Sunday, September 16, 2012

That's My Bush!

The Lord knows that my sense of humour can be juvenile at times. I have been giggling solidly for hours now after making the discovery that there was once an American sit-com called 'That's My Bush!'. And I wanted to share that with you, in case it amused you too.

I haven't seen it, and I have no idea what it was about. I can only expect disappointment from an unwise expedition to youtube.

In my version, the central character is a beautiful black headed young woman called Kate, perhaps played by Emily Blunt, who has a job at a Garden Centre.

At first I thought that, nodding to the great Armistead Maupin, this garden centre was called something like Plant Parenthood.

But then I thought of the almost infinitely sinister 'Rheingold Nurseries'.

There was actually a Rhinegold Nurseries on the other side of the Loxley valley where I grew up.

Despite the fact that my father is a lifelong Wagner lover, and that my memories of the 1980 Chereau/Boulez centenary at Bayreuth mean that I must have seen the whole of the Ring Cycle by the time I was ten, I believe that throughout my childhood I had the vague idea that the village on the other side of the valley was called Rhinegold, and that it had a kindergarten.

I think I had my first car by the time that it occurred to me that (a) it was a garden centre, and (b) it must have been named after a German Opera Cycle with Sinister Connotations just after the war.

What is it with Yorkshiremen and Wagner, anyway? The central joke of 'It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet', James Herriot's comic novel about a Scotsman in the North, is that he works for two entirely stereotypical yorkshire veterinary surgeons who are called Siegfried and Tristan Farnon.

I mean, it would be slightly funnier if it were Siegfried and Tristan Satterthwaite, but ISHTAV is a true story. Those were their names. And when you look at the timeline for that, that's just bizarre.

Incidentally, does anyone think that Lord Vetinari in the Discworld books might be based on Lorenzo de Medici?

My sister once told me that she didn't like the Harry Potter books because Ms Rowling had stolen all the ideas from Terry Pratchett. It is enough to make a Wagnerite bang his head against the wall.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The White Swan at Stow-cum-Quy

Very pleasant pub, secluded sunny courtyard. Open 12-11pm, food served 12-3. Phone 01223 811821. CB25 9AB. Good WiFi connection. Lunch with coffee ~ £10. 

The reputation of the White Swan has been growing recently. I stopped there at random one lunchtime.

It's a lovely little pub, split into a tap room and a restaurant area. Both suffer from piped music, but there are quiet tables by the road, and a secluded courtyard with ivy and flowers.

The menu is surprisingly varied and interesting. Sausage and mash has its own section, with many choices. I settled for one each of Ostrich, Venison and Pork, with herb mashed potatoes and red wine sauce.

The sausages were all superb, but came precariously balanced on a quite a small amount of mash, which was a shame, since that was very good too.

As I was finishing, the waiter/barman came out to ask if everything was ok, and I asked him if I could have some more mash. He shot off into the kitchen and came back very quickly with a huge bowl, freshly made, more than there had been in the original meal.

Stow-cum-Quy is perhaps two miles from Cambridge. Cycle along the river to Fen Ditton and then cut across to Quy to avoid almost all traffic.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Permutation City (Greg Egan)

There can hardly be a schoolboy in England who does not worry about the nature of consciousness, the apparent flow of time, and the continuity of personal identity.

Greg Egan has written a science-fiction novel about these things, and a very good novel it is too! Although it does gets a bit silly towards the end, the first nine tenths are well worth reading and should help even the most meat-headed young person to stare bleakly at his bedroom ceiling in the small hours of the morning endlessly saying 'No really, what the fuck is going on?' to himself, over and over again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Impostor (Film)

You should go and see this film. It's one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen.

I'm told that it's based on a true story. I don't know whether that's true or not and I'm enjoying trying to work it out. If it was fiction, I think people would dismiss it as unbelievable. As fact, well, there are a lot of people in the world, and people are weirder than you think.

Sooner or later, I'll go and look the story up on the internet. For now, I'm enjoying just wondering about it. Trying to work out whether or not it's plausible. Wondering whether it could be an implausible film inspired by slightly more plausible real events. Wondering if any of the people shown in the film were real people, or whether they were all actors. Wondering at the horror of it all.

OK, The NHS is brilliant

About a week ago, while playing cricket, I got bitten by an insect. It wasn't a mosquito, cos it hurt, and when I looked where the hurt was, the damned thing had inserted itself halfway into my arm.

I can't imagine what its plan was, but it ended up leaving its head behind in a little hole that it had made in my forearm.

During the week, a weird rash spread out from the bite, until quite a lot of my forearm was blotchy red.

On Sunday, while playing cricket, I started to feel stabbing pains in my left knee. They were exactly like the stabbing pains in my right knee ten years ago that were the first sign that I'd torn the cartilage and I figured I was in for several years of random agony and sportlessness. My friend Beard lent me a knee brace, which originally seemed a bit superfluous, but as the pain got worse and worse the following day, it seemed more and more essential. (Thanks Beard!)

On Monday afternoon, while carefully not putting any strain on my knee, I noticed an article in the Times: 'The Bite You Should Never Ignore', reminding me in some detail of what I already knew but had been pretending not to know about tick bites and Lyme disease.

The pressure had built up to the point where I had to think about seeing a doctor.

I'm not keen on seeing Doctors. I only go to see one about once a decade, and it seems to involve a near infinite amount of form-filling and chasing round the country trying to find where your medical records are hidden, and then waiting for them to get posted to your GP.

Once that's done, you get an appointment, which will either be in two weeks' time, or at half past seven in the morning.

You turn up for the appointment, and are told that the Doctor is 'running late'.

This is a way for the Doctor to assert just how much more his time is worth than yours. You sit in a waiting room full of screaming, ill children, and disreputable looking adults breathing communicable diseases all over you for a couple of hours, at which point the Doctor calls you in.

The Doctor is invariably a harassed, beaten looking man who'd like to give a fuck about your problem, but who is only allowed to spend ten minutes with you, and has one eye on the clock at all times.

If you've got a sports injury, he tells you to give up sport. If you've got any sort of minor physical problem, he'll tell you to take aspirin. I'm told that there's a third treatment for minor mental problems.

But if it looks like there's any chance that something might really be wrong, he'll send you to Addenbrookes.

Addenbrookes is, by common consent, the best NHS hospital in the country. They have a special system devoted to making sure that your appointment is at the most inconvenient possible time, and another whole system devoted to making sure that it's actually up to five hours later than that. And another system devoted to making sure there's no way to guess how much later so that you have to stay close to the place where the eventual meeting might be.

For those five hours, the only thing you can sensibly do is sit in a horrid smelly room with literally hundreds of very ill people, at least four of whom are actively insane and either wish to communicate this to you, or keep looking at you as if you are a CIA spy who is going to kill them. The Lord knows that this is a hard thing to deal with one is on form. The Lord forbid that I should ever have to deal with it when I am ill.

In all fairness, when you do finally get to see the special doctors at Addenbrookes who do the bits of medicine that aren't aspirin or valium, they're invariably great. But I've only managed to get to that stage twice.

Five years ago I broke a finger (playing cricket), and had to go to Addenbrookes to get it X-Rayed. After waiting in Hell for three hours to see the broken-finger doctor, I stole my X-Rays, examined them, determined that I had a fairly straightforward fracture, looked up the best treatments for fractured fingers on the internet, and strapped my hand up with duct tape and ice-lolly sticks. You can hardly see the bend at all these days, and I consider that to have been one of my most satisfactory interactions with the NHS.

Over the years I've rather got out of the habit of going to the Doctor's. I never seem to get really ill and most sports horrors seem to get better on their own. It would be unrealistic to expect to be the same shape at forty that you were at twenty, after all.

But the grisly prospect of Lyme Disease and the agony of a torn knee cartilage were together just enough to persuade me to go through the process.

I do mean just. After I decided that I ought to, I sat around for about two hours thinking 'I really should'. And not doing.

So, at about 1645 I walked into the GP on Trumpington Street and explained my problems. The receptionist said that I'd need two appointments (gulp), and then asked if ten minutes time was alright. I must have looked a bit puzzled, because she explained "He's running about five minutes late, so you've got time to get a paper if you like, just make sure that you're back by five o'clock".

At five o'clock I got back, and spent two minutes in the waiting room reading my paper before being taken into the surgery of a lovely polite friendly doctor.

He asked questions and prodded my knee and bent it around and looked quizzically at it for about five minutes in exactly the manner of a competent engineer working out what's wrong with a mechanism. He told me exactly what was wrong, showed me how it all worked on a model, told me how to take care of it and how to tell when it would be OK to play cricket again. He even suggested a few fielding positions that I should avoid until I'm sure it's all better again.

Then he talked in some detail about where and how this bite and rash had happened, and said I'd need a blood test. At this point I was thinking 'Oh God, Addenbrookes'.

But no.

They asked me to come back at 1145 the following morning. I may have mentioned that I'm a bit scared of needles.

I turned up at 1145 on the dot and was immediately introduced to two nurses, one of whom kept up a friendly and distracting stream of chatter while the other took a syringeful of blood out of my arm so deftly that I was only barely conscious of it happening. And that was it. Blood in the post, test results expected in a couple of days time. They'll ring me.

I literally can't imagine how this experience could have been better.

What has changed?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Shangri-La Diet: Scheme and Predictions for Third Month

OK, despite last month's fail, I've still got more faith in the Shangri-La idea than I had a the start of this experiment. And my results certainly lead me to believe that the usual advice that if you eat more you'll gain weight is wrong.

I'm representing my results as:

H 77: W 10: S 13

This month I'm going to try as many tricks as possible to make the Shangri-La scheme work. I can tell whether my appetite is low or not, so if I start feeling hungry or looking forward to the supposedly tasteless calories, then I'll change plan. If I can't find a consistently appetite surpressing form of oil, then I'll try deadening my sense of smell with noseclips. And if that doesn't work, then I'll try sugar water. If none of that keeps my appetite down, then I'm going to abandon this as a dead loss.

Apart from that, I'll try to consume 300 extra tasteless calories per day, do only as much exercise as I'll enjoy doing (and since I've just screwed my knee up playing cricket that's probably not going to be much).

That leads to the following predictions for Willpower and Shangri-La:

Willpower (no appetite loss, weight gain)

    1  2  3 4 5 6
yes 5  5  5 5 1 1
no  5 75 25 5 1 1
(total 134)

Shangri-La (appetite loss, further weight loss)

    1 2  3  4  5 6
yes 1 5 25 75 25 5
no  1 5  5  5  5 5
(total 134)

But if I end up drinking large amounts of sugar water, it complicates the picture for my own "Helplessness" theory.

I've believed for a long time that fast carbohydrates screw up your metabolism and cause hunger and thereby obesity. This is pretty much the opposite prediction to Seth's theory.

So I'm going to make two different predictions for H, depending on whether I end up drinking sugar water every morning.

If there's no (or little) sugar water involved, then H says weight stays the same, some loss of appetite to compensate for the oil:

    1  2  3  4 5 6
yes 1 25 50 25 1 1
no  1 25 50 25 1 1
(total 203)

If I end up drinking sugar water for more than 15 days of the month, then H now says I should develop a robust appetite, and gain weight, the same as the Willpower theory. So in that case I'll judge it by the same criteria:

    1  2  3 4 5 6
yes 5  5  5 5 1 1
no  5 75 25 5 1 1
(total 134)

This honest curiosity stuff is turning out to be hard. So many judgement calls to make and possibilities for bias and expectation effects. I'm fairly sure that if I hadn't been making predictions in advance and updating accordingly then by now I'd be either convinced of Shangri-La or utterly dismissive of it.

As it is, the jury is out.

blogger is a piece of shit

This is broken. Any attempt to publish a post is met with errors. Eventually you give up, at which point it's published the same post fifteen times and it takes ages to delete them all. It never used to do this. What the fuck is wrong with Google these days?

edit: Needless to say, this post published absolutely perfectly.

Obviously the same spasmos that have been fucking up gmail have been let loose on this as well.

It really isn't that hard to communicate plain text between browser and webserver. I wonder what nefarious gigs of spyware are getting sneaked in along with the very few bytes of text?

And it's soo slow. At the moment I want to throw my laptop through the window. Even though I know it's not my laptop's fault.

Occasionally it throws your work away. Even comments. How can it be this bad? The only way to use it without ending up smashing your own equipment is to type articles in emacs and then cut and paste them over.

If you're reading this, and you're the moron who did this to what used to be a perfectly good service, so good that you didn't notice it getting in the way, then I would like to fight you.

You can't program, you can't design a UI, you can't run a team of code-monkeys according to whatever half-arsed 'methodology' you learned at moron school, you either didn't test this crap at all before you inflicted it on the millions of people who had grown to love and trust the previous service, or you did test it and your attitude to problems is so cavalier that Cromwell would have stuck your head on a spike without bothering to kill you first.

And yes. I'm sure it works perfectly well if you're using it in your office over a really good connection to the server.

Over any reasonable or realistic public or café connection, with for example latency problems, packet loss, or some kid using skype clogging everything up, it's just fucking appalling.

It didn't used to be. And you're a retard.


Shangri La Diet: Stats after Second Month

Even though it looks as though RII (which says that any strange diet produces brief weight loss, then a couple of months of plateau, then you fatten up again), looks like what's happening here, I'm just going to abandon all the R theories.

For various complicated reasons I think I was wrong to introduce them in the first place. So I'm just going to pretend I didn't.

So in fact I'll pretend my prior was:


My current state is some appetite loss (but not like the first month), belt notch=3 (although that feels slightly tighter than it did last month)

Likelihoods of that result according to various theories:

H 50/203 : W 5/134 : S 25/134

Therefore posterior:

H 2000/203: W 180/134: S 225/134

rounding off to scores out of 100:

H 77: W 10: S 13

This seems pretty reasonable. The willpower theory is getting annihilated because it's not predicting appetite loss and there's no weight gain. Shangri-La is looking better by comparison, and Helplessness, having won this round, is looking good.

I think that's what I actually believe.

The standard Willpower theory says I should just get fatter if I eat more food. This hasn't been happening.

Shangri-La's month of success has given it some credibility even though I originally thought it mad. This month has damaged it though.

The Helplessness theory, that your weight stays the same whatever, and if you eat more you get slightly less hungry to make up doesn't look like quite as good an explanation for the observed results as Shangri-La, but on the other hand, it looked much more likely before I started, and the difference is not great enough to wipe out that initial advantage.

But I want to give Shangri-La its best shot. So next month I'm going to try my damnedest to make it work. Various types of oils, the sugar water version, noseclips, the works. If that works (again), then I'm going to believe that something interesting is going on. If that fails then I think I have my answer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shangri-La Diet: Fail (But Interestingly!)

After the first month of oil-based antics, I'd forgotten what it was like to be hungry, and had to tighten my belt by more than a full notch.

After the second, I've still had noticeable appetite loss, but also had periods of hunger. My belt measurement has wobbled around a bit, sometimes up and sometimes down, and ended up exactly where it was at the start of the month.

I'm trying to be a truth-seeking robot, and I don't believe that a truth-seeking robot should go making exceptions for its favourite theories, so I'll update as planned according to that data.


What actually happened was that at the start of the month, I noticed that I was hungry again, and that my weight had stopped falling, and that I was starting to look forward to my daily dose of olive oil.

Seth Robert's theory makes the fairly straightforward prediction that once you've learned to associate a taste with calories, these things will happen.

I figured that the 'Sainsbury's Mild Olive Oil' that I'd been using, and had originally thought completely tasteless, had in fact enough substance to it that after four weeks I'd learned to like it.

So I went and bought a load of bottles of different types of oils and tried them all, and switched to the one that seemed the most tasteless (Sainsbury's Vegetable Oil, which is just rapeseed oil).

Initially that worked a treat. The experience of eating the sort of stuff you fry chips in was fairly grim, and killed my appetite stone dead, and my weight again began to fall.

But around two weeks later, the same thing happened, and I found myself looking forward to drinking chip fat.

So I'm intrigued. It seems that everything Seth says is true apart from 'you can't get used to tasteless oil'.

But in hindsight, I wasn't following the letter of his instructions, since I'd been using 'the most tasteless oil I could find', and he said 'use extra light olive oil', which I hadn't been able to find originally.

But there is a brand in England that calls itself ELOO (Borges Extra Light Olive Oil), and they sell it in Tesco. I've switched to this now just because of the name. It tastes almost exactly the same as the stuff I tried at first. And since I (now) think they both taste quite nice, I'm not expecting it to do anything particular.

But I'm wondering now. It seems that I can 'get the taste' for vegetable oils, in a way that isn't supposed to happen.

Maybe what they sell in America as Extra Light Olive Oil isn't what they sell here?

Maybe I've got a really good palate and could get a job as an oil-taster?

Maybe the sugar-water version of this craziness will work?

As someone suggested in a comment earlier, maybe wearing swimmer's nose-plugs so I can't taste anything would help? (Although at that point I may lose the ability to swallow because I'd be laughing at myself so hard.)

Who knows? But there are enough interesting things going on here that I'm not going to give up on this idea yet. I'll get in touch with Seth Roberts and see if he can suggest anything.

One thing that strikes me is that if his theory is true, people who lose their sense of smell for some reason should lose weight very dramatically. I wonder if that's true? If it isn't, that's enough to disconfirm this theory once and for all, isn't it? On the other hand, if it is...

Universal Translation

To continue my series of posts going on about bloody Star bloody Trek:

We got:

fairly good automatic speech recognition
fairly good automatic translation via Google Translate
very widespread adoption of high-powered portable computers with network connections and GPS.
very good automatic speech generation

Why do we not got an app that will listen to anyone speaking, try speech recognition with the local language and accent, and spit out an accuratish translation in the user's language?