Finders, not keepers

Tokyo finders not keepers – a charming article from the IHT/NYT about the practice of lost property in Japan actually being returned to a national network of lost and found centres by finders, as opposed to being swiped. There is still hope left for humanity, it seems, if we can follow the Japanese example.

Facts and things

Facts from around the world!

In South Africa, they use the same word for ‘demonstration’ and ‘riot’, according to a friend from Cape Town who was alarmed to read about the mass ‘riots’ taking place in London for Bush’s visit.

In Australia, when the public transport workers go on strike, they don’t go home. Instead, they go to work as normal but they don’t charge anyone. Clearly an idea whose time has come for the London Underground (and Post Office).

In other news, I played my first ever competitive doubles game of badminton for the college second team this morning, and lost both matches. I’m still fairly pleased with my performance though, considering that our college team has never practiced together, or even met before today, whereas our opponents had clearly practiced a fair bit before. My partner and I lost the the first game 4-15 although we managed to rally towards the end. I don’t think we had enough of a warmup.

The second game was much better; our opponents were slightly better than in the first game, but we still managed to pull ahead to 11-6 at one point. There was a lot of fast play going on that left me unusually out of breath, probably because I’d donated blood the previous day. Unfortunately they went on to win 11-15 due to a run of bad luck (for us) and some silly errors on our part.

I finally got my iBook yesterday in a highly circuitous route which I don’t feel like recounting. The important thing is that I have a highly shiny iBook G4 800 12″ sitting in front of me. Here’s what I spent part of yesterday doing (times are approximate):

0h – 1h: Booted it up and used the installation disks. Made appreciative noises as I explored OSX. Got frustrated about using the touchpad.

1h – 2h: Connected the iBook to my wireless network, which was not as easy as it could have been due to my total unfamiliarity with OSX and Windows being difficult. Tried to figure out how to transfer files across, and failed.

2h – 3h: Figured out how to transfer files by FTP. Realised that the utterly dismal transfer rate of 50k/s wasn’t going to cut it for 10GBs worth of stuff. Decided to use IP over Firewire.

3h – 3:30h: IP over Firewire didn’t work, so I tried booting up the iBook as a dumb Firewire drive. Windows refused to recognise the iBook’s HD, although it did see its DVD drive. Wow, that’s really useful, Windows…

3:30h – 4h: Tried IP over Firewire again. Finally got it working by disabling my other network connection on Windows. Marvelled at the 2MB/s transfer rate.

4h – 5h: Copied over all my files. Got irritated about OSX not recognising unusual characters in filenames, e.g. �.

5h – 6h: Realised that I made an apparently fatal mistake by transferring the files over using the ‘wrong’ FTP account, thus resulting in non-ideal file permissions. Spent a fruitless 30 minutes moving them between shared and public folders in vain attempt to alter permissions. Began to think that it might have been easier to get a Windows laptop.

6h – 6:30h: Hit upon the brilliant idea of trying to change the file permissions using the admin user, which worked, but took far too long since I was doing it folder by folder, file by file.

6:30h – 6:35h: Suddenly thought, “Hey, this is Unix, I shouldn’t have to do this crap, I should be able to do it all from the command line.” Googled for suitable command and changed all directory and file permissions in the blink of an eye. Felt suitably power-user-ish.

6:35h – 7h: Finally got iTunes to see all my music. Tried importing several thousand photos into iPhoto and stopped when I saw it was just copying all of them. Still don’t have a good solution for this.

7h – 8h: All the files now copied. Installed Office X, and then Fire, OSXVNC and VLC. Was utterly amazed by the ease of installation and never being asked to restart the computer. Decided that it really was a good idea not to buy a Windows laptop. Set up a special Windows VNC client that allows me to use my Windows keyboard and mouse for the iBook.

8h – 8:30h: Gazed lovingly at Aqua goodness and the speed of Preview. Wasted a few minutes playing around with Expos� and Fast User Switching. Looked at the clock and decided it was time for bed.


I never knew that Goosnargh was actually a real world until I read about ‘Goosnargh chicken’ in the Sunday Times today. I blame Douglas Adams in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish:

‘Goosnargh,’ said Ford Prefect, which was a special Betelgeusian word he used when he knew he should say something but didn’t know what it should be.

I suppose I should’ve suspected something, given that I’ve read The Meaning of Liff, which interestingly enough is completely online, although without the funny illustrations.


An excerpt from an email I sent a couple of weeks ago

Incidentally, I went to a theme park (Thorpe Park, near London) with some friends yesterday, which was good fun. The best part was when we went to a ride called ‘Tidal Wave’.

Now, Tidal Wave is basically a big log flume (like Splash Mountain). When you first enter the park, you can see that Tidal Wave creates a *huge* splash when it hits the water. Pretty impressive. Anyway, when we got to the ride, we all oohed and ahhed over it, passed all of our expensive and breakable stuff to a friend who was sitting on the sidelines and then made our way to the ride itself.

On the entrance to the ride, it says ‘WARNING: You will get very wet on this ride!’ Being a hardened and experienced theme park goer, I have no real fear of water rides and generally these warning signs mean ‘You will be splashed by a few drops of water’. Thus, we just laughed heartily at the warning sign and proceeded on.

I suppose that we should have started getting a bit more cautious when we saw that some people on the ride were wearing waterproof clothing, but it didn’t bother us at the time. Soon enough we got into the log itself and were being cranked up the big slope to the top. Another warning was apparent: there was a worrying amount of water sloshing about in the log.

Finally we made it to the top and then started on the precipitious drop to the water below, accompanied by much screaming and profanities. There was an absolutely enormous splash that made water rise about three or four stories into the air.

I thought, ‘No worries, the water will just go to the sides of the log and I’ll be safe and dry here.’ About 0.1 seconds later, I saw the water start to drop down towards us, and thought ‘Uh oh, maybe I should’ve worn more than two T-shirts for this ride*,’ and lamely tried to duck.

A further second later and the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean had just dropped itself upon us. Even worse, the downpour continued for several more seconds. Once all the water was down, we were absolutely soaked. I am convinced that we couldn’t have been any wetter even if we’d gone swimming with our clothes on. Suffice to say that we were in a state of shock at this point.

*See, I thought that wearing an additional T-shirt would be more than enough protection for this ride. As it happens, it merely meant that I got two T-shirts drenched instead of one

Somehow we staggered out of the log flume at the end of the ride and I pulled off one of the T-shirts, wandering around aimlessly. But the ordeal wasn’t over, oh no. When you exit the disembarkation part of the ride, you walk onto a little bridge that sits alongside the splash pool itself. Yes, you guessed it – while we were walking along the bridge, the next log came whizzing down and a tidal wave started soaring towards us. I remember seeing out of the corner of my eye and thinking, ‘Oh shit.’ Things ran in slow motion from that point on – I was desperately trying to run towards the relative safety of the hut from which we’d just come from, but it was too far away!

And thus we all got drenched. Again. Including the guys who’d had the foresight to wear a poncho – but who’d taken it off by that point…

Sophie thought this was all very hilarious while standing up at the observation deck and taking photos with my camera. The observation deck deserves some explanation. It’s a bridge that directly faces the directon of the splash pool and tidal wave from the ride. If you stand in the middle of the bridge while the log comes down, then you’ll get soaked by the water, and it’s great fun to see unsuspecting people get caught out (for the more clued up people, there are windowed sections on either side of the bridge).

Even more fun is playing chicken with the tidal wave, in which you get a group of people all waiting to see who’ll be the last to jump out of the way of the wave. I’m pleased and honoured to say that I won twice at the game of tidal wave chicken while (if I may say so myself) heroically flinging myself out of the way of the water, action-movie style, with the water nipping at my heels as I sail away.

Fun stuff.

Some choice photos: the aftermath (I’m on the back row at the left) and the splash.


You know the feeling well. You’ve been queuing up in a worryingly long line for a film or a talk for a while now, and while you’ve resigned yourself to getting a seat at the back behind a pillar, you’re still holding out hope that you’ll actually get inside. Just as you begin to near the door of the ticket booth or theatre, the queue halts. The people around you peer ahead inquisitively, and the support staff for the event mill around, darting inside and out.

Finally, ten minutes later, you get told that there’s no room left, we’re very sorry, now please would you go home. The fact that you are only one of a hundred (or more) people still left queuing doesn’t make you any happier.

This is probably a global phenomenon, but it certainly happens a lot in Cambridge. Many times I’ve asked myself why the support staff (mainly students) can’t just look in the theatre, then look outside, work out a cutoff point and then helpfully tell everyone beyond that that there won’t be enough space for them. Is it really that difficult to assess the number of empty seats relative to the number of people in the queue, when they are orders of magnitude apart, or are all the support staff completely incompetent and don’t have the guts to tell people to leave?

A few good men

Cheeks to the rescue – ever been in a desperately embarrassing situation where you wished you could just crawl into a hole? Imagine being a 13 year old and fluffing the words to the American national anthem on live TV, and in front of 20,000 people. Fortunately, NBA team coach Mo Cheeks came to the rescue, helping her with the words and singing with her to the end. We can never have enough stories like this (via MetaFilter, also see the video).


So it was a gorgeous day yesterday in Cambridge, sun shining, birds singing, etc etc, and after a game of badminton in the morning I went to do some reading on the Trinity College backs. I originally intended to take along An Instance of the Fingerpost which had been sitting around in my room looking quite malovent and foreboding, but has turned out to be quite a decent read, and a couple of papers, thus mixing pleasure and business. In reality, of course, I knew full well that I’d just end up reading the book, but what the hell.

Anyway, once I got to the backs, the book had mysteriously disappeared from my bag, so I had no choice but to read the papers. A bit disappointing, but then the weather was good and I had my iPod, so I couldn’t really complain. While there, I met up with my friends Alex and Kristina who told me about a visiting professor from MIT they met at a party the night before. This professor was set to give a lecture on Tuesday on some neural/computer science topic.

After a bit of talking about university admissions and girls, the two stable topics of discussion in Cambridge, we decided to go and get some coffee and as we were walking over the bridge, who did we see but the very professor concerned, who was a rather diminuitive Indian fellow. On our way to a cafe we made a detour to the computer room to go and drool at the new iMacs they had there. While demonstrating their Unique Selling Point of the moveable screen (clearly I should be employed by Apple) I managed to set off an anti-theft device that was attached to it. This didn’t faze me particularly since it wasn’t as if I was carrying the thing away (although the thought did cross my mind briefly) and since no-one turned up immediately, I decided to check my email while the alarm was ringing.

So after a while it got a bit annoying, and as we were making our way out from the computer room, I spotted a porter striding to the computer room on our right. Sensing a potential disaster, my survival skills went into overdrive and it was as if I had a heightened awareness of the universe – and most importantly, I spotted the MIT professor approaching obliviously on our left. We quickly made a detour to the professor and asked him if he wanted to come along for coffee. He assented happily (thus giving us much needed cover from the porter). As we were looking for a cafe, we showed him around the sights of Cambridge. Being late Sunday afternoon, there weren’t any decent cafes (i.e. non- Starbucks) actually still open, prompting the professor to proclaim:

“Why don’t we go for dinner instead? Tell you what, I want to take you out to the best restaurant in Cambridge. My treat!”

Of course, we were spellbound by this magical combination of words, ‘best restaurant’ and ‘my treat’. Naturally, we made vigorous protestations about paying for dinner, but he insisted that he had plenty of discretionary funds and it’d just be treated as a business expense. With our consciences thus cleared, we made our way to one of the best restaurants, had a wonderful meal talking about US and UK universities, neural computation, quantum computers, university admissions policies and girls. The professor was a very intelligent and talkative guy, and had a lot of interesting things to say.

Afterwards, we then had no choice but to adjourn ourselves to The Eagle pub; after all, the guy wanted a photo of him in the Watson and Crick’s famous watering hole. More fun discussion about evolutionary strategies of mating and the apparent deteriorating mental state of Watson ensued, and we finally departed with a promise to meet up to do some punting on Tuesday.

Only in Cambridge could this wonderful, serendipitous sequence of events occur…

(I guess it could happen in Oxford as well, but just not in such a nice way. I will probably have ample opportunity to find out though, since it appears I will be going to Oxford University for a PhD next year)