Thursday, August 24, 2006

24 August 2006: Dwarf

When we woke up this morning, there were a variety of things you think might not change:
  • The number of furlongs in a mile (eight).
  • The number of players on a football team (eleven).
  • The number of pounds you get for passing 'Go' in monopoly (two hundred).
  • The number of planets in the solar system (nine).

You'd be wrong. The International Astronomical Union just voted a resolution through that demoted Pluto from a planet to being a 'dwarf planet'. So now there are eight 'classical planets' and at least three 'dwarf planets' which, incidentally, include Ceres, the largest asteroid from belt between Mars and Jupiter, along with Pluto and 2003 UB313 (now that one needs a catchier name).

Problem caused, of course, by the discovery that 2003 UB313, despite its disappointing name, is actually larger than Pluto. So what are you going to do? Create a tenth planet - knowing full well that there are probably more out there - or demote Pluto to a not-a-real-planet group? (Or just ignore it altogether and say Pluto is a planet because it got there first?) So it's probably the best they could do.

Still, it's tough on poor Pluto. I mean, it must be hard enough out there at the dark edge of the observable solar system, all alone except for its hanger-on moon Charon, shunned by the Voyagers and now usurped by a newcomer and demoted from being a planet. I'm told it comes in towards the sun every so often, crossing Neptune's orbit, but Neptune has so arranged its diary that the two will never meet.

Sheesh. Makes my write-up life seem perfectly bearable.

Monday, August 21, 2006

21 August 2006: Bagpuss

As I write this, I'm finishing some very nice home-made peach cobbler for lunch and listening to last week's movie reviews from Mark Kermode (which, by the way, is quite comfortably the best thing on the radio, and that includes Le Show and Test Match Special). Chapters six and seven will continue this afternoon, but I thought it was important to catch up with what the good doctor thought of 'Snakes on a Plane' (answer: "not as unutterably terrible as you might think it might be").

Kermode's reviews are normally a great source of education, information and entertainment (thus clearly belonging on the BBC), more entertaining than anything when a truly-awful-but-clearly-going-to-make-lots-of-money blockbuster comes out and Kermode sets off on one of his rants. Dig out the archives for Star Wars III: Return of the Sith ("better than the first one, but then so is slamming your head in a car door") or the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for prime, glorious examples.

And now I'm starting to wonder if my eldest nephew Matt might be headed the same way. He just turned four, and for his birthday it was decreed by all concerned that it would be a darn fine time to introduce him to Bagpuss. Emily's cat Bagpuss. I had to 'check' the DVD before wrapping it up, of course, and enjoyed a wonderful episode which featured a highly-extended version of 'row row row your boat' which led to the mice going on strike. So we packaged it up, along with a Lewis Carrol nonsense verse book to keep the his parents happy, and off we went to Salisbury.

Reports came back the following day that Matt had, at first, been greatly confused by Bagpuss: specifically, he was deeply uncertain about the relatively enormous cat and he asked if it was going to eat the mice from the mouse-organ. My first reaction: ha ha, how silly, it's Bagpuss! My second reaction: hang on a minute, he's got a point.

And the point is this: not that Bagpuss is some shadowy film-noir short with hidden depths and dark overtones (although frankly the relationship between the doll and the toad has to be looked into), nor that Bagpuss perhaps was just toying with them all, giving and taking their consciousness at his own whims, but that if you looked at it from a completely neutral perspective, never knowing anything about Bagpuss, the question Matt asked is exactly the question you should ask. And I never have asked that question, not once in my thirty-one years.

Neither has anyone else, it seems. Do a Google search on: Bagpuss "eat the mice" and it comes up blank. Nobody else has ever thought of this. So now I'm wondering if Matt is actually gifted at seeing plots and characterisations that go beyond anything the normal punter would see. And if that is the case, all we need to do is train him to talk at two hundred words per minute without notes, and Dr Kermode's position should be under threat.

Meantime I'm off to finish chapter six and consider what truly was going on with Dougal and the Blue Cat. Maybe Matt can advise me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

16 August 2006: Deep

It's ok, I'm still alive, the anthrax hasn't got me yet.

It's just that I'm writing up for most of my waking hours right now, trying to get some kind of closure and complete a full draft by the end of the month. Of particular interest in recent chapters might be chapter two, heading 1.1 which currently reads:

1.1 It's A Load Of Old Rubbish

(now that's what I call a balanced literature review)

and the discovery of CrossRef, which seems a nice idea until you realise it's basically just the publishers, scared of the advance of OAI and the ensuing loss of revenue, banding together to produce their own wide-ranging search facility restricted, of course, to their own published materials. Yup, they include smaller publishers, but it seems be you're either in the group or out of it... and if you're out, you're out. This would be a problem if CrossRef becomes the de facto standard for academic paper searching, but it won't: partly because, like Google Scholar, a lot of the papers are subscription-only, and partly because crawler-based search/cache facilities such as Google and Citeseer will just gobble up the data and offer a search facility that includes CrossRef documents as a sub-set of their larger dataset.

Anyway, enough from me. Time to get back to chapter six.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2 August 2006: Re-repeat

Quick blog before getting back to The Write-Up.

It occurs to me that I should have blogged at some point last week in one of my 'annual' repeats. Last year at this time I was writing, as usual for this time of year, about the winner of the Tour De France, the new Hillsong album and a little rant about work, and how while some things change, others never do. War in the middle east, environmental disaster, Zimbabwe in turmoil, deaths in Iraq. Could have been today, couldn't it?

Of course, some things do change: Niger, unlike last year, seems to be at least slightly more comfortable - indeed the top story involving Niger as reported by Google news (gotta love it) seems to be their pride at hosting the Africa Volleyball Championships. And as for the Tour De France, an American won it - at least at the moment. But Floyd Landis failed a doping test and, if his B-sample fails on Saturday, he'll be stripped of his title and banned for two years. Something that Lance Armstrong, for all his controversy, never faced. Hillsong's new one, 'Mighty To Save' has received reviews ranging from 'best in years' to 'way too youth/United oriented' although 'At The Cross' does seem to be generally well-received (seems a little plodding to me).

Meantime Tropical Storm Chris, which was upgraded from 'heavy showers' right up through Tropical Depression and into Tropical Storm while I was travelling to work yesterday, seems to be heading to become the first Atlantic hurricane of the year. Which isn't bad, considering it's August already, but that's scant comfort to the people of Cuba, Florida and wherever else it decides to go after the weekend.

And as for the middle-east, good to see Britain sitting firmly on the fence by sending aid to Lebanon and helping the US get the all-important bombs to Israel. Something to do with keeping the economy ticking over, isn't it?