Friday, June 29, 2007

What good is that?

Being in France, I am taking the opportunity to practice my French (in particular, spoken French, which has always been my weak-point). So, yesterday in the hotel restaurant, I worked out what I was going to have, mentally rehearsed how to order it, and made sure the pronunciation was perfect.

And so I ordered my starter and main course, and it was good.

Then the waiter asked, rather stiffly, "What would you like to drink?"


Sunday, June 24, 2007

A rather harder list: Ten things I like about other people

I found it quite hard to construct the list of things I hate about other people, as while there are plenty of things that wind me up, there aren't a huge number that I actually despise. However, for all that that was a difficult list, this one was considerably hard to assemble. If I was bothered with tagging, or was interested in starting a meme, I would suggest all the people who did the 'ten hates' list should do this one... but I'm not, so I won't.

Anyway, not in order:

When they're really good at something, and it shows.

Greatness comes in many forms, but it is always remarkable. One of my great pleasures is watching someone doing something (anything) that they're obviously really good at.

Unfortunately, most people don't ever seem to exhibit this greatness, and I think I know why. There's a reason that Ronaldinho was able to curl the ball past Seaman and into the net, or why Gascoine was able to dance past the entire Scotland team like they weren't there, and it was nothing to do with luck. And, although genetics and natural talent were a factor, they were probably minor considerations.

No, greatness requires a mindset and a dedication that most people never achieve. Michaelangelo didn't decide one day to become a sculptor, and proceed to bash out the David. Instead, that was the culmination of years of hard work honing his skills. Most people never really apply that dedication. What's worse is that a lot of people who have natural talent don't apply it. They can do well enough by just coasting through that they do just that, and so never achieve their potential. It's really sad.

So, when I see someone who is obviously really good at what they do, I take note. And I take great joy in that.

When they Unexpectedly do Something Great

By all rights, the Rock should not be a movie star. But he was by far the best thing about "Be Cool". By rights, "Resident Evil" should be an awful movie, and yet it is not. I like being pleasantly surprised.

When they Meet Expectations of Greatness

On the other hand, and as a corollory to my first entry, I always enjoy it when someone is expected to do something great... and they do. It happens so rarely; most often, a person who shoots for glory will fall short, and so it is a joy when they succeed.

I mentioned Michaelangelo earlier. Now, I have, of course, been to the Louvre, and have seen the Mona Lisa. And, frankly, I wasn't that impressed. It's certainly something I couldn't do, and it's certainly a fine piece of art, but I just didn't get the reverence that is afforded this particular artwork.

By contrast, when I visited the Vatican Museum, I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And where the Mona Lisa didn't really match my expectations, the Sistine Chapel really did, and then some. Standing in the centre of that room and tiling my head up, and up, and then turning around like a madman trying to take it all in... it was just amazing. You should go.

When as a Team they Achieve Something None Could Alone

That should be obvious. Teamwork is hard, because the team is usually defined by the abilities of the weakest member. However, just sometimes you see a team transcend the limitations of the membership, and do something wonderful, and that's a nice moment.

Little Kindnesses

I disagree with the principle of "Good Samaritan" laws. Personally, I hold that a person has no responsibility whatsoever to help another person. At all, ever.

Now, that sounds really cold and hard. If I saw a drowing child, and I had a floatation ring to hand, shouldn't I throw it?

But, it's actually not. See, by saying one is not required to help others means that when one chooses to do so, it can correctly be seen as a good thing, and not merely a duty fulfilled. So, when the Boy Scout helps the granny cross the road, when the shopper gives up her place in the queue for a person with only one item, or when the starving beggar is given just a few coins to get through the day, those all become good things, even if they cost the given nothing, whether in real or effective measures.

When they don't feel the need to fill up every silence

Most people feel the need to talk, even when they have nothing to say. I may have noted that I hate that. However, sometimes, you find a person who acknowledges that there is no need to speak, and will consequently just accept and appreciate the silence, without it being awkward. Which is nice.

When they can actually understand what I'm wittering on about

If I told you, in detail, what I do all day, the likelihood is that you wouldn't understand much of it. My job is extremely technical and extremely specialised. (Likewise, while I can understand in broad terms what a nurse, for example, does, there's a whole world of jargon and specialist knowledge that I don't have the grounding to understand.) So, anyway, I can't talk about my job much.

Additionally, my hobbies are fairly obscure. Veyr few people really understand piping, and even those that do would generally rather play than talk about playing. Role-playing games are even more obscure. And, once we get into talking films or books, my tastes are into fantasy and sci-fi to an extent that most people haven't read in detail. How many people know what the "Phoenix Saga" is? And yet that's one of the better-known comic book storylines.

Then there are the issues I like to think about. The problem here is that I am a fairly deep thinker, and I like to try to ponder all the sides of an issue. Most people tend to see things from one or two sides, and tend to be more superficial.

And so, I quite often find myself either boring or confusing people I talk to, or trying to stick to 'safe' subjects that I obviously don't have any interest in. It makes conversation difficult.

So, it's quite nice when I do meet someone who can follow what I'm going on about.

When They Change My Mind About Something

It may shock you to hear that I'm not always right (just most of the time). So, in fact, I actually quite like it when people disagree with me, especially when their position is expressed such that it can't simply be dismissed out of hand.

But the best of all is when someone puts forward an argument that is so compelling that it actually forces me to rethink my position, and indeed change my mind on an issue. It's exceedingly rare... but it's very nice when it happens.


If all six billion people on the planet were the same, things would be a tad boring, don't you think?

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

There should be some accents on that statement, but I don't particularly care.

The flip side to the above quality is that, when it comes down to it, people seem to be fundamentally people wherever you go. They may be stupid, insane, or quirky, but basically, people are people to within certain variances. Which is nice.

When they don't really exist...

Of course, I've mentioned once before that I am unconvinced that people I haven't personally met even exist. After all, the only evidence I really have could easily have been fabricated. (Of course, a sufficiently determined force could conceivably even fake the existence of people I have met, but that's probably a bit too Matrix for consideration.)

So, to all those people I haven't actually met... you might not exist, but I think I like you anyway!

Guess I'm Having a Birthday Party, then

I turn thirty-one next week. This fact does not fill me with any great enthusiasm - I've reached an age where birthdays that aren't round numbers don't exactly thrill me. And, tired as I am, there's a big part of me that just wants to spend the day curled up in bed, and forget about the whole thing.

But that's not for happening. Apparently, there's to be a barbeque. My parents have both been quite insistent on that. And my sister. And my sister-in-law. I almost think something's going on, but if they're planning a surprise party they're not exactly doing a great job with half of that description.

So, I suppose I'm having a party. Truth be told, there's a small part of me that almost hopes we'll not get through what we need to do in France this week, and I get told I'll have to stay out there and work the weekend. (Only a very small part though, since this task is really important, and if it comes down to that then things will be really bad.)

Additionally, I know my family are really hoping that I'll join them on their holiday to France in a couple of weeks. Dad keeps 'casually' mentioning it as an option, and I'm not unversed in reading subtext. But, I'm really not going. And not just because the last country in the world I want to go on holiday to this year is France.

I've never been good with gatherings. But, over the past while, I have been finding family gatherings increasingly hard to bear.

Don't get me wrong, I love my family dearly, and I get on well with everyone in it. But...

Aileen thinks I didn't enjoy the trip to France last summer. That's not really true. I enjoyed a great deal of it, and it was especially important to me that that was really the time I got to know my brother's then-fiancee.

But, what was very apparent to me during that holiday, and what has become increasingly apparent at all family gatherings, and what is increasingly hard to face, is that every one of my siblings will now be with someone. In the wider family, every one of my cousins (with one exception, who is considerably younger than the rest) will be with someone. Except me. Always except me.

I'm happy for them. Really, I am. But it's hard to feel lonely, and it's even harder to feel lonely in a crowd. And, if I'm going to have to feel lonely, then I'd rather just be alone. At least then I don't have to pretend.

Searching for My Daily Bread

I got to the hotel at eight in the evening. I noted a big sign on the side of the hotel reading "Pizzeria", and decided that that would be ideal. I proceeded to check-in, noted the really cute receptionist, went to my room, dropped my bags, splashed cold water on tired eyes, and headed down for my dinner, taking only my room key, passport, wallet, and book.

I proceeded down to the lobby, and looked around for the entrance to the restaurant. The receptionist noted this, and asked if I was looking for the restaurant. "Oui," I replied, deploying my mastery of French to its fullest effect.

"Pas de restaurant," she said, and then explained that there was one down the street a ways that I could use. So, off I went, book in hand.

Well, I took a look at the recommended place, and decided that I didn't really like the look of it (and was uninspired by the menu). Still, no matter, there would surely be others.

And it's true, there were. I found a small "Centre Commercial" with not one, not two, but three restaurants, being a Thai takeaway, a pizzeria, and a French restaurant. Closed at eight, closed at eight, closed at eight! Great!

So, I wandered some more, but there was no sign of anywhere suitable. So, I went back to the first place, getting there about quarter to nine, only to find it had since closed.

About this time, I considered breaking into the pet store and barbequeing the goldfish. However, faint with hunger, I doubted I would be able to overpower them, so decided against.

Well, I had seen a sign for a McDonalds while being driven here, so it must be about here somewhere. They'll be open, surely?

So, I went in search of the golden arches, but saw no sign. At length, I gave up. More tired than I was hungry, I turned back for the hotel.

It was en-route for this final destination, I heard a scooter motor behind me, followed by a screech and the blaring of a car horn as our hapless driver was almost sideswiped by a car. I turned to observe this madness, and noted that the scooter was emblazoned with the number of a pizza delivery firm. Sadly, my phone has no camera on it, and was in any case back in my room, so I didn't catch the number. I decided this was God having a good laugh at my expense, launching one final joke in my direction.

But no! For not ten seconds later, I was passed again, in the other direction this time, by another scooter, from another pizza delivery company. And my phone still didn't have a camera, and was still painfully out of reach.

I staggered back to the room, where I took note of the complimentary boiled sweets in the room. Salvation! But, there were but four, and I was there for four nights, so I thought it best to pace myself.

And so, between an early lunch in the airport and breakfast the next morning, my entire sustenance was a single boiled sweet. Green flavour.

... the Terror of the Sea!

The hotel I was staying in had a really cute receptionist. Sadly, this would prove to be almost the only redeeming feature of my whole week.

Last week, I was dispatched back to France for another very important task. This time, the task was not directly connected to my areas of expertise. However, since I have a decent working relationship with our French colleagues, and since the arrangement with me onsite and my Scottish colleagues supporting me remotely works better than the opposite arrangement, I'm probably the best choice for that sort of remote working.

So, off I went to France on Monday morning. It was an early flight, then another flight (delayed), then four hours of work. Then an adventure in finding food (which I will blog separately). By this point, I wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed and sleep for a week.

However, I found myself reading the book of hotel services that came with the room, and found a note that wireless internet access was free! All I had to do was ask for a WEP key from reception. Huzzah!

So, I rushed down to talk to the cute receptionist. Now, I don't know if you've ever tried asking for a WEP key in a flirtatious manner. Let me assure you, it is not a good idea. The desired effect seems to be replaced instead by a vibe which says "I'm a total geek, and I'm dog tired, and my clothes have the stink of long travel about them... but life is short and you're really hot, so how about it, eh?"

The net effect was that I found myself the possessor of a WEP key. I think she might have liked me, but I'm not sure (if so, then there were a good many French ladies found me attractive... which rather suggests I'm not).

Anyway, I retired to my room to get online, and checked the ticket, only to find a note on it saying "Cost: 1€". Interesting definition of 'free', I thought. Still, 1€ for 4 hours of internet access, especially when the company were paying anyway, is nothing. So, I connected.

Or, rather, tried to. It turned out that, far from having free internet access, I instead was paying to not have access.

This was rather representative of my whole week. I came home on Friday exhausted, and indeed have still not recovered fully (I really need a holiday), and with the knowledge that the day off I was getting to have my car go through its MOT tomorrow has had to be cancelled, and I'm back off to France on Tuesday for another week.

On the one hand, it's nice to be sufficiently recognised that I'm being sent to deal with a very important issue at a crucial time. On the other hand, I need a holiday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Gone a-Viking

Back soon...

Two Memes Before I Go, part two

Kezzie tagged me for this. It's a bit of a girly meme, but here goes anyway:

Top Six Things I Am Watching on TV:

1) Doctor Who. Quite simply the best programme on TV at the moment.

2) Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement. These are Paramount Comedy's "Make Mine a Double" from Monday night, and are genuinely funny comedies.

3) Heroes. What happens when a bunch of normal people suddenly gain superpowers? Well, if they're Hiro Nakamura, they become an icon for geeks everywhere.

4) The Unit. Drama about a special unit in the American Army. Interesting, if not the best thing ever.

5) South Park. This would be higher if it wasn't constantly repeats. I think I've seen every episode by now. Still, Eric Cartman remains iconic.

6) Smackdown. Yes, it's professional wrestling. Yes, it's faker than Jordan. But it's absurdly entertaining. Besides, with Lost and 24 finished, there now are only five programmes I make a point of watching every week, so this makes the cut.

Top Six Things to Read

1) Good Omens, by Pratchett and Gaiman. Truly awesome book by two of our top top authors.

2) Lord of the Rings, by Tolkein. Because it had to be on the list.

3) Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens. It's like a slow burning fuse, rolling on in a very well-written manner, then BAM! the ending hits you. Even knowing what was coming, I still felt the intensity of it. Truly, a great book.

4) The Demolished Man, by Bester. I was put onto this by Babylon 5, and it is truly superb. It's about a perfect murder in a world where the police can read your thoughts.

5) The Harry Potter series, by Rowling. Surprisingly well-written, but they have also managed the impressive trick of aging in style at the same rate as the intended readers. Of course, this may prove problematic to parents just starting to read Philosopher's Stone to young children...

6) Anything else by Pratchett or Gaiman. They're just that good.

And too many others to list. "Song of Ice and Fire", "Dragonlance Chronicles", "The Thrawn Trilogy", "Dracula", "Narnia"...

Top 6 male movie/TV stars I admire/would most like to look like:

Told you it was a bit girly! Fortunately, male actors are generally judged on talent rather than looks, which means that most of the top actors are also really good at their craft. So, without further ado, let's list six of the best:

1) Christian Bale. He's not hugely well-known, but he's a great actor. See "American Psycho", "Batman Begins" and "The Machinist" for some of his best work.

2) Samuel L. Jackson. He just makes every film he's in cooler.

3) Tom Cruise. Seriously, this guy can act. See "Collateral" if you don't believe me.

4) 'Gorgeous' George Clooney. Again, another actor best known for his looks, but who is absurdly good at what he does. Except in "Batman & Robin" of course.

5) Brad Pitt. This guy makes me sick. To look that good and have that much talent should be illegal.

6) Bruce Willis. This guy has almost single-handedly made it acceptable for men to go bald. Given the state of my hairline (yes, I had noticed), I'm rather grateful.

Top TV/Movie hotties, smoking or otherwise:

Truthfully, I don't really go for most of the women on TV. Unfortunately, the "Hollywood Ideal" and "Size Zero" just leave me cold. I may be crazy, but I don't consider ribs sexy. So, with that in mind:

1) Evangeline Lilly. Although that may be Kate I'm attracted to. Even then, I've gradually gone off her with the most recent series of Lost, as her character seems to have misplaced her brain.

2) Cameron Diaz in "The Mask", and absolutely nothing since.

3) Mila Jovovich. Surprisingly good actress. See "The Messenger" (aka "Joan of Arc") for the best example of her work. She's an exception to the 'no ribs' rule due to talent.

4) Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. "Batman Returns" was released at just the right time to have a major impact on me.

5) Charisma Carpenter. Although again, it might be Cordelia that I liked.

6) I used to have a thing for Kirsten Dunst, although I went off her just after the first Spiderman was released. I'll give "Elizabethtown" a pass, though, as it was to that film that I first kissed the last girl I kissed. That was far too long ago, but not as long as the previous drought had been.

Top 6 films to watch when bored.

Who has time to be bored any more?

1) Dumb & Dumber. Requires no thought, and always gets a laugh.

2) Die Hard. Probably the single finest action film of all time.

3) Face/Off. The only real competition.

4) Aladdin. Without exception, Disney's best film, and that includes "The Fox and the Hound".

5) The Road to El Dorado. Criminally under-rated film from Dreamworks. Who uses the word 'loquacious' in a children's film?

6) Life of Brian. I mean, what have the Romans ever done for us?

You may be surprised at the omission of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies. Truth is, I don't watch these films very often, but when I do I set aside time specifically for that purpose. They're just not 'bored movies'.

6 things I would do if I had the time

1) Write a novel. Being published, in any form except self-publishing, is perhaps my last unrealised ambition.

2) Mow the lawn. It has needed done since September, but I've been busy.

3) Find a house of my own.

And that's about it, I think. Generally, if I feel something is important, I'll make time.

Top 6 chocolaty treats to cheer oneself up with.

Not really a big chocolate eater. Generally, I write to cheer myself up. Since I also write my best material when I'm miserable, that works quite well.

I am rather partial to Aero though, really like Twiz, and love Mars bars (although it is necessary to eat those upside down or the chewing becomes too much before the end).

Two Memes Before I Go, part one

The 10 things I hate in other people

Not in order.

1) When they blame everyone but themselves for their problems. I'm sorry, but the solution to your obesity problem is not to ban MacDonalds, or even their advertising. The solution is for you to accept you have a problem, and take action. The issue is somewhat less clear when we're talking about children, and I think I do agree with a pre-watershed advertising ban here. However, even here, the issue largely lies with the parents... if they want the child to not become obese then perhaps they should not take them to MacDonalds so often?

2) When they drive badly. If you want to drive more slowly than the speed limit, then that's your prerogative. What is not acceptable is if you do so in the fast lane of a two-lane motorway, so I can't get past you legally. Pull into the slow lane, and I'll be on my way! Likewise, when making a left turn (right, outside the UK) it is not necessary to bring your vehicle to a near=-complete stop; it will swing around that arc just fine at a reasonable speed.

3) When they're bad at their jobs. Now, anyone can have a bad day, and I won't fault them for that. However, all too often it seems like everyone is having a bad day all the time. Come on, people! These are the things you do, and unless you're truly stupid you must be able to pick up the job if you're doing it all the time. So, if you haven't, and you aren't wearing a 'trainee' badge, I can only assume you haven't learned because you couldn't be bothered, and I hate the feeling that I'm drowning in a sea of slack-assed mediocrity.

4) When they say they'll do something, and then don't. If you can't help me out, then I'll accept that. It's not a problem. But if you tell me you're going to do X then chances are I'm going to assume you're going to do X. I may be relying on X being done. So, if you have no intention of doing X, or can't do X just tell me. Gah!

5) Passive-aggression. I do lots of things that are questionable, or that I know people won't like. Generally, I do these with very good reason, often reason that I have spelled out. Still, if you don't like what I'm doing, feel free to tell me. I won't be offended, and may even change what I'm doing to suit you better. Don't just accept it and then sabotage me behind my back, and don't play stupid political games to get rid of me. It's just not necessary.

6) The "wear once/take it back" thing. It's just dishonest.

7) Bad queue etiquette. If everyone is queueing, then you get to join the queue at the end. You might think your case is special and important... but so does everyone else there. Unless it's literally a matter of life and death, go to the end and wait. By the same token, when you get to the front of the queue, be ready with your order, your purchases, your money, and whatever else you need. Take the minimum amount of time to properly deal with whatever it is, so everyone else can get on with their days. Don't get to the front and then ask Little Joey what he wants for his lunch.

8) Telling me to cheer up. Like another blogger of note, if I'm not grinning like a madman then I probably look absolutely miserable. It's just the way the muscles in my face relax. So, don't bother telling me to cheer up. Conversely, if I actually am miserable, then you telling me to cheer up is about as welcome as a punch in the face. If you want me to demonstrate, just ask.

9) Small talk for the sake of filling silence. Yes, the weather sucks. Yes, I'm fine. And I know fine well that if I ask you, you'll say you're fine too. That's just the way it works - no-one actually wants to know the answer to that. No, I didn't see Big Brother/the match/that soap. Yes, kids today are terrible.

If you don't have something of substance to say, consider just saying nothing. If I have something to say, I'll say it... but the truth is I probably won't. I'm introverted by nature (really), and have to struggle really hard with people. So, if I'm not saying anything then I'm probably happy like that.

10) The way modern girls behave. Some time a few years ago (probably when Christina and Britney were battling it out to see how could be the bigger skank, a battle Britney won... and really really lost), something changed. Or perhaps it didn't, and I just noticed the way things had been for a while. But, suddenly we've reached a point where the average age at which a girl loses her virginity is 14 years and 10 months, and on average she will have had seven partners by the time she's 21. And it seems to have become the case that in order to sleep with a guy, a girl doesn't even have to like him at all, just fancy him a bit.

Now, I'm not going to tell you how you should act. That's a matter for you and your conscience. And, certainly, I can see that a person might rack up a number of partners in quick succession for a variety of reasons, without it necessarily reflecting on her character. But when those are the averages, I consider that something is badly wrong.

(Now, you may well ask why I've targetted this at girls. After all, boys are as bad if not worse, and have been for many years. Well, the reason for this is purely selfish. I'm not particularly interested in the behaviour of boys because I'm not looking for the boy of my dreams. Conversely, I'm really worried that the girl of my dreams may well have destroyed herself with copious amounts of drink, sex, and other self-destructive 'fun' before she even reaches an age where I would be interested in her.)

So, there it is, the ten things I hate in other people.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Damn fool

For various reasons too complex to go into now, I currently have a SatNav system in my house. Now, I'm probably not going to need this, but just in case I need to find a chance to use it, just to prove that I can do so.

Anyway, today I was playing at the Grangemouth Gala Day, and knew I had to meet the band at a particular place at a particular time. Which is quite good, except that I didn't know where that place was.

So, being a sensible sort of person, I went on Multimap and looked up directions. This had two weaknesses - Multimap seems rather poor with directions in and around Falkirk, and I didn't have an easy way to print out the directions. So, I carefully memorised the directions, and off I went.

It wasn't until I was just over halfway there that I realised the solution to all my problems. Can anyone else spot it?

Orange Elixir of Joy

I have officially given up on the "not drinking Irn Bru" part of my scheme for immortality. Basically, I was feeling miserable, and found that the scales denied any difference had been made. (I suspect the scales may be lying, since I now need to wear a belt with my jeans, but never mind.)

So, anyway, last Friday I bought some Irn Bru once again, and have since been reminded just how glorious it really is. (Obviously, not the Diet Irn Bru, which is pure evil in a can. How anyone can drink it is just beyond me.)

Just thought I'd share that.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another follow-up

Sine it bears noting: I'm glad that Paris Hilton has been ordered to return to jail. It is important that the system works, and it's also important that she get the chance to learn some very important lessons from this, which house arrest in a multi-million dollar mansion would not teach.

However, much of the crowing on the internet over the last few days has been disgusting. A lot of people seem to be taking inordinate pleasure at her discomfort, and that's not right.

And that's all I have to say on that subject.

Long Comments

It has been brought to my attention that many of my posts, and in particular many of my comments on other posts, are extremely verbose. Too long, I wonder?

The thing is, though, I generally try my best to consider an issue from many sides, and prefer to not just offer and opinion (especially a controversial opinion) without supporting points, evidence, and the like. Obviously, making multiple points and providing supporting evidence takes time. And, of course, there is also the word-count associated with couching things in terms that don't cause undue offense - it would be really easy to say "U R teh suxxorz! LOL!", but that doesn't necessarily have the tone or eloquence I try to go for.

But the question is this: how long is too long? How long can a post be before you stop reading? What about a comment? Should I restrict myself to the argument of soundbites (20 words or less) in future?

Dear Microsoft...

Okay, you've heard ot NaNoWriMo, I assume: the goal is to spend a month writing a 40,000 word novel? Well, there was another challenge, entitled WoAdWriMo - the Worldwide Adventure Writing Month. The idea was that in the month of June one would write a 30-page adventure scenario for the RPG of your choice. The chosen month being June.

Why not, I thought?

So, I've spent the last few days working out details of plot, locations, and so forth, batting ideas back and forth, and so on. Today, I finally sat down to start the actual writing, with a view to first assembling all the peripheral bits of text (descriptions of the city, new rules changes, that sort of thing), so I could get on with the adventure itself over the next three weeks.

And I ran straight into the brick wall that is the new Word for Windows.

I hate the new interface. I cannot find any of the things I wanted to do to text, nothing is where it should be, and every operation consequently took much longer than it should. And the thing is, I was an expert user of the old Word. I was able to do a huge amount with the existing functionality and menus, and I liked being able to do that. They've taken all that hard-won experience and flushed it, for a new interface that looks and feels like a computer game I don't want to play.

I'm sure they've spent a huge amount of money on developing this new interface. It was not money well spent. Avoid Word 2007 like the plague.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Just how stupid would you need to be?

Let's imagine there is a television show in which contestants enter a house and are observed constantly. Let us also imagine that in a previous series of this show, some of the contestants made comments that were considered racist, and drew enormous criticism for this. Further, let's assume that the channel who broadcast this show had been forced into a humiliating apology for the events of the previous series, and were fairly clear on the consequences of racist behaviour this time out.

Under those circumstances, just how stupid would you have to be to go and make racist comments on the show?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"I should put you away where you can't kill or maim us, but this is LA and you're rich and famous!"

A few weeks back, Paris Hilton was sentenced to approx 45 days in jail for driving without a license (that was probably a bit steep, but it was the sentence imposed). Between then and actually entering prison, this was slashed to 23 days for "good behaviour", which raises the question of how exactly one can demonstrate good behaviour in jail before actually entering said jail.

But nevermind.

Now, after a mere three days in prison, she has apparently been released to house arrest, after falling ill. Or, rather "falling ill".

I try hard not to be cynical, really I do. Indeed, I consider that we have to believe that the system broadly works, or else society at large is just a joke. But if this is true, and if Paris' mystery illness isn't life-threatening, then I really have to wonder...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A bit too far gone...

For the past fifteen weeks, there have been roadworks between my appartment and the motorway, with the key road closed in the 'coming home' direction. Until this afternoon, when they completed their work and removed the diversions.

The thing is, though, I didn't notice this until just after I have turned down the diversion without thinking.

I need a holiday.

A nice try, but your logic is flawed...

This evening the church hosted an evening with John Blanchard, a noted Christian apologist, who was going to talk about science, atheism and Christianity, with an emphasis on the writings of Professor Dawkins. It was therefore with a large degree of tripidation and a sense of deep foreboding that I attended. I do so hate it when Christians talk about science, since they invariably get it wrong.

However, I was pleasantly surprised tonight. The speaker was very good, and he managed to avoid all the classic pitfalls of the Christian talking about evolution. He didn't, for example, employ the failed "a watch implies a watchmaker" analogy (or the can of Coke equivalent).

All in all, it wasn't bad.

However, unfortunately I was unconvinced by the logic employed. I'll get to that in a minute. First, though, I'd best recap my position on faith, science and rationality before I go on, in case you happen to have not read that particular post on Chris' blog where I outlined all this.

I take the view that the existence of God cannot be proven in any meaningful way, since the primary way by which it would be done is to demonstrate the existence of something that cannot exist through any other means, bearing in mind that this must both fail to be explained by known science but also by the full extent of unknown science. So, it's understandably problematic.

But that's okay, since I'm willing to take that on faith, declare it an axiom, and work rationally from there. It's a foundation, not a conclusion.

I also take the view that when science demonstrates that the universe is several billion years old, as opposed to the six thousand or so suggested by a literal reading of the Bible, it's probably right. We know there is a significant amount of metaphor in the Bible, and we know also that there's a difference between fact and truth. So, I see no problem is suggesting that the first ten or so chapters of Genesis are largely metaphorical. Once you get to Abraham, things are significantly more solid.

Anyway, John Blanchard took a different tack. His purpose was to demonstrate the existence of God as a conclusion, not a foundation. He had four arguments for this, one of which was unabashedly not based in science, and so is ignored here.

Looking at the other three then:

The existence and nature of the universe

His argument here was that the universe must, logically, have one of three origins: either it has always been here, or it created itself in some manner, or it was created from some transcendent reality. This is fair enough.

He then quickly discounted the first two, citing certain scientific opinion on the matter, and quoting the 'odds of the universe forming' as 1 in 10^10^124. I felt this was rather a stretch, since the scientific opinion was basically just that, while the probability was calculated without knowing all the variables, and so is highly suspect (and, besides, no matter how small the odds, unless they're 0 they don't prove anything).

Still, never mind. Let's give him that one, just for the sake of argument. Logically, therefore, the universe must have been formed from a transcendent reality.

But here's where the argument falls down: logically, that transcendent reality must either be eternal, or it must be self-creating, or it must itself have been created from another higher reality. And, the same logic used to discount the first two options still applies, so we need yet another reality. And then, logically, another.

It's turtles all the way down.

Eventually, you need either a self-creating reality, or a reality that has always been there. And, indeed, that's not a problem, since we're arguing that God is exactly that. Unfortunately, our logic has now brought us back to our original problem: how do we prove that the eternal reality (or the self-creating one) isn't this reality?

The nature of life

Here he got into evolution. If you explode a whole lot of energy and matter, and you leave it for billions of years, does that mean we're going to get life? Surely not, that's just absurd!

Fortunately, evolution doesn't say that. It says instead that if you leave it for billions of years you might get life. Which is a far cry from arguing that you will get life.

Truth be told, though, his argument here wasn't bad. Where it fell down for me is when he commented on the comparison between the human brain and a computer. He rubbished this, noting that the most advanced state-of-the-art computers we have are less advanced even than the brain of an earthworm!

What irked me about this is that Charles Babbage first conceived of his 'Difference Engine' in Victorian times. The first recognisable PCs came about in the middle of the last century. So, that's less than a hundred years of development. And, of course, computing power doubles every eighteen months, while the human brain remains broadly constant. So, the comparison is strained now... but wait a hundred years.

Although, really, I doubt we'll get that far. Sooner or later we'll invent a machine that makes people clever. And that will be our last major breakthrough, since that same machine will then be used to invent a better version of the same, and so on and so forth... whereupon all problems just become one of processing. Which is quite a scary prospect, actually.

The wondrous nature of human life

Leaving aside the discussions of the various wondrous aspects of the human body (none of which actually have any weight since they're all explicable with evolution, but all of which are certainly wondrous), we arrive at some of the softer aspects of his argument. Why do so many people have a yearning for God, if there is no God? Why do we suffer pangs of guilt, when the conscience surely has no useful purpose? And where do thoughts come from anyway?

Interesting questions, and worthy of thought, but...

It can be argued (effectively) that the yearning for God is instead a yearning for understanding. The universe is a big and scary place, that we understand poorly if at all. So, rather than accept terrifying ignorance, the void is filled...

The conscience is also explicible through evolution. See, if society holds together, this allows specialisation of roles. The blacksmith can be a better blacksmith if he doesn't have to spend his time hunting for his own food, and so he can make weapons for the hunters, and so all benefit. But, this works only if everyone (or almost everyone) plays by 'the rules'... and that's where the conscience comes in.

Where do thoughts come from? Well, there's an argument that mankind's great evolutionary advantage is not our relatively huge brains, or even our opposable thumbs, but rather that we tell stories. By doing so, and passing knowledge from one generation to the next, we are no longer obligated to learn the hard lessons our ancestors learned, and can work on other things. Combine that with a permanent record (writing), and you go far. But, of course, people who think a lot don't just think about useful things. In fact, that would be almost useless, since so much of science involves seeing the links between things, and that requires a certain flexibility of thought. In short, it requires imagination.

Of course, all these things can just as readily be explained as gifts from God. Indeed, I have long since concluded that in the absence of God there is no evidence for free will, so that is the view I take. Still, that's one of the oddities that comes about when you agree with a person's conclusions, but not the steps that got them there.

That fourth argument

The fourth argument was founded on the life of Jesus. As I mentioned above, I'm not going to discuss it further, since the argument is founded on faith rather than relying on science or deduction. Ironically, it's easier to make a strong argument about matters of faith when you build from a foundation of faith, than it is when you try to argue from science. It's almost as if you're working with the wrong building blocks.