All entries for September 2004

September 29, 2004

Something Special

Writing about the 3th day in warwick from Ning's blog

Today was nothing special?

How can one say that? That something was not special? Even if a thing had no interesting characteristics about it, it would be deemed special because it turns out to be one of those rare things that is completely uninteresting.

But that is a moot point, because today is something special. Let's make a list. (This is really getting worrying now. I am making way too many lists. I need help. Please help me. Bleh. (What on earth does bleh mean? (Oh dear… I am also putting brackets inside brackets. This must be a bad thing.)))

  1. You exist today. Consider the length of the universal time – the universe has existed for over 12 Billion years, and will continue to exist perhaps indefinitely. The subset of days in which you exist is infinitessimal in porportion. And if humanity turns out to be the only conscious lifeform, then the significance becomes gargantuan.
  2. 153 thousand people died today. Ok, this figure is probably not very accurate, but consider the enormity of it. On newspapers, we see alot made of incidents like 9/11 in which a few thousand die. But the hidden figure is vast. This amounts to a huge untelevised global catastrophy almost all the time. The birth rate too, is similar. Does talk of daily specialness truly hold any significance next to it?
  3. Today is Michaelmas. Hurrah for unknown Christian festivals.
  4. Spaceship One launched successfully today, completing one half of the X-Prize. This may revolutionise public accessible space travel. This day may well be remembered…

Ok, I'm bored of this. The point is, specialness is there if you are willing to look for it. Doesn't that make you warm and fuzzy?

Now, for assorted news.

Student union elections due within a few days. I talked to some of my fellow freshers about it. Result? Zilch. No one had heard of anyone standing as councillor. Few had even heard that you can vote. In fact, barely anyone knows that the Student Union is in fact democratic. So what happens if less than the requisite number of people sign up as candidates? Dubya may well be taking notes.

I found out there are actually fiction books in the library. Wow! Not a big collection though, and most seem pretty well hidden. Does anyone else have any pointers?

Today's Link

Ever felt a little too happy? Here's the cure.


September 27, 2004

Alone in the Dark

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Outside the Student Union, a serpent of irritated freshers snakes this way and that, creeping as a line of darkness, croaking complaints, straining miserably to hear the music. Elsewhere, in the heart of the dark, a keyboard rattles within emptiness contained.

Or not quite. Right now, I am in the Learning Grid, apparently accompanied by two others. The man on my right plays minesweeper, and tries to check his email. On my left, another student does something unintelligible. (They appear to have been paid, and so they don't count.)

The point is, I feel I am now in some priviledged position where I can answer some questions. Especially why the Learning Grid is currently (almost) empty.

A: It's called the Learning Grid.

Have we not learnt any lessons? Where do you send your kids when they prevent your lovemaking? A school. What department of the government deals with schools? The Education Department. Any hints?

People are scared of the word learning. This is a fundamental fear, placed at an early age. The fear is something like this: That you might learn something. Think evolutionarily - adaptation is due to mutations, which is connected to cancer and so on. This builds up pathways in the brain - learning = death.

Now it would be rather harmless if it was coupled with some other word, like Centre. But Grid... now that is another matter. The Grid, if we all remember was a rather exciting thriller about terrorism. The National Grid is Britain's power distribution system, which if it fails, will kill just about everybody. Grids are the nemesis of geeks, which is the Learning Grid's primary audience. (outside of the desperate) So, what subconscious image is triggered by the Learning Grid?

B: It's dark.

Are you afraid of the dark? I'm not, but since I seem to be somewhere around the antipode of averageness, this suggests that most people are. Yet the Learning Grid is situated in the darkest part of the school. There are lights, certainly, but they are kept off. And there are hedges aplenty – enough places for any terrorist to hide.

C: It's underadvertised.

Go around school. Count the number of Warwick Blogs ads there are. Now look for Learning Grid ads. The following is a real conversation:

ME: What is that building over there?
SOMEONE: Isn't there a sign?
M: Ah yes… it's called University House.
S: So there you go.
M: What?
S: Its where the University is housed. It's an admin place.
M: There seems to be alot of computers around in there.
S: Well, there is alot of students. So clearly they need alot of people, on alot of consoles.
M: I… see…
S: Come on! Big Banana is on!

The Learning Grid needs to be advertised in a much more aggressive way. How about this…

Ah hell, I'm not paid enough to have good ideas.

In fact, I'm not paid at all.


September 25, 2004

I have arrived!

Finally, I am here. In Warwick. Yes, you are now no longer safe. Of course, the impact of my prescence will be diluted somewhat by the hundreds (thousands?) of other eager, eeriely happy freshers appearing today... but surely, only the least sensitive would be incapable of feeling the rapture that runs through everyday existence.

Pretension aside, today wasn't all that bad. I didn't have too much last minute packing to do. (Only the alarm clock that struggled in vain to wake me…) Everything worked more or less to plan. Was late for the big show at Butterworth Hall – but it would probably be the same motivational stuff you hear time and again. Everything neatly unpacked, and nothing has been stolen, yet.

(Budding burglars may note that there is currently nothing worth stealing in there, and thus are encouraged to wait until I acquire a computer, or some other valuable item. The guy in room 014 seems to have much more worthwhile stuff. Go get.)

In any case, with a bit of running around, everything was more or less done. University card, keys, dinner card, medical centre. Tick, tick, tick. The random walk which I took allowed me, totally intentionally, to view a good part of the campus. Sport and music still intimidate me, so I didn't spend too much time in the Student Union. Arrived too late for a meningitus jab, so hurrah, hurrah, hurrah.

So, er… now what?

Seriously. I don't know what to do. Hide, perhaps. Plot destruction. Maybe. Is there something important that I have forgotten?

That, dear readers, is your responsibility to tell me.

Or evil monkeys will get you.

For the stalkers among you…

I'm living in room (censored) at (censored) Hall in the Westwood Halls of Residence. (That narrows it down a little…) Feel free to visit me now and then. But knock, please, don't just smash in the windows. At least give me an opportunity to arm myself.

NB: Author does not endorse any of the links. If you get caught, don't blame me.


September 24, 2004

I've done it!

I've finally done the last question in the harder questions section of the Maths Welcome pack. The answer is below:

Makes no sense? Ask.


September 22, 2004

Is it me, or is UKIP one big sham?

Staying at home is a long drawl of boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme terror when you remember dimly that you have forgotten something . To salve such feelings, you would watch day time TV, and hear the quiet mutter of popping noises as brain cells shoot each other in the, erm… brain.

However, for the past couple of days, something faintly interesting is on. The Liberal Democrat party conference. The BBC is showing considerable neutrality by combining broadcasting of the conference with talking to various people, mostly opponents.

Of course, such a collection of pundits includes the occasional idiot.

Or, more accurately, the occasional representative of UKIP . Naturally, he started by accusing the Lib Dems of being EU barmy, and ended on pretty much the same tune. Of course, this is a perfectly acceptable position – I'm pretty doubtful as to the effectiveness of too much integration myself, with the corresponding hit on flexibility and so on. But his arguments were too far.

By the time he said the Lib Dems 'wanted delegate our immigration policy to Brussels', I was laughing. Ok, I was laughing about politics. That doesn't bode well for sanity. But this guy really does not know what he is talking about.

Let's leave aside the human rights issue for a moment, and adopt briefly the right-wing view. Ie. the view that immigration is an evil, evil problem. Pretty obviously then, immigration would be an international problem. In fact, Mr UKIP decides to say that, commenting on how France is supposed passing on 'bogus asylum seekers' to good old Britain.

But wait! How on Earth does he think getting away from Europe is going to help that? Minus Europe, the individual European states would have no incentive but to act on their self interest. In that case, passing on to us would be precisely what would be done, and there would be no way to cope in a fair and effective manner. The only hope of dealing with the Immigration issue is to have a pan-European policy, to co-ordinate who gets how many refugees and stop people before they risk their lives in a cargo freighter.

And then I thought about the whole issue of the election.

UKIP's whole point, their whole raison d'etre is to pull out of Europe. This is an insane idea economically – the state of the world is that countries are intimately linked, and our trade situation is that losing the benefits of EU membership would lead to financial collapse, unless this is replaced.

And as luck would have it, UKIP have in a plan. In a party broadcast last year, they said that they would shore up the UK economy by closer links with America.

An interesting concept of independence, this, to choose to opt out of a group in which we have a deciding vote in, in favour of greater reliance on a superpower that has no interest in our opinion, and has a history of acting against us, and indeed against the world, for selfish, isolationist purposes.

Wonder if they are really publicising that particular policy…


September 18, 2004

That Poor Bunny!

Writing about web page http://www.krohm.net/bernd.htm


Is there anything cuter than a bunny rabbit? All that nice furry coat, the doeful, sad, big eyes. Those little paws. The enigmatic expression in their faces. Even the ears demand stroking. Aww…. don't you just want to give them hugs?

Rabbits are also edible .

Imagine my horror when I read this Guardian article today. Apparently, there is a guy in Europe, who is holding a cute little rabbit called Bernd for ransom. The price, one million Euros!

Just pause for a moment to reflect on this situation. This webmaster, who calls himself Chris Krohm (It seems a little naive of him to give his real name, no?) had found Bernd next to a bottle bank. Now, instead of doing what normal people would do (Give it away, Love it, Let Nature Take Its Course ) decide to threaten it with death on the dinner plate unless people send in an insanely generous amount by the end of the year. If he does raise this amount, Bernd would, he promises, live out a life of luxury. If not, he will be cooked. Krohm has already raised 30,000 Euros.

Genius, isn't it?

I mean er… think of the sheer nastiness of it. Cute little bunny meets horrible death. Its enough to make you gag. And if people do pay up, what then? It would set up a precedent for more of this sort of thing, endangering the lives of so many more cute, furry animals. This is the stance of the RSPCA - don't pay up. It looks like poor Bernd is doomed.

And yet, Krohm is not breaking any law. (As far as I am aware!) While kidnapping is an offense, kid does not mean kid in the young goat definition. Rabbits, too, get eaten all the time, and it would be impossible to regislate against Krohm's acts. For all the blatant indecency of his proposal, the authorities are powerless to act as they normally would.

Of course, if anyone pays off my debts (10,000), I'll be happy to organise a commando raid of some sort to rescue Bernd from his captor. But Krohm can easily find another hostage ...

So what do you think? What should be done?


September 16, 2004

Examinations must be Revised

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Why are we all interested in talking about this, all of a sudden? Let's see if I can get something deep out of this…

My style of learning is that I go to all the lessons, and listen, and learn stuff. I try to understand the meaning behind what is said, look back at it now and then to see if I can derive the ideas myself, realise I can't, jam my nose into a thick textbook and do exercises until I think I understand it.

And then I do something else. Like watch TV.

Apparently, this is all wrong.

But isn't there some sort of philosophical advantage to this method of learning – I mean, you are learning by doing, and if you manage to retain what you learnt at the start of the year, you can be pretty sure of remembering it for the rest of your life. Maybe. And if you forget, surely you are better of relearning from the start, than doing something scratchy and temporary like revision. Except for facts, which tend to be irrational and eminently strange, I barely ever revise.

What I most hate are graphs like this:

Supposedly, this shows the value of constantly going back over stuff. The blue bit shows how much you know, and the commentary talks about how by d-day (dashed line day) the crazed fool who constantly revises knows much more by the guy who doesn't.

Which is plain garbage.

First, where did they get the data for this graph? Have you ever see something about humans look so neat, so smooth? How can they keep factors consistent between the two groups? Obviously, it is made up on the spot.

And it is obviously over-simplified. Reality is that there is not just one graph per individual – there are dozen, because the student is required to retain multiple facts and methods at the same time. Do they consider how these things interfere? Do they consider how learning additional facts can help cement knowledge of fundamentals, or how spending too much effort on one thing can weaken memory of something else? Of course not.

And finally, the argument is philosophically absurd. Notice how the graph is neatly truncated at the right end. What if you extend it, to a more appropiate timescale of say, a decade? Wham. Mr Blue drops to zero, just like his companion Mr Red. And Mr Red probably enjoyed his education much more.

But its not the graph which is at fault – its the exams. Too much of education is focused on the exams, which are as can be clearly seen, a poor indicator of retention. The existence of revision itself is proof that exam papers are glorified mulch.

Proposals?

How about basing academic qualificiations on teacher assessment alone? This will also remove stuff about exam seasonal stress, and the usual tabloid ho-ha. To balance out differences in teachers, or potential biases, introduce a system of swapping teachers for the assessment month.

All against, or for, raise your hands.

Site of the day is:

Ripple tank simulator

I spent two hours playing on this.


September 14, 2004

2 Down, 12498 Needles Left to Go…

Let's make this into a song

12500 needles in the box, 12500 needles,
Take one out and put in it,
12499 needles in the box.

(ad nauseam )

Now sing! Sing! Now you have some idea as to the utter drudgery of my current summer job. To put it simply, my task to prepare a needle-punch board for some mysterious and no doubt illegal textiles technology machine. (Actually, it's probably patented, or a company secret, or something, so forgive me for my lack of details.) In any case, the manufacturers who make them produce them separately. First, a board containing drilled holes. The board is made of two layers – 1 aluminium, and 1 plastic. The holes in the plastic layer are slightly smaller than the holes in the metal. Then, we have a crate full of needles. These needles, which are bent over at their ends, are designed to be pushed into the holes from the aluminium side, and gripped by the plastic.

Obvious computer work, isn't it? Not quite. The problem is that the myriad of holes in the board are drilled randomly. And because the bent over part of each needle is actually pretty big, some skill is required to fit the maximum number of needles into the board.

So I wonder, is there a good tactic for this?

The best I can find is pretty simple. Start with the outside edge, and put those needles in, with the sticky out bent over bit facing outside. Then work inwards, always making the portrusion on the outside. The advantage too with this way is that since you are spiralling inwards, the rate at which you go inwards is an exponential function. Thuse, you balance out your growing intolerance of existence with a great apparent rate of progress.

If anyone has a better idea, feel free to tell me.

But the real draw of this job (Other than the cash!) is the possibility of accidents. Needles are cool to strange, terrible people like me. Handling a board covered with tens of thousands of needles is cool. It reminds me of the first world war, where sometimes instead of bombs, pilots dropped flechettes from planes onto trenches, to literally pin troops down. Now, if only I can…

Site of the day:

Irony Central

Ok, I linked to this yesterday… but I think most of you missed it. Go and read! Its supposedly for 18+... so those of certain sensibilities should stay away.

No, it does not contain porn.

So, profound question of the day:

When is morality no reason not to have a workplace accident?


Justification of My Existence? Doubtful.

Come on now! If you are a nerd, with time spare, how can you not jump into any thing just because its new? I mean, its free! That's better than 3 for 2, better than BOGOF, better than…

So, intros:

Me = Zhou Fang, fresher at Maths, living in Westwood. (presumeably, assuming the system hasn't cocked up.) I represent the apogee of humanity. I am also dishonest. My idea of a good night out is a good night in, and occassionally, I talk to myself. But really, we are fine. To pronounce my name, open your mouth, think of the most unlikely and unusual way it can be pronounced, and then make noise. Seriously, I don't care, so long as I know someone is trying to talk to me.

Yes, I am ethnically chinese. Yes, I can speak Mandarin. No, Mandarin is in no way aurally similar to Cantonese or Japanese. Yes, I will be tempted to hurt you if you ask me to speak Mandarin. Unless you pay.

Maybe I'll upload a picture for those studying Stalking and Harassing. (BSc) It depends how stupid I am persuaded to be.

Web site of the day?

Propaganda Remix Project

Slow to load, but you get brilliant stuff like:

Other stuff:

My web presence… If some of you are practiced surfers, you may have encountered me in other places… Do you frequent any of the following?

www.physicsforums.com
www.philosophyforums.com
blogs.guardian.co.uk
www.ironycentral.com
www.wikipedia.org
www.bbc.co.uk/dna/getwriting
www.bridgetothestars.net
rec.art.int-fiction
rec.games.roguelike.angband

With regards to the title of my blog, this page is the portal to a very secret stash of Saddam's WMDs. Can you find the very well hidden link? 10 if you can…


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