Chewing my keyboard

Saturday, July 31, 2004

How to make a speech:

My contribution to this is here:

Joseph Goebbels didn't really contribute much positive to society... However, he did say a couple of useful things and those were to do with making an effective political speech. It is to him that we can attribute the phrase 'Throw enough mud against the wall and some of it will stick' i.e. repeat your point numerous times and you'll convince people that it's valid. He also (according to my old history teacher) told us that you should only ever make 3 points in a speech regardless of how long it is. The trick is, of course, to rehash your point several times in slightly different ways.

Another useful tip is to start a controversial speech (or indeed any speech at all) by telling people positive things. Complimenting them is often a good tactic. After all, how could you EVER disagree with someone who's telling you how great you are!

As someone whose been to a couple of party conferences and is keen to improve their speech-making skills, I've picked up another useful tip and that's keywords. These are words that form the base of the belief system of the group you're talking too. In the case of Lib Dems they're things like 'freedom', 'liberty', 'human rights' and 'our common humanity'. Add a couple of these keywords at critical moments and you can have them all leaping about in the aisles without saying anything of substance whatsoever (people with other political allegiances can replace these ones with their own choice of 'buzzwords').

[Exercise: watch a couple of politicians in action - the higher profile the better, and try to work out the 'keywords' by which they can cause the audience to surge to their feet and applaud vigorously. You'll find it's not when they've just concluded an argument of immense gravity and importance - they'll have said something like "Tell the world why you're proud of America... [because] being American means being free. That's why they're proud " which adds zero to the sum of human knowledge but, well, it makes the Americans feel really GOOD about themselves...]

To test this theory and to amuse my flatmate, I spent an entertaining 5 minutes demonstrating the theory that you can construct an entire speech (or at least the beginning 1/3 of one) from the above rules without actually needing to add any information at all. I made grave pronouncements and grandiose gestures interspersed with sweeping pauses... It was profound! It was dynamic! It was completely meaningless... Here is the (absence of content) in full:'Fellow delgates... This weekend we have shown the gravity of our intent [dramatic pause]. We have spoken with seriousness... and with conviction [pause for effect]. We have worked hard, fellow delegates, and I take this opportunity to stand and thank you for your unyielding determination that has permitted us to be here today [final 3 words emphasised](probably at least one round of applause by this point). We have remained uncowered and this has allowed us to take bold leaps forward and to show the world what we are made of. Yes [emphasised strongly. Pause]. And we have done that [pause]. But we must continue. Our fight is NOT over. We must take it forward, fellow delegates [voice begins to rise]. We must strive for freedom. We must press for liberty. We must recognise our common humanity in this struggle [voice drops](audience should be hyperventilating by now). But I have great confidence in you. You have shown time and time again that you have what it takes to do what needs to be done.[HUGE PAUSE] I trust in you to do it again... Etc.'

I'm not the only person to pick up on this one, by the way. It also appeared in a political satire called 'In the Red' on BBC2 in 1998. It involved a rather self-important politician who spent a lot of time eating in the Ritz and his speechwriter did everything else. At the end, the nubile daughter of said politician ended up in a passionate clinch with the speechwriter who had left his cassette recorder going. This was, of course, the tape he used for recording the politician's speeches and thus the latter part of the speech he was going to give to the Commons consisted of a transcript of the young couple's foreplay. The speech was amazingly well received and received a standing ovation despite making no sense at all...

All this talk of clinically tugging the heartstrings whilst saying nothing sounds terribly cynical and, indeed, it is. Surely politics should be about working to change the world for the betterment of society rather than trying to convince people how great you are (and how great they are) whilst "compress[ing] the most words into the smallest idea" (Abraham Lincoln)? It is, of course, fine in moderation (exciting your audience is helpful to the presentation of your material) and clocking up a few mentions of 'our common humanity' is innocent enough (annoying if you actually want an idea of someone's policy from their speech and they spend the first half telling you that you're brilliant. I mean, I know I am already - tell me something useful. I once attended a fringe on Europe like this - they spent the entire time telling us how insightful we were to be in favour of the Euro whereas I'd gone to find out why our pro-Euro arguments beat anti-Euro ones... I should have just got a book).

Thursday, July 29, 2004

They wrote this on purpose, right?

From the Guardian backbencher

Sunday. 10.45pm, R4: The MPs Road Show
The science and technology committee begin their inquiry into human reproduction.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Only been out a couple of days...

... and here's the spoof already.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Losing your marbles...

And if you haven't had enough of stupid games involving guiding marbles about then you can try the demo of Marble Worlds, a copy of the Pocket PC game or Ballance which has thought puzzles, different textures of marble and gorgeous, ambient Japanese-style music. The full game can be bought from Amazon here.

Thanks to the Squire for pointing me in the direction of Metafilter which is where I'm getting strange links from.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Marble Madness...

Very good fun if you have broadband. Does what it says on the tin...

Find it here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Questions... Questions...

On my friend's site:

Sleeping Beauty

We plan to put Beauty to sleep by chemical means, and then we'll flip a (fair) coin. If the coin lands Heads, we will awaken Beauty on Monday afternoon and interview her. If it lands Tails, we will awaken her Monday afternoon, interview her, put her back to sleep, and then awaken her again on Tuesday afternoon and interview her again.The (each?) interview is to consist of the one question: what is your credence now for the proposition that our coin landed Heads?When awakened (and during the interview) Beauty will not be able to tell which day it is, nor will she remember whether she has been awakened before.She knows the above details of our experiment.What credence should she state in answer to our question?

From my philosophy book [101 Philosophy Problems]:

The island
Take an island. There is the possibility that a fatal disease will strike the island and kill 2/3 of the inhabitants. 1/3 of people have natural immunity. Some of those people know they have natural immunity (they had it before and survived) and some do not. If they chew a particular leaf then they will be immunised but 1/20th of people will die of the vaccine. If anyone gets the disease at all then it mutates into a more virulent form in which case chewing the leaves is useful.

Is a majority decision towards vaccination fair and democratic? Should the vaccination program be adopted?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Having never encountered Michael Moore's films before I can say that whatever your political persuasion, he is a brilliant film-maker. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a remarkable but flawed polemic that thunders through the cinema with the emotional force of a punch in the chest and all the subtly of one too.
The popularity of the film was probably evidenced by the queues of people who had turned up for the Watershed Sunday matinee showing. They were queuing into the cafe and down the stairs into the main foyer. A cinema the size of a small Odeon screen was packed and they were showing the film 3 times a day. That doesn't mean it's good but it does mean the publicity worked [wink].
So, what did they and I see? Was it worth the hype? Straight answer is yes and the whole cinema erupted into applause at the credits. He is a far better film-maker than an author. I read Stupid White Men and alternated between being appalled and wanting to strangle him for the bouts of c**p, pointless cynicalism and outright exaggeration. This about summarised how I felt about the film as well. However, the book didn't move me close to tears at least three times nor fired me up afresh with the knowledge of why exactly I became and am a political activist.
Some reviewers have criticised Michael Moore for his lingering shots of Lila Lipscott wracked with tears over the death of her son in Iraq. I felt it wasn't tasteless since if I was her, I would probably want George Bush to watch every drawn-out painful moment of it. The sounds of the aircraft hitting the two towers, the screams, the aghast faces and then later, the gruelling shots of screaming Iraqi families and mutilated bodies and even the derelict, shabby and impoverished surroundings of Flint, Michigan are all harrowing. It brings home the fact that the decisions our political representatives undertake are important, not to be taken lightly and certainly not for a few extra million bucks. Michael Moore's argument, of course, is that they were.
So far so good... Michael Moore rips through the accusations: Afghanistan invaded for a gas pipeline, Bush Junior's failed companies being bankrolled by the Saudis whilst his daddy was in office, the familiar election fixing and US corporation contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq. Even if 10% is true it is damning and you really get a sense of Marx's argument about government being merely a tool for capitalism in the current US although it is less government and more the Bush administration.  
The problem with the film is that the grains of truth, the things that should make every American vote Kerry are easily torpedoed by Moore's desire to keep on going... and going... and going... with the amplitude of his polemic. It makes it far too easy for his opponents to shoot down the exaggerations so discrediting the grit. A leopard print coat is striking, adding matching leggings and shoes is just too easy to criticise (hope this doesnt conquer any images of Michael Moore wearing said items [wink]).
Take, for example, the coalition of the willing where he generates laughs from naming Romania and Costa Rica completely missing Britain and Australia... Yeah, it's true but it's a bit of an omission. Pictures of Rice and co preening themselves - what's that in aid of? They look funny, they have idiosyncracies... So what? As for the footage of Bush sitting there reading the goat book in the school for nearly ten minutes after the second plane hit the two towers, well I just felt sorry for Bush as Moore ridiculed him in voiceover. It really looked like he was shocked, horrified and trying to take things in and THAT'S why he didn't move. Moore's comments about Iraq never killing US troops was plain rubbish although I do disagree with the reading some critics have made about the peaceful Iraq cafe and kite-flying scenes. I don't think these are intended to portray Iraq as an ideal holiday destination pre-invasion. To me the main horror was seeing the children, the cafes... and then the bodies, the frightened families, the shouting. The power is recognising our common humanity. 
The Saudi links bit is also terribly confused and I'm not exactly sure what the implication was that he was aiming for in places. In fact, sometimes when I was watching it I wasn't sure he knew. It was like he'd stumbled on some shocking stuff, wasn't sure what it meant and just threw it in and allowed your favourite conspiracy theory to fill in the gaps. It's to his credit as a film-maker that the general muddle in parts wasn't that noticeable and didn't spoil the thrust and power of the film.
In conclusion, if you want to see someone reading the US Patriot Act from an ice cream van... cut... let's try again... Ahem... It's a must see film if you can find somewhere showing it even if you think it's all rubbish because of its emotional force and potential influence. Michael Moore hardly makes a personal appearance so it's fine if you don't like him. Bush appears lots of times and, ummmm, really reminds me of my dad for some extremely worrying reason. Perhaps it's because he comes off as being extremely laid back with a vaguely 'can't be arsed' rebellious air... Beats Shrek 2 for the film of the summer.

For the person who has everything

Yes, the immortal question. What to get that special person in your life who has everything. Well, now we have the answer. You can find the explanation here.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Small... and beautifully formed

Her chaotic life
The fact that my life is, well, a tad chaotic and usually planned several months in advance has been bugging ME for a fair bit of time as well as bugging other people who often have to book an appointment with me several weeks in advance :( This isn't improved by the fact my diary is on my work computer and my telephone numbers and contacts are spread between my e-mail account and my mobile phone.
What I need
Thus, with the aid of a nice mother who will give me money, I went on a search for a PDA (personal digital assistant if you aren't physically fused with your computer... courtesy of Microsoft [bleurgh] ). My specifications were something that had a nice colour screen, would keep my addresses, phone numbers, etc. and that I could write memos on, edit Word documents with and view photos with. I didn't really need internet connectivity because my phone thinks Bluetooth is something to do with whales [my mum thinks Bluetooth is something to do with mobile phones and given she is still struggling to work window scrollbars I'm shocked!]  Since I only have a maintenance grant, ideally this should come to less than £200 including accessories.
What I'm looking for [this sounds like song lyrics... what I'm looking foooorrrrr?!]
I've decided to share my results purely because, well, computer reviews don't really deal with the sort of thing I want to know. There's no point in having an all-singing, all-dancing system that not only plays MP3s and keeps your diary but also runs the London marathon and can rustle up a nice curry if 3 days in the screen goes dead and it goes to electronic micro-computer heaven. Likewise, there's not a lot of point in something if it has a fixed expected life before you've got to pay the cost of the thing to get it replaced. You may want to upgrade in 2 years but you might not be the CEO of a major corporation and own a yacht. I thus look for warranty, reliability and known faults, and computer reviews never have the things long enough and get them when they've just been released so people have had less chance to complain.
In the Palm OS of your hand
Apparently the first thing you should look at is whether you want the Palm operating system (OS) or Windows Pocket Mobile 2003 (or whatever it's called). One of them is by Microsoft who brought us Windows . Windows, in case you're not familiar, is that operating system that crashes at least 16 times a day. Palm has Documents To Go which is kind of like Pocket Office 2003 but better. As a Liberal, I am dead against monopolies since they stifle creativity and allow the development of big, bloated attempts at software which have huge hackable faults in them and which require vast quantities of memory and run really slowly (I don't like Windows, ok, so shoot me)... Rant over... As a result, I really wanted a PDA that ran Palm OS 5.2.1. Unfortunately, Sony is allegedly pulling out of the PDA market (source PDA Buyer Issue 07) and the only other company using Palm OS 5.2.1 is PalmOne. Palm PDAs do tend to be less expensive than Pocket PC ones and this is A GOOD THING.
Bottom of the palm
The main systems that you would be looking for Palm OS 5.2.1 at bottom of the range (almost bottom actually - I wasn't paying £70 for a glorified address book) are the Sony Clie TJ35 (~£145 from Amazon) and the Palm Tungsten E (~£133 from Amazon).  I never really got into looking at the Sony seriously until later because the Palm Tungsten seemed a really great buy and did everything I wanted it to do without being horrifyingly expensive. You can play MP3s on it, keep schedules, addresses, diary and use Documents To Go to edit Powerpoint (Pocket Office can't edit Powerpoint although you can buy a 3rd party application to do this), Word and Excel files. Unfortunately, the 'E'  has a 90-day warranty... Checking on the Amazon site, a worrying number had died and you keep wondering "why not 365-days?"... Hmmm, maybe this thing is a bit, ahem, disposable. So I googled Palm Tungsten E and warranty...
"...Unfortunately Palm has an established history of poor hardware..."
"... I called Palm tech support and was told the Tungsten E is the only Palm that has this 90 day warranty, and I should try doing a hard reset. ... "
"... Anyways, my experience, around a month and a half (thank gd it happened within the warranty) my palm started loosing battery life very fast, it got so bad that ... "
And that was just page 1 of the Google results... I could have chosen to get one from Comet or Dixons with an extended warranty but that made the thing so expensive (+£45-£49) that I could have got a higher specification model. Furthermore, it didn't include the built-in battery which was one of the main things that went wrong.
That didn't work so...
Anyway, I then started looking at the Zire 72 which is the model up from the Tungsten E and is very fluffy and consumer (rather than business) orientated. Although this was notable for suffering from peeling paint, I assumed it might have a 1-year warranty and it seemed to be easier to buy a case for it. Somewhere on the UK PalmOne site I found that the 90-day warranty appeared to apply to all their products (I now can't find it again - these people bury these things deep).
Power to the people (or the battery/consumerable rip-off)
The Zire 72 ALSO had a built-in battery which meant as soon as the lithium-ion battery runs out, you have to return the thing to the factory and pay £100 to have it replaced. Now, for some reason, this issue never bothers me with the Gameboy but this is probably because the Gameboy is cheaper and because I try to hang on to computers for years because speed rather than the system determines what you can play/do and I never really test the limits of the system. By the time the Gameboy goes wrong, I will have probably got a DS (which plays all existing GBA games :D). I just keep thinking by the time you start paying close to £200 for something, it shouldn't go off in 2-years. The Sony TJ35 had a year guarantee but the battery isn't included because it's a consumerable. This means that if your battery goes wrong in 2 months then it's your fault for 'abusing' the battery and hence you have to pay £100 to have your battery replaced. None of the Palm OS systems, regardless of how expensive they are, have user-replaceable batteries. I found this pretty crazy although you can buy third party batteries here for £30 provided you're ok with taking the thing apart yourself.
Slinking back to Windows
Well, given the Palm's didn't seem brilliantly reliable and the cost of extended warranties from Dixons, etc. is a joke and given Sony is pulling out of the PDA market with the belief the next systems won't be running on Palm OS AND none of the Palm OS systems have user-replaceable batteries limiting their life to 13-24 months (it is nice to think your system can run on and on if you want it to)... then... well, I had to start grudgingly looking at a Pocket PC rather than a Palm (Windows... Booo! Hiss! Shame! Resign!). It's lucky I have a Windows PC though - only Palm systems will interface with Macs.  Sadly, as in every other sphere, it looks like Microsoft is going to get its iron hand around the PDA market. There are a fair number of the usual brands running Pocket PC: Toshiba, HP/Compaq, Dell... and probably Sony at some point in the future.  The Pocket PCs tend to start at a higher base price than the Palms with a 'bog-standard' model getting on for close to £200. I wrote Toshiba e400 off instantly due to the built-in battery again leaving me with two systems with user-replaceable lithium-ion batteries - Dell and HP.
Choices, choices...

It's now hard to buy the older HP iPAQ h1930, it appears, so I was looking at the HP iPAQ h1940 instead. Dell have a range of systems, the oldest X5 Axim, the older X3i and the new X30. The Axim X30 has just come out and thus they have a free postage offer on it and have slashed the price (until 21/07/04). The X30 was thus significantly cheaper than the X5 for better specs. This to me seemed a shame since I liked the chunky, rubbery appearance of the X5 (it appears I'm in a minority on this one). All these systems come with a full year's warranty. The Dell you could extend the warranty for 2-years. I had a Dell laptop for 3-years which was immensely powerful and as ugly as sin (I called it 'the black brick' for good reason. It's kind of like this but chunkier, black and with sharper edges. It weighed a ton and had a fan which sounded like one on a jeep) and the thing that gave out on it was the power cable which had a nasty habit of shorting and cutting the laptop off. My dad has been promising to mend the power cable for ages and hasn't got around to it. The brick  was reliable but I had terrible problems setting it up due to software issues, it took ages to come and the technical support was awful. That said, once it did get going I had no problems with it at all bar some loose keys. Apparently various people had had problems with new Axims being delayed for weeks because of supply problems and the newer systems having teething problems. Early teething problems also plagued my Psion 5(badly peeling paint) which I'm replacing since the backlight has died (I've had the Psion for about 5-6 years). Given the technical support was dreadful the limited time we had to deal with it, I felt unsure about the system especially since the Dell Axims (bar the X5) are very ugly and boxy (rather like the much lamented and missed 'brick') and I felt that perhaps there were some corners being cut with the casing which is a bit worrying with a PDA but not too much of a problem with the notebook.

The iPAQ h1940 with aluminium case, spare battery and SD card bought from elsewhere was actually cheaper than the similar specification Dell X30 (the cheaper models of most PDAs don't come with a decent case, sufficient memory to play MP3s or a cradle. The latter computer reviewers seem to think is important but I've never had a cradle so I'm not going to miss it). The only problem with the iPAQ was that various people had reported broken screens that HP wouldn't replace since it was deemed to be accidental damage and not a design flaw. The consensus seems to be that it's more susceptible than something bigger and you've got to treat it carefully... I would have a fit if I dropped any electronic equipment from waist-height even once rather than be angry the screen had broken! My Psion lost its stylus because the spring broke in the 'stylus holding in mechanism' when it was dropped (once in the 6-years I've owned it). The iPAQ h1940  is also notable for having a yellow screen but a lot of reviewers conclude that the first-time PDA user won't be too bothered about this and I found the yellowness I've seen on pictures rather homely and warm-looking.
And after all that...

Anyway, conclusion. I bought a h1940 with an aluminium case to protect it.  I've always (touch wood) been satisfied with HP printers I've had so decided I'd try HP this time to see how it went. The h1900s are apparently design classics; small, shiny and beautifully formed... rather like me (well, ok, not the shiny bit [wink]).
More shortly (I should have the device on Monday)...

It's ice, Jim, but not as we know it...

Today I went to THE most interesting seminar I've ever attended, without exception, given by this chap. It was close enough to my PhD topic that I could understand the hard-going bits (I use different radar frequencies) but because I'm a sci-fi nut I find Jupiter's moons far more interesting than Greenland or Antarctica.
He'd been involved in doing the feasibility and instrument design for the proposed JIMO mission to 3 of Jupiter's moons. Jupiter has 4 large moons (from inside outwards): Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Due to the presence of Jupiter and other moons, the inner moons of these moons especially experience huge tidal forces. Io is the innermost and the most volcanic object in the solar system. Europa is ice-covered but due to tidal forces is believed to have an ocean under an ice crust because of the geothermal heat generated from below. This makes it one of most promising sites for LIFE in our solar system. The best evidence for this ocean is the fact that gravity measurements have shown that the outer part of this moon has a density of 1 (water). Europa is pretty structural differentiated and has a silicate mantle. Although Ganymede and Callisto are progressively less differentiated (substance is the same right down), it's also believed they have oceans but buried far deeper.
There are lots of theories about how thick the ice crust is and how the ice moves about. For example, there is the chaos regions where the ice crust seems to disappear and then there are the ridges where material is injected and ice crust seems to be being formed. Blankenship and others (inc. Keith Raney who designed one of the radar altimeters I'm working on) were testing the feasibility of using a ground-penetrating radar to look a the internal structures of Europa and consider the success of these theories. They had to estimate the penetration depth of the radar considering things like grain size, impurities and the radar noise from Jupiter on the side that faced the planet.
Anyway, the JIMO launch is supposed to be 2013 and the instrument should be collecting data in 2027 provided the money isn't taken out of the space program. Space travel is expensive - putting a coffee can into orbit around Jupiter apparently costs $1bn. The feasibility study was promising and the technology has come on since they did the feasibility assessment in 1999. The JIMO mission is using ion fission propulsion which can carry a larger payload. The spacecraft has to be quite long in order to protect the radar from the radiation from the propulsion system. It also has a tennis court's worth of heat dissipating fins and a special cone for deflecting the radiation. However, the ion acceleration plates are at the back. The picture is under the JIMO link.
I'm shocked I can remember all of this. However, the lecture was at 10am and I DID think I had just found my postdoc topic [wink].