Into the Woods

Saw a truly wonderful musical at Oxford called Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. The first half is a medley of various fairy tale characters including Jack and Beanstalk, Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella, brought all together by a quest by the baker and his wife. It’s a traditional musical first half with fun songs and has plenty of inside jokes that adults will appreciate.

The second half is far darker and more realistic (well, as realistic as you can get in a musical) with characters being killed and strife all over the place. Although the moral of the story is layered on a little thick at times, it’s still a great change from most lighthearted musicals you see these days. Plus, the songs are still great. I just ordered a used CD of the songs from Amazon (my first experience with ordering used goods from them). Anyone here seen the musical before?

Google

labs.google.com – various neat alpha-stage applications including Google Glossary (works fairly well for the technical terms I tested it with), voice searching and keyboard searching.

Sid Meier

Sid Meier (creator of the Civilization games) had this to say about massively multiplayer games: “It’s a new, exciting, but at the same time repelling world. I don’t know. Really.” Absolutely.

Scrabble

Played Scrabble at the pub last night – got 309 points, most of which came from oxygen, squadron (used all seven letter – extra 50 points) and fazed (triple word score).

Writing

Something popped into my head today as I was scribbling down some notes during a supervision: does the fact that I write with a pencil (as opposed to a pen or biro) affect my writing style, and on a higher level, my method of thinking?

Pencils provide a much less constrained and linear way of putting thoughts down onto paper, in that pencil marks can be easily and quickly erased. Thus, I’m not too bothered with making the occasional correction or altering what I’ve written so that it’s more accurate, whereas if I used some non-erasable implement that option wouldn’t be open to me. Conversely, perhaps using a pencil is making me lazy and those who write using pens have less cause to make corrections.

Taking this further, what about writing on the computer? Words, sentences and paragraphs can all be moved about at the click of a button, and rarely does a supervisor not warn us against getting into a habit of writing all essays on the computer, as this won’t help us write essays in exams. I tried writing an essay on paper a couple of weeks ago, and it went down perfectly fine. In fact, I probably did it faster than I would’ve done on the computer since I could draw diagrams quicker. Score one for paper.

As others have said, probably the best solution would combine the qualities of paper and computers – I imagine some kind of smart paper which you can either write on (it has handwriting recognition, naturally) or hook up to a wireless keyboard would be ideal (many people can type faster than they can write). You’d be able to annotate the paper and move sentences and words about with ease, and it’d be intuitive for all users. It’ll probably be on the market in another ten years.

MGS

Getting a stereo view of Mars – the boys at NASA are pretty damn clever; they’re planning to obtain 3D images of areas the Mars Global Surveyor has already covered by pointing the spacecraft off-nadir (so it doesn’t point directly down).

I Wish I knew

Correction to an earlier post: It seems I made a common mistake when I said that the Barry Norman film night tune (I Wish I Knew) was first written by Nina Simone. It was in fact first written and performed by the Bill Taylor Trio. Thanks to Tom for pointing this out.

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful:

People on Metafilter liked my post about aerogel (inspired when I saw these pretty photos). I’m very pleased about this – Metafilter is being swamped with too much news culled from CNN, Slashdot, Kuro5hin and other web news portals these days, so I thought the readers might like a change and see something new. And they did.

I received an email from Giles Turnbull about how he liked the design of this weblog. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy receiving emails like that.

I had a moment of epiphany about a particularly troublesome bit of revision concerning DNA recombination. I’d spent about five minutes trying to figure out the exact mechanism, drawing things on bits of paper, when it suddenly struck me that I should look at the diagrams backwards.

I remember sitting in a friend’s room last term, when he put on some new music. I immediately jumped up and exclaimed, ‘Hey, that’s the music to Barry Norman’s Film Night!’ He corrected me and said, ‘No it’s not, it’s by Nina Simone and it’s called I wish I knew.’ And so it was, and in that moment he unwittingly had given me the secret of the song’s name which so many people loved but didn’t (and may still not) know.