Because I forget stuff. Part of

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January 2005

Posts made in January 2005


Just as we thought the worst was over with the departure of one home secretary, the UK manages to stoop to amazing new abuses of power. Having had it pointed out that detention without trial is, surprise surprise, an abuse of human rights it now has plans to introduce indefinite house arrest, determined by a politician without judicial review, for it own citizens. Yes, Charles Clarke says your a risk so they can lock you in your house and cut off access to the outside world (the banning of telephones and net access has been mentioned). Presumably they’ll take you ID card too. As the Law Society says, this is an abuse of power and an extreme one at that. Of course such “control orders” will barely be open to public scrutiny let alone that of the courts. The home secretary can quite easily claim that details must remain secret in the “interests of national security”. Well, I feel so much more secure knowing that this government is introducing laws more reminiscent of a German party of the early period of the last century. This is a country which is not a stranger to terror. For decades the IRA posed a much clearer and more present danger (they were after all actually setting off bombs and killing people—it doesn’t get much clearer or more present than that), yet no such measures were felt necessary. Yet because the US finally has a taste of what most of europe has known at one stage or another the world is suddenly a much worse place, where we must subject ourselves to the will of “those who know best”, which appears to be those who say they know best if you listen to the politicians. This country was free, it invented the models of democracy and law which we’re supposedly fighting to maintain and bring to the rest of the world. What if those principles of freedom are no longer here to export though, will we not then have lost? The introduction of ID cards would be a bad enough erosion of the right of citizens to go about their business unmolested by the state which is supposedly there to serve them, not itself, but these measures take us towards the territory of the regimes we have most criticised in the past. It would be unbelievable if it weren’t so frighteningly real. It is time to stand up and point out that despite what the government believes the rulers of society are its citizens and not those few they have temporarily elected to do their bidding. If only there were someone better to replace it with, but of course one of the great disqualifications for being a politician ought to be the desire to be one.


Jesse Ruderman notes changes to Google. As best I can tell words in searches still link to rather than but I have noticed that going directly to seems to be redirecting me to the local version at

I can’t really comment on the increase in words per query as I wasn’t aware there was one to start with, though eleven words were accepted. Presumably these are new changes just being rolled out – how they might affect googlewhacking remains to be seen

Update: I too now see links to I note that it doesn’t seem to be particularly good at getting definitions of plurals any more (for example, thoughts and definitions don’t get linked – even to the singular versions – I’m fairly sure they would have when using


I really don’t feel too well :-( I was fine around lunchtime but now I’m feeling run down and achey and fuzzy and a cross between pain and sick. I know Rachel’s dad hasn’t been feeling too good because he told me yesterday. Just hope I haven’t caught anything from him. Further blog posts will probably be made from in bed for the time being.

Blog Stuff

This is partly a test entry and partly a note about something else. Firstly the blog front page now contains a sort of “today module” which gives information about posts I’ve made today (or the time since I lasted posted if there are none), holidays today, etc. I think I’ve finally ironed out all the bugs with my template code for that.

Also, MT have released a plugin to implement Google’s (and other’s) new nofollow value for the rel attribute on links. This post will shortly receive a test comment to make sure I have everything working properly. MT-Blacklist does a good job of catching the comment spam I get, but every little deterrent helps.

Update: Everything seems OK after a couple of teething issues. Woo!


Lexitus mentions his latest crazed dream (the end of the world culminating in boil covered sky). After my comment he mentioned in an email to me the dream you have when feverish (fairly sure he won’t mind me giving away that snippet of a private email ;-0) Anyway, that inspired a post about the great dreams (everyone has them don’t they – the one’s they never forget).

As alluded to when I commented on Lexitus’ post, the first is the great college dream (I can’t remember when I had this one—I’ve only had it the once as best I know). This isn’t as it sounds the dream of making it to college (achieved that quite nicely thanks). Rather it’s a strange dream of about a college (well, it had more of a university feel but in the dream it was definitely a college). The college was all stone corridors and wood lined rooms opening onto great halls, and I wandered searching for someone (don’t know who) for an age, pausing to take drinks in comfy chairs and look at obscure books on library shelves (this was all within one large continuous building). No idea what the hell it was about but for some reason it’s always stuck with me.

The second dream is my recurring nightmare of the dogs. I continue to occasionally have this one. I’m wandering through a park when I’m chased by a pack of dogs (at this point I should point out that in waking life I’m not scared of, and quite like, dogs). The dogs chase me down and at about the point one of them bares me down I wake up in the cold nightmare sweat. This dream undoubtedly relates back to a couple of incidents in my childhood. The first involved startling a friends dog with a loud toy, so the (Alsatian I think) pounced on me, only to realise it’s mistake and almost over apologise with its Oops look. The second was wandering down a back alley to be confronted with two or three dogs snarling at me. I did the foolish thing and turned and ran. Knowing that one of those dogs was closing I can only assume that the barking I heard was some other dog calling it off.

The third dream I can’t actually describe in a public forum for rather complex reasons. This occurred I’d say in about 1998 to 1999). Suffice to say that on waking I spent about an hour trying to figure out which of the two realities in my head was real, a very strange sensation (I’ve had the not quite sure it was a dream moment on other occasions of course but never for that long!)

I don’t remember a feverish dream, but then I don’t remember the last time I was feverish. I don’t think I really remember many dreams; or when I do remember I forget after about a day or so. I’ve sometimes thought that maybe I should record a few of the more entertaining ones, so you might look out for a few more dreamy posts.

Update: Turns out I’ve inspired a description of the limb stretching feverish dream.

Technology in Football

With a number of recent incidents in the premier league there are once again calls for the use of technology to decide on contentious decisions in games. This posts describes the reasons I believe that this should not be.

Let me begin this exposition by stating the obvious: Football is a simple game, and is at is best when this is most obvious. Over complicating the game risks spoiling it, or at the least causing more confusion than necessary (the controversy over the revised off-side rule—something itself supposedly fixable with the do all balm of technology—is a case in point). Football is so simple in fact that it can be played anywhere from the lowest park to the grandest stadium and, give or take the talent of the players and the ability of the officials, the game will be played the same. The players will on occasion cheat (that is blunt but still to a greater or lesser extent true). The officials (referee, linesmen—or assistant referees if you insist) will make mistakes. It will even itself out and it will be the same for all players, no matter which park they’re in. One of the milder suggestions for technology in the game is the introduction of radio tracking of the ball, to determine when it has crossed the goal line for instance. This would actually probably work, given that it doesn’t particularly suffer from most of the problems outlined below (assuming it’s decision really is instant). However, it still breaks the fundamental simplicity of the game and provides a foothold for the introduction of further “innovation” with potentially far worse consequences (one can already hear the cries of “we’ve seen how well technology works with the chip in the ball”, as if all technology were the same).

Even if one accepts the idea that where millions (billions?) of pounds are potentially at stake, then – well – the stakes are higher one runs into problems. The oft used arguments include “the cameras are there, let’s use them”, and “they do it in other sports”. Both true, but the point of football is it’s flow. In sports like rugby and cricket where an adjudication is requested from some fourth, fifth, umpteenth official with a TV monitor the game has reached a natural break—it would have stopped anyway (as an aside anyone who claims that we can instantly get a decision should observe just how long it takes for the verdict to come down in these cases). In football a contentious offside decision (for instance) is not necessarily a natural break. If it is offside then there is a free kick and break, yes, but if not then play continues as normal (the ball may be lost, an offence—perhaps worthy of a sending off—committed a goal scored by either team). Presumably one must wait for a natural break before examining the evidence for a decision that could well have occurred minutes before (or one has someone second guessing every referee decision and hence severely undermining his authority). And thus the flow is broken. Yes, we can probably track every player on the pitch in real time, given enough effort, but to what accuracy and to what purpose (I recall the “virtual replay” introduced a few years ago—and now mysteriously vanished—which recreated a position in a virtual world to examine offside, whether the ball crossed the line et al., all ignoring the stated accuracy of ball and player position was only about a foot). Having determined where everyone is using the dozens of cameras covering each top game we’re still left with the problem in the third round of the FA Cup where the big team travels to the minnows with their shed as a stand. Hardly the same is it.

Football is simple. It should remain that way for the sake of the game, so that school ground arguments don’t degenerate into trying to convince teacher to check the CCTV camera to decide on a goal, so that the game played on a Sunday afternoon is the same as those played (ever so rarely it seems) at 3pm on a Saturday. Yes, mistakes will be made, but again, that is part of the game. And it is a game we love.

Titanic Success

Of course the big science success story of the day is the fantastic results from the Huygens probe. And to think it was almost worthless


Live exciting update. Naughty boy (Pepe the cat) has just brought mouse in and is now under a chair with it. Grrr

Update: Mouse now running around living room, pursued by cat (and me)

Further Update:Cat has lost mouse. Unfortunately so have I :-(

Ah, the mouse is under the TV unit, just out of reach of the naughty puddy cat. Hmm, what to do now…

Conclusion: Cat removed from room; torch to locate mouse; pokey stick thing stuck under TV unit; mouse is staying put; Remove cabling from TV (bloody captive power cord, have to find and disentangle plug); Lift heavy TV and balance delicately on sofa; lever up the unit to reveal mouse; pokey stick used to virtually roll mouse out; dust pan and brush used to transfer mouse to front garden; mouse probably half dead, but then thought that when he (or she) first appeared…don’t know much about mice really, don’t know if it’ll survive. Feel bad for mouse; let cat back in; remove cat again so can replace TV; cat back, the fool is still sitting waiting for his mouse to appear (though he’s had some Iams cat biscuits in the meantime). Very naughty cat.

An Anniversary of Sorts

Today forms an anniversary of sorts for this blog. It’s a year since the first proper post. The anniversary of the first post was actually a few days ago, but the first few posts actually just dealt with setting the blog up and testing. So the blog’s a year old. Woo.

Sign Here

In the “I’m determined to blog more science” category comes a story from a month ago but which I only just caught up with (makes me wonder what else I’ve missed but hey, I’m always wondering that). I thought this worth mentioning because I think it’s quite cool and is actually a lot closer to my research field than most things I mention. So, using an AFM to write with “ink”. A prize undoubtedly goes to the first group to sign their names. See also S Deladi et al. 2004 Appl. Phys. Lett. 85 5361

Black Coffee

I take me coffee unadulterated black, nothing added. I’ve done this ever since I was a first year undergraduate and saw the light due to being too disorganised/lazy to manage to have milk (I was in halls of residence and milk could be bought from the 24 hour manned reception. That’s how lazy). This simple black coffee approach seems to confuse the hell out of some establishments. I’ve been looked at as if I’m simply crazy for ordering “just a black coffee” before. No, not espresso, just normal coffee with nothing added. I don’t like milk in it (I don’t like milk much anyway and hate warm milk, always have—there was a quote I heard/read recently and now can’t recall where along the lines of The best thing Thatcher did was get rid of the school milk. It was always too warm). Anyway, one of the worst offenders must be Starbucks. I’ve only ever been in a real live Starbucks two or three times total—any establishment where I have to queue once to order only to join another separate queue to collect from someone with no idea what I’ve ordered is struggling for my custom. If the attempt to simplify ordering is that complicated we’re never going to get on. Only a US establishment could over complicate coffee to that extent. The last time I was in one was actually just before christmss, in Newcastle. Rachel, who was recieving drinks while I secured table, actually didn’t even recognise our order when it was called (for the whole shop to hear despite the obvious fact it’s for someone in the waiting queue) due to the weird and wonderful name it got. The caller (is barista the word?) sounded most peeved to have to say two medium black coffees. Next time I might try the longest starbucks order just for the hell of it.

So please, remember that some of us like the simple life. Basics. Serve me black coffee (and when I ask for coffee I haven’t said coffee and milk so don’t serve it white. Serve milk and/or cream alongside if you wish, I simply won’t use it, but it’s crazy I have to specify I want just what I ask for). Rant over.

That’s Swift

The NASA swift mission to search for gamma ray bursts was turned on last month. Researchers were expecting to detect a couple of bursts per week but while they were still in the process of calibrating the instrument they were practically deluged with bursts, including three in one day. It’s not clear as yet whether that’s just luck or if the bursts really are more common than anticipated but either way it’s certainly swift progress (OK enough of the bad puns…I’m just trying to blog more science).


Waking up at 4 in the morning with an agonising toothache is not fun. Given my lack of knowledge of relevant dental treatments available when everyone is in general asleep a phone call was placed to the only medical resource I could think of that I knew to be available at that time (other than casualty which seemed overkill), namely the NHS direct helpline (actually Rachel initiated the call due to the fact that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to speak, mainly due to the fact I was lying covered in sweat and shaking). The nurse who eventually got back to us (having had to give a seemingly endless sequence of details) was as helpful as he could be and I must express my gratitude that he did seem to genuinely seem to be doing his best but basically all he could offer was take some ibuprofen (yeh, done that already funnily enough). Unfortunately it was at this point that I realised that despite the area I live I don’t actually know a local dealer in anything stronger :-(

The strange thing about this is that as suddenly as the pain began (and this was somewhat above my actually relatively high threshold) it stopped with bizarre abruptness. Now it’s sort of waxing and waning but the immediacy of the situation has at least faded. The whole incident did initiate a 5 O’clock run to Asda for more painkillers, coke, envelopes, a battery and toilet roll. Who knows what the night shift worker there thought.

Street Heritage

Apparently there’s a movement to reduce the clutter of street furniture (roadsigns, etc.) on the streets of York [I’ll have to remember to update that link tomorrow as, though stories are archived, they gain a new URL which isn’t linked to when the story is current. grrr]. Now I agree many of these signs aren’t needed and others could be combined and better designed but I’ve been aware of the English Heritage (poorly accessible site—in that it think it just dumps Firefox and Mozilla into the text only version—by the way) for a while and remember thinking to myself at the time I first heard of it…how long until we have streets protected for there vanishing and important street historic furniture?

Edit: Link updated to a (hopefully) more permanent URL.

Things I’ve Noticed

Being out the loop somewhat over christmas/new year a few things slid by that I might normally comment on. The Links of the Moment contains a further collection of noticed links without any actual comment. First up it’s good to see that the terrible scourge of dihydrogen monoxide isn’t being allowed to go out of the public sight. As a scientist I fully appreciate the terrible effects this substance can have.

Talking of danger, reaching an unprecedented 4 on the Torino scale, asteroid 2004 MN4 may have been a little dangerous. But then it dropped back to a zero. Whatever the outcome of that threat, it’s the ones which slide by without warning that are scary.

All I’ll say on the real disaster of recent weeks is how much awe I feel over the sheer power of such an event, amply demonstrated by the satellite images. Now can we please try moving on, stop with the minute silences at every footie game and the modern wallowing in sadness. The quickest, simplest way to donate is probably to click the big box on Amazon’s homepage. Remember the survivors.


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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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