Saturday, 27 June 2009
Monday, 22 June 2009
We all know that Fleming invented Penicillin in between writing his James Bond novels and building the first flying car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but what about the not-so-famous inventors and their creations?
In the beginning there was nothing except maybe some Hawking Radiation. Then Davy said, "Let there be Lamp. I love lamp." And there was lamp.
But there was nowhere for the lamplight to go, so Hilbert created Space, but it was still very hard to see what was going on with everything happening at once, so Hammer invented Time to break it up a bit.
Then Piltdown created Man out of bits of monkey and that. Newton designed a Cradle for him to sleep in. Man got hungry, so St Elmo invented Fire and Forman built the Grill so he could cook some of Darwin's Finches.
Man was lonely on his own, so Pavlov invented Dogs and Schrödinger invented Cats (or did he?) to keep him company. Still, Man was bored so Tarmac *cough* invented the Road for him to travel on and Shanks invented the Pony for him to ride.
After a while, Man came across Woman. She had been trapped in Faraday's Cage by Maxwell's Demons. "Help me!" cried Woman. Man refused, until she performed a Möbius Strip for him. Glimpsing her Pascal's Triangle, Man decided to rescue her, so Damocles invented a Sword for Man to cut the cage open and free Woman.
Meanwhile Ferris was busy inventing the Wheel, so Man attached some wheels to Constable's Haywain with Archimedes' Screws using a Phillips Screwdriver, which had been sitting around useless for the past few paragraphs.
The Öort Clouds were gathering as, crossing Wheatstone's Bridge, they rounded Sierpinski's Curve. Offering Woman a swig from his Klein Bottle, Man asked Woman her name. "Pandora," she replied. "And will you please stop looking down my Cassini Division, my eyes are up here."
"Her Box could do with a trim from Occam's Razor," he thought to himself as he tightened his Van Allen Belt and offered her a cookie from his Leyden Jar.
But she noticed his Nelson's Column and fended him off with Cleopatra's Needle, right in the Elgin Marbles.
Then Stephenson invented a Rocket which they flew to Barnard's Star before Higgs could create a Boson to destroy the Earth. The end.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Badger was the best teacher I ever had. That wasn't his real name, although famously at one parent's night a mum addressed him in all seriousness as "Mr Badger"; he took it as a compliment. His chosen subject was Latin, but I have the feeling he could have taught Modern Dance, Quantum Chromodynamics or The Political History of Cheesemaking in 18th Century France with equal aplomb, his head bobbing back and forth as he held sway over his court, gesticulating with a piece of chalk to emphasise his words.
He was always warm, kind and friendly, even when he was giving you the slipper for forgetting your homework. Oh, there was no malice in it, just a hearty laugh as he bent you over a desk and walloped your backside in front of the whole class and sent you wincing back to your seat. Some older boys had actually presented him with an old training shoe to keep the young 'uns in line. He was very proud of it and never, ever used a cane or belt like the other masters - that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, it was rare for any boy to forget his homework twice.
Considering that Latin is a "dead" language, Badger really breathed life into it. Whether he was rolling his R's as he pro-nounced his way through Virgil's Aeneid, or taking us on a hurl (field trip) to the visitor centre at Hadrian's Wall to see Real Roman Ruins, his enthusiasm was as infectious as Swine Flu. Once, he had an operation on his leg to remove a varicose vein. It didn't even slow him down; with a week he was out on the rugby pitch refereeing a match, yelling encouragement to his young charges.
Badger never got married; he treated the school as his mistress and the boys as his family. He'd even take groups of us to the detached house he shared with his sisters in a leafy Embra suburb to expose us to a bit of "culture". I still remember putting on a giant pair of headphones to listen to the full-length orchestrated version of Also Sprach Zarathustra; I wouldn't be surprised if he spent the evenings reading Nietzsche in the original German just because he could.
But he was haunted by demons, too. And one warm, sunny afternoon, with dust motes drifting in the sunlight streaming through the window, when the lesson was officially over but there were a few minutes still to go before the bell released us into the world of conkers and football, he shared his private hell with us.
During the Second World War, when George was still a young man, he served in British Military Intelligence. Although most of his duties were still classified decades later, he did feel it was acceptable to tell us about his post-war rôle in debriefing a German doctor who had worked in Auschwitz. This man had had the unenviable task of checking the health of concentration camp detainees and deciding which of them were fit to be sent to the gas chambers.
George was, of course, horrified. "But how," he asked, "how could you, a doctor, knowingly send your fellow human beings to their deaths?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," replied the doctor. "No, no, these weren't human beings, they were animals. They were Jews, you see."
It seems that the only way this man, this physician, could continue to function was by deluding himself that the patients he treated were not members of the same species as himself.
And George got a glimpse inside this man's head. And he thought about that conversation every day. It coloured his thinking, so that he never forgot that whatever someone looks like on the outside, and no matter what crazy thoughts go in inside their skull, there really is just the one human race. We all deserve to be treated the same.
And that is the one lesson I'll always remember. Thanks, George.
Monday, 15 June 2009
Thursday, 11 June 2009
So what's in the news today, I hear you ask. (I'm sure there should be a question mark in there somewhere, but can't for the life of me figure out where to put it. Colour me senile.)
The one millionth word to enter the English language is, by an amazing coincidence, Web 2.0 - er, that's not really a word, is it? It's a word plus a number. And even the number is unnecessarily specified to a higher degree of precision than is really warranted. Why not Web 2.00000? I would have picked lolcat. How about you?
There's a Global Pandemic of Swine Flu stories in the meeja. Yes, you know and I know that a pandemic is by definition global, just like Avian Bird Flu affects avian birds, but they still go ahead and use redundant tautologies. Stupid journalists. Oh! There I go doing it myself! Anyway, lock all the doors and windows, tape them up and don't come out until 2013 just in case. Or until you run out of air or food, whatever.
Miss California USA's been fired. There used to be a Miss California Scotland, but we lost her in the fog.
With Armed Forces Day coming up on June 27, celebrations are being planned to give people the chance to thank the RAF, Army, Navy and that for all the hard work they do in fighting off Johnny Foreigner. Scotchland's own Lorraine Kelly was up at Embra's Redford Barracks to reveal
her knickers the Scotch events lined up for the big day.
Well, if you're only visiting this blog for upskirt pictures of Lorraine Kelly, why should I disappoint? Did you notice the matching accessories?
Saturday, 6 June 2009
So sometimes I just sit down and start typing a blog post, but if I'm sitting on the bus or that and I have an idea I'll compose a quick text for myself as an aide-memoire. (Oh, get me with the French!) If I can put the whole idea into 140 characters or less, you guessed it, I post it straight into Twitter, but usually it's only one or two words that I can write up in full later on.
This has its drawbacks.
- Another reason why it's important to leave comments. And that would be?
- Crazy like a Tasmanian devil. I don't think I know anyone quite that crazy.
- Waterfall illusion. All the waterfalls I've seen have been real. Probly.
- Lost luggage targets. Maybe airlines have a secret quota which they have to meet in order to keep their passengers pissed off?
- Dracula fish. Sharks with frikkin lasers are scary enough, but Dracula Fish? OMG!
- Elephant's foot umbrella stand. Would an ethical hunter leave a three-legged elephant limping around the jungle or give it a wooden leg? Oh, right. Now I remember.
- Don't blog about work. Doubly so if you're in IT. What a strange thing to say. My job is the most fascinating zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
- We're not using the 'zed' word. Yes, I know where that line comes from, but why use it as the start of a blog post? Damn, I bet it was going to be a great one too!
- tinyurl.com/caw1010 I don't know what it is either. Should I post it first, then click on the link? Yeah, why not? What could possibly go wrong?
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
In the latest twist to the price war between rival low-cost airlines, EasyJet has announced that passengers will henceforth be asked to fly the aircraft themselves.
This is seen by many as a response to RyanAir's cost-cutting plans to make passengers carry on their own luggage, on top of paying to use the toilet and sick bags.
Market analyst Paul Madeupname said, "This is a response to RyanAir's cost-cutting plans to make passengers carry on their own luggage, on top of paying to use the toilet and sick bags.
"Airline pilots earn significantly more than baggage handlers, so cutting them out of the equation should save the airline hundreds of pounds."
EasyJet boss Stelios Haji-Ioannou explained, "We've seen in the movies time and time again that when one or both pilots are incapacitated by food poisoning, terrorists or motherfucking snakes, there is always someone on board with no flying experience whatsoever who is able to land the plane safely, albeit with help from a retired alcoholic Air Force pilot drafted in to the control tower and sobered up with strong black coffee. This is simply extending that principle to cover takeoff and cruising, where an autopilot does most of the work anyway.
"Of course this begs the question of who is going to shag the stewardesses, but I'm sure our male passengers will be glad to fill the gap, as it were."
RyanAir is expected to confirm in the next few days that it will retaliate by requesting passengers to bring their own allocation of airplane fuel to the airport with them. And pay to have it checked in.
British Airways has denied suggestions that it plans to remove all the seats from its 2000-strong fleet and pack the passengers in like sardines "until August at the earliest".
Air France is said to be reviewing its own procedures after hitting "teething troubles" with a similar policy to EasyJet's this week, where passengers were offered the chance to "have a go" at the controls for $50 per 20 minutes while the pilots slept off a hangover.