29 September 2009

Will the real Lucy please stand up

Julian Lennon came home from school one day with a drawing that inspired his father to write the song Lucy in the sky with diamonds, but there seems to be some confusion about which Lucy inspired the original drawing. BBC NEWS | Beatles song 'inspiration' dies:
The woman who was said to have inspired the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has died at the age of 46 of the immune system disease Lupus.

It was rumoured the song featured on the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was about the drug LSD.

But Lennon insisted it was inspired by a drawing by his son Julian of Lucy, a classmate while they were at a nursery in Weybridge, Surrey in 1966.

But then there's this Lucy Richardson (I) - Biography:
She was a few years older than Julian Lennon when he enrolled at the private Heath House School, in Weybridge, Surrey. However, because John Lennon and the other Beatles used to visit the Richardson family's antique and jewellery shop, she knew Julian. So when he became homesick and unsettled she would be called out of class to sit with him while he drew pictures. One of those pictures was of Lucy. One day John Lennon came into the shop and said, 'Hello, Lucy in the sky with diamonds', but they thought it was just John being John. However, when a song with that same name appeared on 1967's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, the family began to wonder.

How many more claimants are there? Will the real Lucy please stand up.

27 September 2009

Cummer gain?

Yesterday was the European Day of Languages, the 26 of September, and to commemorate it someone on the alt.usage.english newsgroup suggested that people try their hand at translating the following into understandable English:

All literacy across learning experiences and outcomes

People who want to teach literacy first need to be literate themselves, or is it just that Scotch dialect is outwith the remit of English speakers?

26 September 2009

One month to pumpkin day

One month from today Yahoo!'s magic Geocities coach will turn into a pumpkin, and many terabyes of information on the web will be lost forever.

It's about 10 years since Yahoo! took over Geocities, one of the first social networking sites on the Internet. After destroying the social networking aspect of it (which is was one of the things that gave it its initial appeal) they will be closing it forever on 26 October.

Millions of people have created web pages on Geocities. Some of what they have posted there is good, some bad, some mediocre, and some is irreplaceable. Even if the information is moved to new sites, billions of links to it will be broken.

Some of the sites that will disappear have information on genealogy and family history. I've listed a few of them here, and anyone who wants to add more links to the list may do so, so that people can find them in the short time remaining.

But that is only a fraction of the information that will be lost.

Three years ago some of us had a synchroblog (the very first synchroblog ever), and my contribution was a journal article I wrote and posted on Geocities. Even if the article is moved to a new location, all the links in those synchroblog posts will be broken.

One of the other victims of this kind of Yahoo! destruction was WebRing. To quote them

It was 15 years ago that Ashland, Oregon, high school student Sage Weil created the piece of script that could link different sites into one ring, into one Web Ring.

Not long after sharing the technology, Sage formed WebRing and witnessed a meteoric rise in popularity. So popular, in fact, that WebRing soon came to be owned by GeoCities.

WebRing too was a form of social networking on the Web, and Yahoo! bought it and destroyed it. Fortunately there was enough of the community spirit left that some people took it back and tried to revive it, and now they are offering to rescue Geocities sites by offering them an alternative hosting site, and an opportunity to try to rebuild the communities that Yahoo! shattered.

Well it's one way of saving the pages, and I hope they have the capacity to do so, but unless they take over the domain, there's little chance of saving the links.

I suspect that many of the people who lost interest in Geocities when the social networking and community aspect was destroyed have now established themselves in alternative places like Facebook, MySpace and Orkut, and won't be bothered to go back.

25 September 2009

A Christian Ramadan?

It seemss that a number of evangelical Christians have "rediscovered" fasting by observing the Muslim fast of Ramadan, Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?:
I find it interesting that these evangelicals are fasting not as a Christian discipline, but rather to show respect and solidarity with Islam. I have several Muslim friends. Were I to announce I would be participating in Ramadan with them, they would see it as the obvious gimmick that it is. Others seem to agree.

I noticed something similar back in the 1980s, when it became fashionable in some Christian circles to hold Christian Passover meals. I did so myself on a couple of occasions, when I was an Angl;ican, and even invited some Jewish friends to join us at one of them. It was in a small town where there was no Jewish community and the Jews who came were generally non-observant, and seemed to appreciate both the invitation and the meal itself, though perhaps they were too polite to say what they thought of the Christianised bits (If he had sent the prophets, but had not become man for us, we would have thought it enough; if he had become man for us and not performed miracles of healing, we would have thought it enough, etc). But my observant Jewish friends were rather horrified when I told them about it, and clearly saw it as the obvious gimmick that it was.

In some ways it was a useful educational exercise, to learn something of the Jewish roots of Christian worship. But it also became clear that it didn't fit.

In our Anglican parish we discussed when we should have it. Some said Maundy Thursday, on the assumption that the last supper was a passover meal. We did that one year, but it didn't feel right to eat meat in Holy Week. So the next time we did it, we did it on Easter Monday. And looking back on it, I can see that St John Chrysostom's criticisms of Judaising Christians were right on the money. The "Christian Passover meal" was a chimera.

And then this year, having just completed the Dormition Fast, I read various blogs where people were urging Christians to observe the fast of Ramadan. I suspect that most of them had never even heard of the Dormition Fast. Though they were Christians, they were more familiar with Muslim traditions than with Christian ones.

So I recommend the whole article Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?, and the comments are worth reading too. Another thing I discovered a couple of years ago was that some evangelicals were beginning to realise that there was quite a lot in the Bible about fasting, but they were suspicious of the practice because they associated it with asceticism, which they regarded as a Bad Thing. For such people I wrote Christian asceticism: Khanya.

There's also another interesting take on this at The Ochlophobist: ramadan and closet lesbian evangelical zionist dancers; usual ochlophobic topics...

24 September 2009

Outbound Links - An Endangered Species?

Is it true that people no longer link to blog posts that they quote from?

Problogger seems to think so, and writes about it in an excellent article I think that every blogger should read Outbound Links - An Endangered Species? [And Why I Still Link Up]:
Linking to your sources makes your content more useful to your readers.

Good content is useful content. I’m constantly talking about how to build a successful blog you need to be producing something that is useful in some way to those reading it. By linking to the page where you take a quote or idea you’re providing your readers with the opportunity to read more on the topic or see the quote in it’s original context.

Your reader may or may not click the link - but it does give them the opportunity to explore further or learn more.

I know that as a blog reader when I’m reading a quote that I find particularly interesting that I want to learn more about who said it. If there’s no easy way to do this I think have to go to the effort of researching myself. I actually find this annoying and it creates the impression to me that the author of the content is too lazy or stingy to go to the effort themselves.

Things I read on other blogs quite often spark off my own thoughts on a topic, and so usually I like to quote a key paragraph or two, as I've done here.

Why should we do this?

Apart from the reasons suggested by Problogger, I can add a few more.
  1. That is what blogging is basically all about. a blog is a web-log, a log of web sites you have visited and want to remember, so if you don't add links, you are failing in the most fundamental purpose of a blog.
  2. They are also links to sites you want to share with others. Yes, I know sites like del.icio.us and StumbleUpon do that too, but blogging gives you more scope to add your personal comments.
  3. I'm still sufficiently involved in the academic world to try to take the advice I'm always giving to students: Cite your sources!
And when people quote something from my blog or web sites and don't link, I get pretty annoyed.

I've written articles on various topics, some in blogs and some on ordinary web pages. One of the main reasons I put them on the web is that I'm hoping that other people who are interested in the topic will read them and respond, and give me some ideas. So if someone copies them to their site, with no link or acknowledgment, then if people read them there and respond to them, I won't know, so I regard that is theft. The person who puts that stuff there without a link is stealing the responses that I should have been able to read, and posting it without citing sources is plagiarism.

So I think Problogger's post is very important for all bloggers and webmasters to read, and a hat-tip to TallSkinnyKiwi for pointing me to it. It's a very important part of netiquette.

What do you think?

22 September 2009

Kimbanguist Church

Our parish priest, Father Athanasius Akunda, has just returned from a meeting of the All-Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), and reported that there has been a heated debate about whether the Kimbanguist Church can remain a member of the AACC.

The Kimbanguist Church is the largest religious body in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and has been a member of the AACC for several years. It has, however recently changed its theology, and is reported to be no longer trinitarian.

Father Athanasius told the meeting that the Orthodox Church participated in ecumenical bodies like the AACC on the understanding that, whatever the differences in theology or practive there might be among the member groups, they at least held a common faith in the Holy Trinity. If the Kimbanguist Church no longer believed in the Trinity, then it was no longer Christian, and ought not to remain a member of a Christian body like the AACC. Rather it should acknowledge that it was a different religion, and engage in dialogue with Christians through acknowledged interfaith dialogue.

I'm curious to know what changes have taken place in the Kimbanguist Church's theology, and why. I've asked about this in the African Independent Churches discussion forum, but so far there has been no response, so I thought I would appeal through a blog post to see if there is anyone who knows of recent developments in the theology of the Kimbanguist Church.

21 September 2009

Another reason for keeping the fasts of the Church

Fasting is supposed to be good for the soul, but according to Nouslife, it can benefit the environment too.

Nouslife: Eat more plants - environment will like it:
Every so often I post stuff like this and I'll continue to do so because the research keeps coming in and the arguments still stack up: if we're serious about our environmental footprints, then we should reduce or remove meat in our diet. This time it's from the New Scientist: 'Livestock are responsible for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse emissions, from the methane produced by their guts and manure, to nitrous oxide emissions from the fertilisers used to grow feed for them. Because it takes several kilograms of plant matter to grow a kilogram of meat, producing meat and animal products such as cheese usually greatly multiplies the environmental damage done by farming. The huge amounts of land required are driving the destruction of rainforests, for instance. Even small reductions in consumption, such as making Mondays meat-free, could make a big difference.'

I don't know about Mondays as well, but just the normal Wednesdays and Fridays might do -- keeping those meat and dairy free, as well as the fasting seasons, like the pre-Christmas and Lenten fasts. It could give a whole new meaning to Easter eggs.

Oh yes, and in the feasting seasons, when you do eat meat, try to avoid restaurants that advertise that their meat is "grain-fed". Grass-fed is healthier, both for you and the planet.

19 September 2009

Walking the talk -- or the plank

Did you know?

The Official site for International Talk Like A Pirate Day - September 19: "September 19th (every year) is International Talk Like A Pirate Day"

You may be able to talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

I offer that as a suggestion to the Somali Tourist Authority for their next promotion.

17 September 2009

Thank you for the music

I've had the TV wittering away in the background, waiting for some mention of the death of Mary Travers. Not a word. When Michael Jackson died there was no other news the whole day, and the same happened on the day of his funeral. I can't recall a single song by Michael Jackson, but I can think of many sung by Mary Travers. I suppose it must be the generation gap.

Mary Travers: the singer who used pop stardom for the greater good:
Mary Travers, who has died from the side effects of chemotherapy aged 72, was the essence of the freewheeling Greenwich Village bohemian — even if Peter, Paul And Mary's Puff The Magic Dragon may suggest otherwise. Singing protest songs with a strident glamour, a shock of blonde hair shaking to the sounds of righteousness as two bearded folkie types played guitar on either side of her, Travers was the ideal public face for New York's beatnik scene. Prettier than Bob Dylan, less hectoring than Joan Baez, she made the idea of sipping overpriced coffee in a downtown dive, while a guitar player sang songs of freedom seem like the greatest thing in the world.

16 September 2009

It's cool to be hip but not hip to be cool

A couple of days ago there was some discussion about the following article in some Usenet newsgroups. I was interested in it because of the use of the word "hipster". It seemed to be used with a meaning very different from the meaning I understood.

I'm interested in words and how they are used, partly because it used to be my job as an editor for several years, though it would probably be truer to say that I got into the job because of my interest in language and usage rather than the other way round.

Anyway, the article was The Daily Cardinal - Song causes local hipster to self-destruct:
MADISON, WI—Tens of twenties of Madison’s hippest are gathered in mourning this afternoon following the news of the tragic death of local hipster Charles “Wayne” Duchene, 22, who died a horrific and most likely cliche death late Monday evening at a Foo Fee Foe concert.

Duchene’s body was found in a puddle of his own PBR at approximately 11:15 p.m. Monday night at the entrance of The Dank Bank, an obscure venue located just off the Capitol Square.

Now this is a student publication and it's obviously satire, but they have to be satirising something. I had to ask about PBR, which I at first took to be one of those three-letter abbreviations for various medical conditions that hypochondiacs sprinkle their conversations with and expect the rest of us to understand. It transpired that it did not stand for something like Personal Bodily Refuse, but was an allusion to a local beer, though I gather many people who know the brew think there is little difference, but more of that later.

So what is a hipster?

As I understand it, a "hipster" was orginally a jazz fan, and especially a fan of "cool" jazz, a "hip" or "hep" cat.

In Beat Generation circles it was extended to mean someone who was hip to the lies of mainstream culture, and who disaffiliated from it and rejected its values, who did not get over excited over the things pimped by the advertising industry and so on, who was detached from all the frenzy about brands and fashion. That was the essence of "cool" in those days.

As Lawrence Lipton put it in his book "The holy barbarians" (Lipton 1959:150):
The New Poverty is the disaffiliate's answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: 'I'll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.' It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

So the hipster, or the beat, had a cool and detached attitude to the frenzy of the striving for success in mainstream society.

"Beatniks" were groupies or wannabes. The word was coined by a journalist by analogy with "sputnik" -- beatniks were those who were in orbit around the beat movement, but were not central to it.

By the late sixties "hipster" had got shortened to "hippie", and while the hippies were successors to the beats as a countercultural movement, they were a little less cool. To be "cool" suggested being detached, laid back, not excited by the constant changes of fashion and the striving for success. It was the role of a passive and cynical observer.

Hippies were more active, and more positive in trying not merely to disaffiliate from mainstream culture, but to try to create an alternative to it, an alternative culture and an alternative society.

But the impression I got from the article that sparked off this post is that the writer was using "hipster" in an entirely different sense, to mean something almost opposite from what it meant in the 1950s and 1950s.

I wondered how widespread that usage is -- can anyone explain the writer's usage, and do they share that understanding of the word today, and how did it get to mean almost the opposite of what it meant 50 years ago? "Cool" seems to have changed its meaning a lot in the last 50 years, so I wonder if "hipster" has likewise changed, so that it no means nearly the opposite of what it did back then.

I watch "Top Gear" on TV, and there they discuss what constitutes a "cool" car, and it is clear that their idea of "cool" is very different from mine. My 1961 Peugeot station wagon, with rusty door panels and empty cold-drink cans rolling around on the floor, bought cheap from an open air used car lot where a rickety wooden shack was the "office", bought on the "zero maintenance" plan, was my idea of a "cool" car, but I doubt very much if the "Top Gear" people are using "cool" in that sense.

Another thing that illustrates the change in the meaning of words like "cool" is Levis jeans. They were cool back then and they are regarded as cool now, for entirely different reasons, and for entirely different values of "cool". When I bought my first pair of Levis there was only one shop in Johannesburg that sold them, imported them from the USA. It was not advertised and nor were Levis. You learnt about it by word of mouth. It was also a decidedly unfashionable shop in a decidedly unfashionable part of town, Jeppestown, which seems to have escaped the gentrification that has transformed other run-down suburbs. Levis were the opposite of fashionable, tough working clothes that one bought a couple of sizes too big because they would shrink to fit. No one with any fashion sense would be seen dead in Levis. How have the mighty fallen!

But the guy whose death was described in the article in question sounded anything but "hip" to me, the very opposite of "hip", in fact. So I still wonder what the writer meant by "hipster", and whether other people understand "hipster" in the same way, and can explain what they mean by it.

To get back to PBR briefly, the Urban Dictionary defines it as:


abbreviation for pabst blue ribbon beer, which is simultaneously the best and worst beer ever brewed. it is typically on special at bars for twelve cents a pint. also doubles as a laxative.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a lot like the band Bright Eyes,
Hipsters love it, but everyone else thinks its liquid shit.

Hipsters again. It's got to mean something in Wisconsin that is different from what it means in the rest of the world... or does it?

Perhaps I should retreat into the past, to when I was a wannabe hipster, and a wannabe beatnik (and if a beatnik is a wannabe beat, then a wannabe beatink is a wannabe wannabe). My twenty-year-old self went to visit Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, whom I regarded as the authority on all things hip and cool (he lent me books by Jack Kerouac, and the Lipton book I quoted above, and many others besides). So I wrote in my diary for 23 June 1961

... later went to see Brother Roger. There he sat, outside the priory in jeans and sweatshirt, on the library steps, luxuriating in the sun studying Lipton's Holy Barbarians. Studying, yes, truly it is the text book, and he said that he had a book by Clellon Holmes, The horn, about a jazz man, and he says it in that zestful rapturous way of his, which makes me think he gets the utter limit of enjoyment out of everything he does. "It's wonderful," he says, "simply wonderful." And when he says it you know he really means it. He told me about what he is going to say at Modderpoort, and he isn't giving them Bloy this year, but Jean somebody. The Observer calls him the poet of evil, who has spent half his life in jail, and is something of a misanthropist and hates society, patron saint of the Beats. He gave me a play for the AYPA, by Charles Williams, called House of the octopus, and there was a boy there called Abel, a black boy studying for his matric, and says he is a cat and loves jazz, and Bach, and plays a clarinet which got broken. So I talked a bit to Abel and found he lives in Orlando where he goes to AYPA meetings and is staying at the priory during the vac to study. He is a nice cat, a hip spade cat.

The AYPA was the Anglican Young Peoples Association, a youth organisation with branches in various parishes. Modderpoort was the venue of the annual conference of the Anglican Students Federation, where Brother Roger was going to read his paper about the Jean somebody, who was actually Jean Genet (that was the first time I'd ever heard of him), and you can read his paper, Pilgrims of the Absolute, here.

Yes, I've written about this stuff before, sorry if anyone was bored, but I suppose those who have seen it all before wouldn't have got this far anyway.

13 September 2009

Entropy in the blogosphere

Why is it that websites that provide auxiliary services to blogs have a passion to tinker with their sites in such a way that what used to work no longer works, and adding a whole lot of useless stuff?

I'm not the only one to have noticed this. St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: What's going on with Technorati?:
Not that I notice these things, but in the past week my Technorati 'authority' (number of other sites linking here in the last 90 days) has dropped like a stone, and my ranking seems to vary by several hundred thousand depending on which way the wind is blowing at the time. Maybe they're all getting a bit overloaded. It looks like links from the sidebars of other blogs (like the ones down the right hand side here) aren't being counted any more.

Technorati is a prime example of people messing with something that previously worked well so that when they have fixed it it doesn't work at all. When I first joined I found it quite useful, but it has become more and more erratic.

If I'm blogging on a topic, I sometimes enter key words in Technorati to see what other people are saying about it, but now I find Google blog search is much more reliable for that. Technorati keep changing their user interface and moving stuff around so it is far more difficult to find. I used to be able to go to my home page on Technorati, see all my blogs, ping them if necessary, see who had linked to my blog posts, and see the top ten search keywords and the top ten post key words. That's how I learnt about Twitter, and discovered who Paris Hilton and Steven Furtick were.

But those have all been scattered and are no longer conveniently visible in one place. I suspect that the reason for that is that Techorati hope that you will go looking for them as in a labyrinth, going down numerous dead ends and having to work your way back, and so will be exposed to more advertisements and so they will make more money. That might work for a week, but after that most people will give up and stop visiting the site.

The home page was all over Technology Business Entertainment Lifestyle Politics Sports Gaming Celebrity. One of the reasons I never visited Digg was that most of my interests didn't fit into any of those categories, and when Technorati went down that route I lost interest.

After writing this I went to have a look at their home page (for the first time in about six months) and I see they've put back a little of what used to be there, but still not enough.

And I just did a test: I searched for "hippocracy", and none of my posts on that topic show up in Technorati, even though they have explicit Technorati tags. When I click on the tag in the post itself it takes me to the relevant tag page on Technorati, which tells me that "there are no posts related to this tag". And it also goes on to say

Welcome to the hippocracy tag page at Technorati. This page features content from the farthest reaches of the Blogosphere that authors have "tagged" with hippocracy.

Yet it can't even find the post that has the tag that I clicked on to reach the page -- so much for the "farthest reaches of the Blogosphere" claim. The fact is that it doesn't work. It's broken.

Even the Wordpress page on the topic appears to be broken (or hacked).

So Technorati is pretty useless.

Another site that seems to have similar problems is Amatomu. When it started, was a fairly good guide to the South African blogosphere, and also gave some interesting statistics about what posts on one's blog were being read most frequently.

By far the most popular post on this blog was Notes from underground: Books to read before you die. But then Amatomu revamped their software, and suddenly it appeared that no one was reading it at all. So either the Amatomu statistics were wildly wrong before, or they are wildly wrong now. I suspect that it is the "improvements" that broke it. One of my widgets tells me that Saint John, New Brunswick arrived on "Notes from underground: Books to read before you die" today, so people are still reading that post, and it is the Amatomu statistics that are as inaccurate as Technorati's.

After the bad news, some good news: Blog Explosion seems to be improving.

Like Technorati and Amatomu, Blog Explosion was started by enthusiastic people who lost interest in it and handed over the running of it to someone else who didn't really grasp the original vision. Because of entropy, without enthusiastic input, it gradually ran down. But in the case of Blog Explosion the users organised themselves, and complained, pressed and prodded until the people running Blog Explosion finally acted to arrest the decline, and began to get things working properly again.

They were able to do this because of the way works.

At one level it is a kind of Blog Directory, with blogs divided into various categories. You surf through blogs, which it is supposed to show you in random order, giving preference to a category that you choose. As you surf, you get points for each blog you see, and your blog is then shown to other surfers in proportion to the number of points you earn. So it is a good way of seeing new blogs, and getting new readers for your blog at the same time.

The problem was that because lack of maintenance and general neglect, it was shaowing the same blogs over and over, even if they hadn't been updated for months, also also was not showing blogs in the chosen categories, but in categories that were of no interest.

Blog Explosion users got fed up with this, so they blogged about it, and because of the way Blog Explosion works, other users saw these posts, commented on them, and blogged about it in turn. And eventually Blog Explosion users got sufficiently fired up to nag the owners of Blog Explosion to do something about it. So they removed some of the dead wood -- neglected blogs that weren't updated -- and did some general cleanups, which led to a great improvement.

One of the things about Blog Explosion is the more the merrier -- the more bloggers who participate, the greater the number of new blog posts there are to see, ones you might never have otherwise seen. So I encourage bloggers to participate in this.

There are still some improvements that could be made, but it's definitely better than it was a few months ago, unlike Technorati, where they keep changing the user interface and making the site more difficult to navigate while the underlying purpose and the functions it was supposed to provide are no longer there -- like finding blog posts tagged "hippocracy" (or anything else).

12 September 2009

Caster Semenya: a public theological response

Over the last couple of days the media worldwide have been full of speculation about athlete Caster Semenya's sex or gender or both, apparently triggered by the Australian media. Cobus van Wyngaard gives a theological response: Caster Semenya: a public theological response: my contemplations:
I cannot say that I’ve followed the Caster Semenya with the neccesary commitment to be able to give an informed opinion. As a Christian theologian, and as a human being, I can say that I experienced some discomfort when I read some of the newspaper articles, and the graphical way they were discussing the sexuality of a young teenage girl.

I can't say that I have thought about it much theologically, but I'm glad that Cobus has. I just think it's sad that a teenager should be subjected to having her genitalia discussed publicly in the media, and reports on gynecological tests being publicised in the media before she herself has seen them. It perhaps says something about the crassness of Australians, though the media in other countries have not been reluctant to retweet it.

It's also sad that there is a possibility that, depending on the actual results of the tests rather than media speculation, she may not be allowed to compete in the sports she loves in future. I hope that isn't the case.

10 September 2009

Smoke breaks

My wife was discussing labour law with a lawyer the other day, and he said that an employer would be entitled to deduct an employee's smoke breaks from their annual leave.

If you added it all up -- a ten minute smoke break in the morning, and another in the afternoon, that would probably take up most of their annual leave. And why not?

After all, drinkers don't take drink breaks, and crack heads don't take crack breaks, so why should smokers take smoke breaks? Or, if it is something they are entitled to, why don't non-smokers take fresh air breaks? Non-smokers often have to cover for smokers when they are out on their smoke breaks - answer their phone and so on.

08 September 2009

Recent reading: Kennedy's brain

Kennedy's Brain Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Henning Mankell is perhaps best known for his detective stories set in the south of Sweden, featuring detective Karl Wallander. This is also a detective novel of sorts, but the protagonist is not a professional detective, but a middle-aged archaeologist, Louise Cantor, whose expertise has hitherto been confined to solving riddles of the distant past.

I found the story very reminiscent of The Constant Gardener by John le Carre, in that it deals with murders linked to multinational pharmaceutical companies, and the action moves from Greece, to Sweden, to Spain to Australia to Mocambique and back again. Australia is the only country visited only once.

Mankell does a very good job of building up a sense of mystery, followed by a sense of menace, in the early chapters, but unfortunately the story tends to fall apart towards the end, on the second visit to Mocambique, which is why I give it only three stars, instead of four or five. I won't go into details, because I don't want to give away the plot to anyone who hasn't read it, and I do think it is worth reading, but I did find the last few chapters a little disappointing.

View all my reviews >>

04 September 2009

The past as it was: rare color photos of Czarist Russia

Most of us have, or at least have seen, photos taken about 100 years ago: ourgrandparents and great grandparents in stiff poses, the women wearing enormous Edwardian hats, the children looking like miniature adults. The photos are black and white or sepia, and it is hard to imagine that our ancestors lived in a colourful world.

Hat tip to Ad Orientem: Rare Color Photographs of Czarist Russia:
The Library of Congress has a display of photographs taken by the royal photographer of Czar St. Nicholas II online. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was given special funding and transportation by the Czar, including a private train, with the commission to create a photographic record of his vast empire.

But when we see them in colour, kids look like real kids:

Back in those days colour photographs were taken only by professionals, and were expensive. They were only used rarely, for book illustrations and things like that, because of the cost. A special camera was used, which took three negatives either simultaneously or in quick succession, through red, green and blue filters. These could then be projected on a screen through filters (rather like early video projectors, which had separate red, green and blue lenses), but were usually used for making colour plates for books.

It was only after the First World War that colour film became available for amateur use. At first there were many different processes. Some were additive (red+green+blue), like Dufaycolor (one can see a lot of them in 1930s National Geographic magazines). These had the filters built into the film -- OK for large format negatives, but the pattern of the filters was intrusive in 35mm film, rather like an enlarged 0.5 megapixel photo today. So subtractive processes, like Kodachrome and Kodacolor, were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, where the silver in the image was replaced by coloured dyes in the development process. The problem with this is that dyes fade, so a lot of old colour negatives and slides have faded and lost much of their original colour.

But Prokudin-Gorskii used a camara that made colour-separations with three negatives, using silver, not dyes, and, by using digital techniques, the colour is as fresh as the day the pictures were taken. And so we can see Edwardian (well, actually Nikolaivian) pictures showing what the people really looked like a century ago.

It's a fascinating collection, and you can see more here.

03 September 2009

Friendship as a marketable commodity

"Can't buy me love", the Beatles sang 45 years ago, but that doesn't stop people from trying to sell it to you.

uSocial - Buy Facebook Fans & Friends!:
Friends: people say they can't be bought, though in this day and age it's simply not the case. Our newest service will enable you to get more Facebook friends with ease by buying them in packages up to 5,000.

How we get you friends is simply by finding out exactly what industry, niche, or target market you are wanting to find people to target and then we go about attaining relevent friends for you and adding them to your Faceboook account. Every single person we gain for you will be real users and exactly relevant to what you are looking for -- this is our guarantee.

In a consumer society, why shouldn't love and friendship be a consumer item like anything else?

Perhaps we need to think more seriously about an alternative society.


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