Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The edge of the universe

Astronomy fascinates me, but it baffles me at the same time.

We are told that the light from a star has taken so many million years to reach us, because that star is millions of light-years away. How can they tell?

Surely, in order to know how long the light takes to reach us, they must know the distance to the star. To use the speed of light to calculate the distance, they must know how long the light has taken to reach us. One answer derives from the other, so one value must be known before the other can be calculated. Where do these distances come from?

The Voyager space probes are about to leave the solar system. Wouldn't it be funny if, instead of soaring into empty space, they ran smack into a big black wall with little holes in it?

The penny share scam

The comment that was no comment at all. From the previous post:

At 2:39 AM, davidgreene1401 said…

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I did look it up. It's not there. Could it, perchance, have been taken down for spamming the other blogs? Very likely, I think.

There are loads of these penny-stock scams around. They work like this:

1. Pick a very low-price share. I mean, something that costs a penny a share or less.
2. Buy loads of them. The price will go up a little. It doesn't take much to move one of these shares.
3. Spam everyone, telling them about this share that's rising.
4. Lots of gullible idiots will buy the share. The price will go up more. Perhaps it will move from one penny to two.
5. Sell all yours, taking 100% profit.
6. The price drops again. The saps are left with up to 50% losses.

If anyone, ever, recommends you buy a penny share, this is why. They're not there to help you. They're there to make money.

At your expense.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

One third of France

In the news today - 'one-third of French people can't speak English' - shock horror.

The tone of the article is amazing. The writer seems to think that these people are just not trying. One-third of them can't speak English? How on Earth do they communicate?

May I make a small suggestion? Is it just possible that they communicate in French? They are, after all, in France.

The article wisely avoided any comment on how many English people speak French. At the last count, I think the total was five.

Indeed, the writer avoided mentioning how many English people can speak or write fluent English. It's more than five.

But not much more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Not even bunk

If one more person suggests an investigation of orbs, I'll stub out my cigar in their eye.

Orbs are bunk. That's been proved, over and over again. Just look at what you need to find them.

A digital camera. Has to be digital because film doesn't react to near-infrared wavelengths.

A light, or flashgun, fitted on the camera. Lights separated from the camera won't work.

The light illuminates dust in front of the lens. The dust reflects strongly in the infrared. It's too close to be in focus, and too small to force an autofocus to react. So it's blurred into an 'orb'. This only works if the light beam is close to the focal axis of the lens.

People get so excited over these dust pictures that they get distracted from real phenomena. There could be a ghost waving his arms and calling 'Over here', but the ghost hunters are more interested in counting dust particles.

Forget about orbs. The're not even bunk.

To be classified as bunk, they'd first need to exist.


We have one of those videoconferencing devices here at Marchway now. It has a feature that makes the camera automatically zoom in on whoever is speaking.

Unfortunately for Orson, he snores.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The gas man cometh

Gas and electricity bills are rising like balloons. We have the ability to build wind farms, but nobody wants one where they live. Likewise with wave power. Likewise with the Marchway Bypass.

Everyone wants something cheap or free, but nobody wants to be inconvenienced by it.

The solution is simple. If you live within sight of a wind farm, you get half-price electricity. If you live close enough so you can hear it, you get free electricity.

Try that one, Government, and watch the houses spring up around the wind farms. So much for 'blot on the landscape' protesters, they'll be the first in line for free power.

Nuclear is a short term solution, no matter what anyone says. There really isn't all that much uranium on the planet.

Fusion is, as always, twenty years from viability. It always will be.

I'll be putting a steam engine in my car soon.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Death throes

When I was young I had a dog. He grew old and infirm, then one day he perked up and was his usual cheery self. The next day, he was dead. I've seen it happen with both sick animals and people. Just before they die, they seem to be getting better.

Today my internet connection works, the day after I requested a migration code to move to another ISP.

It doesn't affect my decision. The dreadful mess they made of their service was bad enough, but the patronising attitude of the company and the 'spin' and outright lies they came out with over that time have convinced me. This company is on its way out.

There was no way to find out what was going on. They posted messages on their website, which was cold comfort to those of us who could not connect and therefore could not read the site. I phoned their customer services line. A recorded voice told me they were experiencing an unusually high level of calls. It did not say why, although it did not take a great leap of the imagination to work out why.

I managed to get at my Email, while they were inactive, through a dial-up ISP. Slow, costly, but it works. There had been no response to my messages. There was a general announcement from them though.

The line 'We understand that some of our customers are experiencing service which is somewhat less than what they would expect from a broadband connection' was what finally made up my mind. (Paraphrased: this is how I remember it. I have the original on another computer.)

I had taken five hours to connect that day. I was online for some three hours before it threw me out again, and I had to repeatedly reboot for another hour to get back in.

Less than what I would expect from a broadband service? Considerably less. Communication by post isn't much slower.

That kind of attitude is typical of the messages this lot put out. As I said before, customers are an inconvenience to this company. Unless they realise, and quickly, that their customers are their income, then there will never be any point in my naming them.

They won't exist.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Time's up

I am in the process of cancelling my account with the waste of wire that calls itself an ISP. They must think it stands for 'Internet Service Prevention'.

I started trying to connect at 10:30, finally managed to get online at 3:30. They refer to 'speed issues'. There is no speed issue. It's zero for most of the day.

Anyway, I'm just waiting for a migration code then I'm out of there. I won't be back.

They might not be too quick. I doubt very much that I'm the only one requesting this. They may well be the cheapest broadband in the UK, but it's costing me a fortune in lost time, and I'm paying them and getting no service at all. So they're not cheap. They're extremely expensive.

They have a technical services line that costs £1 a minute to call, and they're not worth it.

They set up an alleged free dial-up relacement. Any good? I don't know, I never managed to connect to it despite repeated tries.

How they managed to 'improve' a reasonable service by turning it into a totally inaccessible one I'll never know. I don't think I want to.

I look forward to an ISP that has actual people on the end of the customer service line, and does not treat its customers with total contempt.

Is there such a thing? We'll see.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Dodging responsibility

My ISP has a clever little trick up its sleeve.

If you send them an Email berating them for their dreadful service, it goes into a queue. I assume it's a long queue because nobody ever answers. That does of course involve another assumption: that someone actually reads those mails. I'm not too sure about the second assumption.

If you then send another Email, berating them for their poor service, condescending attitude to customers, and refusal to answer the previous Email, their clever trick is activated.

The previous Email is cancelled. Your latest Email becomes your only representation in that queue.

It also goes back to the bottom of the queue.

So there's no need for them to ever respond to anyone.

What's odd about this, is that this particular ISP does not advertise. It relies on word-of-mouth and referrals. They pay you to refer people.

They don't pay enough to compensate for the permanent loss of friendship you will suffer if you refer someone. As for word of mouth, I wonder if they've even considered what words are coming out of mouths now.

Customers are an inconvenience to this company. Fortunately for them, they soon won't have any.

If it continues, I'll name them. I can get some recompense by writing an article about them, and I have stored the logs of my hours-long attempts to log into their system as evidence. I have no doubt they will set their lawyers onto me. If they do, I'll post the letters here. There's one point their lawyers must surely realise though.

It's not libel if it's true.

Big Brother... watching you. Or are you watching Big Brother? When you're watching that show, are you certain TV isn't watching you too?

Yes, the most absurd of reality TV shows has returned to the UK airwaves, this time with a bunch of people who think they're important. Celebrities, they call themselves. A waste of pixels, every last one of them.

This show started somewhere in Scandinavia, I believe, and I wish it had stayed there. It shows reality TV as the tasteless voyeurism it really is.

These people are behaving like yobs, even though they're being watched all the time, even on the toilet. Who wants to see that? Really?

I'm off to watch something interesting. I'll pour myself a whisky, sit in my garden and watch the moon move across the sky.

There's more action, and it has a more pleasant face than any of them.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Holes in buckets and heads

I wonder how many remember the old song 'There's a hole in my bucket'?

Essentially it was a long joke set to music. It's a conversation between a husband and wife, which can be distilled to this:

Henry: There's a hole in my bucket.
Lila: Then fix it.
Henry: How?
Lila: With wood.
Henry: The wood is too large
Lila: Then cut it.
Henry: How?
Lila: With an axe.
Henry: The axe is blunt.
Lila: Then sharpen it.
Henry: How?
Lila: With a stone.
Henry: The stone is too dry.
Lila: Then wet it.
Henry: How?
Lila: With water.
Henry. How shall I fetch water?
Lila: With a bucket.
Henry: There's a hole in my bucket...

...and so on. By now it's clear that Henry is a total buffoon, While we're on the subject of total buffoons, here's an example, one of many, of a conversation between the IT department of a university and one of its students. This really happened, about ten years ago.

Student: I can't log on to the network.
IT staff: Of course not. We changed all the passwords while you were on holiday.
Student: So what's my new password?
IT staff: We can't tell you.
Student: So how do I find out?
IT staff: We sent each student their new password by Email.
Student: Well, how can I see that Email?
IT staff. Just log on and you'll see it.
Student: I can't log on to the network.

Some similarity, I think you'll agree, although there's a role reversal here also. The 'Henry' character (the student) is not the buffoon in this case. Yes, this did really happen.

Well, it was ten years ago, and IT has progressed since then. Hasn't it?

My current ISP (damn their eyes) has made 'improvements' which have changed my definition of their system from 'bad' to 'appalling'. They cannot be reached by phone. All I have is a technical department Email address.

If I have problems connecting, I can send an Email to this address and they'll sort it out.

So how do I send Email when I can't log on?

I feel a song coming on...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

News round-up

Some interesting items from Fortean Times (see links list). A wonderful magazine, with just the right balance of scepticism and open-mindedness. I recommend it to anyone with a real interest in the edges of reality.

The new film, 'Into Great Silence', is a three-hour documentary on Carthusian monks. Yes, silent monks. So far it's being screened in Germany, but it must come to the UK at some point.

Three hours of silence. I could go for that.

I wonder if it has subtitles?

From Yahoo News

A concert that will take 639 years to perform has just sounded its second chord. It started in September, 2001 and it's a twenty-minute piece stretched out to unbelievable length.

I hope the venue is high enough to escape rising sea levels or the concert could be cut short. I wonder how many times you'd need to be reincarnated to hear the end of it?

Headline: Obsessed tourist 'marries' Israeli dolphin; 'I'm not a pervert'

I really can't add anything to that. The child's comment at the end says it all.

I can recommend daily visits to the Fortean Times site for snippets like these. You don't have to sign up for anything, so there's no danger of increasing the strain on your mailbox. I'll pick out a few now and then but they're updated daily and I'm not a mirror site. Take a look for yourselves.

Deaf ears

A quote from the UK edition of New Scientist, 7 January 2006, page 4:

"For the sixth year running, the fisheries ministers of the European Union have ignored warnings from scientists to stop fishing North Sea cod, raising serious questions about how scientific advice is regarded in Brussels."

Questions? What questions?

We know exactly how scientific advice is regarded by politicians. This report serves to underline that knowledge.

Politicians use science, they don't listen to it. If a scientist says something a politician can use to further his or her career, then it will be publicised. If a scientist says something that might lead to a difficult political decision, then it will be ignored.

After all, if there's one thing politicians avoid at all costs, it's decisions.

Under no circumstances does any politician attempt to understand the science behind the information they are given. Their only interest is the political mileage they can get from the words they hear.

Tell them they have to introduce higher taxes to reduce the use of energy. They're your friends for life.

Tell them they'll have to stop burning coal and oil or we're all doomed. Their response is to stick their fingers in their ears and go 'La la la.'

I advise all scientists to be very, very wary when speaking to politicians. They're a devious lot. I wouldn't trust one any further than I could throw a rhinoceros.

Believe me, that's not very far.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

It's over

Two weeks of lunacy, in which it was impossible to move in the shops even when they were open. People stocking up as if the shops would never open again, as if the end of civilisation was at hand.

Shops love this. All that extra stuff will go to waste. Nobody can eat it all, it will hang around in the fridge until it goes green. Then it goes in the bin. Then you all go out and buy more.

Well, it's finished for this year, but nobody will remember their mistakes next year. You'll just go and do it all again.

Next year I might just open a shop myself.