Friday, September 24, 2010

University League Tables

Ah! There we are. Damn. Delft University of Technology is above us!
There are just over 17000 universities in the world. The THES recently published a booklet detailing all sorts of league tables for universities but, of course, the "overall" table is the one that everyone looks at. Just like in football. We could have a Goals For league table to highlight the strong attacks or a Goals Against league table to highlight the strong defences. But we don't. We look at the overall points that these teams, with their strong bits and weak bits have
The universities that really intrigue me are those in the lower reaches. Who is 17000th? We aren't told. God! What a hell-hole that must be! Degree shops, lectures cancelled or lecturers late, exorbitant fees for an inferior product, courses cut for lack of funding, poorly qualified staff teaching vast numbers of increasingly poorly qualified students, crumbling buildings apart from the Business School and the Vice-Chancellor's new admin block with marketing dominating everything. Medium over message every time.
I'm glad I don't work somewhere like that.


I get emails (all the time!) that end with...
The information in this email is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorised. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any other action taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. If you believe that you have received this email in error, please contact the sender. Etc. etc etc etc.
Globally, this legalese must be having a major impact on bandwidth. Truth is, we never have enough bandwidth so adding this to nearly every effing email must come at a hell of a cost worldwide.
Why can't we just add in a hyperlink to a page that gives all this guff? There would not really be a page there; no-one would ever go there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


BBC again.
Ewan McGregor and his brother Colin did a very good retrospective on the Battle of Britain a few nights ago. They both ended up flying around in a truly ugly two-seat Spitfire (which the RAF never used) but, overall, it wasn't bad.
Ewan (or his script writer, let's be fair) did make one horrible gaffe.
He was describing the tensions in the upper ranks of Fighter Command as the Battle got more and more desparate and highlighted the feud between Keith Park (OC 11 Group) and "Douglas Bader who commanded 12 Group".
During the Battle of Britain, Douglas Bader was a Squadron Leader commanding 242 Squadron based at Duxford and a small part of 12 Group. Air Vice-Marshall Leigh-Mallory - not Bader - was Park's opposite (in more ways than one) in charge of 12 Group based north of London. As it turned out, most of Bader's theories were simply wrong. Thank God we had AVM Keith Park in charge of 11 Group (in whose skies most of the Battle took place) and not Leigh-Mallory or (worse!) Bader.
The outcome might have been very different.
PS: Park also "won" the other crucial defensive air action of the war - the Battle of Malta.


Having been "on a diet" for the past thirty five years and largely failed (cunning use of "largely" there) I think I have come up with a clever way of losing weight.
Cat poo, as you will certainly know, is considered a delicacy by dogs. This is because cats are quite inefficient when it comes to digesting food and what comes out is (yum!) still "food" in the broadest sense. Then there are tapeworms. These bad buggers grow right the way along our intestines using our partially digested food as their own. Let's combine the two ideas...
Insert into the intestine a tube running the whole length from stomach to bowel that takes a goodly proportion of the slop we pump out of our stomachs. Say 25%. Anything that goes down this "tube within a tube"* will not be absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestinal wall and - like cat poo - our faeces will have 25% undigested stuff. I'm not suggesting you then feed it to your dog, but you would certainly lose weight pretty quickly. In my egotistical style I'm calling this the Timworm®.
You know where you heard it first.
*It would need to be held clear of the intestinal wall by projections of some sort. I would think that PTFE might be a good material.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Prize Giving

Last night I was in the audience for the Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School Annual Prize Giving at The Sage, Gateshead. My six years at this school as a teacher were the happiest in my career and it always brings a lump to my throat when I go back to events like this.

The purpose of these few lines is not, however, to laud the independent education system (although I do) or to congratulate the staff and students of this fine school for another great year (again, I do).

I write simply to note how much I am in awe of my wife's organisational abilities. Whoever reads this (hello, again) keep this in mind. If ever you need a really big, complex, costly, involved, time-critical and important event staged, then call my wife.
Amazing woman.

Gareth Malone: Hero

I watched Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys with a great deal of enjoyment. I often bash on here about the whole hunter/gatherer differences thing betwixt men and women. Gareth rammed this home beautifully. He made the boys into hunters and competitors. He activated tribalistic sub-memories by getting their Dads involved. He had them outdoors burning up energy. He did everything that a little hunter would love to do. The really clever thing was that he based it all around reading. Hero.
Needless to say, it worked.
It just goes to show that when our safety-obsessed, risk-averse, competition-free, namby-bloody-pamby education system is run for boys as well as girls, boys flourish.
Go Gareth!

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins.
He might be a nice bloke, but I can't stand him.
I read "The Selfish Gene" recently and I have rarely read such self-serving crap in my life. He twists and distorts any science he wants to fit his own rather strange idea of the modus operandi of genes. I'm a scientist myself (and a bloody good one in my day, even if I say so myself) and I was so angered by his arrogance that I had real trouble not burning "The Selfish Gene".
His "The God Delusion" is very similar in its cant. He is messianic in his refutation of God. He makes it an article of faith to believe him. He sets himself up as a martyr for his cause. You can see where I'm going with this, I'm sure.
The thing that sticks in my throat MOST about Dawkins is that he believes that we, civilisation, now, in 2010, have the answers; that our "science" is right, factual and true. Utter bollocks. In 500 years they will laugh heartily at what we believe now, just as we do about those flat-earthers and geocentrists of five centuries ago. His arrogance knows no bounds. I bloody well hope that I don't come across him in Heaven, although the likelihood (since I will be there - I hope - for the rest of eternity) is pretty high.

The Reformation

I'm having another go at the BBC here. Sorry about that.
It is the reporting of the Pope's visit that has me vexed.
The BBC made a big thing of Pope Benedict shaking hands with a female clergywoman in public. So what. She was properly ordained in the Church of England. The last time I checked, the Pope was not a member of that particular branch of Christianity. Of course he shook hands with her!
Then there was the blindingly obvious statement that there are "major doctrinal differences" between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. Well, yes. There would be. Otherwise we wouldn't need to use any words in front of the word "Church". I'm glad these differences exist. It gives us a choice. I'm sure that major differences exist between Waitrose and Tesco (and the like).
They will be telling us that Islam and Christianity (of whatever flavour) have major doctrinal differences next.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spitfire Women

Readers of my blog (hello!) will know that I am very keen on the RAF being remembered correctly for what Fighter Command did in 1940 (viz. saved civilisation) and what Bomber Command did in 1940-44 (viz. provided a bloody Second Front to aid our Soviet allies).

Imagine my interest then when a programme is currently being advertised on the telly all about the "Spitfire Women" (based on the book of the same name). In the trailer it claims that the Battle of Britain could not have been won without these women delivering fighters to the front-line squadrons.

Now why did they have to spoil it?

I am a huge admirer of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and of the women who delivered all manner of aircraft from factories and repair facilities to RAF bases throughout the war. However, to say that the Battle of Britain could not have been won without them is to do their efforts a major disservice.

The efforts of the ATA were heroic. Nearly 90% of the ATA pilots were men (shock!) and they delivered the vast majority of the aircraft. They were mainly ex-BOAC pilots (and the like) too old to fly modern combat aircraft. The very small number of female pilots were glamorised in the Press because they were so few in number. The beautiful Diana Barnato - one of the first women into the ATA - didn't deliver her first Spitfire until mid-1942. The first front-line fighter (a Hurricane, incidentally) delivered by a woman was in mid-1941. The "Spitfire Women" did not fly Spitfires to the hard-pressed RAF in the summer of 1940 and thus turn the tide in the Battle of Britain.

So why come out with this tripe?

I have the utmost respect for all of that small band of women who resupplied the RAF with fresh fighters and bombers. I couldn't have a higher regard for them. So why does some idiot on the BBC think it right to tell lies about them? Why, also, are the efforts of the rest of the ATA (i.e. the men) largely ignored. Do we so have to rewrite history to "big up" the part that womankind played in our survival between 1939 and 1945 that we overlook the men? Women played their part in the Second World War in a myriad of different ways. But they didn't man (pardon that atrociously sexist word) the submarines and destroyers fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, the Lancasters and Halifaxes being massacred over Germany, the trenches, tanks and guns in Europe, North Africa and Burma.

The BBC besmirches the memory of them all, women and men.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

General Guidance for my Generation

If you're too open minded, your brains will fall out.
Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.
Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.
Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.
It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.
If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.
Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of cheques.
A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.
Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes.
A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.
Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places.
Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.
Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.
There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.
Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.
You should not weigh more than your refrigerator.
Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.
Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they shall never cease to be amused.

Not original. Thanks to several contributors.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Burning the Koran

Just don't.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Binning Cats

Just back from holiday and the story that hits you is Mary Bale dropping a cat into a bin.
So many things were wrong here it is difficult to begin.
First off, why would anyone have a CCTV aimed at their wheelie bin? Madness. This kind of kit is quite costly and it seems bizarre to spend that kind of money on the off chance of catching a cat-binner.
Then there's the bin itself. Mary (who is not colour-blind, I am assured by reliable sources) dropped the cat into a green bin. Oh my God! Where was the brown bin (for organic waste) or the blue bin (for recyclables. See "101 Things to do with a Dead Cat" for inspiration). The woman clearly has issues about the council's approach to recycling.
Then there was the "backlash". Mary is - according to many - "worse than Hitler". Let's look at the evidence: Woman drops cat into bin; Man masterminds global war and organised genocide. Yes; I can see where they are coming from here. Evil Mary!
Finally, I think it was wrong of her to drop a cat into a bin.
There. I've said it.