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How do you use your Livejournal friends list? [Apr. 14th, 2008|09:07 pm]
Mystery cult
As I've remarked before, I write this thing more because I like writing than because I'm under the impression that you lot are hungry for my every word. Nevertheless, I try (and probably fail) to write in a readable fashion.

But it strikes me that I have little idea how people typically consume their Livejournal friends list. Knowing this might have some effect on what I write, so it's interesting to know. Do you read every last thing on your friends list? Or do you have such a sprawling friends list that you just dip into it and glance over the last five entries? Do you read at leisure, or in great haste? Do you follow links/videos always, or never?

I tend to suspect that many people use LJ (like Facebook) as a procrastinatory measure at work, and thus read at haste whilst having a coffee, and seldom follow links or view videos, both because they're under time pressure and because this might result in something Obviously Not Work spewing onto their screens. But I've been wrong before.

To set the ball rolling: I read this thing after work at leisure, though not at great length. My friends list is fairly short (I'm such a loser) so I look at everything in it, but I tend to skim anything over about five paragraphs or which goes into technical detail about a subject that's not close to my heart. I haven't got speakers at the moment on the machine I use for web-surfing, so I don't generally play video/sound (and I won't in the future if they all turn out to be Rick Astley). I sometimes follow links, but if the post doesn't make it clear what the link is, I tend to refuse to follow it (it might be Rick Astley- or worse).

I'm not suggesting everyone write as much as I just did, but a few words would be interesting.

(I generally abhor this kind of blog navel-gazing post, and I promise to avoid any more in future.)
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Boring dentist question [Apr. 9th, 2008|09:31 pm]
Mystery cult
One of the exciting features of graduation is that I no longer qualify for the University Dental Practice. So I need to register with a dentist. If anyone knows of any unusually good or bad Cambridge dentists, now would be a good time to tell me. For that matter, if anyone knows of any that they can confirm are not actively bad, that would be useful information. Then I can begin the exciting process of discovering that they're not taking NHS patients.

I might sound paranoid here, but I had a bad experience back at York. Oh, the boring tales of incompetent dentistry I could tell.

In order to allay concern, I should stress that there's nothing currently wrong with my mouth, so far as I'm aware. Mind you, some guy at work today was saying you're supposed to floss after every meal. I think that's just crazy talk, but what if he's right? I floss about once a fortnight. My teeth are probably doomed.
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Arthur C. Clarke [Mar. 20th, 2008|12:36 am]
Mystery cult
Arthur C. Clarke has died at the age of 90. This 90th birthday message on YouTube, from a few months ago, sees him effectively saying goodbye; he still appears to have been in full possession of his marbles. I'm not sure the video would have anything to offer the non-fan, but I found it quite affecting.

I gobbled up a number of his novels in my youth; it's been too long ago for me to say anything very useful. But it's worth noting that the potentially dry hard science fiction was generally leavened with a hefty dose of Cosmic Awe; the careful scientific explanation was always matched by an appreciation of the inexplicable and the incomprehensible. For every Discovery spacecraft, a big black monolith.
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Sinister ducks [Feb. 24th, 2008|10:37 am]
Mystery cult
This may be old news to the comics fans out there, but it's new news to me: in the 1980s, heavily bearded mad comics genius Alan Moore had a brief musical career, including a song called "The March of the Sinister Ducks". This has since been combined with ropy animation by internet scamps and placed on YouTube.

It's about how sinister ducks are.

Nasty and small, undeserving of life.
DUCKS! DUCKS! Quack quack, quack quack.
They sneer at your hairstyle and sleep with your wife.

It's possible that there's some allegorical reading I'm missing, but I think it's just that Alan Moore doesn't like ducks. It's all rather Tom Lehrer, but whereas Tom Lehrer sounded merely mildly amused by the prospect of poisoning pigeons in the park, Moore sounds genuinely angry with the ducks.
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I am the law [Feb. 10th, 2008|02:12 pm]
Mystery cult
The most interesting thing to emerge from this Rowan Williams/Sharia law business is the fact that, under current law, certain kinds of civil disputes can be settled by a court using any system, provided that all parties agree to submit to its authority. This provision is, apparently, currently implemented by British Jewish courts.

So I'm setting up my own court. To start with, this will allow people to settle their differences by means of a massive day-long game of Warhammer 40,000. If this proves popular, I will expand to the following methods of justice:

  • Trial by thumb-war.
  • Trial by who can get the most members for their Facebook group.
  • Trial by Magic: the Gathering.
  • Trial by naked mud wrestling.
  • Trial by Singstar karaoke.
  • Trial by randomised legal system. Will you settle your dispute according to the code of Hammurabi, the traditions of the Apache, medieval trial by ordeal, or a game of Twister? It all depends on a roll of the dice!
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Facts about pancake day [Feb. 5th, 2008|01:27 am]
Mystery cult
  • Pancake day is an ancient pagan festival, thinly Christianised. The original pancake celebration was much like the one we know today, but St Augustine (not the one with the hippos, the one with forty monks) obliged our Saxon forefathers to replace the element of "debauched Odin-worship" with "pancakes" and replace the element of "human sacrifice" with "sugar and lemon".
  • Fascism is caused by an absence of pancakes.
  • Just as fasting for Lent is a symbol of devotion to Jesus, so the consumption of pancakes weakens Jesus, and prevents him from carrying out his evil plan: returning to Earth as undead zombie Jesus to eat the brains of the living.
  • In America, pancake day is celebrated at British consulates, which are for this reason known by the name "International House of Pancakes".
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Miles Kington [Jan. 31st, 2008|06:13 pm]
Mystery cult
Miles Kington, daily humour columnist for the Independent, has died.

Even his best columns often had the air of being hastily improvised and lacking substance, but he had an extraordinary talent for being funny in that particular vein. And even on his off days, he came across as very likeable. This is an example column plucked randomly from the archives.

He lived not too far from my family home, and it was always a pleasure to see someone bitching about Bath city council in the national press. He gave out the certificates at my A-level ceremony; the only part I can recall from his speech was an exhortation to seize your chance to do what you want in life:

A middle-aged friend who works as a doctor was telling me he wants to get into writing. "It's not too late," he said to me. But it was, you know.

He also promised to show anyone who spoke to him after the ceremony a method for sticking a stamp on the ceiling without using your hands. (Or something like that, the years have taken their toll on my memory.) I didn't take that opportunity, but I was assured by those who did that a method was demonstrated.
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Technical query [Jan. 25th, 2008|07:19 pm]
Mystery cult
I'm vaguely thinking of putting together a website, mostly as a technical exercise in honing my skillz. Probably about ornamental patterns or something, I dunno.

The important questions are:
- Can anyone recommend a cheap (ideally free, but that's too much to ask) web host that supports (at least) MySQL, Perl scripts, and PHP?
- PHP: what's it good for? What will it do for me that Perl scripts don't?
- Those menus which drop-down when you put your mouse over them: do people do that with JavaScript? PHP? Something else? All of the above?
- Are there any good books on this kind of topic? I've been making Perl scripts that access a MySQL database to produce HTML throughout my PhD, so I know basics, but I'm not sure how to go from there to having mad skillz.

UPDATE: Obviously, I am familiar with the concept of "Google it" and "Buy the most relevant-sounding O'Reilly textbook". However, this is one of those areas where these techniques produce an awful lot of avenues of enquiry.
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Top literary fact [Jan. 22nd, 2008|11:34 pm]
Mystery cult
I was browsing Amazon to see if there were any books on Andre-Charles Boulle, well known for his phat 18th-century marquetry skillz.
Boulle wardrobe

There are no books on Andre-Charles Boulle. BUT IN THIS MANNER I learned this top literary fact: the original novels of both Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai were written by the same person: Pierre Boulle.
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Amon Amarth [Jan. 17th, 2008|11:01 pm]
Mystery cult
Last.fm served me up Amon Amarth, and I approved. Now, those who are fond of men who sound like the cookie monster roaring about Vikings (symbelgal) will probably already know about them, and those who aren't fond of such things are unlikely to change their minds.

I am however putting a video here because the synchronised windmill headbanging at the start should appeal to everyone.

It might also appeal to those who are fond of Viking burial practices (jholloway?) and who are puzzled by the relative scarcity of songs on this topic. But it probably won't appeal to those who are fond of long-haired prettyboys (fiona_kitty?) as the singer appears to have eaten all the pies. Pies made of Christians. Mmmmm, Christians.

P.S. It's not as good as Erasure, obviously.
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