Sunday, 30 July 2006

The big over easy

Finish reading Jasper Fforde's The big over easy (2005). Although I liked his Thursday Next novels, I took a while to get around to this one, because a detective story in which Jack Spratt and Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Department (Reading Police) investigate the mysterious death of Humpty Dumpty sounds too silly for words. Amazingly, Jasper has pulled it off again, managing to make an amusing and engaging novel with some likeable characters out of the most unpromising material. You have to read this to believe it. I still prefer Thursday Next, though.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

The consent of the governed

Since the vote for the independence of Montenegro, I've seen several comments on the Web pointing out the hypocrisy of western Europeans and north Americans in happily accepting independence for Montenegro while reacting with shock and horror to any suggestion of regions seceding from their own countries.

This criticism seems entirely deserved to me. I see no reason why any region of any country that votes for independence shouldn't get it. Government should be by the consent of the governed. If the Basques or the Catalans decide they don't want to be part of Spain; if the Scots, the Welsh, or the Northern Irish decide they don't want to be part of Britain; then why should they be? I wonder why so many people in the world think they have a right to govern other people against their will.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Far from the madding crowd

Recently I was reading what seemed a fairly routine article in The Economist about the very low birth rate in Germany, when the final paragraph caught my attention:

“As humans withdraw, wildlife is returning, notably near the eastern border. The lynx can be found again. The Lausitz, part of Saxony, is now home to two packs of wolves. Some even expect bears to come back one day. Their reappearance might be the ultimate sign that Germans really are a dying breed.”

It would be great if the low German birth rate could spread to all other countries. Then we could look forward in the end to a sensible world population much lower than it is now, in which mankind could live in harmony with itself and with nature, on a greener and more pleasant planet. I'm not exactly a tree-hugger, but I see no sense and no benefit in the vast number of people now overcrowding the Earth. We all just get on each other's nerves, creating traffic jams and pollution and noise and garbage, and pushing up the price of land and accommodation.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

The horse that champed no more

I looked on the Web for the text of the poem The Listeners, published by Walter de la Mare in 1912. Walter de la Mare was an Englishman who lived and died in England; his poem was written in good English. However, curiously, there are various versions of it on the Web evidently typed in by Americans who have seen fit to correct his spelling: ‘Traveller’ becomes ‘Traveler’ and ‘champed’ becomes ‘chomped’. The verb ‘to champ’ is a perfectly good English word that has been in use since the 16th century; but too many people have their own concept of the English language and won't use a dictionary to check.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Airport uninformation

Yesterday I drove to Barcelona airport to pick up my mother, who's visiting for a week. Her flight was due in at 21:25 but arrived at 00:15. She was told the delay was due to a strike by French air traffic controllers. Those people seem to be permanently dissatisfied with their jobs. I wish whoever employs them would put them out of their misery—either by doing what they ask, or by firing them (as in the USA in 1981).

But my main complaint is about the inadequacy of airport information. At 21:25, when the plane was due to land, it still hadn't taken off from Heathrow; but Barcelona airport wasn't aware of any delay. Later on, it announced a series of delays, apparently calculated arbitrarily on the basis that the plane hadn't arrived yet, therefore there must be some delay. We are in the 21st century: the airport ought to know where each plane is at any time. To know that the plane hasn't taken off yet, it doesn't even need to be in touch with the plane; it just needs to be in touch with the other airport, which really isn't difficult.

Monday, 27 February 2006

High-resolution DVD

I've been reading about the Blu-Ray and HD DVD discs that will start coming out this year, and the high-definition films that will be appearing on them, at a resolution of 1920 × 1080 pixels. You can get computer screens now that will accommodate that resolution, but they're expensive. I suppose prices will come down as more and more film fans feel the need to buy them. I rarely watch films, but I'll be glad to take advantage of the cheaper large screens and the higher storage capacity of the new discs.

Friday, 24 February 2006

The punishment from heaven

BBC news:

“London's mayor has been suspended from office on full pay for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.”

A four-week paid holiday as a punishment? Oh, punish me, please...

Monday, 13 February 2006

Perfect colour on screen

Today I acquired an Eye-One Display 2 from GretagMacbeth: a little gadget that looks like a computer mouse but is in fact a kind of light meter, which I can use to generate an ICC colour profile of my computer's monitor. This enables other programs to adjust their colour output for the deficiencies of the monitor, thus displaying colours fairly accurately. If you edit colour images at all, it's useful to know that you're editing the real colours in the file, and not whatever distorted version your monitor happens to show.

Saturday, 11 February 2006

Mozilla Thunderbird

I've installed Mozilla Thunderbird as my e-mail program, in place of Eudora. Thunderbird imported my Eudora settings and messages automatically, and it seems to work. The main problem I find with it is that there's no proper help file, just a few tips here and there on the Web. So, if I want to find out how to do something, there's no single place where I can go and look.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

Too easily offended

There's an amazing fuss going on about a few quite mild cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. If a newspaper in a small Muslim country had published similar cartoons about Jesus Christ, they would simply have been ignored. The fact that some Muslims apparently lack the maturity to ignore such things is to their own discredit.

Friday, 3 February 2006


I read that Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the easyJet guy, has now set up easyCruise, offering low-priced cruises in the Mediterranean in summer and in the Caribbean in winter. Quite a nice idea, except that it seems to be set up for young singles raving it up in discos ashore every night—and this wasn't my lifestyle even when I was young and single. On the other hand, the formal dinners and professional entertainers on conventional cruises aren't really designed for me either.