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Why blog?

KeyboardSo, why blog? Note this is not, why do I blog? (Answer; I like to write, I like to believe people care.) But rather why should other people blog? For your everyday folk like me there are a few very good reasons, it hones your skills of written communication, it gives you a public forum for airing your desires and frustrations and it lets your friends and relatives, whom you sometimes get in touch with far too little (Hi Trace!) know what you’re about.

There are some people however who can benefit more than others from setting up a simple blog. There are also people, often the same group, whose blogs could be an inspiration to others. This was brought to my attention by my hetero-life-mate Jon on a recent visit to the woods and led, amongst other things, to me starting this modest work. The reason I started was firstly to benefit my upcoming degree, by giving me a medium in which to formulate coherently the things I do and do not understand. As well as to benefit anybody else taking the course, who may understand the subject matter if given a slightly different viewpoint on the topic.

The select groups of people me and Jon were discussing however, were lecturers, researchers and PhD students (yes, I know, PhD students are researchers) such as himself. Although I’m afraid I still don’t see his blog popping up yet? Still got ‘presentation issues’? Poor chap. So why would these people benefit from blogging, and who else could find their simple musings life enhancing?

Lack of interest in a subject, usually around the second year of a degree, is a killer to motivation. You forget why you started the subject and it seems as if you have years until the end of it. Often youbegin to hate your chosen field of study because you are so caught up in the tedium of ‘work’ you forget the glory of the broader picture. If you could read about what the very people who are teaching you are researching, wouldn’t this inspire you, at least a little?

As you progress through university you find yourself more and more in contact with lecturers as people instead of as authority figures. People, moreover, with an unrivalled passion for the subject studying incredibly interesting avenues of research. It is then that you remember your own passion and strive to do the best you can within your field.

For lecturers, a simple blog, to let your students know who you are and why you love your field of study, could work motivational wonders amongst a large proportion of the student body. I would like it if, when I attend university, all my lecturers and department staff could blog, even if it’s only a fwe sentences every now and then, to give students a feel for the subject and where you are taking it personally. Given the huge cost of education it is already becoming harder to encourage graduates onto further study, any extra motivation should be welcomed.

On a more ‘selfish’ basis blogging your research may give a useful, informal way to get any problems and hang ups you are suffering out to your peers. A sort of ‘open-source’ style copyright approach, similar to the method of software licensing, could lead to progress in your own studies as well as others studies suggesting avenues of research worth tackling. Of course this may prove to be a tool for plagiarism but I like to give others the benefit of the doubt. Also being of a liberal bent I feel that science, while it needs to pay your bills, should ultimatly be available to all. Not locked away in a patents office. It may be that through the internet you can exchange formulative ideas with somebody else studying a similar topic, whom you may have had no other way of meeting.

So, would a blog benefit you, or could someone else benefit from yours? If the answer to either of these questions is yes then get on it! It’s free after all! May I be the first to recommend wordpress? It works for me!

(Edit: a quick google search revealed this page on research blogs. Unsurprisingly most people using the medium so far seem to be computer science types, though with a few notable exceptions.)

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Healing hands

hands.jpgAs well as being a professional cycle mechanic I have somehow also managed to attain status as a talented computer repairman. I’m not sure entirely how I gained this reputation but gain it I did, and because of it I have become something of an amateur expert. While far from professional I can usually ascertain what the problem is well enough to get help on forums, thus resolving the issue. So far I have found that when it comes to messing with your hardware, if you can get your PC to POST (or boot up) then any issues are driver issues 95% of the time. If it won’t POST, it’s your RAM that’s playing up. Nearly always. Of course sometimes when it will POST it’s your RAM too. I had an issue when I built a media PC and it wouldn’t install windows XP onto itself. Very sensible, but irritating when that was the most expensive individual part. Turns out this was because, to save money I used old RAM which was very nearly compatible with the motherboard, until it starts working with large files, then things go all blue-screen-of-death on you. New RAM and everything’s fixed.

For this reason when I received a phone call this afternoon from Sennet, who had somehow managed to cause his computer to cease working I suggested it may be a RAM problem.He had fitted a new DVD burner and when reconnecting everything all he got was fans noise No display, no beeps, just fans. Odd as usually your PC will give error beeps when it won’t post. Nonetheless I popped over after work with some spare DDR I had kicking about in the hopes that this would fix the problem. (The same RAM, incidentally, that nearly worked in my media PC!). I Confidently whipped out the old memory and slotted in the other old memory, plugged in, powered up and got the most disturbing retching noise a computer has ever made in my presence. Whoops. Put his memory back in and it worked straight away. So what the hell was wrong with it before!?

I have three theories, one is that somehow my cocking it up big style reset the BIOS to default and resolved a conflict there, that maybe I dislodged some dirt or something with my fiddling or thirdly that I have healing hands. That’s definitely it. I wreak miracles.

I have just finished reading ‘The God Delusion’, Dawkins‘ new book critiquing religion. Influenced by this I would like to discuss my personal views of why Christianity is a pointless endeavour, or at least one that is taken far too seriously. I assume similar criticisms can be launched against nearly all of the major religions, however it is Christianity I come into contact with the most and it is Christianity I take to be the most dangerous of the current world religions. True, it may be Islamic nutjobs flying planes into buildings and bombing transport systems but it is Christian nutjobs who are in control of the most powerful nation in the world. And it doesn’t look like they’ll be passing over control anytime soon.

The main point of my argument here is that the Bible is being taken, increasingly, to be the literal word of God when it quite blatantly is not. I shall give one example, and only one is neccesary, of why this simple book cannot be ‘Truth’.

From Matthew 27:

3Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. 5And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. 6The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

From Acts 1:

Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”18(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

Two questions we can ask here, 1) What happened to Judas? and 2) Why is the field called the field of blood. Bear in mind I want you to answer me with the ‘gospel truth’ and the true word of the Lord. We now have two competing alternatives, both of which are supposedly Gods own truth. There is only one conclusion we can draw, that this book is not the work of God but of Man. So how close to actual events is this account?

It will be useful here to know also a little of what occured at the council of Nicaea. It was here, in 325AD, that the ‘authorised version’ of the Bible was finalised, where the competing gospels were included in or discarded from the Bible, it is to be assumed that, out of the many available books those that best fit together were chosen. This is the best that could be done, why? Surely there must have been a better correlation than this?

Turn now to the case of ‘John Frum‘ (mentioned in the god delusion). This is a cargo cult which sprung up around the 1940’s and has carried on to this day. I shall not go into details but this is one example, within living memory, of how a religion can gestate for political, social, economical and spiritual reasons, then both merge with other religions and schism into seperate faiths, all on one small pacific island within the space of sixty years. Given that the Gospels were written, as a best estimate, 30 years after Jesus lived, and written by men, most of whom never met him. is it any surprise they do not agree? Of course had this been the infallible work of God, these stories would agree.

Now for the point of all this. Why, as a non Christian, should I even care about this issue? I care because people are living their lives, raising their children and interefering with others’ lives as if the Bible is truth. It is no more ordained truth than any other book and should be treated accordingly. Do not use it to live your life by without a healthy dose of rationalism to back it up.

Other things that piqued my interest today include this amusing short on youtube. Do you mean to say that news channels twist the news to their own political ends? Say it ain’t so! Incidentally has anyone else ever suffered from this ludicrous obsession with youtube? It’s a terror.

Evolution and design

I have just been watching an old horizon episode entitled the ‘blind watchmaker‘ featuring Richard Dawkins on youtube. In this feature he is discussing evolution and makes some very interesting observations on how evolution can create very complicated organs and organisms via natural selection. The prime example given is that of an eye. The creationists ask ‘what use is 5% of an eye?’ To which the obvious answer is, somewhat more use than no eye at all. Of course since nature, and indeed ourselves, have not ‘finished’ evolving you would not expect every creature to have a fully developed eye. You would expect, rather, that some are still evolving a ‘better’ way of seeing. In fact after talking through the process by which a human eye could hypothetically have come about Dawkins then presents examples in nature of organisms which have something very, very similar to each indivdual step along the path, as well as some that are,arguably, more advanced. If you don’t really ‘get’ how natural selection can cause chance mutations to lead to improvements down the generations this makes for essential viewing.

The most interesting part of the program for me however was the second half which was mostly about how natural selection has very useful applications in technology and design. I feel it is worth noting here that whether or not you believe in biological natural selection, or as I like to say, the facts, it is still a valid avenue of scientific research simply for the new outlook it can bring to bear on other topics. An example cited here is that of fan blades maximising wind power. When all of the variables and unknowns of this problem are taken into account the classical mathematical and engineering models can only go so far. By using a series of trial and error followed by ‘breeding’ the best performing systems from each generation a very efficient system can be hit upon in a surprisingly short timescale.

The program is now quite dated and no doubt all of the things Dawkins is/was commenting on are rather passe, yet still these examples make for fascinating viewing. I have read a little about this method of design before and was intrigued then. I wonder how many companies are using this methodology. Even the most perfunctory search on Google has revealed some very interesting articles on the subject, for examlpe this one on circuit design.

Amazing, now how can I apply these design ideas to make my bikes faster?

Simon. You have to check out the video evel fridge on the ubiquitous youtube. The performer in this video is Sage Francis, and would therefore appeal most to John, however there was a bit in it that reminded me so vividly of the fridge downstairs in Brunswick street. You know? the one that broke down after I filled it with meat for that barbecue that time. I know you remember. You were the brave soul who emptied it. Without a haz-mat suit. Brave, or foolish?

Why blog this and not just IM you? Who knows, it is a funny video though. I like it.

RSS update

To continue from my post and subsequent comments on ‘mucking about with rss’ I thought I’d try being useful and posting my solutions for the benefit of others.

I tried the  methods of utilising rss suggested by Mark and Si but have found the best thing for me I’ve tried so far is a combo of google desktop and Wizz RSS. This is not yet a perfect approach but it does what I want mostly, next thing is to streamline the process.

Originally I was using just Wizz but I found it clunky. Essentially what I am doing at the moment is using the ‘feed search’ function in Wizz on pages I like to find RSS feeds, this returns all the feeds available for that page which I then add to the Web clips gadget on my google sidebar. (I have turned off the auto-add-feed function on this!) This way I get what I wanted, which is an at-a-glance view of what’s new on sites I regularly visit accompanied by a snippet of the article. I augment this with the news widget for general news which I can scan through whenever bored.

Inevitable downsides to this system are that, having installed the whole google desktop thingy I have a smaller desktop space on my monitor and less available memory. Also I have a whole extra toolbar in Firefox of which I am only using one button! Positive side-effects include googlebars’ scratch pad widget, saving  me from abusing notepad, and google calendar. I’ve had it for about five days now. How did I live without it?! It contains all of my social and business appointments along with outgoing direct debits so I have tighter control of my finances!

To streamilne I shall attempt to find a more suitable firefox plugin to get feed url’s and maybe buy a bigger (or second..?) monitor to give me more desktop space. Sounds like a plan. A bigger monitor for working on and a second monitor for monitoring news, appointments and running downloads. Someone come and confiscate my credit card please…

WHAT THE FUCK?!?

Apologies for slipping into the vernacular but I’m rather annoyed. The time is 01:00am and I have just returned from driving around town in a police car. The story begins like this…

I left work at the usual hour and on the way home stopped off at the woods for a ride. After this I went sraight to the pub to meet some friends and play with a great big puppet. Ace. Then home for a shower and change. Next on the agenda was meeting Big Dave in the weavers after which we proceeded to Nicals. A lovely pub run by lovely people. Here things went a little pear shaped. I was supposed to be trekking up to the Eclipse after this to meet some of the previous friends. Unfortunatly a young lady I know was assaulted in the toilet of the pub and so, after the bar staff rapidly ejected the offender, I stayed to help her out.

After the perp(s) had all left I got her safely on her bike and she was away home.In the meantime a group (roughly ten of) of 15 year olds, or thereabouts, were making some noise outside. As I am wont to do I ignored this. Unfortunatly, after I chased my lady friend down the road on her scooter these chavvy little cunts followed me. Between nicals and my destination one of them pushed me from behind. To which my response was, roughly, ‘What the fuck?’. Then he threw a slow, tedious punch which failed to connect by roughly 3 feet. I laughed a little and said, again, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ By which point a lot more of the wee bastards had come up from the direction of the town. (bear in mind I wa running after a young lady on a moped before this!)

In grabbing me from behind I lost my much loved Vans jacket to one of the wee shites whilst the others threw punches at my face. It was my luck that 1) I was right outside the police station which made for a hasty escape and 2) they punch like 15 year olds, which is fair enough as they are 15 year olds.

Now I am not a pussy but there is no way I could have won a brawl with that many of them. I have no bleeding wounds and no bruises yet (mostly due to their girly, ineffectual punches) but I expect they would have got me to the floor through weight of numbers and that would have been, to again use the vernacular, Shit. In the first degree. I am not physically hurt but I am pissed off. Where the fuck are there parents? What are they doing out at 11:30 in town? And, since making a positive ID in the police car, what will happen to them now? An ASBO? Oh no. The little shits need a fucking kicking and hopefully one day they will get it.

Mostly I am ashamed that I failed to make any of them bleed, but honestly, I was so shocked. Why would anyone want to do anything like this for fun? They waited until I was alone and jumped me for no reason except their own amusement. Hopefully they will live short, unfulfilling lives. GOOD GOD I’M PISSED OFF!

As an aside, the police were very helpful and amusing. They cheered me up immensely after this infuriating ordeal. Props. Also if anyone knows any names… Give it to me baby, uh huh, uh huh.