Famous British people aged 69

Alun Armstrong, English actor
Andrea Allan, Scottish actress
Anthony Daniels, English actor
Barry Gibb, British/Australian rock musician (Bee Gees)
Bel Mooney, English broadcast journalist
Brenda Blethyn, English actress
Bruce Alexander, English actor
Carola Dunn, English writer
Charlotte Rampling, British actress
Chris Cutler, English percussionist
Chris Tarrant, British radio and TV personality
Cliff Balsom, English footballer
Colin Matthews, British composer
Dave Hill, English guitarist (Slade)
Dave Mason, English rock musician (Traffic)
David Gilmour, English rock musician (Pink Floyd)
Diana Quick, English actress
Don Powell, English rock drummer (Slade)
Donovan Leitch, Scottish rock musician
Edwina Currie, English politician
Eileen Gordon, British politician
Felicity Kendal, British actress
Graham Gouldman, English songwriter and musician (10cc, Wax)
Gwyneth Powell, British actress
Harvey Goldsmith, British impresario
Hayley Mills, English actress
Jack Straw, English politician
Joanna Lumley, English actress and author
John Fox, British statistician
John Grahl, British economist
Justin Hayward, English rock singer and songwriter (The Moody Blues)
Lesley Judd, English television presenter
Michael Ashcroft, English entrepreneur
Michael Rosen, British novelist and poet
Mildred Grieveson, British writer
Murray Head, English singer and actor
Nicholas Kollerstrom, British writer
Noddy Holder, English rock singer (Slade)
P. P. Arnold, English singer
Peter Sutcliffe, English serial killer
Philip Pullman, English author
Robert Fripp, British musician
Roger Sloman, English actor
Tim Curry, British actor, singer and composer
Timothy Dalton, Welsh actor
Trevor Pinnock, English harpsichordist and conductor
Terry Sylvester, English singer and musician
Vicki Hodge, English actress and model

Candy Crush Saga: Saving the Planet

I have a theory. It’s utterly ridiculous. But it’s a theory nonetheless.

Who knows the book/film Ender’s Game? If so, carry on reading. If not, I thoroughly recommend you read the book. (I’ve not yet seen the film. I’ve heard it’s a bit shit.) And come back once you’ve read the book. (The book is wonderful.) If you choose to ignore my advice, then note that there are some spoilers to follow. Read on at your own risk.

So here’s the premise of Ender’s Game. It’s all about a kid called Ender Wiggin. He is selected by Earth’s authorities and is made to spend much of his life in Battle School, pretty much playing shoot-’em-up video games.

Spoiler alert: The last video game he plays is not actually a video game. Unbeknownst to him, it is instead a real-life battle against a bunch of aliens that are invading Earth. Ender wins the battle. Earth is saved. For the win. Literally.

Now here’s the theory. King, the company that developed the Candy Crush Saga game, is actually the Ministry of Earthly Defence. And Candy Crush Saga works on the same premise as the video game in Ender’s Game.

Every month, 46 million people are presented with screens filled with pieces of candy. They play the “game” every day some people every waking hour. In the game, they have a certain number of moves, or a limited amount of time, to complete each level. They practise the game, getting better and better, faster and faster. Hell, they even send invites to people who have no interest in receiving said invites asking that they join the legion game players. (I’ll politely decline, if it’s all the same.)

King has a record of who is good, who is not so good, who’s dedicated to the cause, who’s learning quickly, and who’s not worth bothering about. They know who’s stuck on Level 33. (Apparently, Level 33 is a bitch.) And who’s made it past Level 350 (also a bitch, though a more advanced bitch).

All the while, King are fine-tuning a sister application, Candy Crush Missile. This is a program that uses people’s activity in Candy Crush Saga to control real-life missile launchers that are positioned at various points around the globe.

When aliens invade Earth, the United Nations will press a button. The button is red, naturally. And the button links the Candy Crush Saga app with the Candy Crush Missile app.

Upon pressing the button, the world’s six most proficient Candy Crush Saga players will be selected to defend Earth from alien invasion. They will have no knowledge of having been selected. The candy in the games that appear on these players’ screens will suddenly be a live feed representing the aliens’ attacks.

The swipes that Pauline Collyer makes on her iPhone while stood in the aisle by the toilet on the 0656 train from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street will directly feed Candy Crush Missile, launching alien-bound missiles and rockets from all corners of the globe. Likewise, while the kids are sleeping upstairs in Richmond, CA, Ted Rubenstein will switch on his Nexus 7, his swipes sending yet more missiles skywards. Seinfeld will be on in the background. “The sea was angry that day, my friends.”

Their actions will feed the missile launchers along with those of Hanari Akemi from Umahori, who will decide to grab a quite late bite to eat while playing Candy Crush Saga during her lunch hour in downtown Kyoto, Japan; Brad C. Johnston, who by all rights should be paying attention to his 4pm Applied Mathematics lecture at the University of Newcastle on Australia’s east coast; nine-year-old Kirsty Tenneson in Honolulu, playing on her Nexus 5 instead of sleeping (her parents are downstairs watching Orange is the New Black); and Tania Nuñez, a night owl in Valparaiso, Chile, who has taken a break from her history assignment that’s due in on Friday.

Only time will tell whether their skills will be enough to protect us. And whether the history assignment will ever be handed in.

My aeroplane conundrum

A good while back, I had an interesting discussion with my dad. (I’ve had interesting discussions with him since. But they are not the subject of this post.)

I wondered why it is not significantly quicker to fly from London to New York than it is to fly from New York to London. He thought I was an idiot. (He may still think I’m an idiot. But that is not the subject of this post.)

My rationale was this. After take-off from Heathrow, the plane is, by definition, airborne. It is not in contact with the ground. Yet Earth is spinning beneath you, something that will be yet more apparent from Virgin’s new glass-bottomed plane. And it’s spinning from west to east.

Above LHR, Earth is rotating beneath you at a rate of 1,037 km/h, and 1,263 km/h above JFK. (That’s 790 mph to you New Yorkers.)

So let’s take the average of these two: 1,150 km/h. In an hour of westbound flight across the Atlantic, you will fly approximately 880 km (the rough speed of a commercial jet), but cover 2,030 km because of that spinning Earth. So you should be there in 2h 45m. Allowing for the time difference, you’ll arrive 2h 15m earlier than you set off. Like Phil Collins, but without Concorde.

Eastbound, your progress will be hampered as the earth spins in the same direction as the plane travels, and the journey back to London will take a staggering 20h 39m. More than a day wasted, once you’ve factored in the time difference. (The Gulf Stream will help a little, I guess.)

Why is it not so? Is it simply because the air is moving too? Or is something more complex—or indeed more simple—at play?

(I read recently that the reason for which a bumblebee doesn’t slam to the back of a plane/car is as yet unexplained by science. I have no idea whether that’s true. But maybe the same force is at play here.)

What if McDonald’s were healthy

What if McDonald’s served exactly the same menu as it currently does. At exactly the same price. Imagine the same texture and resistance as you bit into your Sausage & Egg McMuffin. And the same feeling of oozing grease and slightly synthetic cheese as you bit into your Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

But instead of its offerings being filled with E numbers, imagine that they were filled with nutritional goodness. Think Whole Foods with an extra portion of low fat yoghurt thrown in.

My question is this: What would be the impact on its turnover? My view is that it would go down. Significantly.

There is something dirty and naughty about a McDonald’s that would suddenly disappear. People don’t go to McDonald’s because they do good burgers. They go to treat themselves, regardless of the experience, and almost *because* of its health rating.

Also, there is a destructive element in humans that McDonald’s would no longer sate. There is a part of people that likes to fly in the face of good advice, that likes to rebel, even at their own expense.

My guess is that such a restaurant would fail fast, even without taking into account the increased cost of the ingredients.

2012: avoid the haters

It’s much easier to be hateful in 140 characters than it is to be constructive. And evidence on Twitter seems to support this.

Whenever someone puts a foot wrong, people are baying for their blood. Ashton Kutcher was a recent victim of this, many of his 9 million followers reacting hatefully to his tweet slamming the firing of Joe Paterno. He clearly didn’t have the context, and withdrew the tweet moments later.

Twitter gives people a medium on which they can readily slam people they don’t know, generally those in the public eye—celebrities and politicians. It allows this to be done in an unregulated way, allows libel and defamation of character, and unless it becomes sufficiently high profile (it rarely does given the limited audience of those tweeting the abuse), doesn’t really provide a workable mechanism for the abused to answer back.

I assume that the laws around defamation of character and libel are as relevant and enforceable on Twitter as they are for other media. But the opening up of the publishing medium to millions of people makes it next to useless. Nobodies will abuse and the Twitter river will continue to flow, with that drop of acid flowing largely unnoticed into the sea of history.

Sometimes criticism is constructive, and I value that. (After all, if all you do is mouth off about Jan Moir without any reasoned argument, you’re no better than Jan herself.)

But in 2012, I’ll be making efforts to avoid those that hate for the sake of hating. Because as well as being destructive to those targeted, such negativity can only be destructive to the reader. Negativity wears off. Let 2012 be the year of inspiration.

Could a tree grow upside down?

Imagine a piece of land three metres square. Imagine it’s suspended 50 metres above Earth. And imagine its soil is kept together by a cradle underneath.

Imagine a set of solar panels positioned on the ground, angled to point sunlight to the underside of the suspended earth. And imagine irrigation systems are in place to keep that land well watered from above—excess water falling from the platform back to Earth.

Now plant an oak sapling in the underside of the suspended platform, such that it is unhampered by the cradle.

How high would the sapling grow? Indeed, would it grow?

So long as it didn’t rely on the traditional direction of gravity in relation to itself for water to pass down its trunk and branches, my view is that it would grow. Being upside down, the water would instead travel from the root to its branches. Whether it would suffer from a surfeit of liquid at the end of its tiny branches, who knows?

But if it could grow upside down, would it grow more rapidly given that it would be growing with, rather than against, gravity?

And would this offer a solution, admittedly a far-fetched solution, to allow richer crops to grow in shorter time windows?

Fuel prices vs. car prices

I filled up the hire car today. It had a quarter of a tank remaining, but my obligation as a hirer is to fill it up if it dips below that level. So I did. It cost £67 for standard unleaded, at 137.9p per litre. (BTW, that’s £6.27 per gallon in old money, as my dad, and oodles of other dads, still say to this day.) That would make it around £89 for a full tank by my reckoning. Ouch.

I got to thinking about what fuel efficiency was worth when purchasing a new car.

Having done the analysis it seems that, to me, marginal fuel efficiency has a surprisingly small impact on the cost of car ownership. At 12,000 miles per year, a car running at 40 miles per gallon will guzzle 300 gallons per year at a cost of £1,880.72. At 41 mpg, the cost will be £1,834.85, an annual drop of a mere £45.87, less than a pound a week. And obviously, as the mpg increases, the marginal price differential of a single extra mpg reduces. So the difference between the fuel costs for a 50 vs. 51 mpg car falls to £29.50.

So assuming depreciation over five years and other things being equal, a new car offering 45 mpg can justify being priced £1,044 higher than one offering 40 mpg.

Now switch your attention to the gas guzzlers. A car running at 10 mpg will cost £2,507 more per year to run than one running at 15 mpg, so the more fuel-efficient 15 mpg-er can justify a price tag £12,538 higher than the 10 mpg-er. As an aside, for such cars to average 12,000 miles per year, the school to which the car is driven twice daily would need to be 15.8 miles from the home. 😉

(Environmental arguments were left to one side in the writing of this post.)

The fluorescent man outside the Treasury

HM Treasury’s head office is a very grand building on Horse Guards Road. A man stands outside it wearing a fluorescent bib throughout the business day. He blocks the left-hand door which is itself locked, and people are forced to use the right-hand door to both enter and leave the building, often causing confusion and blockages.

Yet I am uncertain as to his role.

Whenever I enter the building for a meeting, I always treat him as a greeter. My aim, purely for my own amusement, is to get past him without being challenged. Nine times in ten, I succeed. I always use the gently-inclined ramp rather than the steps outside the building. I walk with purpose, say good morning/afternoon and waltz in—figuratively—and skip my way up the stairs—less figuratively—en route to reception.

Occasionally, there is an awkward moment where the chap looks like he may be challenging me as to my purpose, but nerves seem to get the better of him and off I skip. In some respects, I regard this scenario as an even greater personal success than the uninterrupted walk, as the very possibility of challenge was averted.

And on very rare occasions, he asks as to my purpose. I say I’m there for a meeting, which more often than not is true, and breathe a sigh of relief at having secured entry into the building, albeit sporting a face of defeat.

(Note, I’ve never been refused entry. Not yet, at least.)

So for people intent on entering the building, his presence is useless. Unless other people arriving to attend meetings are treated differently to myself, of course, which I very much doubt. Which suggests that his only purpose relates to those people not intent on entering the building. Or at least those not intending to enter to attend for a meeting.

Perhaps his very presence is intended as a deterrent to those intent on entering the building for nefarious reasons. But if that’s the case, you’d have thought he’d do a better job interrogating the innocent to at least give the impression that the soon-to-be-guilty will have an obstacle to negotiate before doing their dubious deeds.

This is what keeps me awake at night.

The seven day working week

The five day working week simply isn’t long enough. It’s not about the amount of work you can get done per se. It’s about the amount of time between weekly status updates. You see, more often than not, project status updates occur weekly. And for one project I’m working on, I have to allow time to compile data for the reports, and time to socialise and agree it with the US taking into account a five hour time difference, all of this while working part-time on the project.

Together, these factors mean that an inordinate percentage of time is spent reporting, with too little time dedicated to the “doing” that makes this week’s report different from last week’s.

Rather than eat into weekends, which would likely be an unpopular move, I’m proposing that the full week is increased from seven to ten days in length, three of which will form the weekend. There will be 36.5 (or 36.6) weeks per year. Let’s leave the months as they are—don’t want to go too wild.

Weekends will make up 30% of time (up from 28.3% under the current regime). The weekdays will be named Monday, Pluday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Bacday and Friday; the weekends Saturday, Danday, Sunday. Wednesday will still fall in the middle of the working week with Pluday (named after Pluto, the God of Wealth, a day of earning) being slotted in before Tuesday and Bacday (after Bacchus, the God of Wine, an evening of drinking) being slotted in after Thursday. Bacday will be the new Thursday. Danday has been named after me in honour of me providing everyone with an extra weekend day. Everyone must raise a glass in my honour at least once during that day.

It will be a long working week, but the three day weekends will make it all worthwhile.

Who’s with me? We’re looking to re-baseline on Monday 1 January, 2012. (It would have been a Sunday, but we’re re-baselining, remember?)

A brainful of tut

My brain is filled with tut.

I know 25 digits of pi.  I know the first 21 powers of two without skipping a beat, a list of numbers that I can recite digit by digit, 75 in total. I know all of the American states, although for a long while I used to pronounce Arkansas as it’s written. I can tell you which US towns lie in zip codes that are themselves powers of two (Plymouth, FL; Lebanon, MO; Yarmouth, ME; Mansfield, MA).

I love knowing this shit. (For shit is what it is.) But I sometimes wonder whether something else should be there in its stead.

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