
and he prayed their prowess, (which had earned world renown)
save them all from the Thingy that ate stuff.

The knights had clopped round for a year and a day, fighting dragons and goblins and thieves,
when they came to a cave, whose entrance was hidden by boulders and creepers and leaves,
and they all gathered round with the smallest in front.
From behind came a shove and he cried: ‘What a stunt!’
and he ran round the cave…but he heard not one grunt,
saw no sign of the Thingy that ate stuff.

The small Knight, (Sir Tim), thought this over the mark and rode all the next day in a huff.
Still he followed them round til his patience ran thin, when at last he exclaimed: ‘That’s enough!
‘Let us go to the land where our King’s cousin rules
‘and ask him to help us stop acting like fools.
‘To tell of its looks. If it smells. If it drools.
‘Anything of this Thingy that ate stuff’

They arrived at the castle quite late the next day, disheartened by what they’d not seen.
Not a person or pet. Not a hovel or house or a tree. Not a bird. Not a bean.
And as each man clambered to earth from his ride,
he nervously looked round for somewhere to hide,
for stood by the moat - looking hungry and snide
was the hideous Thingy that ate stuff.

‘What ho!’ said the lead knight ‘You’re hungry I see! Was it you who ate all of this stuff?’
The Thingy just snorted and ate him all up. (Which Tim thought effective rebuff).
‘I’ve eaten this kingdom. You’ll find nothing left
‘but the palace and Princess, who’s somewhat bereft
‘at the loss of her father, but guilty of theft
‘of my heart’. Said the Thingy that ate stuff.

So said, one by one he ate all of the knights til Sir Tim found himself all alone.
Then he picked up Sir Tim who, knowing his fate, let out a sorrowful moan.
A scream from the castle! The Thingy looked round.
Then, feeling a pain, he looked back and down
as Tim unsheathed his sword from the heart it had found
in the chest of the Thingy that ate stuff.

Tim trudged to the castle, his bloodied sword down, and, head in hands, sat by the door,
when all of a sudden the princess appeared, and gazed at the man on the floor.
She leant down to kiss him and hugged him so tight
so that Tim couldn’t breath, and his head became light.
And he surveyed the scene and considered the fight.
How he’d beaten the Thingy that ate stuff.

The King shed great tears when he heard of the fates of his cousin and all but one Knight.
But the whole world rejoiced when they learned they were saved, and heard of the mad Thingy’s
On the journey home Tim proposed to the Princess.
The Princess cried a bit before stuttering ‘Yes!’
And they planned for the day, and the church and her dress
and life after the Thingy that ate stuff.

They were happy together for nine months - no more - before the most terrible day.
All the world mourned for Tim and his bride, who whilst giving birth passed away.
And woe betide any who thought the tale done,
for though lost in the battle, the Thingy had won.
The baby was born and it was Thingy’s son!
Yea the spawn of the Thingy that ate stuff.

Tim was distraught at the loss of his bride, and died from his terrible grief.
And this time the King found not one in his land who could come to his nation’s relief.
Soon the whole world was devoured by the beast.
(Even for a Thingy this proved quite a feast.)
Not a morsel was spared - from the most to the least.
And so ended the Thingy that ate stuff.


October 12th, 2010

Most of us live fairly structured lives these days. We work set hours. Shops open and close at set times. TV shows are consistently scheduled. Public transport is timetabled.

So why do we continue to force time around the vagaries of a tilted-axis orbit and 14th century clockwork technology, of use only to a few EU sponsored rural throwbacks?

I propose a new approach.

From now on, ‘night’ should last a standard 8 hours - night being the time between the sun being half-set and half-risen.

We could call this new standard ‘Greenwich Solstice Time’.

If the sun sets at 9pm and rises again at 5am, then that’s 8 hours.
If the sun sets at 10pm and rises at 4am, then that’s 8 hours.
4pm to 6am? 8 hours.

And so on.

In order to achieve this, the length of hours and minutes will need to be adjusted during the hours of night to make 6 or 10 hours last for 8. And as there are a set number of hours in the day, the hours of day will need to be adjusted in the opposite direction to compensate.

fig one: Maths

In this way we can ensure that ‘night’ lasts from 10pm to 6am, regardless of how long it is dark for, and so allow us to plan more effectively, as we do with all other areas of life.

fig two: Bad

fig three: Good

It will also solve the problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and free us from the annual discussions over whether moving the clocks back and forward raises the incidence of accidents.

All of this should be a sinch with current technology.

What’s more, it should stretch the 5 hours that I have available for sleep to cover the amount of time that I actually *need*. For part of the year at least.

Missing scenes from adverts - parts i & ii

April 11th, 2010

Missing scenes from adverts pt1:
Wallace and Gromit - Smartpower

Spooky music. Slow zoom into a stereotypical haunted house

Horror font: “Revenge of the Killer Watts”

Scene changes to behind a sofa. Wallace & Gromit are watching the film on a huge flat-screen made up of lots of very old televisions.

View switches to Wallace & Gromit watching the film. Wallace hugs a cushion while Gromit reads a pamphlet titled ‘Saving Energy’

Wallace: Oooh oooh it’s even scarier on widescreen, eh lad?

Their faces are lit up by flashing lights from the TVs. Wallace cowers. Gromit snaps his fingers

Scene changes to Gromit walking down the hall where there are spooky pictures of Wallace’s headless and vampire ancestors

Scene changes to the foot of the stairs, where there is a phone-table. Gromit is on the phone, still holding the pamphlet. The lady from the call-centre can be seen in the top-left of the screen

Penny: Hello, Penny from nPower speaking, how can I help?

Missing scene

Gromit goes to speak, and then realises that he is a dog. And mute.

Penny: Hello? Hello-ho?

Gromit looks around for anything that he might be able to use to communicate

Penny: Is there anyone there? Are you calling from a mobile?

Gromit looks at the receiver, tries morse code by tapping it against the table

This causes Penny’s headset to feedback. She winces and whips it off her head, hanging up.

She fades from the shot. Her voice fades with it

Penny: Trevor? This fucking headset’s playing up again…

Gromit hangs up. Thinks. His eyes rest on the newspaper on the table. There’s a headline that catches his eye. ‘Speech tonight at town hall…’ His eyes grow wider as they scan the rest of the article. He’s off! Still holding the pamphlet. Grabs crash-helmet on way to the transporter in the hallway next to a the door with a little sign saying ‘Garage’ on it. Steps into teleport. Disappears with a *crackle-SNAP!*

Scene changes. The Garage. There is an identical teleport unit next to a door that has a little sign with ‘House’ written on it. *SNAP!-crackle* Gromit appears wearing the crash helmet. Runs to the motorbike, jumps on, starts it up, and is off all in one smooth movement.

Scene changes. Outside Garage. Door opens, motorbike zooms out, down the drive, and turns onto the street.

Scene changes. Motorbike zooms along a suburban street

Scene changes to inside the townhall. The lecture hall is packed. Stephen Hawking is giving a lecture. There are a number of civic dignitaries sat in a line behind him, with one inexplicably empty chair. The motorbike crashes through a wall and along the stage, screeching to a halt next to Hawking. Gromit jumps off, gently lifts Hawking into the empty chair, hands him the pamphlet, pats him on the head, jumps into Hawking’s wheelchair, and zooms back out the way he arrived. Hawking does not move other than his eyes, which follow Gromit out of the room, then look down to the pamphlet.

There is silence. A dignitary walks back, doing up his flies, peering at the motorbike. He turns his gaze as he arrives at the previously empty chair, and sees Hawking in it. Hawking looks up at him.

Incontinent dignitary: (Accusingly) Hey!

Missing scene ends

Scene changes: Wallace is biting the cushion. On the wall behind him, Gromit’s shadow tip-toes along. His silhouette has something in his hand

Penny (vo): Now you can see exactly what you’re using…

Link to the Smartpower ad

Missing scenes from adverts pt2:
Barclaycard - ‘Freedom’ Reward Points

A man is in a shop. He has a beard. He picks up a large roll of carpet, walks to the counter and offers his Visa card. The card-reader has a touch-tone keypad, he pauses to appreciate the jaunty tune his pin makes before pressing ‘OK’, withdrawing his card, and walking out of the shop.

Missing scene

There is a younger man browsing in the shop. He has had his back to the counter during the transaction, but heard the tune that the touchpad made, and so now knows the bearded man’s pin number. He follows the bearded man out of the shop.

Missing scene ends

The bearded man walks down the street. He looks very happy with himself as street-performers turn his PIN-tune into ‘Green Onions’.

Missing scene

The younger man is following the bearded man. He is grateful to the streetperformers for helping him to remember the bearded man’s pin. He stops and looks into a shop window as…

Missing scene ends

The bearded man uses his card again to buy some chocolates from a street-seller, who inexplicably has access to electricity and wifi.

Missing scene

The younger man carefully watches which pocket the bearded man puts his card into, and deftly picks the bearded man’s pocket.

Missing scene ends

The bearded man meets a woman in the street. They go for a picnic in the park, sitting on the carpet and eating the chocolates!

Missing scene

The younger man is at an ATM machine, withdrawing the bearded man’s life-savings.

Missing scene ends

Link to Barclaycard ad

RT @Rufous “Women: you are fucking incredible. Seriously. Especially my wife.”

February 6th, 2010

This is a selection of the Tweets that I’d intended to choose from at 12.45am on the 22nd Jan 2010, when announcing the birth of my daughter.

1. Who’s the Daddy?
2. What time do you call this, Young Lady? have you any idea how long your mum and me have been waiting for you?
3. Ooooh I bet that smarts O_o
4. So it turned out the box-fresh white Onitsuka were a bad call.

Nothing big or clever - each just bearing my own stamp to a greater or lesser degree.

So imagine my surprise at finding that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. That a few moments of gruesome barbarity perpetrated against the woman I love, combined with her apparent lack of concern at this treatment, and unremitting determination to see the thing through with minimum fuss regardless of personal cost, left me utterly humbled. As did the gradual realisation that the barbarity and determination - in some quiet, understated, (no - UNstated) way - almost certainly saved our baby’s life. (*)

Imagine my shock at discovering that I am apparently, despite everything, as cliched and sentimental as a Spielberg Oscar-bid.

Facing up to my wife’s new-found superhero status a couple of hours later, I also discovered for the first time that there is a limit beyond which the facetious, trite bullshit that is my stock-in-trade might be inappropriate. It was one of those moments in novels where the protagonist ‘grows-up’ in some symbolic fashion.

As this isn’t a novel, the moment soon passed.

She was pretty special though. xx

(* Incidentally, if you ever discover that you are - despite extreme prejudice - every new-dad cliché you’ve ever heard, then I can recommend multiplying your stereotypical helplessness by sharing no common language with any of the nurses and so being unable to understand what they are doing to the baby or what they’ve done with your wife.)

Sprake, damn you!

January 14th, 2010

It must have happened on the flight over.

Ever since Christmas Eve, time has shattered around me, slowly tinkling to the ground, while I’ve been sat here protected in my own little time-pocket, awaiting rescue.

All around me the rains fall and the waters rise. An ice-age has befallen most of Europe. Tectonic shifts have rent the Caribbean. You have probably observed the passage of time as normal, and yet I, looking on, have not aged.

I am Miss Haversham, only drawn by Basil Hallward.

I am Jeff Lebowski, had the Wu not peed on his rug. But with no J to spark. Or bowling partner.

Like David Bowman, mothership all but shut-down by its emergent intelligence, I wait, (in an inter-dimensional public toilet, for all time and none, with only my past and future self for company,) for Zarathustra’s speech-writer to get a wriggle on.

‘I’m bored’ is the message I’m trying to get across here.

Filling time.

January 5th, 2010

Well you’re still not born. You’re lying there in your mum, (who’s snoring gently beside me with a cold,) switching between playing at being Tremors and being Alien, while I slowly develop bed-sores. That’s your mum in you - there in your mum. She’d be happy to sleep through her entire existence. (She’s giving it a damn good go.) I’d have been out by now. Places to go, people to see - there’s a whole world out here to explore!

And girl, most of it is going to blow your mind. Initially at least. Before familiarity renders it mundane. Your feet are going to take some figuring out, for starters. And hunger. And that warm squelchy feeling in your pants that doesn’t stay warm for long. (We’ll take care of those last two while you’re working out the feet thing.) There are likely to be lots of close-ups of noses and teeth and lots of bad-breath and silly noises to start with as well. Don’t mind them too much. It’ll only be Hufty and Faz.

Then, just when you think you’re starting to get the hang of things: Circles! Red! Sandwiches! Giraffes! Umbrellas! Strawberries! Buses! It’s going to be like the sixties in 6 months. Oh - and you’re going to have to learn it all in two languages. Sorry. But it’ll at least help when you head off on the Inca Trail in 18 years time. (Peru is brilliant by the way.)

We’ll go to the zoo, and I’ll explain how ‘there’s really no such thing as a species - only a continuously evolving and occasionally segregating collection of gene-pools’ while you and your mum work on a radically new scientific classification of the entire animal kingdom into just two phylla: Cute and Ugly. And we’ll all be right. Although before you ask: No we can’t have any of the cute ones.

Before we know it, I’ll be telling you how rubbish pink is. And Westlife. And Hannah Montana and the X-factor and High School Musical. And you and your mum will be telling me how sad and uncool I am. And we’ll all be right. Although probably in separate rooms.

Then you’ll be crying in your room and asking why all men are bastards and I’ll explain that they’re not - it’s just that you’re only attracted to men that are bastards, and you’ll say that’s exactly the kind of bastard comment you’d expect from a man.

From being the centre of the universe to just another anonymous number in 18 short years that will feel like hundreds. It’s quite a trip! Just make sure that you work out who you are, then work out who your friends are, and help each other through it. We’ll still be there in the background when you fall. And one day, if you decide to have kids yourself, you can go back to being the centre of the universe again! Or at least waiting on it.

Of course, this is only one possible future. I can’t guarantee that all or any of it will come to pass - there’s only one way to find out though! So what are you waiting for, eh?

Changing Climates

December 17th, 2009

There have been 5 mass-extinctions of species on Earth to date. The only thing notable about the sixth (of which climate change is only one significant contributing factor) is the speed of its current onset. Ultimately the universe doesn’t care if we survive it or not any more than it did the dinosaurs. Mankind will go extinct at some point, probably from a mass extinction event. A new world will evolve from whatever survives.

It is true that mankind is probably the only species capable of observing its own self-destruction. Indeed to have observed it repeatedly; the Mayans, Easter Island… Of course that doesn’t make us sufficiently intelligent to take the issue seriously now.

For these reasons, it really really doesn’t matter to me whether you believe the facts - as observed to date - about climate change or not. I gave up on you all years back and instead decided to sit watching from the sidelines with some popcorn feeling sanctimonious while you hurled us towards oblivion.

For one night only however, Dr Iain Stewart has caused me to break my taboo. From the press coverage of the past fortnight, people who are genuinely interested in understanding the issues could be excused a little confusion. If you are such a person, and genuinely interested in better understanding the evidence, then programme 2 of this series is what you have been looking for.

I studied Environmental Biology and so have had a scientific training, but I am not a scientist. Nor do I keep up sufficiently with current research to feel confident enough to - for instance - appear on Question Time or SkyNews discussing the issues.

Fortunately however there are people of the calibre of Fraser Nelson (who studied journalism as far as I can tell and who’s primary qualification for discussing the topic appeared to be that he’d read a couple of blogs), and Melanie Phillips (who read English, and appears to be quite, quite mad), to provide the ill-informed sceptic’s viewpoint. A viewpoint that is invariably afforded equal billing on the rolling-news as the ongoing research collected, performed, reviewed and tested by thousands of scientists over the course of decades.

It’s currently very fashionable to describe scientists as smug or strident. Perhaps though, it’s just that we’re not used to being exposed to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

The Ark thing

December 2nd, 2009

Whilst contemplating November’s weather, I got to thinking about the logistics of the whole Ark thing.

Genesis 7:19 says “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered” by the flood. (It also says that this was achieved by water rising to 15 cubits. As this equates to 6.75m and Everest is 8,848m high, I feel this figure can probably be dismissed as unreliable.)

To cover Everest over 40 days and nights would require (average) rainfall at 22,120cm per day (although each day would require slightly higher volume of rainfall for the same increase in level, as the previous day’s rain would have increased the radius of Earth + water-layer.) By contrast, Cumbria last month saw 3.1cm fall in a 24 hour period.

The volume of a sphere = (4/3) x PI x r^3

The Earth’s radius is 6,376,136m

The volume of the Earth is therefore 1,085,828,720,412,530,000,000 m^3

And the volume of a sphere that would cover Everest (ie where r = radius of Earth + height of Everest) is 1,090,355,325,857,130,000,000 m^3

That means you’d need approximately an additional 4,526,605,444,597,920,000,000 litres of water to fall from the sky to cover Everest. The total volume of water available on Earth is 1,460,000,000,000,000,000,000 litres, so the Flood would have required the total amount of water on Earth to increase by 310% for the period of one year. (God’s maths is rubbish - seriously: Genesis 8 - but it appears to be 394 days over either 10 or 14 months, during which Noah ages exactly one year between the rains starting and the dove disappearing.)

The additional water means the oceans would only have been a quarter as saline, so Noah must have had chuffing great tanks on the ark holding (among all other marine creatures) whales and sharks. A blue-whale tank (a very constrictive one) would need around 16,000,000 litres (including the whale), and the volume of the ark was 41,006,250 litres, (Gen 6:15 > 300×50x30cubits) so it would force 40% of the ship under water. It also doesn’t leave a lot of space for any other whales. I guess he might have taken babies, but baby whales grow a lot in a year. Plus what did he feel them on? Actually what the hell did he feed an adult baleen whale on? He’d need a whole nother tank just for Krill. Also, as the ark was 13.5 metres high with three stories, there would only be space for a tank out on deck, which would make the whole design very top-heavy and unstable.

In addition to the design concerns, the Earth is a closed system. The amount of water here hasn’t changed for 2bn years. Which means that in order for a layer of water to cover Everest, the existing amount would need to expand to fill a greater volume. To cover Everest, you’d need to decrease the density of water from 1kg/l to 0.24kg/l Water turns to steam at 0.959303 kg/l. The ark would need to be considerably lighter than air if it was going to ‘float’ on the water. So not made out of Gopher wood.

This model can work though - if the ark was really an earth-bound building, protecting species from the hellish external atmospheric conditions that might be able to generate the kind of pressures necessary.

Which I think means we’ve just proved that Noah successfully designed and built the first moon-base.