General Interest

Regional Cows

Like birds, it has been found that cows have regional accents. On the BBC news site they have recordings. Whilst I'm quite happy to go with mooing variations, I'm not terribly convinced that the cow accent should be in any way reminiscent of the human accent, as the Five Live snippet seems to suggest.

This is also discussed on language log.

(This is a case of something which has been 'spun' from 'it is possible' to 'it is true')

Jamie Gold wins WSOP

Jamie Gold, the chip leader going into the final table, has won the World Series of Poker No Limit Hold'em final of 2006. He won $12million. Well done that man.

The particle physicist, Michael Binger, finished in third place, winning a little over $4million. He lost with Ace Ten versus Three Four, the flop came up 10, 6, 5, and a 7 came on the turn. What bad luck - that's the way of things sometimes.

World Series of Poker - finals

The finals of the World Series of Poker takes place today, (the hold'em finals, that is) and one of the finalists is a particle physicist from SLAC (the Stanford Linear ACcelerator). Particle Physics was my area of interest when I did my degree. Michael Binger is in the 8th chair, almost the short stack.

He starts with a little over 3 million dollars, and with blinds on $80000 and $160000, taking a big bite from his stack if he plays conservatively.

Jamie Gold is in first chair, and many of the names I recognise aren't on the table, no Daniel Negreanu or Howard Lederer, no Chris Moneymaker and Gus Hansen doesn't seem to have entered.

Cosmic Variance (the site where I first saw this) has a nice article on probabilities in the game.

Hard Rock, Hallelujah!

So, Finland won the Eurovision.... excellent.

Each year, we have a little event, a Eurovision party if you will. We award marks for 'style, song, totty value and cheese factor'.

Although not scoring well for 'totty', the Finnish entry was off the scale in other areas, it was pure Eurovision, it didn't take itself too seriously, it wasn't a ballad... and there was no skirt being ripped off (it was novel when Bucks Fizz did it, now they all do it).

My second favourite was the Lithuanian entry 'We are the winner, of Eurovision' - I just admired the cheek of this, and the bald guy dancing was a sight to behold.

Terry Wogan, I felt, wasn't on top form this year, but he still provided some good comic value.

If you watch it for the music, Eurovision is a bit of a disappointment - so in the UK we mostly watch it for the comedy.

The best bit of the contest is the voting. 'And the 12 points from Germany goes to.... Turkey!'

There are discussions about reforming the voting system in the Eurovision to eliminate the block vote. For me, this would remove much of the entertainment value, and would ultimately be fruitless as nations will always be closer socially to some that to others (even though this may change with time). I'm all for removing bias in the system when it comes to politics, but with Eurovision it's the bias that gives it the entertainment factor. What the voting did show was the the UK and Ireland both don't take Eurovision seriously, and vote purely on comic value. We each gave 10 or 12 points to Lithuania or Finland, with the UK 12 to Finland and the Irish to Lithuania.

St. George's Day

Flag of England and St. GeorgeToday is the National Day for England, St. George's Day. Compared to St. David, St. Patrick or St. Andrew, I expect very few English people to notice.

Scots, Irish and Welsh have an obvious sense of identity, whereas the English do not in quite the same way. In the six nations tournament, each country had it's own anthem, and England got... 'God Save the Queen' - the Anthem for the UK as a whole. Similarly, England is the only nation in the UK without any control of it's own destiny, we have no parliament.

Historically as the most dominant country in the UK we did not define ourselve by reacting against 'the other' and so outward displays of national pride can be seen as distasteful by the English. It's too showy, too 'in your face'. Visiting the USA can sometimes give that 'over the top' feeling!

The English, on the whole, tend to prefer understatement. Indeed, unthinking national pride is a bad thing for lots of reasons, not least of which is that it suspends the critical faculties and doesn't allow one to consider the view of 'the other'. The flag itself (like the Union Flag) has been appropriated by racists and bigots - patriotism can so easily slide into nationalism. 'My country right or wrong' is potentially very dangerous.

As a result of the flag being appropriated by bigots I have grown up not feeling an affinity for this flag. It's very weird, but a pretty safe rule of thumb is that if someone is walking toward you carrying a Union or English flag, they're probably not someone you're going to want to stay on the same side of the road for. It's quite a terrible thing. I recognise it. I resent it. Yet the association is still there. The same is sometimes true for the Union Flag.

I googled around a little on the subject, and came to this nice post which was made a year ago.

I just don't feel any affinity for the symbol of a group that I have very little to do with. To be either proud or ashamed of being English or British seems ridiculous to me; you didn't have anything to do with the World Cup, or the British Empire, or any of that, how can you feel proud or ashamed of something you didn't do? My sense of responsibility is limited to how I affect the community as a current part of it, and so I am somewhat ashamed of, say, how asylum seekers are treated, because I could do more to stop it. But that never goes as far as me feeling a personal affinity to any flag.

That pretty much sums it up for me.

To be English is probably best summed up as being fairly confident in who you are, whilst at the same time being a little bit reticent about showing that confidence. The English as a whole do not to have the need to wave a flag to demonstrate identity, and they find that need somewhat distasteful (at the same time, the reasons for this distaste are incredibly hard to articulate!)

As I mentioned, England is the largest country in the Union, whereas historically one could imagine the other countries in the Union threatened by England, and hence with a need to demonstrate their own identity. For many English, the words 'English' and 'British' are (unfortunately) synonymous. The same is not true of, for example, the Welsh (note to Americans, a Welshman is usually happy to be called British, but never English!) If you take a British person at random, chances are that they will be English.

Though England is dominant in the Union, the other countries in the Union have a disproportionate power. For example, Scottish MPs have been known to tip the balance of a vote on a bill which does not affect Scotland. Similarly, like it or not, more votes in England went to the Tories in 2005 than to Labour, not only do we have a labour English majority in the house, but this is augmented by MPs from the other parts of the Union. These MPs can vote on matters which do not affect their own constituents, but do affect English ones.

So why this post at all? Primarily it's about the future, in the UK, England has laws made for it by Scottish MPs, elected by Scots, and those laws have no role in Scotland. This can't be just - and over the long term is likely to divide the Union due to a growing sense of injustice. I don't want to Union divided, I like the Union - but the solution is not to have a second class of MP as proposed by the Tories ('English votes on English matters'). We need a UK parliament (probably seated at Westminster), which has true jurisdiction over UK-wide law (including Scotland and Wales), we need national parliaments which vote on national issues - for each of the countries that make up the Union. Currently Wales has an 'Assembly' with much fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and England has no seperate voice. A seperation of bodies would clearly allow English versus UK matters to be clearly defined, if it's in the UK parliament it's a UK wide issue. If it's not, it isn't. What goes where would be clearly defined. Our piecemeal approach that we have at the moment cannot be sustainable, and that is bad for the Union.

If raising the profile of the symbol that is the English flag can help that end in some small way, if we can reclaim the flag from the bigots, then so much the better.

At the moment the flag still has unfortunate associations as for so long it was appropriated by thugs. I do resent this, and hope that we can claim it back for civic purposes, removing that association.

Even if successfully reclaimed, it'll probably still remain that flag waving for the sake of it will, for many English, seem, well, 'tacky'. It will also remain the case that most of the world (and some English) won't understand this.

Viagra is not an easy word to write

Now I've used a title that should attract lots of comment spam, let's explain it. In The Rocky Mountain News there is an article about the state of handwriting in the US. Similar problems abound in the UK, for example, my own handwriting is not particularly great (but I have been writing something almost daily for several years, and it's improving). The point they make is a good one, namely that handwriting is taught at a young age, and then assumed thereafter - they've made a business out of teaching doctors how to write more clearly, and this has had a financial impact as there have been fewer problems with prescriptions (hence the title).

The book referred to is available in the UK and in the USA

Obeying the Law

In places in the US there is a 55mph speed limit. This limit is routinely broken. (According to the Wikipedia article, the limit should be higher - perhaps this is referring to one perimeter road?) To illustrate the absurdity of having a law which is not enforced, these students made a film where they obeyed the law.

As the man pointed out. Going at 75mph is accepted, going at 80mph gets you booked for being 25mph over. Surely it's better to have a law that's enforced and understood - so the point they're making is 'move the limit up'.

The reason for the 55mph limit originally was a fuel economy measure following the OPEC crisis in the 1970s. Whilst this is a good motive, it isn't a valid reason when at the same time cars in demand with incredibly low fuel economy (yes, SUV owner - that means you!)

It's interesting that in the film, to avoid people being angry the guy was pretending to use his cellphone - this would just inflame people in the UK!

Card Cloned

I was in Tesco yesterday and my card was not accepted. Odd, I resolved to ring the card company when I got home. I forgot. Today I had a call - and I rang them back on their number (they were fine with that, unlike a previous company).

Yesterday there was a payment to someone like for a few hundred pounds. This was following a transaction for 78p to some obscure place. It triggered some alarm bells with the card company and they froze things until they could talk to me.

The 78p was a test to see if the skimming worked.

I didn't authorise these transactions - somehow the card had been skimmed (amazing really, I never let the card out of my sight in shops and restaurants as I am aware of skimming possibilities).

Fortunately things had been caught, no money changed hands - unfortunately I now have to get a new card.

Tesco Credit card handled the whole thing pretty well.

Vote on best Public Information Films

There is a series of articles to look at the best of the public information films of the last 6 decades. Today it is Rolf teaching us to swim.

Rolf scores highly, but I'd like to see the Tufty club and their road safety ads, and the Green Cross Code man (aka Darth Vader).

If I never see the wailing 'Charlie the Cat' again it'll be too soon...! (All of these selections rather date me...)


I've been playing with a mapping website called 'frappr'. Essentially the idea is that people can add themselves to a map - the maps might be groups of friends, groups of people who like bunnies, or anything. Out of curiousity, I made a map for people who read this site (the map is here.

If you're not on the current map view, you can scroll the map around, and zoom the map as appropriate.


(I've also found - which looks very useful).

Cinema Tickets

I wanted to get cinema tickets this weekend, and normally don't like to use the automated booking line for the cinema for several reasons 1) I can walk there during the week to get tickets for the weekend. This lets me point at the screen to choose my own seats (yes, one has some flexibility when talking on the phone, but one has none using the online system). (Update: this has now changed)

2) The phone line costs, over two pounds extra for four tickets. I really do not understand this, surely any cost would be per phone call, not per ticket. In addition they get certainty of selling the ticket and they have to pay for less staff manning all the individual cinemas! The same is true when booking online. It's almost as mysifying as a ferry company charging more for ferry tickets as the gap increases between outbound and return journeys. The only explanation is blatant profiteering.

3) The call can be frustrating

Unfortunately I did not have a chance to go to the cinema in person in the week and so I had to use the automated line. I have discovered a nice dodge.

When it says 'Please state the name of the cinema you require', saying 'Operator' puts you straight through to a Human Being.

This is so useful to know, I've put it here so I can find it again using the helpful search box on the homepage.

The film? Underworld: Evolution

New Seven Wonders

When we were in India, there was a bit of a buzz about the New Seven Wonders project, I don't know if it was reported in the UK. The project seeks to find a near consensus for a new 7 wonders of the world. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world only the great pyramid survives.

The project recently announced a short list, with some predictable and some surprising (to me) choices.

They are the Acropolis in Athens, Alhambra in Granada, Spain, Angkor in Cambodia, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Christ Redeemer in Rio, the Colosseum in Rome, The Easter Island Statues, The Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Great Wall in China, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, Kiyomizu Temple in Tokyo, Japan, The Kremlin/St. Basil in Moscow, Macchu Picchu in Peru, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Petra in Jordan, The Pyramids at Giza, The Statue of Liberty in New York, Stonehenge in England, The Sydney Opera House in Australia, The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, in Timbuktu in Mali.

To my shame there are some places on this list that I don't have an immediate image, to my mind a potential seven wonder should conjour that mental image immediately, the Taj Mahal does this, for instance.

The wonder should be somehow iconic too, virtually impossible to reproduce - and to my mind it should be unique, big. Wondrous. To me, as much as I love the place, this discounts stonehenge. It is an impressive stone circle, but there are many stone circles in this area, Stonehenge IS a wonderful place, to be on Salisbury plain at Stonehenge - especially when you are lucky enough to get a rare time when the number of people is relatively low - can be magical, but is it a wonder? I don't think so.

I think I'd go for the Pyramids, The Taj Mahal, The Colosseum, The Easter Island Statues, Macchu Picchu, The Acropolis and either Petra or Timbuktu.

I'm a little biased, perhaps, toward the old - hence no Eiffel tower or Sydney Opera, but it seems to me that a wonder must stand the test of time, in a couple of centuries the Opera House might go on my list, but not yet.

What this project has done is given a new set of holiday destinations! From this list of 21, I have seen only three, the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal.