Cheers vs boos

Something I’ve noticed from watching clips of the rallies held by Bush and Kerry on BBC News is that there is far more booing in Bush’s rallies then there are in Kerry’s. Obviously I’m going with a very unscientific sample here, but when Bush slates Kerry in a speech, his audience often break out into shouts and boos. However, I cannot recall a single speech of Kerry’s where the audience responded with anything but cheering. Maybe this is a result of the clips the BBC have shown; maybe this is an indication of the different attitudes held by the supporters of the two parties.


The notorious cult of ‘al gebra’ is a fearsome cult indeed. Says Attorney General John Ashcroft, “The desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on a tangent in a search of absolute value.” The fact that I understand it and find it funny is a true testament to my geek credentials.

The ancient art of karaoke

Karaoke. The word can provoke extreme emotions in many, from freezing fear to joyous abandon. I tend towards the latter, so when I got an invitation off Lal to go to a karaoke party yesterday, I was pretty pleased.

The two previous times I’ve done proper karaoke (SingStar, fun though it may be, is not the same) have been in front of large groups of people, so I’ve already gotten over the fear aspect and now actually relish the opportunity to get a crowd dancing. This time I was a little apprehensive when I walked into the club on Frith Street, which didn’t look like any karaoke club I’d been to before, and then even more apprehensive when I realised it was one of those where you hire out a room with a karaoke machine for a few mates. I’ve never understood why you’d want to do such a thing – surely the fun of karaoke is the big audience?

Anyway, a few beers later and my apprehension was dispelled. The real beauty, I now saw, of getting a karaoke room is not having to wait for a bunch of talentless hacks you don’t know to have their turn before you get your go – instead, it’s just you and a bunch of talentless hacks you do know happily singing along to the classics. Actually, I lie – everyone there was pretty good and had done it before, although when a girl started singing in pitch-perfect tune to a song, everyone went quiet and starting murderously muttering about being ‘too good’.

What songs went up for me? No less than the Very Best including Road Rage (Catatonia), Somewhere In My Heart (Aztec Camera) and of course, Sex Bomb (Tom Jones). It’s definitely a great way to have fun with friends and good for those who haven’t yet made the step to performing in public.

Cloud Atlas Sextet

Can this be possible? Is Jeanine Salla alive and well again, living in the UK, commenting on whether Prince Harry should be protected from the media? (scroll down to the sixth comment).

I’m going through one of my periodic reading blitzes right now, sustained by a comfortable sofa and a constant drip feed of books from Amazon. I finished Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World last week, took a break, and then began on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I loved reading his previous book, number9dream, but was a little apprehensive over Cloud Atlas given that I’d heard it was rather ambitious, with six intertwining stories stepping forward in time. Anyhow, I read it in about 10 hours over three days, which alone is a strong endorsement.

Cloud Atlas is very different from number9dream, skipping through the past to the future and back again in six wildly contrasting stories, blithely ranging across genre lines as if they weren’t there (not that number9dream wasn’t a bizarre book either). Unsurprisingly, I found the stories set in the future to be the most interesting, although Mitchell’s writing style and humour ensured that the other stories were not merely above average, but sometimes very moving. Naturally, the stories are linked, not just by an examination of the ‘will to power’ (it’s not a spoiler – it’s on the book jacket) but by the deeper themes of control, choice and the potential to change our future, among others, which enrich the whole novel, and I’ll admit that I’m a real sucker for those themes.

A number of people have commented on the sixth’s stories unusual grammar and style, but it looks worse than it actually reads, and after a couple of pages I had no problems striding through it. If I had any complaints, it’d be that the book has a slightly slow start. And while Mitchell does ladle on the morals a fair bit towards the end, he has every right to considering what he’s writing about.

Such was the satisfied glow that I had upon finishing Cloud Atlas that I declared to a friend today that you could take away my music, my internet access and my gadgets, but as long as you left me my books, I’d be happy. Still, I do wonder how long this chain of beautifully written books which are improbably getting better every time can continue. For now, though, I’m reading The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. It’s a rather short book which can’t possibly go into much depth, but should provide me with a good grasp of the general sweep of Chinese history.

Smoking Stephenson

I came across two very interesting and very different links today. The first was about Liverpool Council’s decision to ban smoking in public places, punishable by a £1000 fine. Now, I grew up near Liverpool (I usually say that I come from Liverpool, because it scares people more) and apart from it’s admittedly decent nightlife, it has no redeeming features. However, ever since they started making a real effort at regenerating the city centre – which still looks terrible, but looked even worse before – and of course won the European Capital of Culture for 2008, I’ve softened on the place. Banning smoking in public places is a brave decision and I’m proud that they went through with it, even if Parliament doesn’t approve it.

The second link is an interview with Neal Stephenson at Slashdot. Stephenson has long been one of my top flight ‘always buy in hardback’ authors ever since reading Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age. His interview is characteristically long and wordy, thus being wonderful, and in particular his recounting of his duels with William Gibson are reason alone to read the interview.


I was very pleased to see that the headline article for Wired News yesterday was all about the I Love Bees alternate reality game, being run by (I presume) the creators of original AI game, Elan Lee and Sean Stewart.

I Love Bees is, of course, a marketing promotion for Halo 2, a new videogame being released on the Xbox. This has caused many cooler-than-thou people on the internet to avoid it, saying that it’s ‘just’ an advert and therefore should be equated with such evils as McDonalds, Starbucks and the Gap – certainly they couldn’t be seen playing it. After all, that’d mean they were just advertising the game.

This is all rubbish. I Love Bees is only a marketing promotion in the sense that The Simpsons is a marketing promotion for the adverts that run next to it; in other words, the entertainment is so self-contained and deep that it stands alone from the product or company or service that it is meant to be promoting. Granted, the storyline of I Love Bees is related to Halo 2, but in a rather loose sense (as was the AI game). That anyone would refuse to even look at I Love Bees because it is funded by Halo 2 money is basically pretentious.

Unfortunately I Love Bees has another public perception problem, judging by a quick review of weblogs mentioning the article on Technorati – people think it’s geeky. Even geekier than playing videogames, if such a thing were possible. This is a shame, but understandable, given the high barrier of entry into the game. First you have to visit the I Love Bees website, which is very confusing, especially at this late stage of the game, and then you have to read through a lot of stuff at Unfiction, the online community playing the game. Once you’ve done that, you have several hours of story to listen to in the form of audio clips.

All of this restricts I Love Bees to a dedicated yet specialised audience. Not that this detracts from the high quality of the game, but Wired article or no, alternate reality games are still – for now – a niche genre.

Patently obvious

A beautiful example of what our elected representatives get up to in Parliament these days: the proper pronunciation of patent.

Paul Flynn: My hon. Friend will remember the outrageous suggestion that I tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the Committee by saying that the 1,000 people in Newport who have to say “patent” hundreds of times a day decided that as it took three nanoseconds more to pronounce it with a long “a”, they would pronounce it with a short “a” so that they could go home earlier for their tea. The outrageous and flimsy counter to that truth from the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) was to suggest that the Romans pronounced the word differently. How does he know that? Can he explain?

I come now to the key issue raised by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) — the pronunciation of the word “patent”, a matter that exercised the Committee for some time. I said that he had led the Committee and the House up the garden path in suggesting that his constituents were supposed to get home earlier to tea, but I am afraid that he has got me wrong: I was agreeing with his pronunciation of the word “patent”, on the basis that the Romans would have pronounced patens — meaning, “open” — with a short “a”. I just think that he got his reasoning wrong.

While there will not be dancing in the streets of Newport, I believe that the whole city will be suffused with a pleasant glow at the news that the Bill has been given a Second Reading.

(More via Eccles)

Hard-boiled Wonderland

I’ve just finished reading Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. What a beautiful, crazy, sorrowful, funny, poetic book! I’ve been told for some time that I should read some Murakami, but it was only recently that I found myself with a good reason to go and read this particular novel. I may write a review later, but for now I can happily say that he’s joined my stable of top writers, beside Michael Chabon, Neal Stephenson and several others.


1:42:34 – that’s the time in which I completed the half marathon, and represents an average speed of 7.67 mph, which is okay, but not really that great. Granted, it’s about three minutes faster than what I managed last Sunday, but I’m sure I could have run faster. I’m certainly convinced I can break 1:40 next time now.

On the tube today: saw a guy reading a book with a strange inked-in graph. That looks strangely familiar, I thought, and then glanced at the title. I was very satisfied to see that it was Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson – and the page was the bit with the plans for the mine in the mountains. Definitely a turnup for the books in the war against Dan Brown, I felt. Looking further down the carriage, there was a guy reading the Collected Works of Arthur C Clarke – truly, ’twas a veritable teeming mass of literary good taste!

Halfway there

There were no toilets, and it was windy. Those are probably the two things that I’ll remember about the half marathon I completed about three hours ago in Liverpool.

I arrived at the Albert Dock at about 9:15am for the 10am start, and a few nasty things became apparent to me. Firstly, the aforementioned lack of toilets, which is a terrible thing considering that most runners will have drunk enormous amounts of water before arriving and a lot of them will need to relieve themselves. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if the Albert Dock, or indeed any establishment with toilets, had been open – but of course, it was.

Secondly, the little leaflet runners received in the mail said that the start line was by the Yellow Submarine, a big, easy to spot landmark. Unfortunately the council had removed the submarine a month earlier, which confused no end of people (including myself) and I think a fair few got it mixed up with the yellow banana-cow, another nearby scultpure. So, whoever made that leaflet deserves to be made to apologise to all inconvenienced runners (plus the leaflet had pretty horrible design).

Thirdly and lastly, it was very windy – not surprising given that the Albert Dock is quite exposed, but still not very pleasant. Apart from those two things (the wind doesn’t count), the race was extremely well organised. Indeed, there were plenty of clean toilets at the end.

While I wasn’t able to judge the numbers myself, there were apparently 10,000 runners either doing the 10k or the half marathon this morning. Certainly there were enough to create a train of runners over a mile long.

I managed to pace myself much better than previously for this race, starting off at a very comfortable 7.5mph (8 minute mile) speed and gradually ramping it up to 8.0 and 8.5mph later on. Since I started well behind the start line* this meant that I was consistently overtaking people for the entire race, a much better (and novel) experience than the opposite.

* Not that this was a problem since our times are worked out by when RFID chips on our shoes go past the start and finish lines

There’s not an awful lot to say about the race itself. The course was quite interesting, relatively windy and by no means flat – there were plenty of ups and downs. The wind calmed down for the greater part of the race and even the sun made an appearance. While there weren’t that many bystanders, those who were watching were very good natured and encouraging.

My main strategy for the race was to ensure I didn’t drop below 7.5mph and to keep on trying to overtake likely-looking targets ahead of me. I’d assign these targets superhero names based on their T-shirts, like Heinz Boy, Asics Lad, iPod Man and Wilmslow Woman (Wilmslow Woman was unfortunately one of the few that got away). I found it interesting that I hardly saw anyone my age running in my cohort – most people were much older. I’m not really sure why this is the case; perhaps people take up running when they’re older, or my generation has just turned into a bunch of coddled gym-going layabouts.

As for myself, I took the race a bit too casually (again) because I didn’t feel particularly tired at any point and I was able to speed up to a sprint for the last few hundred metres. Now, this is a great thing to do, plus it really annoys all the other people around you, but there’s no reason why I couldn’t have just sprinted for the last mile or so instead. Sure, I would’ve been more tired at the end – but that’s the point – and I would’ve shaved maybe a good 30 seconds off my time.

In any case, I think I came in at about 1:41 or 1:42, which you’ll is a good three or four minutes faster than my effort last Sunday. I wasn’t able to time myself exactly because I had to reset my track data on the GPS halfway through, but they put the race information online I’ll post the time here.

This half marathon was my fifth and I’d say most successful this year. I made it to the end in a good time and felt quite comfortable throughout. I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t make my next half marathon below 1:40. When that’ll happen though, I’m not sure. I imagine my next races are likely to be 10ks in London. What I’d really like to try is fell running, but I have no idea exactly how I’d get to the fells.