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Six healthcare myths March 23, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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According to Brad DeLong, this, from Alter S. Reiss, was originally linked from Making Light.  It’s good to have some of these myths cleared up.

Oh, and do make sure you don’t miss the comments.


The Big Picture at Saturn October 20, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in astronomy.
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You’re familiar with “The Big Picture“, right?  Three days a week, Alan Taylor, a developer for the Boston Globe’s website, publishes a set of high-res photographs of, well, almost anything interesting which comes across his desk – the last couple of entries have looked at World Animal Day 2009 and the World Gymnastics Championships in London.  Pretty much every post is worth looking at – Taylor’s approach of providing huge, beautiful, high-quality images makes for compelling viewing.

And now he’s left Earth entirely.  The most recent post is a set of shots of Saturn captured by the Cassini spacecraft, and they’re some of the most incredible images I’ve ever seen.  Just keep in mind what you’re looking at, and how these images were created, and, if you’re like me, you’ll be lost for superlatives.

If you want more, keep an eye on the Planetary Society’s blog, run by Emily Lakdawalla.  Emily keeps track of pretty much everything going on in the world of Solar System exploration – Messenger at Mercury, Cassini at Saturn, Spirit and Opportunity on Mars, and it’s well worthwhile taking a look every now and then.

And, finally, this is not the first time The Big Picture has showcased Cassini.  Take a look at this set, published in May 2008 and representing a selection of the best images returned by Cassini over the four years (now five and still going strong) of its mission.  Just jawdroppingly amazing!

Water is wet October 6, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal.

It seems to me that the water you get in a car wash is marginally wetter than regular water.

Ask me how I know…

The Last Tommy – RIP July 25, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in history.
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A couple of years ago, I wrote about Harry Patch, then aged 109 and the last survivor of the Battle of Passchendaele.  He’d hidden his story inside himself for eighty years, never letting his experiences out, even to his wife. Finally, in 1998, at the age of 100, he agreed to be interviewed for the  BBC documentary “Veterans”.  Later, he co-operated with the historian Richard van Emden in the book “The Last Fighting Tommy”, a memoir of his experiences as an eighteen-year-old soldier in the squalor and degradation of the trenches of the Western Front.  In 2007, he returned to Passchendaele on the 90th anniversary of the battle, laying wreaths for both the Allied and German casualties.

Harry Patch died yesterday, aged 111.

The BBC obituary is here.

There is now no-one left who remembers the Battle of Passchendaele.  It’s hard to do better than to, once again, quote his words.

It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it …

– Harry Patch

Catching up with jazz July 21, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in music.
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Years ago, I listened to a lot of jazz.  I still do, but I haven’t really kept up with the scene. If I look at the dates on my jazz CDs, they’re predominantly eighties releases.  I keep an occasional eye on my favourite musicians – John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny –  but I’m nowhere near as keen a fan as I was in 1985, which is a shame, because there’s nothing in music quite like the sound of a great jazz improviser feeding off a great jazz band.

Last night, I happened once again to buy a copy of Downbeat magazine at the Laguna Beach news stand to look at over a cold Sierra Nevada at the Marine Room next door.  No synchronicity this time – the classic rock station seemed to be focussing on Eric Burdon.  However, it turned out that this was the issue where the magazine announced the results of their 57th annual critics poll, and it struck me that this might be an interesting opportunity to see where the jazz world has moved to in twenty-odd years.

So, let’s look a little closer.  There are three pages or so of categories – small groups, big  bands, instrumentalists in every possible area, vocal and instrumental rising stars, producers, arrangers.  Each category includes the top ten vote getters.  All in all, there’s a whole lot or material to work with.

Now this is not going to be some musical version of the Julie/Julia project (although, who knows, maybe I could get Andie McDowell to play Lorraine in the movie), but it would certainly be fun to dig into some of the more interesting categories, find some new musicians, and see what I think about the world of jazz in 2009 (and, frankly, probably in 2010 too).

I mean, what can go wrong when the winner of the “Jazz Group, Rising Star” poll is an ensemble named “Mostly Other People Do The Killing”.

A quadrillion dollars in debt July 15, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in software, tech.

After an unconscionable period of quiet, the blog bursts into life with a post which will probably only be of interest to a small subset of my vast reader audience.

The BBC reported today that some poor guy in New Hampshire discovered that his bank had debited his account by $23 quadrillion dollars after he bought a packet of cigarettes at a local gas station.

The story concludes:

But no-one has yet explained to Mr Muszynski how such a astonishing error could have been made.

I’m here to help.

The amount quoted in the story is $23,148,855,308,184,500.00

Type eight space characters into a text editor.  It’ll look like  ”        ” on screen (minus the quotes, of course).  What has the computer stored in memory?  If your text editor uses the ASCII character-encoding scheme, you’ll get 3264 bits which look like this when represented hexadecimally – “2020202020202020”.  Each “20” is the ASCII representation of a space character.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Suppose you tell the computer that this memory location doesn’t contain a string, but a decimal value, what do you get?  The answer is 2314885530818453536.  I’m not sure how the bug manifested itself, but it seems likely that some memory location which was supposed to contain the number of cents in the debit amount was actually overwritten with a text string which was all, or almost all, spaces.

Oh well, geek credentials established.  Now back to hummingbirds and choral music.

Updated: Peter points out in comments that eight spaces take 64 bits, not 32.  Indeed they do (slaps forehead in annoyance).  He also points out that “2020202020201250” converts exactly to the correct decimal value, and wonders whether the pack of  cigarettes cost $12.50.  Maybe.  Thanks for the notes, Peter.

Spring is here. Bah humbug March 2, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.

Sping is undoubtedly here, and what a pleasure it is to hear the sound of birdsong once more.  How lovely to hear our feathered friends trilling their little hearts out as they advertise their prowess with their delightful repertoire of songs.

Except that you’re in the tree outside my bedroom window and IT’S ELEVEN O’CLOCK AT BLOODY NIGHT.

Go to sleep already. Everyone else is trying to.

The awesome responsibility of the blogger February 18, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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Some readers are never satisfied.

I offer my apologies as follows:

  • To Frank, who spent the entire weekend watching episodes of “The Prisoner”.  Buck up, Frank, they only made seventeen, so you’re over halfway there. 
  • To David, who has now uploaded all his wine into CellarTracker (or at least Patti has), only to discover that he owns a substantial number of bottles that should have been drunk in 2003.  Sounds like a Caymus party to me.

King William’s Quiz 2008 – answers! February 17, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Britain, pop culture.
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The Guardian has now put King William’s College quiz fans out of their misery by publishing the answers to this year’s brain squeezer.

If you’re interested, the answer to 17.6 (In which town did la Baronne de la Chalonnière encounter Alexander Duggan at the Hôtel du Cerf?) is Gap.  This is allegedly a reference to Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, a book which I have read – retaining, it would seem, absolutely nothing.

Watch “The Prisoner” online – legally February 12, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in Britain, pop culture.
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Neil Gaiman is delighted to find that the whole of “The Prisoner” is  online at the American Movie Channel’s website here.

So am I.

I just watched the first couple of minutes of Episode 1, the bit where John Drake (or at least, someone we assume to be John Drake)  decides to turn in his badge, with rather serious consequences.

I remember wanting that Lotus Seven so badly…