Obituaries, 2004

A beautifully written article covering the seemingly inordinate number of significant figures to have died in 2004, the quote of note being: "I admit to professional excitement when the death is announced of someone whose obituary one has devoted much time to completing".  Somewhat ironically, I’ve decided to post this in the Life category.

USB socket

Why (oh why oh why) is the USB socket (and associated plug) not 180° rotationally symmetrical?  Given that they’re generally at the back of your machine, it would save a lot of faffing around and unnecessary jiggery-pokery.  (Here’s further evidence of the need for the degree sign to make it on to the standard keyboard, btw.  My current process for getting it into a ‘blog entry is Open MS Word | Insert Symbol | Select degree sign | Copy this from MS Word | Open Notepad | Paste into Notepad (to get rid of the font size formatting) | Copy from Notepad | Paste into the ‘blog CMS’s RTE | Close MS Word | Closed Notepad | Take a well-earned nap.)

Tsunami in America

Christmas in New York was fun.  I was expecting way more hype and commercialism than actually transpired.  It seems all of the focus and energy goes into Thanksgiving, and Christmas is its lesser cousin.  This is emphasised by having a single holiday for Christmas (or should I say ‘the holidays’) and two for Thanksgiving.  Indeed, with Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, some companies didn’t feel obliged to give a single holiday.  For me, I get both Fridays off, one for Christmas and one for New Year.  (Over here, holidays are vacations and Bank Holidays are holidays.  Clear?)

As expected, the death toll from the tsunami on Boxing Day (there is no such concept over here, btw) has steadily increased, as the extent of the damage and loss is assessed.  On the local news channels like Fox 5, they’re now focusing on the story (or should I say ‘non-story’) of ‘Could it happen to us?’.  Even the likes of CNN are turning what is an international disaster into a self-centred feature – making non-local news local.  It’s almost as if viewers will lose interest in a news story unless it has any impact closer to home.

Of course it could happen to the east coast of America, given that there are tectonic plates meeting in the Atlantic.  However, the assessment is that it’s more likely to happen to the west coast.


The disaster that has hit Southern Asia is possibly the worst natural disaster our generation has ever seen, with the early death toll of 11,500 already quadruple that of 11 September 2001.  Yet Fox 5 had moved on to other stories by 10.03pm tonight, most notably, travel delays in the New York area due to a flurry of snow this afternoon.

The pictures and reports that have been coming through on the BBC and CNN are harrowing, and the sheer scale of the disaster is difficult to comprehend.  Hearing of a single train containing 1,500 people being lost to the sea is a powerful example of this.

Once again, the BBC’s online coverage has been superlative, with navigation and content being augmented seamlessly.  Its worldwide correspondent presence helps with this, but the way in which its site has been developed to be sufficiently flexible to cater for such events is impressive.

On a trivial note, I received Joel on Software for Christmas, having read a number of its chapters in the library during the summer.  So much of it rings true of personal experiences, and it’s written with a humour that I enjoy hugely.  It was also great to receive Madden 2005, a present that I also sent to Ben, so hopefully some trans-Atlantic games will ensue.


I’m somewhat familiar with the term chav, but have probably missed out on its rise to fame in the UK over the last six months or so.  For those not in the know, more information about chavs can be found here.  This post was prompted by the Beckhams’ recent christening event at what was dubbed Chav Chapel.  Researching the term further, I couldn’t help but put finger to keyboard to highlight this page.  While the picture shows the archetypal chav, the tagging of the page with keywords is a stroke of genius, obviously undertaken by a hardcore taxonomist/librarian (nothing to do with animal stuffing).

Happy Christmas/Holidays (delete as applicable)

It’s 5pm PST, 8pm EST (12/24), 1am GMT and 12pm in Sydney (25/12); that should cover most of my audience.  (For those that care, it’s @089 beats.)  Not sure what time it is in the Seychelles or Argentina, from which I still receive a little mysterious traffic, the latter probably due to this similarly-named website.  Happy Christmas to all those in Europe or east thereof.  Happy Christmas for tomorrow to those west of Europe.  And Happy Holidays to those whose beliefs are sufficiently strong to counter the hype that surrounds this time of year.  (My beliefs don’t concur with those of Christmas, but I do enjoy the time of year.)

Today saw some last minute shopping and preparations for tomorrow’s food-fest.  As with Thanksgiving, we’re breaking from tradition by having chicken, albeit a 7.5 pounder (3.4kg-er, Rob).  Macy’s was surprisingly quiet, to the extent that I was able to walk straight to the check-out.  I popped up to the Rockefeller Center (sic) to take in the tree (nice, but nothing to write home about) along with the mindless circuitous skating.  Generally, I walked for England, from 32nd street up to 59th and back down to 28th, with a bit of avenue-meandering to boot.  A little wrapping of prezzies tonight in advance of the big day.

I saw a book in Barnes and Noble called Yoga in a Chair, but the positioning of the price label had me thinking it was Yoga in a Choir.  Such different words, despite only being a letter out.  The other such pairing I can think of is encourage and entourage.  I’d quite like to see the book Yoga in a Choir.

I’ve just sat down to watch You Only Live Twice, so Christmas in New York is pretty similar to that in the UK, although I expect we won’t have to endure the Queen’s speech.  Also, I’ll be back to work on Monday 🙁

The BBC and Fred Dibnah

I’d struggle to think of a website that comes close to the quality of that of the BBC.  I appreciated its quality when I was in the UK, but now, I see it as a vital resource for the ex-pat.  (I’ve not yet thought of myself as an ex-pat, but I suppose I am now.)  It’s so important to me to be able to keep up to date with at least some of the goings-on in the UK, and it also provides a healthy outlook at the world beyond the USA, one which simply isn’t otherwise available here.

As Andy recently posted, it’s been a pretty significant year for deaths, none more notable than that of John Peel.  Emlyn Hughes, Ronald Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Alistair Cooke, Ray Charles to name but a few more.  I was shocked to read, however, about the death of Fred Dibnah on 5 November.  He may not get much of a mention this New Year, but he was a great advert for the wonders of the pre-electronic era, not to mention early Sunday evening TV.


It’s Christmas! Given that there are twelve days in Christmas, I thought it timely to write about my desire for the world to go duodecimal. I came up with this idea in my youth, independently of anyone else, after which I discovered there was a whole bunch of likeminded people out there – how scary is that?

As I’ve previously mentioned, the number twelve comes up quite a lot in my ‘blog entries. Most of the time it’s coincidental (twelve types of shrimp in Fairway, for example). Others may be less so, although I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. Also, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it’s such a great word – a single syllable, yet with such beautiful combinations of consonants. (On a separate note, if you write the numbers 1 through 100 as words, you never need to use the "A" key!)

(For the remainder of this post, I’m going to break from my style-guide and write all numbers as numbers instead of words.) Currently, you may have noticed that the majority of the world (with the notable exception of computers) is working in base 10. Once we get to 9, we shove a 1 at the beginning and start counting again from 0. The main justification that I can see for using 10 is the number of digits on our hands and feet, probably explaining the double meaning of the word. If we were missing a finger on each hand, perhaps we’d be working in base 8 (which would be better than 10, but may cause issues for typists).

I once read a book about the importance of the number 9, and it seemed that all of the arguments explaining its significance relied on the fact that the world works in base 10. I couldn’t finish the book out of sheer frustration, at either the cheek or the stupidity of the author.

So now that we’ve moved out of the dark ages of LSD (sorry, Dad) there are 100 pennies in a pound (or cents/pennies in a dollar), 100 degrees between the boiling point and freezing point of water (or 180, depending on where you’re from), 10 numbers at the top of your keyboard (although for some reason, twelve function keys) and so on.

If you think about the coinage in your UK purses/pockets (delete as applicable), it’s a bit haphazard and not conducive for breaking down. A five pence piece cannot be changed into two pence pieces, nor a fifty into twenties. In the US, dimes cannot be given in exchange for quarters. A parent with a 10 dollar bill will have to resort to coinage to divide it between her four children, and will struggle further if there are only three.

Let’s assume that the world shifts to base 12. After all, hens have (producing eggs in batches of 12) as have vintners (a 12-bottle case of wine), although bakers have broken with tradition, opting for the prime that is 13 – that’d be madness, btw.

So we’d need a couple more symbols to represent the numbers that we know as 10 (let’s call it &) and 11 (~). I’d like to think that these numbers would still be called eleven and twelve. Twelve would be written 10, fifty would be 42, seventy would be 5&, seventy one 5~, a hundred would be 84 etc. One hundred and forty-four would be written 100. There would be 144 pennies in the pound/dollar and twelve numbers at the top of your keyboard, nicely lined up with the function keys. In this wonderful new world, the parent with a new 10 pound note (twelve) would be able to divide it easily using the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 pound notes.

Now this only sounds strange because we’ve all grown up using the decimal system. But, nowadays, who uses their fingers for counting? Most kids nowadays can’t do mental arithmetic in base 10, so why would moving to base 12 be any worse? (How old do I sound?)

I’m sure a whole bunch of computer scientists would advocate moving to binary to be in line with all of those machines that we rely on so much, but while it may have its benefits, numbers would get long very quickly (a hundred would become 1100100). If nothing else, PC screens would have to be made much, much wider to cater for all my spreadsheets.

Migration from decimal to duodecimal would be a challenge, but we seemed to manage OK in February 1971 on transition from LSD. (BTW, the very word duodecimal (2+10) is based on the fact that we work in base 10, so this would have to change to twelvimal.)

I’m sure everyone thinks I’m bananas, but no change there…

Accessible technologies

Here is a wonderful example of something that has been developed because it’s challenging and fun for the developers as opposed to adding value to the end user.  The BBC alludes to this in its coverage, but this offering makes no sense whatsoever to me.

Speegle is very similar to its soundalike, apart from two key factors:

– Its search capability is not as good
– It reads the results out to you using some form of synthesised voice.

I think it’s trying to appeal to the blind and visually impaired, but these people will already have assistive technologies to help them overcome such obstacles.  Also, the whole point of search engines is to get you to a place that you want to go to.  Imagine a user that loves the fact that the search results are read out to them, only to find that clicking on one (I assume you have to be sufficiently well sighted to be able to click) takes them to a site that doesn’t share this offering.

As the accessibility community realised some time ago, it makes sense to solve this problem once for the web, and ensure that websites comply with technologies aimed at solving this (e.g. JAWS). Offering something on a site by site basis is ludicrous.  I think Julie Howell is quite polite in her assessment of the site in the BBC article.

PhoneAnything, however, is an offering that makes more sense, one that I came across some time ago.  Basically, it’s a service that reads websites out to you over the phone, allowing users to "click" your way through the site.  "Dialling" web addresses using the phone’s keypad is a bit of a challenge, but the ability to bookmark certain sites in an IE-esque way can get round this.  I last used it around nine months ago, and it had a few teething problems, but these may have been resolved by now.  It makes sense from the perspectives of both accessibility and, probably in the very short term, mobility (i.e. can’t get to the internet for the moment, but I have a phone).

Nice segue on to a little device that hunts out wireless networks without the need for getting your laptop out.  I’m sure it’s not clever enough to work out whether or not they’re protected, but could be quite useful, although the article does highlight its legal and less legal uses.

Separated at birth

Kelly Holmes  Ronaldinho

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