Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Are you registered to vote?You can check here. If not, there's a form you can download to get on the electoral register at the same site. Please do. (Unless, of course, you are considering voting for Sinn Fein. If that is the case, please remember that this year, polling stations are disguised as trash compactors for security reasons).
Seriously, though, vote.
Infant CookeryA mother has been arrested on suspicion of microwaving her baby, Paris (not Hilton). BBC's usually-fun related stories bar has, not surprisingly, drawn a blank. Interestingly, it seems to have taken them a year to figure out that the baby was microwaved.
What an odd crime! Am I alone in expecting this sort of thing from people who call their children after celebrities called after hotels?
In other 'cooking with baby' news... (Man freezes baby).
And woman microwaves cat, Sasha. Note that the trial is presided over by a disembodied wig, as is the local custom. She said, by the way, that it was an accident. And she uses Prozac; I do hope they add 'cat microwaving' to the side-effects list. But wait! Microwaved cat woman avoids jail. (That's the actual article title, by the way).
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Fat StudiesFollowing women's studies and queer theory, it's... fat studies! Basically the pro fat people lobby. What intrigued me was the statement in the article that we never hear anything about Queen Anne because she was fat. Quite right! Nothing to do with her being rather dull, and living in an age of great political intrigue, it was all because she couldn't say no to the fourth cake. She should have been more like svelte society beauty Queen Victoria, if she wanted to be famous!
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Pink TrainingPink Training is USI's oddly-named LGBT get-together event. At 250-odd people a year, it's generally the largest USI-run event, and most people attending are normal students, not odd SU creatures. I've been every year for the past four years, since I was in first year. This year's was last week, in Dublin.
Now, the first year I went was in Galway. At the time, I'd only been in college for a couple of months, and wasn't really used to going out and so on. It was the first time I ever drank alcohol(!) and also the first time I kissed someone (someone from UCC; never saw him again). It was fun. The next time was in Cork. At that point, I was on the USI LGBT Working Group and somewhat involved in organising things. It was less fun, though I did meet a few quite interesting people (from Trinity, ironically). The third time was in Belfast. (I wrote about this here). I didn't have much fun; I was VERY busy, and I found the social aspect (in a large bar called 'Kremlin', mostly) a bit daunting.
So, how was Dublin? Well, I'm no longer on the Working Group, thank God. (I was sick of it, and have fundamental personality conflicts with some of the people on it, so didn't stand for re-election last time). Which meant that I didn't actually have any responsibilities! Which was great fun. I got to the hostel rather late from work, and was able to spend time just talking to friends and drinking. The whole weekend was quite fun and relaxed, though it was a shame it wasn't somewhere other than Dublin, and we didn't actually see that much of the other colleges socially; every other time I've been there was an ice-breaker event, usually a table quiz, so that people could get to know each other. Still, overall it went well.
Oh, I met someone from Galway who knew me from reading my blog entry about last year's Pink Training. How bizarre!
On the last day there was a special Standing Conference for the USI LGBT campaign. Now, I've been to these for the last four years, and that one was probably my last, or at best second last (I was one of four delegates for Trinity). I actually quite enjoy them, and they're the sort of thing I'll miss after college. I even got to use procedural motion 9(c) (If you don't know, you probably don't want to). What fun!
Actually, I'm feeling quite sad that, barring post-grad, I probably won't get to go to another of these affairs. I'm going to miss college. :(
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
Rob in French Website Vandalism ShockerAbout a year ago, I posted an image of a Peacemaker MIRV test here. Now, people started finding this rather large file using Google Image search, and hotlinking to it! Imagine!
The solution, of course, was obvious. The image has been replaced with this rather fetching caricature of Maggie Thatcher:
At time of writing, you can see the horrible results here (some random French forum website which used the original image as a background).
Tales of the InsaneThe Daily Mail and BBC both report on a case where a woman first takes a case in a Magistrates' court against a neighbour for playing football with his 5 year old son in a communal garden, and then, on losing that case, goes to the high court. Madness. According to said madwoman, "citizens of this country will be absolutely appalled". Well, yes, possibly, but probably not at quite the same thing she is.
It looks like a bit of the Americans' fixation on lawsuits as the answer to all problems may be crossing the ocean, finally. Oh, dear.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Which Parliament Building?A quick review of the various parliament buildings of the British Isles, more or less in order of my preference. Not enough effort is put into this sort of thing.
Irish Parliament Building (Now Bank of Ireland, College Green)
This housed the Irish Parliament for a few years, before it was dissolved in 1800. Lovely building. Sadly, now used as a bank... The House of Lords survived, but the House of Commons filled with tellers.
Northern Irish Assembly (Stormont)
Terribly impressive. Of course, due to the current situation in Northern Ireland, not used all that much. Built in 1920; it really looks older.
Palace of Westminster
The British Parliament building. Impressive, but a bit all over the place. The oldest one in this line-up.
Leinster House (Irish Dail building)
Leinster House, the current seat of the Irish government. Really not at all as nice as the afore-mentioned College Green building. Originally intended as a temporary home for the government, but became permanent due to lack of any better option. The old Parliament building was considered insecure, and ideologically unacceptable.
Isle of Man parliament building. Small, but that probably makes sense.
The Scottish Parliament building. Newly built, and alarmingly expensive. And bloody hideous.
The Welsh Assembly building. Looks a bit like Stansted Airport, quite frankly.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Commuters of Ill ReputeSeen in Pearse Station men's toilet today:
(Name and phone number changed to protect the, well, not innocent. Euro sign was used, but I know damn well that attempting to blog using funny symbols will lead to mixed results)
First, how did this come to be in the men's toilet? Does she sneak in when no-one's looking? Or possibly she gets a friend to do it. It's also probably the most terse ad for a prostitute I've ever seen. And after 5pm; is she moonlighting?
Friday, November 17, 2006
Irony in Web DesignDamien points out this abomination in the eye of God. It's a site promoting an international web design competition. Whoever put it together hasn't mastered the gentle art of the apostrophe, and seems to have issues with colours. It's one of the ugliest new websites I've seen in a while, which is ironic seeing as it's meant to be pushing a (paid inclusion; goodness, how popular those have gotten!) design award.
Initially, I was dubious as to whether it was official. The site announcement is rather ambiguously worded. Seems to be legit, though.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
URL odditiesI wonder have you noticed the process of URL inflation that goes on with older sites? Cascading layers of directories, thousands of parameters, mysterious, pointless :80s inserted after the domain, needless domain changes, a sea of ten thousand redirects, of all types. Amazon is a particularly blatant offender.
So, anyway, 'http://www.opera.com/download/get.pl?id=28379&thanks=true&sub=true'. Fairly simple, as mad URLs go, but what is this 'thanks=true' thing? I tried changing it to false, but it still brings you to the same 'Thanks for downloading' page. Hmm. A mystery, I suppose. Wasting valuable bytes.
Monday, November 13, 2006
NewsTrends - See the pastGoogle's new archive feature allows you to search news from 1900 onwards.
I just put together this site, which tries to see how much media interest there was in particular subjects by finding how many results there were in a set of time segments compared to how many total results. Lots of pretty graphs like this one (for 'blog'):
I'm looking for suggestions for more graphs to draw. If you've got any, please leave them in the comments here! There's an RSS feed, so if you subscribe you'll see whenever I add new things.
The site's pretty ugly right now; I hope to deal with that shortly.
Digg it here.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Slow Websites Considered HarmfulApparently, online shoppers are willing to wait about four seconds for a page to load before getting annoyed and leaving. Now, mind you, the report is by Akamai, whose business is caching, but still, I doubt it's far wrong. People may be willing to put up with Amazon's incredible, horrifying slowness, but that's probably because they're used to it and know that the site itself is good.
So why are sites taking four seconds to load in this day and age anyway? Well, part of the problem may be overuse of server side scripting. It's popular these days to have every website as a database-driven, dynamic site, even sites with largely static content where this isn't clearly useful. Content Management Systems are very popular, and most of them are painfully slow, storing everything in a database and often written in a volatile scripting language like PHP or classic ASP. Akamai's system will help with those, of course, as will simpler Apache-based caching, but really, you may want to look at whether you should be using them in the first place.
Among the most pervasive misuses of server side scripting is the use of things like ASP and PHP as a sort of template language. Pages use them simply so that a header or footer can be changed at once across a site. What convenience! But at what cost? I admit to having done this myself in the past, but it really isn't a great idea. A better solution is what I'm doing for this site, which I intent to hold article-type things unsuited to the blog format. Very simple, really; I edit files containing page content on my local machine, then run a simple templating script against them using a Cheetah (Python templating engine) template. Then I can upload them. Quick, simple, and saves a lot of PHP processing on the server side.
A Credit to the InternetEver wonder how people manage to get into so very much credit card debt? We're always hearing of people earning 20,000 a year having 70,000 credit card debt and so on. This board would appear to shoulder a lot of the blame. I can't help feeling that the world would be a better place if the whole thing was replaced with this Spitting Image sketch...
PoliticsInIreland Improvements - Or, Damien tries to drive me mad :)Damien Mulley, whose idea politicsinireland (a site I write the software for and host) was, is having a competition to think of new features for it in the run-up to the election. Hmm...
One reply already, with lots of ideas.
Also coming soon is a search feature.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Google Censor(beta) - Maybe notDamien's article on naughty PR outfit Thinkhouse PR is restored to its former postition, after having vanished out of Google's index for a couple of weeks. Hmm.... I wonder what happened there?
Evolution in ActionA 22 year old suffers burns while attempting to launch a firework from his arse.
Monday, November 6, 2006
Double Standards - Bhopal and ChernobylIn the mid 1980s, there were two great industrial disasters. Both occurred in less-well-off industrialising nations, both affected hundreds of thousands of people. Both were caused by a combination of human error, poor design, poor regulation, and bad luck. One has become internationally infamous, the other is now quite obscure.
The first disaster killed 3,800 people outright. At least 15,000 more died shortly afterwards, and up to 650,000 were adversely affected. The area is still contaminated, and still inhabited. Victims and victims' relatives eventually gained some compensation. Hundreds of facilities similar to that which caused the accident are still operating today, and the accident wasn't at all as bad as it could have been. The world, by and large, paid little enough attention.
The second disaster killed 56 people outright. Estimates of total related deaths range from 4,000 to 100,000 (the UN estimates 9,000), ranging over the next few decades. The area is contaminated, and has been evacuated, displacing 400,000 people. There were effects, probably minor effects, from the accident thousands of miles away. There are about 10 similar facilities still in operation; most are due to close within the decade. The world took a lot of notice, and to this day the accident terrifies people.
So, they look like disasters of similar magnitude, right? If any, the first is more worrying. What were they? The first was in Bhopal, India, where a Union Carbide pesticide plant released 40 tonnes of lethal gas. The second, of course, was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine.
Why, then, is Chernobyl, a disaster caused by poor handling of an obsolete and inherently defective nuclear reactor, the big scare story? Every time anyone proposes a nuclear plant, people go on about 'another Chernobyl'. No-one mentions 'another Bhopal' when a chemical plant is built, and modern chemical plants are far more similar to Bhopal than modern nuclear plants are to Chernobyl. Few worry about planes crashing into chemical plants, even though they're far less likely to survive than a reactor with containment building.
Well, one reason is likely that the Chernobyl victims were white Europeans. It is sad, but true, that a disaster is taken far more seriously by the media if it happens in the US or Europe than if it happens in Africa or Asia. But a lot of it is because people are just scared of radiation, and don't really know what it is. The same thing is seen with waste; how many times have you heard of nuclear waste disasters? Outside the US, there haven't been any, and the ones in the US were tiny. Now chemical waste disasters are a different matter; in many areas, water supply contamination is common, for example.
Finally, irradiation plants. Food, medical instruments, and some minerals are routinely irradiated in many countries. This is TERRIBLY controversial; no-one really wants the plants near them. And yet, in the last few decades, there have been about ten fatal accidents, mostly in the US and China. Nearly all of these accidents involve employees entering the irradiation chamber to clear a blockage, in clear violation of all the warnings. So not exactly unexpected deaths, then. Try climbing into a machine in an abattoir and see what happens. (There are, of course, legitimate concerns about irradiation; it has been used as an excuse to reduce hygiene standards in other food processing steps.)
We really no longer have the luxury of being irrationally scared of nuclear energy. If we can stand to build a pesticide plant, we should certainly be able to deal with a safe, modern reactor.
Bhopal DisasterIn 1984, an accident at a Union Carbide plant in India killed 20,000 people. It was arguably as bad or worse as the Chernobyl explosion. I'm amazed I've never heard of this before.
The US DOE overstates its case, perhapsSee the entry for the Shippingport nuclear reactor for 1957. It was the US's first commercial nuclear reactor; there was already one in the USSR, and Calder Hall 1-3 were in operation in what is now Sellafield, in the UK.
Quote from the article: "The Dusquesne Light Company worked in partnership with the Federal Government to build the world's first large scale commercial nuclear power plant. The reactors were designed by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in cooperation with the Division of Naval Reactors of the Atomic Energy Commission. By the standards of the day, it seemed to belong to a different era."
Now, each Calder Hall reactor had an output of 50MWe; the Shippingport reactor had an output of 60MWe. That would surely make Calder Hall the largest? And the claims of it belonging to a different era are dubious. The MAGNOX design used in Calder Hall was current until the 60s, and there are 500MWe MAGNOX reactors; the Shippingport design, by comparison, was a one-off naval reactor, intended for a cancelled aircraft carrier. Calder Hall 1 was shut down in 2003; Shippingport's reactor was replaced in the 70s.
Finally, the photograph is linked with the text: "The Federation of American Scientists displays a photograph worth a look, especially by readers who might wonder if this description is too grandiose." Which is fine, except that the site shown also contains Beaver Valley nuclear facility; that's what the giant cooling towers are for. Shippingport is that smallish low building.
Not really sure why they've done this. Certainly Shippingport was an achievement; if nothing else it was the first nuclear power plant the US government was able to convince its private nuclear industry to build. But an amazing best-of-breed revolution it was not.
N1 Moon RocketHere's a Soviet N1 rocket launching. Sadly, it cuts out before the explosion. I hadn't realised such footage had ever been released. Here's another.
Also, here's a Proton rocket from the Zond programme. Unusually, it carried a modified unmanned Soyuz vehicle (containing turtles, bizarrely), which circled the moon and then returned.
Here's an Energia, with shuttle. Unsurprisingly, there's no video of the still rather mysterious Polyus military launch. The Energia was the heaviest payload rocket ever built. Interestingly, there are produce a modern version.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Saturday, November 4, 2006
Argh! Blair!Look what someone bought through one of my findmeatune.com Amazon affiliate links! It appears to be the evil version of Robin Cook's wonderful Point of Departure. I have, however indirectly, helped to line the pockets of Tony Blair. I feel vaguely dirty.
This man is deliberately being CLEVER on the radio!Remember, the BBC isn't biased.
Polls revealed religion as a striking predictor of voting behaviour - the more often a voter attended church, the more likely they were to vote for President Bush, by a wide margin.
That is not a good thing in a nation where more than 90% believe in God.
Well, I personally agree with this, but I really think it would have to be considered bias by any definition.
Bonus nausea-induction from the article:
Harold Ford Jnr, a young black Democrat in Tennessee, is drawing on his Christian faith - even recording a TV ad in a church.
Bathed in light filtered through stained glass windows while an unseen choir hums softly in the background, he intones: "I'm Harold Ford Jnr and here I learned the difference between right and wrong."
I mean, really. Any right-thinking person would vomit on the ballot form.
(The title, by the way, is from a sketch in Saturday Night Fry where a lecturer in business at Low-Brow University prepares a report on BBC liberal bias for the Adam-Hitler Institute).
Advertising Advice?Another website-y post; those who find this sort of thing tedious may wish to look away. (I can never really figure out why anyone does read this thing; it really is a tremendous heap of pointlessness.)
My reverse lyrics search thing currently has Google Adsense ads and Amazon Affiliate links. The Adsense ads make in the region of $400-$500 a month, while the Amazon things make about $100 a month, sometimes less. I'm happy enough with both, but I was wondering about using some traditional banner advertising. So, does anyone know of a decent supplier who's likely to accept me? Burst Media (like Yahoo, they would prefer me to spell that with an exclamation mark) and TribalFusion have both rejected. I'm not entirely sure why; you see their stuff on all manner of dreadful websites.
Server Move ReduxIn response to a question on the old post...
Well, so far it has gone quite well, really. No complaints. The new server is able to run Linux 2.6.x without doing strange things, which is nice, as it allows me to replace CMUCL with SBCL (SBCL does Unicode). Interesting incident today; I was transferring a rather large database, and I got an automated email complaining that I was transferring more than 300mb an hour. Now, I know I'm on the super-cheap package, but doing this sort of thing on a per HOUR basis seems a bit mad. Still, it's not something that's likely to come up much...
There are a few random domains like screensavers.de still pointed at the machine. Hmm.
What were Hosting365 like to deal with? To be honest, I never really did deal with them that much; they rented me a server, that was the extent of it.
Also, this, but that was entirely through my own stupidity. And politicsinireland briefly wasn't updating, as I forgot a cron job.