Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two more NewsTilt stories (and how to follow me there)

I've posted two more NewsTilt stories and I'm going to stop mentioning further stories here. If you want to know what I'm writing there then you can either visit my page or subscribe to the RSS feed of my writing.

While writing The Geek Atlas I used both Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia for research. It quickly became obvious that Wikipedia trumps Britannica.

Read the rest of Wikipedia trumps Britannica.

Lots of people assumed I was gay when I campaigned for an apology for the treatment of Alan Turing. I’m not, so what was it that drove me to stand up for a gay man?

Read the rest of On Geeks and Gays.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What's going on in this advertising?

I got given this taxi receipt today. It's a strange image:

It's a bit hard to see but the woman's hands are blurred as if they are moving. Is she dancing? Flouncing off because she's angry about something? In a trance? Her leg position makes it look as if she's not walking or running, yet she's moving.

Also, why are there two different URLs on the ad?

And finally when they say "SEE OUR CULTURE", what were they thinking I was going to understand from this? All I seem to have learnt is that in Puerto Rico there are thin women in evening dress moving through attractive tiled interiors.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Please stop with the -gate suffix

Here's more for NewsTilt:

Wikipedia has a page listing scandals that have been named using the suffix -gate. There’s Camillagate, Fajitagate, Kanyegate, two Spygates, three Strippergates and 132 more. With 140 -gates recognized by Wikipedia it’s time to retire this overused and misleading suffix.

And here's the rest.

A plea for politesse

On my web site I have a contact page. On that page you'll find an email address: that email address routes to the inbox I use every day. If you email that address then your mail appears without delay.

And every day I receive a lot of unsolicited, non-spam mail. These mails contain suggestions for The Geek Atlas, questions about GNU Make, people asking where they can find some article I wrote n years ago, requests for assistance getting shimmer working correctly, requests for bits of source code or other data that I hold, and much, much more.

I try to answer all my mail within 24 hours.

And here's where I want to rant: most people are grateful when I reply to them, but there are some who simply don't bother to reply. Would it kill you to hit Reply and just enter even a one word "Thanks"? Seriously, I've often gone out of my way to get find something for people to hear nothing back.

Perhaps, it's because I'm British that I expect a bit of politesse, but it cost me (unpaid) time to answer your query, use just a few seconds of your time and say thanks. That's all the compensation I ask for.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Facebook Cull

More from me trying to help the NewsTilt guys get off the ground.

Last night I went through my Facebook friends and unfriended (defriended?) three-quarters of them. I didn’t do it out of spite; I did it in an effort to separate my private, professional and public selves. With Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all providing social networks it was clear that the overlap between them was unnecessary and harmful.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Silence of the Planes

Here's me writing on NewsTilt:

Trace a dumbbell shape lying east-west from Heathrow Airport and you'll find the places most disturbed by the world’s busiest airport’s noise. Under that fallen figure eight are some of London’s most desirable days out. With no planes flying overhead, now is the time to rush to them and see what they would have been like before the jet engine.

The rest is here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Met Office confirms that the station errors in CRUTEM3 are incorrectly calculated

If you've been paying attention then you'll recall that in February Ilya Goz and I thought we'd found a problem with the way in which the station errors in CRUTEM3 are calculated. I'd heard via Newsnight that Ilya and I were correct, but hadn't heard anything official from the Met Office.

I emailed them yesterday to ask for an update and they replied:

We can confirm that the problem is a real one - we overestimate the station error in some situations - but the effects are minor. We are working on fixing the problem and writing up this and the other corrections to the data that are described here:

So that's official confirmation then. Neat.

I wonder if 'writing up' means that there's a paper going to be submitted on this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The right people with the wrong idea

A couple of months ago I was hanging around the Y Combinator offices scouting start-ups when Paul Graham introduced me to a guy called Paul Biggar. Paul had this crazy idea about offering a better commenting system for news web sites. A sort of Disqus just for newspapers. I didn't think it was a very good idea, but I offered to help anyway because Paul seemed like the right person with the wrong idea.

I've spent my entire career in technology start-ups (and, briefly, in venture capital) and if there's one thing that's invariant it's that it's better to find the right people with the wrong idea than the wrong people with the right idea. The right people will be able to change their idea to fit the market, the wrong people will rarely capitalize on the right idea.

So it was no surprise to me that Paul came back with a new idea: a news web site built around journalist brands with revenue sharing between the journalist and the web site. Now that seemed like an interesting idea. It's a sort of anti-Economist where the name of the journalist matters more than the brand of the overall site. I said I'd help and emailed journalist and writer friends to get them to look into it. I also sat down over the Easter weekend and wrote three articles for the future web site.

Yesterday, the resulting web site called NewsTilt went live. My three stories are:

Ode to the Number 11 bus.

If you're visiting London, stop before you spend £50 ($76) on a sightseeing tour and consider taking a bus used by Londoners to get to work. It might not sound like the best idea for an out of town visitor, but at £1.20 ($1.80) per person a trip along the 7 miles of the number 11 bus route will let you see the sights in true London double-decker bus style.

Long haul heaven

For many people the thought of a long haul flight is enough to fill them with dread and loathing. They loathe the indignities of airport security, the stale food and staler air, the cramped seats and cramped conversation. But I love a good long haul from London to San Francisco, or Miama to Buenos Aires. I love it because when I step onto a 747, an L-1011 or an A340, I'm entering my mile-high monastery.

The missing element in travel: science

Many people wouldn't consider wrapping their head around some science to be an ideal way to spend a holiday. But science and enjoyment aren't incompatible. Here are seven ideas to get you out and about, and make you think.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Witch doctors should be available on the NHS

One of my relations wrote to his MP opposing the MP's position on funding homeopathy through the NHS. Here's the interesting bit of the MP's reply:

Thanks for your e-mail. There are many people who consider that homeopathy is beneficial to them, and would thus disagree with both the Committee's conclusions and the view you express. In the grand scheme of the billions spent by the NHS, the cost of homeopathy is small - and if people sense that homeopathy is helping them get better, then that is sufficient reason why I think the present arrangements should continue.

It's instructive to reread this email with homeopathy replaced by witch doctors.

Thanks for your e-mail. There are many people who consider that witch doctors are beneficial to them, and would thus disagree with both the Committee's conclusions and the view you express. In the grand scheme of the billions spent by the NHS, the cost of witch doctors is small - and if people sense that witch doctors are helping them get better, then that is sufficient reason why I think the present arrangements should continue.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's the thought that counts

After I finally replaced the old HP Procurve 420 Access Point at the office with an Airport Extreme, HP came up with a solution to my problem. They decided to send me, free of charge, a brand new access point (since the 420 had been end-of-lifed).

This was very kind of them and now, sitting on my desk, I have a brand new HP Procurve MSM310 Access Point. It came with all the trimmings: two antennae, a power adapter and a serious steel wall mounting bracket. Compared to the Apple device it looks seriously industrial.

Weirdly, all four parts, the access point, the power adapter, the antennae and the wall bracket, came in four separate packages. The funniest of which was the one that just contained the two small antennae. Good business for DHL I suppose.

Now, I don't know if this device actually fixes the original Bonjour problem I was having, and I'm unlikely to find out. Despite the London address, HP sent a power adapter with a US plug.

Ah well, it's the thought that counts.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Offal Tower

OK, that's not the headline that The Guardian chose, but here's me writing in The Guardian's Comment is Free section:

At the unveiling of Anish Kapoor's design for the Orbit tower it was compared to the Colossus of Rhodes and the Tower of Babel. But the history of those follies isn't auspicious. The Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed by an earthquake after standing for only a few decades, and the Tower of Babel was, the book of Genesis tells us, constructed to glorify those that constructed it.

I can't help wondering to what extent the ArcelorMittal Orbit is being built for the glory of Boris Johnson, Kapoor and Lakshmi Mittal. And as details emerge of its Olympic corporate entertainment role, it looks less and less like a work of art. But setting the motivation of the creators aside, the worst comparison of all is with the Eiffel Tower.

The rest is here