Rhinovirus and "Slings and Arrows"

The lack of recent blog entries is due to a small, unwelcome visitor: a pesky rhinovirus* which laid me low for several days, and still makes my sinuses feel as if they’re full of glue. So I’ve spent most of my time sleeping, blowing my nose, and watching TV (in that order). And as for TV… well, before la grippe struck, I visited some friends in Andover, and they introduced me to the Canadian series Slings and Arrows. I was hooked. We picked up the DVDs for Season 1 and Season 2 yesterday, and watched the first three episodes back-to-back. Absolutely brilliant.

* When I started typing this entry, I assumed – incorrectly – that all examples of the common cold were caused by rhinoviruses. However according to Wikipedia: “The common cold is caused by numerous viruses (mainly rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and also certain echoviruses, paramyxoviruses, and coxsackieviruses) infecting the upper respiratory system.” So who knows what got into my nasopharynx this time?

"You wait around for a bus, and then a whole lot turn up at once…"

Regular readers will have been following my transition from the Greater Boston area to Seattle, and settling in to my apartment. We’ve sold the house, and it’s time for the next bit of downsizing. I’m going to ship most of my books to Seattle (especially my philosophy library), but one thing has to go: the model bus collection. It consists of about 150 replicas of British buses, all to 1/76 scale, mostly manufactured by EFE and OOC. You can see them here. The majority are models of London Transport and London Country buses, but there’s plenty of variety, and quite a few rareties. All are unboxed.
some of my buses
Now, what am I going to do? I don’t have time to eBay them (difficult when unboxed), nor to do any elaborate cataloguing, packaging and shipping. I doubt there are many collectors in the New England area. All the same, I’d hate to just dump them in the trash. What a waste – and they’re probably worth a few bob; they certainly cost me several $K.
Any suggestions?
P.S. I’ve also got this nice, clean Subaru Legacy GT that I need to sell. 2.5 litre turbo, 250 HP, five speed automatic, 13,500 miles, loads of fun. Answers to the name of DARWIN….

Brian Cathcart on my mother

The writer Brian Cathcart recently wrote a short priece for the New Statesman entitled A history lesson. It begins:

Not many authors publish a book at the age of 90, and fewer still do so when they are already halfway through another book. Can there be more than one in that position, and who is also virtually blind?

The author he’s talking about is my mother, Lorna Arnold (about whom Alec and I recently blogged). The first book to which he’s referring is Britain, Australia and the Bomb: The Nuclear Tests and Their Aftermath, which is the new (and substantially expanded) edition of her classic book about the British A-bomb tests in Australia. And “another book” is the volume of memoirs that all of her friends (and I too) have been urging her to write for many years.
Lorna Arnold Britain, Australia and the Bomb
Occasionally people will ask me what I plan to do when I retire. I have always replied that I don’t understand the question: what is this “retirement” of which they speak. Perhaps my mother’s example explains my attitude….

And they wonder why some of us think organized religion is cuckoo…..

David Farley has a piece in Slate entitled Who stole Jesus’ foreskin?. OK, we can all enjoy a chuckle about medieval superstition, and holy relics, and stuff like that. But the sophisticated types in the Catholic hierarchy would never take such things seriously, would they? But in 1900…

Facing increasing criticism after the “rediscovery” of a holy foreskin in France, the Vatican decreed that anyone who wrote about or spoke the name of the holy foreskin would face excommunication. And 54 years later, when a monk wanted to include Calcata in a pilgrimage tour guide, Vatican officials didn’t just reject the proposal (after much debate). They upped the punishment: Now, anyone uttering its name would face the harshest form of excommunication—”infamous and to be avoided”—even as they concluded that Calcata’s holy foreskin was more legit than other claimants’.

It’s pure Monty Python, isn’t it? (And for the record, Farley believes that the Pope arranged for the “holy foreskin” to be stolen. It makes as much sense as the rest of this stuff.)

"Ask the pilot" on the "gels, aerosols and liquids" idiocy

From the 2006 retrospective edition of Salon’s excellent column Ask the pilot:

Speaking of things that never happened, how could we forget last summer’s liquid-bomb terror scare. In case you were living on Neptune at the time and missed the news, British police broke up an alleged London-based scheme to bring down several U.S. airliners using hard-to-detect liquid explosives. The public continues to believe that authorities rushed in and saved thousands of lives in the nick of time. Quite the contrary. What makes the story so special is how much of an overblown ruse the whole thing was, and just how preposterous our reaction to it has been. The fact that both alleged ringleaders of the plot have been released without charge has gone scarcely noticed by the press. Meanwhile, despite assertions by experts that the types of bombs alleged in the scheme are all but impossible to brew, millions of travelers remain subject to absurd prohibitions of liquids, gels and aerosols from their carry-on bags.

And the result: the insane, chaotic scene from Heathrow that I blogged about recently. But to fix this, some politician somewhere is going to have to violate the most important taboo in politics: Never Admit That You Made A Mistake. Apparently it is more important to be consistent than to be right. (Probably because in this complex world, nobody can actually tell if you’re right, but any idiot can tell if you’re consistent. Dumbed-down political discourse. Good grief….)
P.S. Did you know that the plot ringleaders had been released? I certainly missed it….

Tim on JSON and XML

From ongoing · JSON and XML:

There used to be an argument about whether platform-neutral, language-neutral data formats were important, or whether distributed objects were the right answer. That’s over: HTML, XML, JSON. ¶

There used to be people who argued that network interchange formats shouldn’t be text-based, but use binary where possible, for efficiency. That’s over: HTML, XML, JSON.

I used to be in the people who argued camp, but at this point I’m almost convinced. It’s a little spooky using an over-the-wire format that looks like the kind of pseudocode we’re used to scribbling all over the whiteboard, but perhaps that’s the whole point. We’ll see……

Happy solstice to all

Seasonal greetings to all who are celebrating the longest-running holiday in the world. People have been marking this occasion ever since they were able to make calendars, and I don’t expect that to change as long as there are (moderately) intelligent species inhabiting the planet. The event has always been tricked out with various cultural and mythological decorations, and most of them are entirely charming. (There are some obvious exceptions, like “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and store-bought egg nog.) Just don’t let any group claim that their “meaning” of the season is The One True Way. Those silly folks just have no sense of history.

Remembering Carl

carl sagan buttonToday, December 20th 2006, is the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s untimely death. Among his many gentle – but uncompromising – admonitions, this was always a personal favourite:

The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.

If only more people realized this….
Check out the Celebrating Sagan blog – part of the Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon. People have posted video and audio clips, anecdotes, reminiscences, photographs, and personal tributes. Lots of stuff to make you think – which is the whole point, isn’t it?
UPDATE: My colleague Werner has just posted his thoughts about Sagan the educator.

A rude awakening

I’ve got into a nice, relaxed pattern on Sunday mornings: I make a pot of coffee, curl up in front of the TV with the coffee and a pack of oatmeal-and-raisin cookies biscuits, and watch back-to-back English Premier League matches for four hours. It’s a nice, predictable, comfortable habit.

Until this morning.

First West Ham beat Manchester United 1-0, which means that Chelsea are only 2 points behind ManU (sorry!) the Red Devils at the top of the league. And then Spurs, hitherto winless on the road, beat Manchester City, breaking their perfect home record. The second match included one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen: a glorious 20-yard half-volley by Tom Huddlestone (pictured).
Tom Huddlestone after scoring his first EPL goal

Great viewing, but hardly the relaxing Sunday morning I had anticipated. In fact I’m going to have to dig out the vacuum cleaner to clean up all the cookie crumbs….