Ridiculous Movie Ideas #1 and #2


Meet Maddie, and her very own invisible guardian elf, Gerry, one of Lapland’s finest. But when Lapland’s new CEO buys a new robot named SAFETY (Substitute Autonomous Friendly Elf TechnologY) to reduce staffing costs, Gerry’s decides to defeat the robot in a head-to-head trial, no matter what. Disaster ensues, and Gerry, Maddie, and the robot are stranded in a remote island in Finland. Only by working together can they return home in time. Fasten your seatbelts, because Elf ‘n’ SAFETY are coming!


We pan down past a blue sky, past the dreaming spires, to a beautiful, peaceful river. Willows droop lazily over their reflections, and blue-shirted boater-hat wearing students guide their punts downstream.

Brr–br-br-br-boom! Dubstep. A fleet of jacked-up punts with LED lights, spoilers, massive motorised punt poles, etc, slide into view, complete with gyrating dancers in skimpy outfits. One deep-black punt is the centre of attention; it’s Dominic Thatcher, with a first-class degree in engineering. And here’s the young turk, Brian Connor-Smythe, a fresher studying fluid dynamics. They draw up beside each other.

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the college, not the department, not my lab and all their bullshit. For those one hundred and twenty seconds or less, I’m free.”

Who can make it to Iffley Lock in time? Will Brian discover the secret of Dominic’s illegal success in research? You’ll only find out, in The Fast and the Furious: Oxford Drift.

All Souls: The toughest test you’ll ever take

If you’ve ever visited Oxford, chances are that you’ll spend some time in Radcliffe Square, admiring the University Library and the round Radcliffe Camera building. Along the east side of the the square is a long wall with a black metal gate set into it; people often poke their heads in to see an immaculate yet strangely deserted quadrangle. This is All Souls college.

Unlike most colleges in Oxford, All Souls does not admit undergraduates. It currently has 76 fellows, as well as a number of visiting fellows. For a college that has an endowment of around £144m, this is a small group indeed. Depending on their status and, for example, whether they teach at Oxford, fellows of All Souls receive a certain stipend and rooms; nothing huge, but enough for them to pursue whatever line of research they might want. This alone would be an attractive prospect for any academic, but the reputation of the college and fellows both current and past (e.g. Isaiah Berlin, Christopher Wren, Amartya Sen) including elevates the college into a realm that is occupied by, arguably, none other than itself.

All Souls holds a particular fascination for Oxford students. While most fellows who join the college are postdocs and are elected by its current members, every year, two graduate students – who might be as young as 21 – are admitted as Prize Fellows. The way these two people are chosen is through a famous exam.

The exam consists of five papers. Two are on general topics (PDF), such as:

  • Can terrorism be justified?
  • Would you have burned Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, as he requested in his will?
  • If the Greeks invented democracy, what is it?
  • Is Amazon.com good for literature?
  • Is China overrated?
  • What can we learn from Las Vegas?
  • Is Dark Energy more interesting than Dark Matter?

These two general papers have around 30-40 questions each, and candidates have to answer three questions on each, with three hours per paper (i.e. one hour per question). Two more papers are based on the candidate’s field of study, and cover Classics, Economics, English, History, Law, Philosophy and Politics (all PDFs). These subject-specific papers have fewer questions per paper, and while they are relatively general questions, e.g.:

  • Whither social democracy after Tony Blair? (Politics)
  • Can animals think? (Philosophy)
  • Why was resistance to the Mongols so seldom successful? (History)
  • Write on any one of the following: games, food, body parts (English)

you clearly have to have a good grasp of the subjects; or at the very least, you would gain a real advantage from having studied them at the degree level. In other words, it would be difficult to wing it; there just aren’t enough ‘really general’ questions on the subject papers to make that possible.

These questions are all very interesting and I know that candidates enjoy being able to tackle such broad issues. Even so, the exam wouldn’t have its legendary status if it wasn’t for the fifth paper. Here is a question from last year’s fifth paper:

  • Water

That’s it. You have three hours to write an essay on ‘water’. You can do pretty much whatever you want, although they do discourage ‘verse, stories or autobiographical accounts’. Here are other questions: Continue reading “All Souls: The toughest test you’ll ever take”


Today, the coach took a different route home. Because of the bank holiday weekend and the high temperature, the A40 to Oxford was gummed by traffic, so the driver decided to go on an another route, which he said was slightly longer but should get us there much quicker.

The last half hour of travel to Oxford is usually along the motorway and A40. It’s normally quite nice just after you pass the Welcome to Oxfordshire sign (which is just before an interesting arch-shaped bridge and a wood with eagles living in it), the road comes down a hill and you get a good view of miles of countryside on either side. If you’re travelling at the right time of day it can be stunning, and in March and April you can see some achingly yellow fields of oil rape seed, slowly soaking up energy from the sun and the EU common agricultural policy. Apart from that, though, it’s just your average motorway through the countryside and soon enough the road sinks back down to the ground and you’re back in the embrace of other cars.

Instead of all of this, after we passed the bridge and the eagles we peeled off onto the A349 (I think) and spent twenty minutes threading through mostly-deserted country roads. Today, there wasn’t a wisp of white in the sky and because of the unusual design of this company’s coaches, we were about two or three metres off the ground and could see over the hedges lining the road and into the fields beyond. What we were green, everywhere. Green fields, green crops, green trees – no brown, grey, blue or yellow, just bright green. Everyone on the coach gazed out of the windows, woken up from their usual reveries of travel. I think they were enjoying it.

It was around then, when I was soaking in the glorious green colours (about fifteen minutes ago from now, as I’m typing), that I thought farming and growing crops was surely the most marvellous type of skill; such a subtle use of biotechnology, selecting and breeding organisms to use solar power at an enormous rate of efficiency to produce food. Imagine it – you can basically make food, such an essential substance, more essential than books or clothes or computers or cars – from nothing. To do this well, though, you need a vast and understated body of knowledge that knows what an extremely hot or cold day will do to the plants, what the seasons mean, what the soil needs, what it means when the plants have small spots on them, how to cope with the random walk of the weather. You don’t need this any more, not as much, and in any case the way you learn it is rather more regimented than it was in the past.

I’m not nostalgic for the old ways of farming, since advances in technology and knowedge have brought us so far. Still, at that moment I thought it was the most fascinating thing in the world, a skill just like writing, a potion of intuition and experience and knowledge and patience. And now I am back in Oxford, stuck in traffic next to a supermarket, but it’s OK because I’m nearly home, the sun is still high, the air warm and I’m going to see my girlfriend in a few minutes.

How to get from Oxford to London

or more accurately, COACH WARS: Oxford Espress vs. Oxford Tube

For the past half year, I’ve been commuting back and forth from Oxford to London every week (not every day, though). In that time I’ve been able to make a thorough appraisal of the best way to make the journey.

Oxford is approximately 56 miles from London and according to my roadmap, it should take about 1:15 to make the journey by car. On the other hand, a train takes about 55 minutes and, in theory, is less variable. Both of these times are rather optimistic estimates. The car time assumes that you encounter little to no traffic, while the train time doesn’t factor in commuting times to the station or the not infrequent delays on the rail service.

It wouldn’t really be worth me writing about the value of taking a car instead of the train or vice versa because firstly, I don’t drive, and secondly, they’re such different forms of transport that I don’t think anything I say would really matter to anyone. Some people are rail travellers and some are drivers; the two groups are separated more by ideology than reason, much like Apple and Windows users.

However, Oxford is an anomaly among cities near London in that it has not one but two highly frequent coach services that run 24 hours a day. These coaches offer a real alternative to both car and train by virtue of being right in the middle of the two; they are reasonably quick, cheap, regular and make multiple stops in the centre of both cities. The only problem is that the two services are, on the surface, almost identical. Or are they? Frequent commuters will know how important it is to pick a good service early on in order to get season ticket savings, so here’s a guide to which service is best.

The Basics

Oxford is an anomaly for another reason. The two coaches are run by two bus companies – the Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach. Both companies operate full and near identical local services in Oxford, with near identical pricing. The advantage of this is that Oxford has a very pervasive and frequent public transport system for such a small city. The disadvantage is that the two companies obviously do not take each others tickets and their route numbers are different, meaning customers often become confused. I don’t use local buses much but I haven’t been able to discern any real difference between the two companies.

The Oxford Espress, aside from having a horrible name, is run by the Oxford Bus Company. The coaches are normal single-deckers, whereas Stagecoach’s Oxford Tube service uses custom-made double-decker coaches.


You can find out the fare prices for both services from the links above. At the time of writing, on both services a single from Oxford to London (and vice versa) costs £10, while a return costs £12. There are discounts for concessions and students, and unsurprisingly, these are identically priced as well.

In fact, all the prices are identical. Occasionally one service might introduce a new fare, as the Oxford Tube did with its cut-price ‘Nightrider’ which offers discount return travel after 3pm, but within weeks the other service will copy the entire idea, right down to the name; the Oxford Espress isn’t fooling anybody with its ‘Night Owl’ service.

Result: Draw


Both services start at Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford and end at Victoria. They make near identical stops in Oxford and they also stop at Hillingdon (a tube station 30 minutes out from Victoria) but the similarities end there.

The Oxford Tube tends to make more stops in general. About 30 minutes out from Oxford, it stops at a place in the middle of nowhere called Lewknor Turn. It’s a dark little lay-by that presumably serves people living in nearby villages. In London, the coach stops at Shepherd’s Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Marble Arch before getting to Victoria. The more perceptive of you will realise this can involve an awful lot of traffic in rush hour.

The Oxford Espress shuns Lewknor Turn and instead of diving straight into London, it takes the flyover and goes directly to Baker Street. This saves a little on the traffic.

Clearly there’s not much to distinguish the services in terms of routes, and your choice will no doubt be influenced by the stops in London and how close they are to where you want to go. For my part, I always go to Victoria so it makes no difference to me.

Result: Draw


This is where it gets interesting. Since the Oxford Tube is a double-decker coach and generally attracts more passengers, it takes longer to load up and disembark at every stop. Furthermore, I find that its route, especially the Lewknor Turn stop, lengthens any given journey by approximately 10 to 20 minutes depending on the time of day.

The Oxford Espress’ route, with two fewer stops, combined with its smaller capacity, mean that it definitely wins on terms of speed. The quickest journey I’ve had from Oxford to London has been on the Espress and it took 1:15, while the Tube took slightly longer. In rush hour, both services can take up to 2:30.

Result: Espress wins


Both services run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From Monday to Saturday they both run approximately every 10-15 minutes during the daytime and every 20 minutes in the early morning and late evening.

However, it’s at night when the differences emerge. The Oxford Tube runs coaches every 30 minutes during the wee hours from 2am to 4am on most days, while the Oxford Espress only manages a coach every hour. Both services run every hour from 4am to 6am or so. For most people this difference is really not an issue but if you go for any nights out in London, then the difference between waiting 30 minutes and an hour is very significant.

Result: Tube wins


In my experience, the Oxford Espress is slightly more reliable in terms of its coaches being spaced out evenly in time. This is probably due to the fact that it doesn’t take as long to load or have as many passengers. In terms of coaches breaking down, anecdotal reports indicate that the Tube suffers more, but that might be down to response bias. Still, I could well believe it since the Tube’s double-decker behemoths, though they may be brand new and well maintained, are inevitably more prone to breakdown than standard-issue single-deckers.

Result: Espress wins

Chances of getting a seat

Not the best of titles, but important nonetheless. Since the Espress, for some reason, has proportionately fewer passengers I find it easier to get a seat on board. I have never seen a full Espress coach while I often see full Tube coaches. This is very important for those people who place a high value on having two seats to themselves.

Result: Espress wins


For a long time, the Espress won this competition hands down by offering air-condition and power sockets where the Tube didn’t. With its recent fleet upgrade, the Tube now also offers air conditioning and power sockets for every two seats. All seats on both services recline (not a good thing in my opinion, I hate getting seats in my face).

While I haven’t actually measured the seating space (although I may do in the future), I am pretty sure that the Espress has about one or two inches more legroom. It also has leather headrests and the general state of cleanliness is higher. This is no doubt due in part to the higher passenger numbers on the Tube.

Result: Espress wins

Other passengers

Closely related to comfort are the type of passengers that travel on the services. Now you may think I’m being ridiculously picky and offensive by even including this section but no-one would choose to sit on a coach for two hours surrounded by noisy teenagers when they want to get some sleep if they could sit on a quieter coach.

Put basically, the Oxford Tube has every type of passenger, from tourists to students to workers. Generally people are well behaved although I have found that the Tube is occasionally host to people blasting out music or talking very loudly – in the night – for the entire journey.

The Tube’s passengers also span the full range in terms of how often the use the Tube. Some of them use it regularly and so don’t have to ask the driver about stops or fares and can whiz past using their fare cards. Others are less experienced and take longer. This contributes to longer boarding times.

In contrast, the Oxford Espress attracts what I would call ‘professional passengers’. I don’t mean that they they’re all workers – indeed, while the Espress is skewed more towards workers it’s still frequented by students and some tourists – I mean that they tend to know what they are doing. Either they’re regular passengers and know the stops and the fares, or they’re savvy tourists and they’ve taken the time to find these things out beforehand. This results in a quicker boarding process and makes for a profoundly peaceful journey.

Result: Espress wins


The Oxford Espress is definitely better than the Tube, in terms of speed, comfort, reliability and general experience. That doesn’t mean that the Tube is particularly bad, it’s just not as good. The Tube may still be better for you in terms of its stops but for most I would recommend the Espress.

The interesting question behind all of this is why, despite the Espress’ superiority, the Tube attracts more passengers. The simple answer is that the Tube has superior marketing and branding. It has a memorable name and colours and is generally more well known among the public. When people start using the Tube, it’s ‘good enough’ and so they don’t bother trying the Espress because they think it’s less frequent or more expensive (that’s what happened to me, anyway).

The reason the Espress hasn’t gone out of business is because it has built up a loyal following due to its quality. I have a few friends who won’t take the Tube any more and I suspect the same is true for many commuters. My advice to the Oxford Bus Company is to change the Espress’ name into something you can say aloud without feeling stupid, and to improve their branding and marketing. I don’t have any advice for the Tube aside from running more frequent coaches because it’s hard to see how they can change their demographic without changing their coach fleet again, and that’s not going to happen for some time now. I suppose they might want to consider missing off the Lewknor Turn stop.

The Invasion

The light in the sky is different these days, stronger and more persistent. Wind sweeps through the streets and the weather can change faster than a footstep, transforming the air from a muggy heat to a crisp freshness. The almost-transient population of Oxford undergraduates migrated away to warmer climes weeks ago, and now they have been replaced by an altogether more sinister posse. The Invasion of the Americans has begun, just like it does every summer.

If you walk down any street in central Oxford for five minutes, you are guaranteed to cross paths with a gaggle of young Americans, and even if you couldn’t hear their voices (which you certainly would do) you’d still be able to spot them. There isn’t a single defining characteristic of these Americans, but rather a combination of characteristics. They travel in groups – just like other tourists – but they tend to be larger groups and more numerous. They wear American clothing – just like all the European tourists – but theirs is in some vague sense more ‘up to date’. During the early afternoon and evening, they invariably carry large quantities of fast food, which I have to confess isn’t a characteristic shared by others but then you can’t rely on this one all the time.

As most people should know now, I have no particular beef against Americans, and sure, I detest tourists in Oxford but frankly that’s just part of life here than I’ve come to a wearying acceptance with. But this invasion I describe isn’t about American tourists. It’s about American students.

It turns out that every summer, huge numbers of American high schoolers and college students – I estimate at least a thousand – fly the wrong away across the Atlantic and converge upon Oxford to, I suppose, take some classes, soak up the legendary Oxford atmosphere and have some fun (and not necessarily in that order). Free from the constraints of their parents and absurd drinking laws, they spill out onto the streets and into cafes, ice cream parlours, bars and restaurants. Strangely enough, they don’t tend to go into pubs, a fact I attribute to a little-known genetic aversion the North Americans have to authentic ale (much like the fair folks’ aversion to iron).

Happily ensconced in their familiar-but-different social haunts, they proceed to take full advantage of being in a different country by meeting as many of their fellow countrymen as possible and regaling them with stories about their colleges back home and swapping precious tidbits of Oxford lore, e.g., “Oh my gawd! Did you see those guys over the road wearing those clothes? I found out that they always get dressed up for exams! That’s so cool! We’d never do that at home!”

As you can imagine, all of this loud enthusiasm grates heavily on the already deeply cynical graduate population whose emotions have long been burned away into a twisted husk of thesis-writing flatness. Not only are we daily confronted with groups of A&F and Gap-wearing teenagers insouciantly lounging around our ice cream parlour, but we have to deal with the knowledge that in the coming weeks, it will only get worse, not better. I can only hope that in between providing McDonalds with a temporary spike in profits and liberating our cafes, they are actually gaining something important and useful out of their expensive time in Oxford other than the right to say, “Yeah, I studied in Oxford over the summer.”


Of the various things that have been happening in my life lately, the 10K race I did this morning is probably one of the most interesting. You might recall that the last time I did a race was a few months ago, and I did OK although it was only 3.6 miles along. It was so cold on the day of the run and the fact that I hadn’t warmed up properly really hampered me.

The race today was 10K long – about 6.2 miles – and was in aid for a muscular dystrophy charity here in Oxford. Before today, the longest I’d ever run in one period was about 4.5 miles so while 6 miles isn’t that much longer, it was certainly different.

I woke up to glorious sunshine this morning at about 8am and discovered that the temperature was loitering around 18C – pretty warm for a race. By the time I left my room, it had already risen to 21C which ended up causing many people grief. Luckily I get on well with high temperatures (as long as it isn’t too humid) so this didn’t bother me.

On the cycle to the Parks, almost every other person I passed was wearing a runner’s number and it was a wonderful experience to see hundreds of people streaming in towards the start area. Apparently there were 3100 people taking part in the race today – a very respectable number which meant that I was surrounded by people for the duration of the race.

I was very pleased with the way the race went. Using a combination of my latest gadget, a GPS watch that tracks speed, location and distance travelled, and some runners in front of me going at my speed, I was able to keep up a decent pace which in fact was faster than any speed I’ve run for a distance, ever (8.1 mph, in case you’re interested). Aside from this, my mind was unusually bereft of worries and thoughts for the entire race and I was able to enjoy myself, taking in the scenery and the experience of running through the centre of Oxford along roads that are normally snarled up with hostile traffic.

To be honest, most of the race was uneventful and what thinking I did do involved trying to stay on the racing line and figure out the best way of overtaking people. At about 8.5K, I started feeling a bit tired and I’d developed a minor blister in my right foot. However, I didn’t want to let the two cavemen running in front of me to get any further ahead so I kept up the pace. Shortly after the 9K mark, I caught a glimpse of the finishing post in the Parks and promptly sped up to about 11 mph, waving goodbye to the cavemen who’d brought so much joy to onlookers. 48 minutes after I’d started, I crossed the finish line.

I must’ve looked a bit dehydrated as I finished because some guy came over and urgently pressed a bottle of water into my hand. In reality, I was feeling pretty good – too good, actually – which meant that I probably could have picked up the pace even more during the race and shaved a minute or two off my time. Anyway, 48 minutes was good enough and in any case I was happy making it under 50 minutes; my next goal is to run a half-marathon in the near future.

The rest of the day went predictably – I met up with some other friends who’d been running, lazed around in the sun and then we adjourned to a pub to consume large quantities of carbohydrates (an all-day breakfast in my case – a 30 oz. steak in someone else’s). And now here I am, about to watch another episode of Firefly.


In a break from just writing game reports here, I thought I’d share a discovery I made today. I work at the Department of Physiology here in Oxford, and very recently they just finished construction on a new adjoining building which is all very high tech looking with lots of dark glass and shiny steel. Today, I had to go over there to give a presentation about my project in one of the seminar rooms.

On entering, I saw not one, not two, but three 60″ flat plasma screen TVs on the wall, a mere few metres apart from each other. They were huge, fully wired up with computer monitor inputs and DVD players behind the scenes, and as far as I know, completely unused for 95% of the time. As I plugged in my iBook, my mind went into cataplexy over the possibilities they could be used for… multiple DVD watching, sports, web streaming, video conferencing, 8 player X-Box gaming… it was just far too overwhelming.

(Oh, and the presentation went pretty well)

The Race

8:30am – I wake up with a totally parched throat, despite drinking a huge quantity of water the night before. Less than six hours to go before the relay race I signed up to a couple of weeks ago begins. 3.6 miles per leg – I’m hoping to do it in under 30 minutes, at least.

12:15pm – Finish an early lunch of a tuna and cheese sandwich at the lab. Check the outside temperature for the thousandth time – it’s a balmy 5C. My supervisor exclaims, “I think it’s started snowing!”. I jump up and look hard out of the window. She laughs cruelly and says, “Only joking.” I grumble something in reply.

1:25pm – The race starts at 2pm, and I don’t know what the race order is yet, so I have to turn up early. I hop on my bike and cycle towards the Iffley Road track, site of the famous four minute mile by Roger Bannister. It is damned cold outside.

1:35pm – There must be hundreds of people here! They all look extremely fit and worringly, they all look like bona fide runners. There are visiting teams from universities across the country including Imperial, Cambridge, Birmingham and Bath. Each team has four runners, each of whom run the same 3.6 mile loop around Oxford, and they enter into the male, female or mixed races.

1:40pm – I’ve decided to wear both of my T-shirts and take my coat out to stay warm before I start. It turns out that I’m going to be the third runner in my team, which is composed of graduates. The other runners – Andrew, John and Jason – are all far more experienced than me but they assure me that my time of around 26 minutes for a slightly shorter distance than 3.6 miles is fine (I ran the race course, or at least what I thought was the race course, on Monday).

1:55pm – All the first runners are assembled on the start line on the race track in an enormous crowd, easily close to a hundred. Suffice to say that it is pretty intimidating for me, who’s never run a race before.

2pm – They’re off! The front runners are zooming along at a fearsomely fast pace, and our guy Andrew has set off pretty quickly as well. John, the second runner, begins to look worried. Many of the serious teams have clearly put their fastest runners in first so they can get ahead of the pack.

2:15pm – John departs to the start line across the track to have a jog around and warm up. I chat with the other people in the Queen’s College contingent about running stories. The Queen’s College is probably the most successful college in the university at sports – we seem to win most competitions and athletics, despite the fact that we’re not particularly big.

2:18pm – The front runners have just started returning. 3.6 miles in 18 minutes – not a shabby result by anyone’s standards. Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of separation between the front runners.

2:22pm – Andrew has just entered the stadium and is making his way around to the start/finish line! 22 minutes is a very good time and not what any of us were expecting. I start worrying about the fact that if John is also fast, I’ll find myself in the midst of a pack that is significantly quicker than myself.

2:23pm – John zips past the stadium and on his way out I give him an encouraging shout. I begin to bounce around to try and warm up.

2:30pm – I remark to Jason, while bouncing around, that I feel like getting into a fight. Evidently the adrenaline is kicking in.

2:38pm – I pin on my runner’s badge and make my way to the start line. I do a few sprint and jogs around, but for some reason I’m getting progressively colder.

2:42pm – I see someone who looks very much like John entering the stadium, which startles me immensely because it seems impossible that he’d be able to do it in 20 minutes, given that he was supposed to have had a leg injury recently. Luckily, it’s just someone else who doesn’t have much hair.

2:46pm (T0) – John appears! He might not have been as fast as 20 minutes, but 24 minutes is pretty decent. My worry increases. I make my way to the handover point and bam, I’m running.

T+1 – It is very cold. Too damn cold. It seems like I didn’t warm up properly.

T+4 – I’m on Iffley Road, just approaching Magdalen bridge. I’ve already been overtaken by two people, which isn’t surprising since I’m in the middle of a much faster pack, but it’s still depressing. The race marshalls are very encouraging though.

T+6 – I’m feeling pretty tired already, running by the Botanic Gardens. I briefly ruminate on the utility of actually going and running outside instead of cheating and using the treadmill. This accomplished, I return to watching the runners ahead of me recede into the distance.

T+10 – I’m getting into my stride now, but a stitch is developing. I find this entire development to be almost unbelievable – I’ve never found it this hard to run outside. Perhaps it is psychological. Perhaps I should do more training. I’ve warmed up quite nicely though.

T+14 – Running along the Isis River now. There’s a guy running by my side – he’s been keeping face for the last few minutes but now he’s set to overtake me. Thankfully, he looks pretty fit.

T+17 – I can see Donnington Bridge! That means that I’m well past the halfway line and I’m on the way home. Things are looking up.

T+19 – I’m on the penultimate final straight, which unfortunately is very long. I can see a long string of runners making their way along it, and there’s one guy in the distance who appears to be walking.

T+23 – I put on a spurt of speed and overtake the guy who was walking (he’s gone back to running now), which pleases me to no end because otherwise I wouldn’t have overtaken anyone in the entire race.

T+24 – There’s not far to go now – I’m on the final straight on Iffley Road and the rugby ground are to my left.

T+26 – Just before I enter the stadium, I pick up the pace by quite a bit and make it around the track at a decent clip.

T+27 (3:13pm) – It’s over – I just handed off to Jason, who appeared at the start line a mere second before I reached it.

3:15pm – Wander over to the stands and collapse. Drink some water. Go into a daze. Visions of armoured bears with cockney accents and windows in the sky pass before my eyes.

3:17pm – Wake up. 27 minutes is almost exactly the time I thought I’d get. I feel like I could have shaved at least 30 seconds or maybe even a minute by picking up the pace closer to the end, but 27 minutes isn’t bad and it was my first race, after all.

3:38pm – Jason enters the stadium in a flamboyant multicolour jersey, alongside a guy in a very sober black and white T-shirt setup. Jason steams past the sober guy with apparently zero effort and everyone from Queen’s speaks admiringly of his frankly excellent stride technique.

3:43pm – Have a chat with Jason, and then celebrate by going into the gym and spending 20 minutes on the weights. Definitely a quick race, but not one I’m going to forget… and there’s still the 10k race I intend to do in May to train for…


At about 12:30pm today, Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, sailed past South Parks Road roughly two metres away from me in her Queenmobile and disappeared into the new �60 million Oxford University Chemistry Lab to ceremonially open it.

When I heard about this yesterday, I originally thought that it’d be a bit of a waste of time to go along and watch, given that I’m an avowed republican (not that I think the monarchy is going away any time soon). This morning, though, a couple of things occurred to me. Firstly, I’ve never seen the Queen in person before and it seemed like a good idea to actually have a look at our Head of State in person. Secondly, it was as good a reason as any other to take a few minutes off work.

I suspect that most people in the two hundred-strong crowd lining the road felt the same way as me when they saw the entourage drive past; in other words, they were students who were impressed, despite their cynical nature. Nobody was waving any flags and a brave attempt by a few to get the crowd clapping failed dismally, but people were still excited to have seen the Queen close up.

The most reaction anyone got from the crowd actually came five minutes before the Queen arrived, from a bus driving instructor who beamed at us, waving regally from behind the driver – even the hardened university grad students had to laugh.


One of the great things about living in a university town like Oxford or Cambridge is that interesting events and lectures are being held almost every day, and they’re usually free to attend. Most of the events that I go to, I hear about through friends or mailing lists, but of course there are many more that I miss because they’re advertised poorly; not that I blame the organisers, because I know it’s difficult, but you just can’t put up a few dozen posters or hide away your events list on a society or department website somewhere and expect the whole of Oxford to know about it.

The problem is that information about events in Oxford is totally dispersed and difficult to locate. The solution is to create a website that aggregates events and assigns them multiple categories so that users can view and subscribe to different event feeds based on their preferences. It’d also be necessary to allow users to submit information about their own events in a way that balances the workload for the website administrators but also maintains quality.

Superficially, it sounds quite easy to make this website. You could simply set up a weblog powered by Moveable Type or TypePad, create multiple editors, set up a bunch of different categories and give them their own RSS feeds. No problem. But how do you order the events? In MT, as far as I know you can only assign them a single timestamp. In this case, do you set the site up so that events are announced when they actually happen (which obviously is no good since that gives no advance warning) or a number of days in advance? How many days in advance? Should there be reminders? How do you cope with events that span several days? Already the scope of the site is exceeding what can be done with vanilla MT.

Alternatively you could use calendar software like iCal, which has the ability to share and import calendars. This would be perfect, if not for the fact that hardly anyone uses it.

An events list website is not a new idea, of course. Two already existing sites include Upcoming.org and the London Art Aggregator. Upcoming.org is not a bad effort but it’s not flexible enough and if everyone in Oxford put their events into it, you’d be overwhelmed with a huge and unsorted list. The Art Aggregator is more suitable but this time, it’s too specialised – it’s great at what it does, which is aggregate art events in London, but that’s it.

So at the moment, for anyone wishing to set up an Oxford events list website, there are two ways forward. You could take weblog software like MT and hack it into shape, resulting in (most likely) a pretty good but nonetheless imperfect website, or you could just code it all from scratch. I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to do it from scratch if you had experience in Perl/PHP and MySQL, and if I had a spare fortnight or so I imagine I could give it a pretty decent shot myself.

At first the site probably wouldn’t get much traffic and the admins and readers would simply add events that they know about and are interested in, but if it’s useful enough then it’ll attract more users. I think ultimately the site could become highly popular and extremely useful, and maybe even make money via textads. Who knows. As it is, I don’t have the time to do anything about it now but when MT 3.0 comes out I will probably see if it is more amenable to being the backend for an events list.