Sunday, December 20, 2009

When The Snowman Brings The Snow

While waiting somewhere with internet access I put together a playlist of Christmas songs on Youtube. I'm not sure I reccomend it any further than that.

(Link, in case embeddable playlist player goes for a Burton).

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Plot: To Cook Food: Smoked Haddock Chowder

Over the Xmas period I will be teaming up with some friends to make a celebratory meal. These parameters:

- The meal will be for 10
- I'll be doing one, or maybe two courses
- I'll be in someone elses kitchen, in another town, during a time of year when shop opening hours (also travel times) are a bit chaotic

lead me to emphasising the KISS[1] principle; simple, foolproof recipes with common ingredients, that don't take up too much time or room in the kitchen. On the other hand:

- It is a celebratory meal
- Including several guests with particular dietry preferences
- And I'm me

Which makes me want to do something extravagant. Somewhere in the tension of these differing requirements is a perfect menu. Until I come up with it I'm thinking of Smoked Haddock Chowder:

I made up this chowder from vague memories of TV programs and recipe books.

Two onions, sliced
A couple of garlic cloves, sliced
Vegetable oil
Three large potatoes, peeled and roughly cut up
Some fish stock, or vegetable stock, or chicken stock, or maybe you could just throw in a stock cube and some water (SHOCK HORROR!)
Lots of sweetcorn, either fresh or out the tin
Quite a large piece of smoked haddock, skinned and flaked roughly
Some cream or full fat milk
Lots of pepper, and maybe some suitable herbs if any strike your fancy

Heat the veg oil in a big pot. Soften onions and garlic, then add potatoes and any herbs, stir, then cover with stock. Simmer for twenty minutes or half an hour. Add in the fish and sweetcorn, then finish off with milk or cream and pepper, and salt if needed. Actually is better if you let it stand for a few hours then heat up.

One final note: I do not have control of the guest list. Sorry.

[1] Keep It Simple, Stupid[2]
[2] Unless you're Stan, of course[3]
[3] In which case you use the STAN principle: Simple Techniques Are Nifty

Another Day, Another Conversation

Pupil M: I'm going to get pregnant at 17 and have a hundred children.
Me: Sounds brilliant.
Pupil M: You're supposed to tell me not to get pregnant.
Me: I'm all in favour of other people having children, just not me. Your hundred kids can look after me when I'm retired.
Pupil M: No.. Um...

Being, hmm, "Radically Supportive" maybe?, really throws them sometimes, especially the smokers.

("You've been told so many times that smoking makes you cough and stink and die, I can only assume you want lung cancer. So don't hide in the woods, stand out by the road where you can get some pollution from the cars!")

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conversation of the Day

[Pupil T]: I can't work with boys around me.
Me: So that's why you're in the girl's corner.
[Pupil T]: yes
Me: ...surrounded by femininity.
[Pupil]: Now you make me sound like a lesbian.
Me: Do I?
[Pupil T]: Yes, surrounded by femi... feminy... by what you said.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Cook Food: Flatbread

I've been known to bake bread and it's pretty good if I say so myself. What makes it especially good is that when you make it yourself it's really, really fresh. But it is a bit of a pain to bake it, especially when you can pay through the nose at the baker or the french shop[1] and get really excellent bread.

On the other hand, people all over the world make flatbreads every single day, which can be as simple as camp bread[2], pita bread, tortillas or chapati. Hell, I've cooked this stuff over an open fire! So here's what I tried last night:

Mix 1 hugely over-filled tablespoon of flour with three tablespoons of water. Add a bit more flour until it's a proper dough, then knead for about a minute. Flatten it out and grill it[3] for about five minutes, then turn over and get it out just before it turns black. Ever so slightly doughy (flatter? cook longer at a lower temperature?) but good stuff.

[1] The official name of the french shop is No-Name Shop.
[2] Traditionally served with mince.
[3] Or stick it on a frying pan, or in the oven, or over an open fire on a grill, or a hot stone.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Conversation of the Week

We join Miss S in the middle of a fine rant denouncing sexism:

Miss S: ...The only difference between boys and girls is that males have an Y chromosone in place of the one of the female X chromsones. Everything that isn't on that chromosone is identical.[1]
Pupil J: That's not true Miss. Boys have a meat-and-two-veg, while girls have a pineapple.
[Momentary silence]
Miss S: A pineapple? What makes you call a woman's bits a pineapple?
Me: You know Miss, I'd rather not know.
Miss S: You're probably right Sir.

[1] I should note that Miss S has a degree in biochemisty and is better informed than me about the embryological differences caused by the expression of the sex associated genes, and has a good overview of the gender differential cultural pressures in modern society, but when dealing with a bunch of bolshy 13 year olds has to skate over the thornier subtleties of non-mathematical topics. As of Friday afternoon Miss S is also the most recently qualified teacher in the country. Yay!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marking Fun

You can have too much fun marking exams! Rather than overload you with the avalanche of hilarity that comes with it, I'll just give you one example:
The Hexagon had a bigger aria

Ah, the Geometric Opera, that well known Euclidean masterpiece.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Long Distance Ursine Commuting

Me: Hey! Stop it! Don't barge [Pupil A] into the wall!
[Pupil A, but another A*]: But sir! She said I was a bi-polar bear!

I immediately thought that that is one hell of a migration for something the size of a bear, and wouldn't that kind of long distance movement be highly visible?

My second thought was clearly that this was a bear which swings both ways.

Finally this is a bear which is sometimes Grizzly.

The internet has some other answers.

* It's confusing, but there were two pupils whose names began with A were involved in this incident.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rapping In And About Toilets

My brother pointed out to me this video of The Genius Squad performing their track The Bog. Who would have thought that rap music and toilets would mix so well?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


While I'm watching female electro-pop, let's see this video of Breakthrough by Greek duo Marsheaux which combines synth music with an innovative retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

It's like several of my obsessions interests rolled into one delicious computer generated package.

Principles Cause Aggravation (again)

My principled belief in free speech means I have no choice but to condone the appearance of that fascist pillock on Question Time tonight.

Fortunately my principle of not watching crap TV means I won't be watching it. That's one in the eye for the BNP.

Instead let's watch Little Boots.

After watching the BBC documentary Synth Britannia, my brother had this question about Boots: "Where's the dodgy looking bloke playing a synth behind her?"

He's not really as ignorant of female synth-heads as he seems.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trafalgar Day

21st October 1805.

Villneuve was late. Bonaparte had taken his army away from the channel to fight the Third Coalition. Pitt had already removed the threat to Britain with his diplomatic succeses, successes that would be overshadowed by Bonaparte at Ulm and Austerlitz.

But let's not minimise the result of Trafalgar; after this the war at sea was almost entirely in Britain's favour. And if ever I'm killed whilst commanding a naval battle, I insist on following the example of Nelson; to be pickled in brandy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

007's Teenage Pillow Fantasies

Through his glasses, Bond examined the two men and wondered about them. What did these people amount to? Bond remembered cold, dedicated, chess-playing Russians; brilliant, neurotic Germans; silent, deadly, anonymous men from Central Europe; the people in his own Service - the double-firsts, the gay soldiers of fortune, the men who counted life well lost for a thousand a year. Compared to such men, Bond decided, these people were just teenage pillow-fantasies.
Diamonds Are Forever, Ian Fleming.

Bond, are you saying what it sounds like you're saying[1]? I thought you had something of a reputation as a ladykiller, and you currently are in pursuit of Miss Tiffany Case who is

...very beautiful in a devil-may-care way, as if she kept her looks for herself and didn't mind what men thought of them, and there was an ironical tilt to the finely drawn eye-brows above the wide, level, rather scornful eyes...

Her skin was lightly tanned and without make-up except for a deep red on the lips, which were full and soft and rather moody so as to give the effect of what is called "a sinful mouth". But not, thought Bond, one that often sinned...

There's something a bit odd there on second reading. What does Felix Leiter have to say about Miss Case?

Not surprising she won't have anything to do with men since then.

But as we know, Bond has an almost supernatural attraction, that no woman can resist!

"I'm not going to sleep with you," said Tiffany Case in a matter-of-fact voice, "so don't waste your money getting me tight."

Gosh! It seems as though Bond likes to take to dinner women who have no intention of consummating the affair! But surely we can't draw any other conclusion from this. There's no actual evidence in Diamonds Are Forever that Bond prefers the company of men. Is there?

(To be continued...)

[1] Also, Captain Troop now seems to be fighting something of a rear-guard action in the sequel From Russia With Love.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Wisdom of 13-Year Olds

The Year 9s have a different philosophy to the Year 8s.
Pupil M, to Pupil C: Bitch.
Me: Don't call her that.
Pupil C: It's okay.
Me: No it isn't.
Pupil C: No, it is, because a bitch is a dog and dogs bark, and bark comes from a tree and trees are part of nature, and nature is beautiful.
Me, to Pupil M: Can't you just tell her she's beautiful?
Pupil C: I know what she means.

Dream Diary 17

I dreamt I was the Tory candidate in a reality TV election show. Jim, the Labour candidate, was complaining about homophobic comments on my election webpage. I phoned Stan, who deleted them and blocked the user. Jim and I shook hands and sat down to have a coffee. It was very civilised, although we couldn't tell the difference between our policy positions.

Jim wore a charcoal-grey suit with a red tie; I wore a charcoal-grey suit with a blue tie.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Wisdom of 12 Year-Olds

Pick Daisies, Not Fights

one had inscribed in beautiful calligraphy. The other showed me her thought:
A smile means the same thing in every language

each word in a different and unique font. If only we could all follow the simple plans of these girls; if only we could all just get along...

"Sir Sir! Mine's the best isn't it!" "No mine is, right sir?"


(If you have a preference I'll be glad to let Pupils K and M know which is the favourite)

Friday, October 02, 2009

In Which I Give In and Admit That Most Of The Material Of This Blog Is Provided by 11-16 Year Olds

Conversation of the Day:
Pupil K: Sir, will you go to the prom with me.
Me: No
Pupil J: Why Not?
Me: It's not appropriate.
Pupil H: How old are you sir?
Me: I'm [My Age]
Pupil K: My Mum's not [My Age].
Me: So I'm old enough to be your Mum?
Pupil K: Yes... No... I... What?

Sadly this is not the incident most likely to get me fired this week.

Pupil K, it seems, had been asked to the prom by a boy, and said yes, but then he asked someone else. I refrained from pointing out the obvious lesson[1] and went on to say:
Me: You could go on your own and it would be like the last episode of the first series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, except with less vampires.
Pupil E: No vampires.
Me: That would be less.
Pupil E: I've never seen an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Pupil H: I have. I liked the story Buffy's Mum told...
Me: ...about how she went on her own and met Buffy's Dad...
Pupil J: What are you on about?

A surprising amount of statistics coursework actually got done that lesson.
Pupil F, who is going through a lot of stuff right now: My notes got soaked and I couldn't stand them so I threw them away.
Me, restraining myself from calling her an idiot: But you've got what you've done on the computer?
Pupil F: Oh, yes, it's all here.
Me: Okay, fine. Sometimes, the only thing to do is throw it away or tear it up or whatever, but next time, try and stop until you're in a better mood and see if you can salvage anything.
Pupil F: Yeah. Yes you're right.
Me: No harm done this time.

When did I become a counsellor for teenagers?

Today's theme tune:

[1] All men are bastards.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Tough day. But let's ignore that and instead have a quick chat with Pupil R.

[Pupil R]: You should invite us all over to your pad[1] for a party.
Me: I don't think that would be appropriate.
[Pupil R]: Appropriate, Shamopriate.

Google gives me a hit on the word, but it doesn't seem to be on the page. Pupil R has coined a new word. I put "Appropriate, Shamopriate" up on the board.

This goes with the new word from Tuesday "Mathabetes", a rare disease which means that Pupil A can't do too much maths, apparently.

Later on Pupil R turned up for an after school session as I was leaving.

[Pupil R]: We're going to tell everyone that you said you've got a crush on [Miss V].
Me: Actually, you said that, and made the whole thing up.
[Pupil R]: Would I do that?
[Miss V, appearing from around the corner]: What's going on here?
Me: They're making up stories about me.
[Miss V, to the pupils]: They're all true.

Pause as Miss V enters her classroom.

[Pupil R]: See?

I think I kept fairly calm for that, especially since I'd had my tie peanuted by a 12 year old half an hour before, and had to give them a full-scale telling off.

This is what I listened to on repeat on the way home.

[1] I was not the one referring to it as a pad.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Conversation Of The Day

[Pupil L]: If there's a question I don't like the look of, can I skip it?
Me: If you have a problem with a question you should ask me or the girls behind you...
[Pupil L]: I have a phobia of even numbered questions[1].
Me: That problem is so weird I can't possibly engage with it on a Friday afternoon.


Me: It's worse than that. This worksheet is so shoddily put together that question 3 has been mislabelled as question 2.
[Pupil L]: I'm going to do question 5. Can I have a probobulator?
Me: I'll get you a protractor.

This lesson went really well!

[1] I think the fear of even numbers would be artiophobia. Sadly this gets one hit on google, so I cannot claim it as a new word. My knowledge of Greek is insufficient to coin a suitable phobia for fear of even numbered questions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Internal Soundtrack

While at a wedding, the father of the bride revealed that she had been conceived while he was in the holy land playing Jesus in a film[1]. This explains so much! But it did mean I had an internal soundtrack to the rest of the speeches:

The Stone Roses, Love Spreads
Let me put you in the picture, let me show you what I mean
The messiah is my sister, ain't no king man, she's my queen

I have a dream, I've seen the light
Don't put it out, say she's alright, yeah, she's my sister

The song wasn't terribly appropriate to the occasion. Some friends who are getting married next summer need a first dance song, but sadly I will have to deal this one out of my unsolicited suggestions.

[1] Not during his actual performance; it wasn't that kind of film.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Conversation of the Yesterday

Me: Yh-hello
Mum: Hello, Neil?
Me: Hi Mum! Is everything okay?[1]
Mum: Where are you?
Me: On the platform at Ramsgate station.
Mum: Oh. That's why you're not at home.

This statement of the obvious contrasts with some of the pupils' ideas of where I live:
[Pupil E]: Go on, go home.
Me: I was, until you lot stopped me to tell me I can't give you a detention as you're outside school.
[Pupil L]: Go on, go back to your wheelie bin.
Me: My wheelie bin?
[Pupil L]: That's where you live.


[1] Because, seriously, Mum never[2] rings me on my mobile.
[2] What never? Well, hardly ever.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Conversation Of The Weekend

Me: You dancing?
Her: You asking?
Me: I'm asking.
Her: I'm... going for a smoke.

Somewhere the laws of narrative fiction are weeping in the corner.

(can be heard from 1:45, and also in dance halls and supper clubs up and down the country right now)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hands, Heart, Lungs

So I recently acquired three new albums[1], Little Boots' Hands, Florence and the Machine's Lungs, and Ida Maria's not quite thematically continuing Fortress 'round My heart. I've been told that this was utterly predictable as they're all my type.
Ms Welch displays a fine pair of lungs
Ms Sivertsen gives us a moody stare
Ms Hasketh pretends surprise at being photographed

I don't see it myself. Is there a similarity to their look I'm missing? A possible explanation is my partiality to female vocalists, but that hardly constitutes a type; it's a preference in my music rather than in my life.

As it turns out there's a similarity between two of the albums on the back:

Both Ida Maria and Florence and the Machine have chosen to decorate their back cover with anatomical diagrams of a heart and some lungs respectively. Where's the fortress Ida Maria?

Boots, rather than having a picture of some hands, or maybe some small footwear, decides that her back cover needs another picture of herself. Fair enough.

But, you ask, enough of the covers, what of the music? Well, I was hoping for more from Florence, but it seems the singles are her best songs. Here's her cover of Beyonce's Halo

Ida Maria is pretty good, although her voice suffers in comparison to the other two. Here she is doing an acoustic version of her hit I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked with an excellent hat.

I've followed Boots on Youtube for about 9 months and there are all kinds of early versions and covers from her bedroom there, and finally getting the full studio effect on the album is absolutely stunning. Here she is back in her bedroom, doing a cover of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill

[1] Yes, on CD. How 20th century of me!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

007: Diversity Champion

Bond has got into an argument with Captain Troop, the Secret Service's Head of Admin:

Perversely, and knowing it would annoy, Bond put forward the proposition that, if MI5 and the Secret Service were to concern themselves seriously with the atom age 'intellectual spy', they must employ a certain number of intellectuals to counter them. 'Retired officers of the Indian Army,' Bond had pronounced, 'can't possibly understand the thought processes of a Burgess or a Maclean. They won't even know such people exist - let alone be in a position to frequent their cliques and get to know their friends and their secrets ... they wouldn't take the risk of revealing themselves to some man with a trench-coat and a cavalry moustache and a beta minus mind.'

That sounds pretty sensible to me. Troop's only real complaint might be that intellectuals might not be disciplined enough, or perhaps too idealistic to make good...

'Oh really,' Troop had said with icy calm. 'So you suggest we should staff the organisation with long-haired perverts. That's quite an original notion. I thought we were all agreed that homosexuals were about the worst security risk there is...

Fortunately Bond, a forward-thinking, progressive diversity champion will surely take on this bigoted dinosaur...

'All intellectuals aren't homosexual. And some of them are bald...'
all quotes from From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming

Hmm. Unfortunately we never see the final committee meeting and Bond never has to decide whether to submit an unpopular minority report opposing the committee's recommendations as instead he goes to Istanbul to meet Tatiana Romanova and steal a Spektor machine. Damn those Russians for interfering with the schedules of British Civil Service meetings!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Displacement Activity

Tomorrow is GCSE results day. I'm actually quite nervous, although not as nervous as the kids, of course. The question is whether nervous is better than bored. You know you're bored when, after helping a friend move some furniture you send this text:

As a prank I sent Claire a text saying that I hid your bureau for a prank and she has to find it. This should be hours of fun!

Anyway, in between getting bored and nervous I've been worrying about Barack Obama. It seems he's going on holiday and has five books to read. To which I ask, what's he going to do the rest of the time?

(I'm joking. He has two children. 2,300 pages of book should be plenty.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Not On Holiday

This is not how I feel at the moment:

Sinitta, So Macho.

I had gone away on holiday, but fell ill, so I'm back at home. Why is it that when I don't have a choice lounging around is boring, but I've enjoyed spending most of the summer break sitting in gardens and parks reading?

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Heavy Bass Beat Is Everyone's Silence

I've become aware that my endorsement of the line "A heavy bass line is my kind of silence" was illustrated by a Youtube video, which compresses the sound and, especially in combination with my slightly tinny computer speakers, removes much of the bass.

Well, that's awful. It's like back when I was a kid and listened to all my music on the radio. They compressed all the bass off. Allegedly this was the cause of all the high bright pop sound of the 80s. Will Youtube as a juke box for kids bring this kind of sound back? As I have no skill at precognition, I leave the question open.

007: This Never Happened To The Other Fellow

Drax's face was thunderous. 'Damn fool. Always seeing trouble,' he muttered. And then abruptly, as if he wanted to clear his deputy out of his mind, 'Come along to my office. Show you the flight plan. Then we'll go off to bed.'
Moonraker, Ian Fleming.

Really Sir Hugo! That's not the kind of thing Bond was expecting when he became security officer for Sir Hugo Drax ("Hugger" to his friends).

This is the least of the changes made between the book and the film. Drax has built a "...super-atomic rocket[1] with a range that would cover nearly every capital in Europe - the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom bomb London" and put it at the disposal of Her Majesty. Well of course! A single MRBM would mean the destruction of any enemy who attacked Britain[3], and hence guarantee peace in Europe! Or would it just make the coast of Kent the first target for any pre-emptive attack?

[1] The rocket itself is fueled by fluorine and hydrogen[2]; it's the payload that is an atom bomb
[2] "That's top secret by the way"
[3] I call this doctrine "Single Assured Destruction" or SAD.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Waterstones Bookseller: When I read the first line, I just had to smile.
Me: You know, the intersection of people who like zombies and like Jane Austen seems bigger than anyone would have thought*.
Bookseller: Some people were a bit sniffy about it.
Me: Well, it can't be any worse than those bloody awful sequels people were writing a few years back.
Bookseller: You're right there.

I'd been resisting buying Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because the publicity had included the following diagram telling me that this was right up my street.

Am I really so predictable? Apparently so.

I had another conversation on the bus on the way home.
[Ex-pupil]: Hello Sir. What are you doing out here?
Me: What am I doing here?
[Ex-pupil]: Oh right. You live out this way.

This was especially aggravating as I've been catching that bus** since before that kid was born.

* I should note that I've previously had a conversation of with the many and varied links between Jane Austen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course that could just be me.
** Not that actual bus*** but that bus route. Although the route has changed slightly in that time, it's the same number bus and it goes from the same stop to the same station.
*** On that journey. The one on the way out might easily have been on the road for 20 years.

Beard Lottery

I have several friends who have beards. But sometimes we don't have beards! Also the styles of beard are highly variable.

This has led to an unoffical game called "Beard Lottery" in which various interested on-lookers attempt to guess who will be displaying which beard. I feel it is time to put this sport on to a more professional basis. As such, here is my proposed beard lottery playsheet.

(Click on it to get the full size version)
Comments are open for those with queries or suggestions, although I anticipate that most of the players will be on the facebook version of this post.

The phrase "beard lottery" was, I believe, coined by Mr Schnee.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All I Care About Is Sex And Violence

I'm not a big fan of the ubiquitous Dizzee Rascal, although unlike Jim I don't blame him for the state of the toilets at Glastonbury. As it happens he doesn't need (or want probably) my endorsement for his Number One record Bonkers. I give it anyway as I must admit the man has a facility with words:

And all I care about is sex and violence
A heavy bass line is my kind of silence

Today has definitely been a heavy-bass-line-is-my-kind-of-silence day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Legendary 007 Wit (Or At Least Half Of It)

The man at the all-night garage was not as sleepy as Colonel Johns said he would be.

'Goin' huntin', mister?'

You can get far in North America with laconic grunts. Huh, hun, and hi! in their various modulations, together with sure, guess so, that so? and nuts! will meet almost any contingency.

Bond, slinging the strap of his rifle over his shoulder, said 'Hun.'

'Man got a fine beaver over by Highgate Springs Saturday.'

Bond said indifferently 'That so?' paid for two nights and walked out the garage.
For Your Eyes Only, Ian Fleming

Really Bond, it may be 3 AM, but did you hear what he said? 'Man got a fine beaver...'? There's loads of room to slip a double entendre in there. I can only hope Bond becomes as amusing as this minor character elsewhere in the series.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Conversation Of The Day

[Student A]: Sir! Sir! Look at my tie![1]
Me: You're a prefect then?
[Student A]: Yeah!
Me: You're going to boss people around?
[Student A]: yeah!
Me: Wrong answer. You should have quoted the three laws of Prefectics:
1. Protect the innocent
2. Uphold the law
3. Serve the public trust
4. (Classified)

[Student A]: What?

Is no one teaching kids the classics these days?

[1] [Student A] is sporting the red-striped Prefect's tie, rather than the standard version.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Disco History Lessons

Previously I've complained about historical inaccuracies in pop songs[1] to a generally uncaring internet. Anyway, to be fair I should point out good history in pop culture[2] when I find it:

Boney M, Rasputin.

I note in passing that the exact circumstances of Grigori Rasputin's death are disputed but the latest findings (2004) suggest that it was a bullet that killed him. Much of the theological and political background has been simply ignored, but I can excuse that in a disco track, especially after seeing the finance director Cossack dancing to it one Christmas office party. Ra ra!

[1] In one case a Finnish Biochemist turned up to tell me that humans and dinosaurs (or dragons) did co-exist, as was proved by the fact that people have been drawing them for thousands of years. My preferred theory is that legends of dragons come from a combination of cautionary tales of pre-historic giant snakes and giant birds of prey with surface fossils of dinosaurs, all brewed together in the oral tales of a hundred cultures, giving wildly different versions with a few points of congruence, but his collection of pictures was fantastic, even if not what I'd call proof.

[2] If Hollywood ever makes a historically accurate film I'll be sure to blog about it mere weeks after I've seen it[3].

[3] Oh, all right, Alexander; good, but if you don't already know far too much about Alexander the Great, disjointed and confusing.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Professor Lovebody's Differential Pressure Cleaner; a short steampunk story in which the protagonist loses his trousers

I present below the design for a Victorian steampunk Modern and Efficient Steam-Powered House of the Future, which, if memory serves is filled with clunky steam-powered versions of every day 21st century household gadgets.

However, I am compelled to note that I created this design as the result of a discussion of some disappointing steampunk, um, erotica, which is why it's Professor Lovebody's Modern and Efficient Steam-Powered House of the Future, and is also why it inevitably goes wrong leading the doors to lock, the steam engine overheats it requiring the loosening of cravats and corsets, and it also vibrates at a frequency that arouses the visitors. As might be expected it is riddled with spyholes. I never got around to finishing the story it's supposed to go with/be part of the notes for, which is just as well as I expect I'd be too embarrassed to put it up under my real name.

Anyway, it had gone the way of most of my writing projects, and most of my projects in general until an online conversation took a left turn leading me to write this pitch for a TV show:
Every week Professor Lovebody and his companion Miss Prudence McVenture discover wonders and fight evil in a 19th century that never was, but should have been, during the course of which the Professor inevitably loses his trousers.

Which inevitably lead to me writing this:
Professor Lovebody turned to his audience. "Ladies of the Croydon, Sutton, Belmont and Cheam Gentlewomens' Society For Science and Technology, I have a demonstration that, although modest, I feel will be of great interest to you. I present my Steam Powered Differential Pressure Cleaner For Carpets, Floors And Other Indoor Surfaces."

To a smattering of applause, the professor pulled several levers. An unearthly howl built around the room, as the professor lifted a tube of ridged canvas resembling nothing so much as an elephant's trunk. Suddenly a strange breeze began to move across the room, causing the ladies to grasp at their hats and skirts.

"There is nothing to be concerned about" shouted the professor, as he struggled with the unruly hose. The device is perfectly safe, while sucking up any loose dust, dirt or other household debris. In fact..." At this moment the tubing twisted in his grasp forcing him to wrestle with the tube, which now seemed more akin to a boa constrictor. An unexpected movement caused the end of the tube to point directly at the professor's ankle, catching hold of his trouser leg. In moments, the device had swallowed the garment, and was making a highly distressed choking noise until a loud metallic clang could be heard outside. The noise swiftly died away. Mrs Dingle, the chairwoman, stood.

"Well Professor" she said in tones of deep disapproval, "you promised a demonstration that was both interesting and modest. To whom it would be of interest I dare not say; however I shall say that while you may consider it modest, I certainly do not!"

A voice from the back spoke. "He's certainly got nothing to be modest about!"

At this moment Miss McVenture entered, a lock of hair escaped from her usual severe bun, an oil stain on her cheek, soot on her pinafore and an oversized monkey wrench in her left hand. "Oh, Professor, I had to hit the emergency stop... PROFESSOR! What on earth is going on here!"

"Miss McVenture! Mrs Dingle! Ladies! I can explain! Wait! Where are you going? This device, easily adapted to a household stove or steam engine will make household chores a thing of the past! Can't you forgive this minor problem for science? Miss McVenture! Can you at least bring me something to preserve my dignity?"

"Here Professor; your patented spring-loaded-ejecto-pants should prevent any further embarrassment. But I thought that science was a respectable field of work; you may consider this my resignation."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Car Numberplate Adventures

Last night, while walking past a parked car Jim spotted this numberplate:


"Hey guys! Look at this numberplate!" he called[1].

However he had failed to notice that

1. the car was occupied; and
2. the driver side window was open.

"What's wrong with my numberplate?" asked the lady in the car.

We all ran away to the bar and ordered cherry beers.

[1] In case it's not obvious, Rob, Dean and I all read it and immediately got the word vagina.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Television Score For Last Week

As previously noted I've been attempting to watch television, a task so simple that five year olds can manage it unassisted, but which has been causing me difficulty. Let's see how I've done for the week 7-13 June!

7 June: South Pacific. Strange Islands, the penultimate episode. Fantastic visuals, slightly disjointed structure, which mostly seemed to say "Hey, look at this weird creature!". The tree kangaroo story was interesting though. 1 hour.

8 June: Ashes to Ashes. The series finale, so it can be dropped from future lists. Plenty of shooting and character stories being finished. Not enough Gene Hunt lines. And Alex Drake gets shot in the head by the last person you'd expect[1]! 1 hour.

9 June: Dollhouse. A heist goes wrong due to a double cross. Who could have predicted! Some clever use of the mind-swapping idea. 1 hour.

10 June: Lie to Me. This is actually the previous week's episode, which I caught up with. Sadly I was too exhausted by my television watching to watch that week's during the week. Anyway, episode 4 and there's a change to the format; instead of two stories in parallel the team are all concentrating on a shooting at the wedding of the South Korean ambassador. 1 hour.

So I aimed for 4 hours and got four hours. This week, I still need 4 hours; Ashes to Ashes has finished, but I'm one behind on Lie to Me. Will I succeed? Join me next week for the most boring television blogging on the internet.

[1] It's David Bowie! No, not really.

Dream Diary 16

I dreamt I was watching a musical version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It was surprisingly good, especially whoever was playing Angeleyes.

Conversation of the Day

PUPIL M: Sir, I can't concentrate. [PUPIL S] keeps flirting with me.
PUPIL S rolls her eyes.
ME: She just hit you with a ruler and called you a gimp. I dread to think what would happen if she didn't like you.

As it happens, both PUPIL M and PUPIL S had been moved earlier in the lesson due to bad behaviour and I was on my way over to tell PUPIL S to stop hitting him and calling him names.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I Watch Television Instead Of Having A Life

Up until maybe three and a half hours ago I was attempting to watch three one hour first show current television programs per week[1], and my maximum score was 2 hours and 10 minutes per week. On the one hand, this is pretty pathetic as two of them get repeated at least once per week. Compared to the kids I work with of course, this is a unimaginably small amount of regular television[6]. Nevertheless it seems to be more than I can keep up with.

Then I made the mistake of watching the repeat of the first episode of Lie To Me, starring Tim Roth as the guy who has spent twenty years learning how to read expressions. Three hours later, I'd watched the "catch up" of the first three episodes. I don't know if there's enough there to keep me watching for a second series, or even for the whole of the first one, but now I have FOUR hours of TV I want to watch a week.

Damn it.

[1] For those keeping score the programs are South Pacific[2], Ashes to Ashes[3], and Dollhouse[4].
[2] Not the film, which has been idiosyncratically reviewed here, but the BBC TV documentary series my friend Caitlin worked on.
[3] A time-travelling cop show sequel to time travelling cop show Life On Mars.
[4] Joss Whedon's identity-swapping TV show which, if pressed, I'd suggest is, among other things, a response to[5] the identity questions raised by Richard Morgan in his Takeshi Kovacs novels.
[5] Or maybe a response to the things Morgan is responding to, but let's not get too caught up in who is responding to what.
[6] On the other hand at least two of them have no idea what Time Team is, so I have no idea what the hell kind of TV they watch. The conversation went something like:

[Me]: What do you want to do for your work experience?
[Pupil E, or, possibly, B{7}]: I want to do something history related, or if I can't do that, with a beautician.
[Me]: You want something like the Kent Archaeological Trust or like that?
[Pupil E, or B]: Yeah, that's what I hoping for.
[Pupil K]: What does archaeological mean?
[Me, after boggling for a moment]: I don't know, have you ever watched Time Team on TV?
[Pupil K]: Err, No.
[Me, boggling still more]: Okay, well, archeology is where you dig historical things up. Most of the stuff in museums has been dug up. Archaeologists are experts in this stuff, so they can tell when it's from.

This boggled me as Pupil K isn't usually as ignorant as she seems to be from this conversation. We then got into what you might get if you dug up my parent's house, and the kind of things you find in museums.
{7}: This pupil is mostly known by her surname for reasons that have been inadequately explained to me.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Never Say Never Again

A friend recently got engaged, so we celebrated last night with cigars. As might have been anticipated, this morning I felt like a badger had crawled down my throat, then sat around drinking and smoking with all it's mates, all ten of them, for hours.

Therefore I'm giving up smoking cigars, unless it's at a wedding, or Christmas, or I'm to drunk to know the difference, or someone gets born, or I'm offered a cigar by someone it would be rude or highly inconvenient to turn down, or I have to play a cigar-smoking character, or some other good reason, or I really, really feel like it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Formal Invitations

As recounted earlier, I've recently received a wedding invitation. The invitation, in the form of a card, closely following the standard phrasing[1]:

Mr and Mrs Thomas Twiggs
request the pleasure of the company of
Mr and Mrs Samuel Long
on the occasion of the marriage of
their daughter Ethel to Mr Walter Wray
at St Swithin's Church, Dirbiton
on December 4th 193-, at 2 pm
and afterwards at
The Masonic Hall, Dirbiton

(As an aside, Emma Twiggs and Cynthia Long are always inviting each other to events in writing, but even their informal invites to informal events read very stilted. Do they not like but have to keep seeing each other, or are they just unable to break through each other's reserve? There's probably an old fashioned play or black and white 50s-style film with all the drama being in the minutest tremble of the lip, or tiniest gesture of the (gloved) hand that could be made out of this. Or maybe an old-school farce or a musical, I don't know)

So I sat down to reply, but immediately ran into a problem. The invitation was from both parents, but as they are divorced and we're in the actual 21st Century rather than an idealised middle-class suburban 1930s there were some small but significant changes, like this:

Thomas Twiggs and Emma Wilkinson
request the pleasure of the company of
Neil W
on the occasion of the marriage of
their daughter Ethel to Walter Wray
at St Swithin's Church, Dirbiton
on September 4th 2009, at 2 pm
and afterwards at
The Masonic Hall, Dirbiton
RSVP to Emma Wilkinson,
12 Harcourt Lane

(I don't have it in front of me)

So should the salutation be Dear Mr Twiggs and Mrs Wilkinson, or just Dear Mrs Wilkinson or should it be Ms Wilkinson? Not having met her I'm uncomfortable with Dear Emma and Dear Emma Wilkinson just looks wrong. So I checked A Social Letter Writer from the News Chronicle Everything Within - A Library of Information for the Home. Flicking through the letters and replies, I note that in general, one should reply in the mode in which one is addressed, so Dear Neil would go back with Dear Emma, while the reply to a yours sincerely shouldn't be yours devotedly. So the correct reply to the original (accepting) is:
Mr and Mrs Samuel Long have great pleasure in accepting the kind invitation of Mr and Mrs Thomas Twiggs to attend the Marriage of their daughter Ethel to Mr Walter Wray at St Swithin's on December 4th, and afterwards at the Masonic Hall, Dirbiton.

So, having been invited in the third person I replied in the third person (without the Mr and Mrs as they were absent from the invitation). Job done!

However it seems my style of reply was in the minority, and informal replies more usual amongst the guests. Don't fret though if you've failed to satisfy the requirements of etiquette. I too have broken with tradition, as following the model acceptances and refusals is this instruction:

Either the Acceptance or the Refusal should be written on a square-shaped correspondence card and enclosed in a suitable envelope.

I replied on ordinary writing paper[2]! What a non-conformist I am.

Of course, this part of the Social Letter Writer, while useful, isn't the most entertaining part. It may just be me[4] but the line between romance and farce sometimes seems very fine indeed. Which is why I find the Love, Courtship and Marriage letter section both wise, sad, joyful and completely hilarious. And that's why I'll be returning to it soon.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, examples taken from A Social Letter Writer, pp
272-285 from the News Chronicle Everything Within - A Library of Information for the Home. No Copyright date. The link above suggest 1939, but that may be a later addition; information in the Countries of the World section is listed as being correct as for 1928.
[2] Tesco writing paper[3] at that.
[3] Tesco Finest writing paper.
[4] It isn't, but what I have to say has nothing to do with your relationships. No, definitely not.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Conversations That No One Will Believe

These actually happened in the last couple of weeks, but sound exactly like I made them up, so won't try and convince you otherwise.

Me: That's really good [Pupil A]
Pupil A: [emits a tiny squeaky scream, as she has done every time I've looked at her during the lesson]
Me: [Pupil A], why do you make a tiny squeaky scream every time I look at you?
Pupil A (in a tiny voice): Because I saw the devil.
Me: Ooookay... are there any other shapes you think you could make?

Pupil P[1]: Hello Sir! How's my favourite teacher?
Mrs W (who is actually taking the lesson that I've wandered into): You'll make me jealous
Pupil P: Oh, no, well, second favourite?
Me: I'm fine, although slightly less flattered than 10 seconds ago.

Pupil T: Sir, did you tell my form tutor you saw me smoking?
Me: Yes I did.
Pupil T: Why?
Me: Was it a secret? Maybe you shouldn't have been smoking in front of everyone at the bus stop then. Everyone else manages to hide in the woods when they want a fag.
Pupil T: But then I'd have missed my bus.
Me: Well, when you break the rules in front of everyone you've got to expect some sort of come back.
Pupil T: But you're supposed to be the good guy!
Me: I'm supposed to be the good guy?

What made this last exchange especially amusing is that it was watched by two girls who are already convinced I'm the worst thing to crawl into the school since, like, ever.

I am slightly aggravated that I've become the one who reports smokers and tells pupils who are kicking footballs across the road to be careful. On the other hand I haven't intervened to the inevitable chain of events that occurs when you combine a platform full of kids with an announcement that unattended articles may be taken away without warning.

[1] Who I thought had previously made an appearance in Conversation of the Day, but apparently only on Facebook

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


To a very close approximation, I ate my own body weight in cake over the weekend. Yet when I weigh myself today, I seem to be exactly the same weight as last Friday. Clearly there is but one explanation: I am actually a replica Neil constructed entirely of cake.

Acting on this, I will begin searching for a giant-size Tupperware container to prevent myself going stale.

The worst case scenario is that my original body comes demanding it's old life back, around 4 in the afternoon when it's feeling a bit peckish.

(Incidentally Cakkelganger currently gets no hits on google. I claim it as a new word!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Other Blogs Are Also Available

Some years ago Shiv went to south east asia and as a result became involved with a medical charity that operates in the region called MSAVLC (an event for which was previously plugged here). About a month ago she went back out there and has been blogging her trip including what the charity has been up to. As her visit is nearly over, I've finally got round to linking to her blog which is Shivvies travels in Asia. It will appear in the right hand links too. If you're interested, click away!

Monday, May 18, 2009

I've been neglecting this blog for the usual reasons - preparing the kids for their exams[1], falling asleep, moving other people's furniture for them etc. And this last weekend I attended two 30th birthday parties. One turned into an engagement party[2], the other was very reminiscent on a teenage party, as one guest was in tears and (in an unrelated incident) the police got called.

But at the end of the week is half term, and I've got one or two posts that don't involve me talking to teenagers planned. Maybe I'll actually finish them! Until then, here's a joke overheard[5] on the Piccadilly line yesterday evening:

Q. Who is the leader of the tissues?
A. The hankie-chief

[1] First one today! I was surprisingly nervous for them. Not as nervous as they were though.
[2] For a variety of reasons I was not the right person to pass on the news to other people; no one would believe me unless they saw the ring itself[3] or got a sworn oath on the subject.
[3] It had an emerald the size of a hen's egg! I kid you not![4]
[4] Just kidding.
[5] I say overheard, but the Chelsea supporter in question fairly shouted it in an attempt to liven up the carriage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Preparing For The Flupocolypse

Previously my brother has criticised the government's planning for pandemics, which he claimed amounted to sneezing into your elbow. Not so! It seems that the best ways to protect our selves and prevent flu from spreading is:

- Wash your hands regularly
- Don't touch your eyes, mouth or nose with your hands
- Don't sneeze into your hands - use a tissue, handkerchief or your elbow or upper arm
- If you fall sick, stay at home
- Avoid contact with sick people
- Drink plenty of water, eat well, take exercise

(Yes, yes, you all want Raquel Welch and a minaturised submarine zapping flu viruses, or maybe just some kind of anti-flu hat. Sorry, the science fiction mostly takes place on another blog nowadays)

In other news I got overpaid for last month. I had intended to spend it on booze and loose women, or maybe show the highest standard of professionalism and tell the finance team, but now I think I'll buy rehydration mix, hand wash, and tins of soup. Any other thoughts on flu preparation?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Conversation Of The Weekend

Gareth: He's bound to give me a good reference as I taught several curriculums he didn't want to.
Me: Curricula.
Jim: Go and stand in pedant's corner.
Me: Can I stand in pedant's vertex instead?
[Jim and I high five to the embarrassment of the rest of our party]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Quote From A Poem To Unsubtly Comment On My Work Day

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy isloosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But enough of this; how was your day?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(Overheard) Conversation Of The Day (and runner-up)

Overheard Conversation of the Day:

One (loudly from 5 metres behind me as I Follow Miss V_ down the corridor): Is that Miss' boyfriend?
Two (equally loudly and equally close) : No it's just some maths guy.

Yes, I am just some maths guy. In addition, a swift glance at Miss V_'s finger jewelry might have indicated to them that, despite going by Miss, she is in fact a married lady.

In a break with tradition here is the runner-up for conversation of the day:

Pupil: Why weren't you in our maths lesson today?
Me: Which period was it?
Pupil: Period one.
Me: I was with 10y1 instead.
Pupil: That's so rude.
Me (muttering apologetically): Sorry.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Conversation Of The Day

Them: Hey sir, you'll never guess what. I looked in my wardrobe and there was a whole other world, with a witch and a lamppost and a talking lion.
Me: Did the lion have some good news?
Me: Sorry, that was a subtle theological joke. It probably doesn't work if I have to explain it.

Nevertheless I did indeed explain it*. It didn't really work. However I think they got the idea of reading (or watching the film) in your bedroom and this opening up a fantasy world, albeit in your head rather than in your wardrobe.

* The pupil was referencing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which as part of the Chronicles of Narnia contains much Christian allegory of varying degrees of obviousness. Aslan, the lion, stands in for Jesus**, who brought the gospel or "good news". I honestly don't know what audience would have actually got that joke.
** Also for other aspects of God and occasionally other prophets and patriarchs.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Threat Diagrams

As anyone who was in the pub on Sunday will already be aware, dangers threaten us at every turn. But how much should we worry? For those of you without advanced statistical techniques, I devised the following diagramatical method, illustrating on the left two threats discussed that evening, and on the right three threats to Jim's flat.

As we can see there are two axes, Likeliehood (sic), representing how likely the event is and Threat, representing how catastrophic it is. So on the left we have "Girlfriend biting head off during sex" as really quite unlikely[1] but extremely dangerous, while "Drunk man at bar asking for a joke" was very likely[2], but hardly dangerous at all[3].

What we might notice is that the area under each graph is approximately equal[4] and as this area is equal to likelihood multiplied by danger, I call this the threat level. Therefore if we are concerned about one of these dangers and take precautions, logically we should take equivalent precautions for the other. So if after this you are concerned enough after last weekend to look up a joke, you should also wear some kind of armoured helmet whilst in bed.

Similarly, on the right is the diagram for three threats I have identified for Jim's flat. Frogs have invaded the flat twice, making this quite likely to occur, but caused almost no damage. Despite this Jim has often time told me to shut the door to stop letting frog in.

Pterosaurs are unlikely to attack Jim's flat, as they are extinct[5]. As it is a basement flat with three flats above, even if they have survived extinction to attack East Kent, they will be unlikely to damage his flat, at least until they have dealt with his upstairs neighbours. This should allow Jim enough time to 1. update his threat chart and; 2. Acquire a harpoon gun.

Finally Molemen. This is molemen as in half-man half-mole digging monsters as opposed to any other molemen you may have heard of. These are fictional, although widespread throughout fiction especially comics, so the likelihood of an attack is low. The danger however is immense, having an equal threat area to frogs.

What I think surprised people in the pub, was not so much that I was comparing these threats, but that I was sketching the diagrams while doing so. What can I say? I'm just naturally gifted.

A similar way of looking at threats is put forward in this post by The Medium Lobster of Fafblog.

[1] Obviously if one were, for example, a preying mantis, the likelihood would have to be revised.
[2] He'd asked all of us, and frankly we mostly had pathetic jokes. I didn't resort to the joke about the man with 5 willies.
[3] To us anyway; his mockery of my height and a friend's name caused his personal danger level to rise by a small but measurable amount.
[4] However I skipped a few steps in the data collection, so this may not be accurate.
[5] One of the sites I looked at briefly whilst researching this post asked the question "Did pterosaurs survive extinction?" From first principles I must answer "no"; if they are extinct they did not survive, and if they survived, they were not extinct.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Conversation Of The Day

One of the Year 10s who has been blocking me out turned around today and asked for help! In fact she demanded it; just as aggressive when doing the right thing as the wrong thing. However that's not the conversation of the day:

Mum [waving an envelope which, from it's stiffness appears to contain a card of some sort]: Hey, you've got a stiffie!
Me [thinking carefully before replying]: I don't think... that's quite... how I would describe it.
Mum: That's what we used to call it when someone got a card or invitation.
Me: I think it's a wedding invitation. But I won't be calling them that.

Ah, the changing use of English. In other news I now have a classroom key and can get in (and out) of classrooms without having to ask for help. Yay!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy New Years!

In response to my midwinter refusal to resolve to anything until the spring equinox, my brother noted the following:

Did you know that the Persians celebrate new year at the spring equinox? They call it Nau Ruz and is a huge celebration in Afghanistan/Iran and Tajikistan as well as being celebrated in other places in Central Asia.

Also, the Nepali new year, Dassain, is celebrated at the Autumn equinox.

This of course, quite apart from Chinese New Year which he celebrated in China later in the month. So it seems that if I mix up several unconnected traditions, new year resolutions at the equinox makes a whole lot of sense.

Of course this still leaves me needing some resolutions to make. I think I've got 5, which neatly split into the usual categories: Work, Friends, Exercise/Health, Bad Sci-Fi and Other

1. Work. I'm tutoring maths. I'd like to resolve to get those kids on the borderline the C that would make such a difference, but at the end of the day that's not up to me. I will resolve to maintain my current level of professionalism; namely that even though I only get paid for the hours I'm working, I'll still prepare and mark, discuss with their regular teachers and make myself available to the students, whether it's part of the scheduled hours or not[1].

Also, I resolve to continue to show as much patience as the kids need. Right up to the moment when it becomes counter productive; then I'll rant, rave and use every sanction in the book.

2. Friends. Looking at emails and facebook and christmas cards, there are far too many people I've not seen for ages. Fortunately I'm not working during Easter or the Summer Holiday when the school is closed. My resolution is to have very cheap holidays visiting friends. We all win! I win more of course, as I don't have to pay so much for accommodation. But still.

3. Exercise/Health. Time to take some exercise in the sunshine so I don't look like a giant pale slug while visiting during the summer. On the other hand, no need to go overboard. The resolution: Walk (or run or cycle) down to the bay twice a week.

4. Bad Sci-Fi. More movie nights and more reviews at Heckler and Kochk. Shall I aim for reviewing at least one item per week? I think so. It is so resolved.

5. Other. You know what? I've forgotten what this one was going to be. So my final resolution will be to be more organised. Yes, yes, you've all heard it before. But I'm going to use that notebook sitting by the keyboard properly so that things get done in a timely way.

Well, there we go. They're all testable, although some are a bit vague. In other words, I can go back and take a look at how I've done, come Nepalese new year. Assuming I'm organised enough to do so, see you at Daissan!

[1] This doesn't mean I won't complain and/or ask for overtime if they start to insist on me attending outside my contracted hours, but I'll still do the damn job like a professional.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation of the day

Pupil A: Sir, Sir, do you know you have a secret admirer?
Me: You're not doing very good job of keeping it secret. [Walks away, smirking]
Pupil A: Eh?
Pupil B: He thinks you're the secret admirer.
Pupil A: What? Me? No! It's not me sir! Oh no!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Conversation of the Day (reported)

Pupil: So Miss, where's this dude who's supposed to be observing this lesson?
Miss B_: It's Miss G_, the Head of School, and she's sitting over there.
Miss G_ [Brightly]: Hello, I'm Miss G_, Head of School, and I'm going to be observing this lesson.
Pupil: Um.

Sadly I wasn't there to see this, but it is highly plausible.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Dave sent me a link to this cartoon about the loneliness of being a photon. After wiping the tears from my eyes, I was consumed with rage. Why? The science is wrong!

In the cartoon, 10,000 years pass for the photon, who lives each and every second of it. But this simply won't wash. It's the 21st century now. If you're going to create a cartoon with a photon as the protagonist, you have to have a basic grasp of relativistic time dilation. It's special relativity too, rather than general relativity so really there's no excuse. I will demonstrate using the formula for time dilation between events for a moving observer compared to an inertial observer:

t' = t*√(1-v2/c2)

t' is the time interval for the observer in the moving frame
t is the time interval for the observer in the inertial frame
v is the velocity of the moving frame (in terms of c)
c is the speed of light

As we can see... hello? Is anyone still here? Do you want to come down to the front now all the people scared by equations have left[1]? There. Now I don't have to shout and you can see better.

As I was saying, if you start plugging in values you'll see that if you're travelling at 80% of the speed of light, c=1.0, v=0.8, so t' = 0.6t. Or in other words, if you're travelling at 80% of the speed of light (0.8c), you only experience 60% of the time that observers at rest[2] will record. The faster you go, the greater the difference, and the smaller the time appears to be. At 90% of the speed of light (0.9c), t' =0.33t or time moves at one third that of the outside universe. At 0.99c, t'=0.14t or one seventh to those observing the traveller from a rest frame.

But what happens when v=c? Plug in the numbers and v2/c2=1. So (1-v2/c2)=1-1=0. Square root that and we get t'=0t, which tells us that no time passes while you travel at the speed of light.

In practice, any particle with mass, will have had it's mass increased to infinity (requiring infinite energy) to get to that speed. But photons are massless, and, (almost) by definition travel at the speed of light. So no time passes for them between when they are emitted and when they are absorbed[3].

Or in other words, I'm afraid the cartoon of Sam the photon is fatally flawed for me.

On a lighter note, I wrote this in 2003:
The adventure of Jim and Stan riding a photon in three scenes

Scene 1
Outside Stan's Physics theme park Photon ride - "Ride a quantum mechanical particle at the speed of light! Guaranteed to reach a destination before the universe closes"
Jim "This should be good"

Scene 2
Just about to take the Photon Ride
Jim "Yeee..."

Scene 3
Just after taking the Photon ride
Jim "Can I have another go Stan - I didn't really have time to appreciate it. Oh go. Please. Side effects? Well, for a moment I thought I'd put on some weight..."

[1] Fairly simple derivations of this equation are available on the internet. Ask in comments, or simply google time dilation equation.
[2] In general we'd be thinking of observers at the start or end of the journey, but any in a common rest frame will do.
[3] In a closed universe, all photons will eventually be absorbed. In other universes, they might not. But don't feel sorry for the photons that miss everything ever; they exist in an eternal now, without duration. They'll keep travelling on, following their path to timelike infinity, as fresh and young as the moment they were emitted.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Conversation of the Day

THEM: Sir, do you know an easy way of making money?
ME: If I did, why would I be working here?

Another week gone, and some kids understand a bit more maths than they did on Monday. Let's see if they remember any of it after the weekend.

Also, next Thursday is a focus day. I'm slightly concerned that my notes say "Morning, Year 10, Disaster Relief".

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More News From The 21st Century

Over on a discussion of recent technological innovations on Charlie Stross' blog, Alex notes
Manly-Warringah Rugby League club, since last night the world champs, have added a GPS data logger to their players' equipment, so their stats guy can analyse precisely where they move on the park and how fast. They're networked, too, so statto gets real-time data. Aussie RL clubs tend to be very innovative with stats, they were doing complex spatial things when British RL was doing tackle counts at most and football thought ProZone was science fiction.

This also means it's possible to simultaneously blog and play rugby league.

Which has stalled my brain[1]. Clearly to kickstart I should just glance through the papers for some science news that isn't weird:
How the smell of rotten eggs makes men randy

Scientists take eight transsexuals and a whiff of hydrogen sulphide to begin making an alternative to Viagra

It makes yesterday (when I was measured by a team of Year 9s and have had my height and forearm length[2] immortalised in 15 scattergraphs) seem positively normal.

[1] Actually it hasn't, but you don't want to hear about my ideas for a Rugby League twitter feed
[2] 196cm and 34 cm respectively

Monday, February 23, 2009

Partial Conversation of the Day

[Woman on station platform, talking into mobile phone]: Hi. I got on the wrong train and ended up in the middle of f__ing nowhere.
[Woman]: I'm going to be really late. I don't know when I'll get there.
[Woman]: Yeah...No...Yeah... I'm in some f__ing hillbilly town...

Them's feuding words! But seriously, it was 7:30 on a quiet Monday morning and I wasn't the only person on the platform in a goddamn suit, tie and overcoat, and from this you think this is a f__ing hillbilly town in the middle of f__ing nowhere? We're in East Kent, but it's more accurate to say we're on the edge of nowhere rather than the middle of nowhere. It's the rural villages off the main transport links that are closer to the insular stereotype being unfairly used here; the bits of Kent that, crucially, actually have hills, rather than being pretty flat like round here.

But honestly, which one of us ended up in the wrong place after getting on the wrong train. Was it me, the simple country yokel? Or was it you, the posh townie who can't tell the difference between the Stour Valley and the Appalachian Mountains? I rest my case.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Competing Theories Of Education

A friend was suggesting that the best way to discipline children in school is to assemble a firing squad and shoot them after the first infraction[1]. He turned out to be in a minority of one on this. Nevertheless I decided to articulate why this is a bad idea[3], in case he his fan club decide to back him up on this proposal.

School is supposed to teach kids useful things. Because of this, it has to be a safe place to make mistakes; although there must be consequences, they should be ones we learn from rather than the unforgiving harshness of the outside world[4].

Schools should teach kids how to live their life. That's why it's boring, you're told to do things you don't like and don't understand, and the teachers (who have no understanding of what it's like to be a child because they never were one themselves, no, they weren't, they can't have been) seem to just arbitrarily make up stuff for you to do. Yes, it's like grown up life but with more stability and less bureaucracy. If we teach kids that mistakes should be punished with violence, that authority rests on brutality, that power comes from the barrel of a gun, then we'll turn out a generation of thugs and victims. Instead we're growing strong kids, kids who aren't afraid, who question authority, who demand and create choices other than those handed out to them. This causes problems; new and different problems[5] (maybe) but I'd rather have those problems than the problems that the lesson of might-makes-right creates.

Also, seriously[6]? A firing squad? Expensive, noisy, dangerous, needing to assemble a group experienced with firearms? I think he's just in love with guns. If I were in the mood for a modest proposal I would take a leaf from the Roman army and have their classmates do the hard work for me.

[1] Actually he first suggested it for kids[2] who don't do their homework, as though that's the most pressing problem in any school.
[2] He actually said little sods, thus violating the first rule of talking to those-who-work-with-children: We can be rude about our kids; you can't. Okay?
[3] Not just because the parents would string up the first bastard who tried it, and, frankly, I'd be handing them the rope.
[4] Or real life as one kid referred to it. What, is school not real enough for you? :)
[5] Did I mention I'm something of a fan of old-school SF? Essentially that's all about new ideas and technology causing new and interesting problems. Welcome to my world.
[6] As in, logistically.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Conversation of the Day

Them: [Rushes into the room and runs towards me] - Sir! Sir!
Me: Yes? Can I help you?
Them: No I'm not in here next, I just wanted to see how tall you were. [Stands next to me for a moment and rushes away]
Me: [Bemused]

There's a rumour going round the kids that I'm really tall. I don't know how it got out so soon. Someone must have blabbed and after that the gossip machine spread it far and wide.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That 25 Random Things That Has Swept The Internet And Is Now On It's Way Back To Bayonet The Survivors

(Crossposted from my Facebook account):

This came with the following introduction:
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

You've probably heard about this as bloggers are using it to fill their blogs with bits of random junk. I'm not too proud to join the bandwagon! Enough introduction, here's 25 non-random things in order that I've arranged them following no particular principles except my own sense of aesthetics:

1. I overheat at the slightest hint of warmth, so always sleep with the window open and the radiator turned off unless it's actually freezing outside.

2. I often use the word "So" in conversation to introduce a new topic. I picked this up from Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.

3. I used to find waiting very frustrating but now I use the time to go over what I'm doing next or what I've just done.

4. The first time I stood up in front of a bunch of kids and they called me sir was a weird experience. I quickly got used to it though.

5. I used to get annoyed about people misusing the word random, but I'm just about okay with the colloquial use now.

6. I don't think any of my habits are strange, but apparently everyone else in the world disagrees.

7. Over the years I've found many situations where the experimental method is inappropriate. I would still suggest it for cooking though.

8. In daytime winter is brilliant. It's the best season to go out in, at least when it's not completely pouring. The problem with winter is the 15+ hours of darkness, which depress me greatly.

9. I drink too much booze, but as it turns out I can actually stop that fairly easily. My drug of choice is coffee. Other caffeinated drinks substitute for it poorly.

10. I don't compromise well (or gracefully) and am happiest when I spend a fair amount of time alone. Unsurprisingly I'm single. This suits me fine.

11. When I first grew the beard I was surprised at how unanimous the praise was. It took nearly two years before I met someone who hated it and insisted I shaved it off. I didn't.

12. The beard has also changed my life more than I expected. On the other hand I thought it was only going to keep my face warmer in winter. It's made a small, indirect, but significant contribution to getting my new job.

13. I review bad sci-fi on the internet, or, more accurately, don't review bad sci-fi on the internet. Today I learned that Sci-Fi author and movie critic John Scalzi has also received this meme and used it as the basis for this weeks column. So he's filled one of these out and has got paid for it. The smug git.

14. I love coriander. It's possible for me to have too much but I think you'd be surprised by how much that is.

15. I also love garlic, but it's much easier to convince me that I've had too much than coriander.

16. I haven't spoken to someone for 12 years because I can't forgive her. I used to think that I couldn't forgive her because I still love her, but to be honest, it's probably because I'm just not a forgiving person.

17. On the other hand, although I take note of things in the category I call "petty accounting" - whose round it is, lifts, invitations, who pays what and when at restaurants and going out - I don't worry about it. If you're tightfisted, then it's noted, but I love you anyway. if you're generous then it's appreciated, but I'm not going to make a fuss about it.

18. At primary school they used to tell us "Only boring people get bored". I realise now that they were just trying to stop kids from complaining they were bored. Still, it's stuck with me, and even though I've managed my boredom effectively for years, I still think of things to write and then decide "No one wants to read about me. It's boring. I'm a boring person." I know in my head this isn't true, but I still believe it, blood and bone, marrow-deep.

19. When the Hayfever season starts, the first few days on anti-allergy stuff makes me feel spaced out with the present disconnected from the past and future. I always feel like what I'm saying doesn't connect with the people around. No one else notices.

20. I was electrocuted twice at university. Since then I've stopped trusting other people's electrical work, as well as always checking when people say it's off.

21. Sometimes I think I've lived my life according to Q's final words to Bond - "I've always tried to teach you two things: never let them see you bleed; and always have an escape plan"

22. If this was actual random things, some of them would be false and many of them much more interesting. I'm not doing that because Patrick Nielsen Hayden did his version first and better.

23. Unsurprisingly I hit my head on things a lot, but I also injure other parts of my body frequently, especially the extremities. I guess I have trouble knowing where the ends of my hands and feet are unless I concentrate; I do have very long arms and legs. I used to scratch and break the glass on watch faces all the time, but now I have one that has a metal rim around the face. The metal rim is scuffed and scraped.

24. I've never broken any bones.

25. I've sat here with 25 things for ages, hoping for something more interesting to say. There were a couple, but I'm not putting them in this thing. Eventually I dumped the least interesting thing (it was the joke about the man with 5 willies) and replaced it with this summing up item. I'm pretty happy with this now, but will have second thoughts as soon as I hit publish. I always do.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Conversation of the Day

Them: This one was easy so I just wrote it down
Me: So you used your mathematical intuition
Them: I don't have any mathematical intuition, I just knew what the answer was

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sci-Fi Pop

Cross-disciplinary science seemed to get all the smart kids back when I was at university - bio-physicists figuring out how eyes worked, bio-chemists doing crazy stuff with peptides, mathematical physicists doing all kinds of things I couldn't understand. This makes sense to an extent - in the phase space of science (a subset of knowledge) each discipline has the parameters of it's search-space mapped out, with the work either being out on the far edge or filling in the gaps. Crossing disciplines creates new fields to work in, extrapolating from the better known disciplines, with the basic work giving proportionally greater results.

Similarly cross-(sub)genre gives us hot new things to read and watch. Naomi Novik's Temeraire series crosses Alternate History with Fantasy to give us the Napoleonic wars substantially improved by the addition of dragons. Crossing Westerns with SF gave us Wild Wild West (both versions) and Firefly. Richard Morgan has been writing SF action-noir while Alistair Reynolds has described one faction in his fiction, the Ultras, as looking like what might happen if Star Trek's Borg had an unhealthy interest with goth culture[1]. And the genre of para-normal romance has given us an enormous oeuvre that I'll talk about some other time, maybe.

Anyway, with crossing things established as a method of creating new and exciting works of science and art, you'd think that maybe Sci-Fi and Pop could get together and help fulfill their mutual promises to each other. I mean pop music is all about now, while science fiction is about the future[2]. They're practically next door neighbours!

As anyone who's bothered to read this far is surely aware, in practice results have been mixed. As and when I remember I add examples to a youtube playlist. Currently there are 10 on the list. Link to List Index. Link to just start the list playing.

1. William Shatner - Rocket Man

Shatner gives his classic interpretation of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's Rocket Man. We're into real Sci-Fi/Pop crossover territory here, as the song is based on a Ray Bradbury short story The Rocket Man. Other versions include Elton John's original and Kate Bush's 1998 cover. This was from 1978, a year we will return to later. I give this 6 Rocketships.

2. Jonathan Coulton - Chriron Beta Prime

Jonathan Coulton, a singer/songwriter who makes a living by giving his music away for free on the internet, has written many in-genre songs, often from the point of view of the villains, such as the zombie[3] in Re: Your Brains and the evil supervillain in Skullcrusher Mountain. I think this song probably is the most SF of his songs that I've found for free on the internet[4]. It references a lot of cliches, but at the end of the day is it's own vision of the aftermath of a robot uprising. 8 Rocketships.

3. Zager and Evans - In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)

I think I first heard this song on a flight between Auckland and London, somewhere over Kazakhstan. Not being in the most normal state of mind I missed quite how mad this religion themed technological cautionary tale is. Later I found myself watching Cleopatra 2525, and realised that the theme tune was a complete rip-off an homage to this 1969 one hit wonder and tracked down the original. From the wikipedia page I've discovered one possible reason why this was a one hit wonder; their follow up song appears to have been called "Mr Turnkey" and is "a song about a rapist who nails his own wrist to the wall as punishment for his crime". Surely the kids in 1969 were down with rape, guilt, despair and self-harm? Anyway there's some good news or at least some news; you can judge for yourself.

Further down the wikipedia page I discover this quote from the authors of The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time - "science fiction and rock and roll don't mix any better than Zsa Zsa Gabor and reality". What can they mean? No really. Are they saying Zsa Zsa's not real? 5 Rocketships.

4. Sir Killalot vs Robo Babe - Android Love (Robot Wars)

This appears to be a spin off single from the TV robot-fighting show, Robot Wars. I think Jim suggested this. It combines catchphrases and robots from the show with some synth-dance and scantily clad women. I am unimpressed. 2 Rocketships.

5. The She Creatures - Sexy Robot

Another suggestion from Jim, and this time it's brilliant! I believe he missed The She Creatures twice at Glastonbury, but met them giving out pamphlets, in full costume. I have a soft spot the size of Ganymede for girl-pop from before I was born and this is an excellent facsimile. Simply for the line "You can spend your whole lifespan searching these solar systems for a man like Harrison Ford, but he don't exist" I give them 9 Rocketships.

6. Man or Astroman - Lo Batt

Man or Astroman combine surf guitar with samples from old B-movies, usually to great effect. This doesn't seem to have been one of their better songs. Why is this on youtube and the list ahead of "Invasion of the Dragonmen" or "Maximum Radiation Level"? I don't know, and frankly have done so much research for this post already that my brain is melting. Good video though. A mere 5 Rocketships.

7. The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet

From 1978 we find that punk rock too flirts with SF. And why shouldn't it? The comic book style video and references to space travel being in their blood makes this Sci-Fi enough for me. It's a great and classic piece of new wave pop. 7 Rocketships.

8. Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip - I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper

Our final visit to 1978 and here we have the single that launched Sarah Brightman's career. It's a delirious blend of Sci-Fi cliches and disco madness, with dancing and costumes that boggle the mind. Is it brilliant or bonkers? Is it too much to have both? And it's still relevant, or at least a DJ played it in a club I was in last year, which is good enough for me. 9 Rocketships.

9. Stingray Megamix

Back in 1990 Jim got a video[5] called Power Themes 90, which had dance remixes of things like The Prisoner and UFO and MC Parker doing some Thunderbirds DJing. My favourite is the Stingray Megamix, which mixes scenes and music from Stingray to make a very satisfying song. One side effect has been that if Stingray ever comes on TV, we have to do the dance on the sofa. Despite this, I award this track the coveted 10 Rocketships.

10. Stereolab - Wow and Flutter

Stereolab are sometimes described as a Marxist band, but they prefer to point to Surrealist and Situationalist movements. Noone seems to have picked up on their SF influences, perhaps because this video is the most blatant example and everywhere else it's hinted at. For example on their album Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements the back cover notes:
Art is a science having more than seven variables.

And hi-fi is the convenient tag we use when we mean the art and science of hi-fidelity! Interest in this fascinating subject has never run higher than it does today : its technology advances steadily, and many more people come to value and draw inspiration from the result a high standard of music reproduction in the home. Stereolab contribute to this in no small measure.

You can read this as just another odd, surreal, note on the album. You can read it as a Marxist statement if you want to. But it looks to me like it could have dropped out of a 50s SF story. 7 Rocketships for this final entry.

This has been my Sci-Fi/Pop 10 songs. They're not a Top 10, or my favourite 10, or the best 10, or anything like that; they're 10 strong examples of the cross-genre that happen to be on youtube that I've compiled into a list. Have I missed anything obvious? Do you hate me for exposing you to this? Disagree with my scores? Have a request? That's what the button below is for.

[1] I'd totally watch that film. I'd suggest reading his books too.
[2] Elsewhere people who might know something about this are even now arguing that SF is actually about now, or, considering the turn-around times involved in writing and publishing, about 15 months ago.
[3] Surely if "zombies" is the plural, the singular should be "zomby".
[4] Youtube is my jukebox!
[5] On a VHS cassette! Remember them?