Pete Doherty (1979—)

It’s only a matter of time before we see Pete Doherty’s obituary. (For some bizarre reason, I woke up yesterday with the premonition that the Queen had died, but if she had, it wasn’t considered newsworthy.) I suppose that’s the case with all of us, but it seems that he’s in self-destruct mode. Here’s a guide to his 27 years on the planet.

On 8 February, he was convicted for possessing class A drugs, receiving a twelve month community order. Yesterday (less than three weeks later), he was arrested again, this time on suspicion of stealing a car and possessing class A drugs. He almost warrants his own item in the BBC’s left-hand navigation.

While I don’t doubt his talent, his news appeal is waning, for me at least.

As an aside, one thing that is lacking on the BBC’s magnificent offering is an obituaries section.

Cell phones slow at low temperatures

I played football tonight, in quite chilly conditions. Although the weather shows 19°F (-7°C), tonight’s weather warning indicates that an Arctic airmass has hit (which we certainly felt), with windchill temperatures hitting -2°F (-19°C).

I left home in good time, but was late due to battling against the winds coming down the West Side Highway. At times, I was almost stationary, although I got home in record time, with a healthy tailwind.

During the match, I left my cell phone in a bag on the sideline. Afterwards, I checked it for messages, and the user interface was severely slow, each screen taking about a second to display. It was a bit like the old orange PC screens used to be, with the previous screen taking a little while to disappear. Obviously Nokias don’t like the cold. It’s now back to its usual speed, safe in the warmth of our apartment.

Putative

Generally regarded as such; supposed. E.g. the child’s putative father.

Google vs. government

I’ve only just got around to reading the complete response by Google to the US Department of Justice’s demand for data. While interesting, the data requested certainly doesn’t appear to be particularly useful in the government’s purported aim to understand whether self-regulation is sufficient to protect minors from unsavoury content.

The introduction can be found here, while the full submission, an interesting 25-page PDF, is here.

Professor Phillip Stark, who I believe is the government’s statistician responsible for this initiative, gets an absolute pasting, while the government comes across as being similarly ill-informed in its request.

The government suggests that by gaining access to a week’s worth of Google queries, along with the URLs of Google’s entire index (along with similar data from other leading search engines), it will be able to test its hypothesis. Google’s argument to the contrary is compelling and condescending – it seems that the level of emotion increases as the submission evolves.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out, although I feel that Google’s argument would have been even stronger if it had steered clear of the emotion, even if their approach makes for more compelling reading.

Cohen vs. Cohen

There’s been lots of hype in the US over the American figure skater Sasha Cohen, who earned a silver medal behind Shizuka Arakawa today. All week, I’ve wondered why I knew the name, despite being far from an avid follower of the sport, and tonight it finally clicked. Although I made the mistake, she is not to be confused with Sacha Baron Cohen, the talent behind Ali G.

I’d like to see S. B. Cohen interviewing S. Cohen along with the accompanying confusion.

Arsene Wenger caught smiling

In the press conference following Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Arsene Wenger was seen to be smiling for the first time since joining Arsenal in 1996.

In this clip, there is a 30-second clip, beginning at 1:33 and ending around 2:03 during which Wenger’s face can certainly be construed as smiling, at times even breaking out into a weak grin. Certainly over the last ten years, Wenger has never been seen smiling in public; many argue that the drought lasts much longer, so much so that his face frowns in steady-state.

google.cn vs. Websense

The Google in China discussion continues. In addition to Chinese newspapers questioning whether all of the necessary paperwork is in place for it to operate google.cn, they are also questioning Google’s policy of telling users which pages are censored.

And Google was also in the news yesterday over its rejection of a demand by the US government for access to a week’s worth of search logs, requested to show that voluntary regulation does not work in protecting kids from unsavoury content. In response to the government’s assertion that access to a list of search words would help understand user behaviour, Google states that "This statement is so uninformed as to be nonsensical". I have to agree.

Back to China. It’s certainly an interesting debate. In some respects the Chinese authorities are adopting a similar policy to that taken by businesses in their application of Websense and the like, although you would hope that the criteria for a site being blocked by Websense are somewhat different from those imposed on google.cn.

This site is blocked by my friend’s employers. Websense cites two main reasons for blocking: security (including spyware, phishing, attack prevention etc.) and web filtering (including employee productivity, bandwidth management and legal liability). As far as I’m aware, the site doesn’t fall foul of any of the security issues. So it must have been deemed legally questionable, have been hammering the networks or have reduced my mate’s productivity significantly, or maybe that of his colleagues. I somehow doubt that any of these are true either.

At the end of the day, both g.cn and Websense can be classified as employing censorship, albeit being driven by different end goals. While there’s a way around the latter (change jobs, surf from home), is the freedom of companies to censor what they choose any different from China’s censorship?

Government spend, more literals and confounding batting averages

My friend Alan emailed me the other day informing me that the US government spends the average amount of tax generated by one person in 2.4 seconds. The only citing of this I can find is from a site entitled gullible.info, although I can quite easily believe its truth.

So, assuming the figure is taken as an average of everyone (approximately 300m people), that means that the government would take 720m seconds to spend everyone’s tax, or 12m minutes; 200,000 hours; 8,333 days or 31.5 years.

Although the maths here is somewhat crude, it’s worrying given that the life expectancy is more than double that figure. No wonder the deficit keeps mounting.

I don’t have the equivalent stats for the UK, although I expect it paints a similarly bleak picture, although probably not quite as pronounced.

By all accounts the literally condition continues (see earlier post), with Robin Cousins reporting from Torino last night on the Bulgarian ice dancing pair being, quite literally, on fire during their rehearsal. As Steve rightly pointed out, this must be both hazardous and detrimental to good skating conditions.

Finally, again courtesy of Alan, some stats that counter human instinct but that certainly add up. They result in the following baseball scenario being feasible:

– Johnny Damon has a better batting average than Derek Jeter over the first half of the season, and a better average than Jeter in the second half of the season, yet ends the season with a worse batting average than Jeter

The conundrum was given by Microsoft’s Ronny Kohavi in a deck about data mining. Here’s the proof by example. X/Y =Z, where X = hits, Y = at bats, Z = batting average:

First half of season
– Johnny Damon: 4/10 = 0.400
– Derek Jeter: 35/100 = 0.350

Second half of season
– Johnny Damon: 25/100 = 0.250
– Derek Jeter: 2/10 = 0.200

Total season
– Johnny Damon: 29/110 = 0.264
– Derek Jeter: 37/110 = 0.336

It’s an odd one to get your head around, and relies on injuries early on for Damon, and later on for Jeter.

The hyphen, the en dash and the em dash

I’ve always been quite interested in typography, but one subtlety I’ve never researched is the array of dashes available, nor their correct grammatical uses. This Wikipedia article gives a very detailed explanation, but here’s a shorter version.

Essentially, there are three types:

– the hyphen or minus (-)
– the en dash (–)
– the em dash (—)

(Note that the hyphen and en dash may look similar under small font settings, but they’re actually different symbols.) The hyphen or minus isn’t actually a dash at all. It’s used to hyphenate words or as a mathematical symbol.

The en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen, being half as long as the font is high. So if you’re using twelve point, an en dash is six points in length. (Its name comes from the fact that this is generally the characteristic of the letter ‘N’.) Essentially, it’s used where there is a connection between two things.

– Date and time ranges: June–July, 1–2pm, 3–5 years old
– Page ranges: pp. 38–55
– New York–London flight
– Where two words shouldn’t be hyphenated, but are associated: mother–daughter relationship
– As a hyphen in compound adjectives, where the adjectives don’t refer to one another: pre–World War II, anti–New Zealand

Finally, the em dash is twice as long as the en dash. As such, it’s as long as the font is high. It’s used in the following instances.

– To mark a sudden ‘parenthetical’ break of thought, either at the end of a sentence (in which case you use one) or mid-sentence (where you use two). Here, it could be thought to be replaceable by a colon or parantheses respectively.
– To mark an open date range (Dan Harrison, 1973—)

In North American and old-British usage, the em dash should never be surrounded by spaces in the first example above. Although not officially sanctioned, modern practice is to instead use a spaced en dash, which I prefer. It gives necessary space to the break, allowing the reader to breathe and mentally separate what is to follow from that which has preceded.

Just as with the degree sign (°), it’s a shame that neither of the dashes has made it to the standard keyboard, leaving writers to copy and paste it from somewhere else, or use some difficult-to-remember keyboard shortcut.

Nonetheless, I will strive to use these correctly moving forward.

My new e-government project

I got a little ahead of myself, I think. I put together a proof of concept (POC) — with some valuable help from Rob — before working out my business requirements. Not that the proof of concept was wasted, as I got some useful feedback. Let me explain a little more, without giving the game away.

A couple of weeks ago, I came up with what I thought was a good idea for e-government. Now I have had quite a few ideas that I think are good, but that turn out to be flawed on thinking further, or on sharing with others. This idea seemed to pass the first test, but I wanted to create something that could be used to accomplish the second.

So, I created a little something that I could share with a few trusted people, and this I did. I got some useful feedback, much of it positive, which means that I’ll now take it to the next level. Now it would be easy to take the POC to the next level, but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. (Actually, it would be quite difficult, as I soon got out of my depth in the PHP world, but you know what I mean.) The right approach is to define my business requirements and then work out what’s out there that can meet these.

So, I’ve started to do this. The result may validate the platform on which the POC sits, or may mean throwing the whole thing away. Either way, the result will give me peace of mind that I’m going the right way, as opposed to using the first piece of software that came to mind.

Writing business requirements is a pain in the ass, but doing so will likely save a lot of pain and heartache in the future. Getting things right upfront is fundamentally important to the success of a project, even it it seems like taking a step back at the time.

Watch this space!

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