January 2008


by Suw on January 30, 2008

Sorry to everyone who has left a comment here only for it not to show up – quite a lot of comments got caught in by Akismet, but the notification emails then got caught up in my Gmail spam trap, so I didn’t realise that there were so many comments awaiting moderation.

If you’ve left a comment and it’s still not shown up, please do let me know.

Oh, and I just want to say… I will delete comments that are irrelevant, blatantly plugging your site/blog/podcast/product, written in all caps with no punctuation and poor spelling, or just plain mean.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

A tangle with gravity

by Suw on January 30, 2008

I wrote this post yesterday afternoon with the intention of posting it on Strange Attractor, but technical problems have stopped me from being able to post it there at all. Horizon was, by the way, fab.

Whilst Kev and I were at the gym this morning, we caught an interview with Dr Brian Cox on BBC Breakfast, talking to Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams about an episode of Horizon, What on Earth is wrong with gravity. I’m looking forward to seeing the programme tonight, having already seen a number of outtakes on Brian’s partner Gia’s blog. Thankfully, Gia has grabbed the interview and put it up on YouTube:

Now, gravity is tricky. It’s the sort of thing, like mass, that seem pretty obvious. You drop a pencil, as Bill did, and it falls until it hits a surface that stops it falling any further. We all know what gravity does. What’s less clear is what gravity is, how it works, what makes gravity pull things together. It’s actually a pretty difficult subject to tackle in a six minute segment.

Unfortunately, Bill and Sian – and whomever produced and researched the program – didn’t prepare any decent questions. Gravity is one of those subjects where seemingly simple questions have horrendously complex answers, if they have answers at all. Bill and Sian went for the simple questions, but Brian had only a few minutes – if that, given that they showed two clips of the programme – to try to answer.

Now, to my mind, the job of the presenter in these situations is to act as a proxy for the audience and to ask the questions that the audience want answered. The question that I suspect the audience most want answered about an episode of Horizon is: “Why should I watch this programme?” That was a question that Bill and Sian spectacularly failed to address, even indirectly, because they were focused on small but unanswerable questions instead.

Bill concentrated on dropping his pencil and asking querulously, “Why is it so complicated?” and then giggling like a schoolboy, I suspect because he felt a little out of his element. “I thought it was dead simple myself,” he says.

Brian has some great stories to illustrate his point. Most surprisingly, he talks about how if we didn’t correct for the way that time passes differently in orbit to on earth, our satnav systems would drift by 11km per day. But he’s forced to talk about spacetime without being able to fully explain what spacetime is and, frankly, anyone would be forgiven for struggling with that.

Sian then says, “I’m still not sure what causes gravity.” Well, you and the rest of the physics world. That’s not a smart question to ask, because there’s no answer, and the lack of an answer is going to flummox people. The point of this six minute segment is not to solve one of the universe’s greatest riddles, but to spark a little curiosity in people’s minds. And I can pretty much guarantee that no one woke up this morning and asked, “What causes gravity?”

Indeed, I did a straw poll of my friend son Twitter and Seesmic, and asked, “If I was an omniscient being, what scientific question would you like answered?”

From Twitter:

jrnoded: @suw why 42?
michaelocc: @Suw Is faster than light travel possible?
adamamyl: @Suw: why, on taking government office do incumbents forget they have principles/spines? Or, why int a resignation, a resignation, thesedays
zeroinfluencer: @Suw: How to make an affordable Holy Grail (Assorted Colours)
londonfilmgeek: @Suw Can i haz an Aperture Science Portal gun, kthanxbai
The_Shed: @Suw Are we even close to knowing the truth about anything?
johnbreslin: @Suw: Is this like “does anything eat wasps?” 🙂 how about, where does all the time go (inspired by the Time Snails in “Captain Bluebear”)?
aidg: @Suw Science q for the omniscient: How the universe was created or the story of creation from primordial soup to multicellular organisms.
meriwilliams: @Suw Why is life?
tara_kelly: @Suw Dear omniscient being: is time really as linear as we like to think it is?

From Seesmic, my question:

An amazing question from DeekDeekster, that I personally would love the answer to:

Jeff Hinz echoes MichaelOOC, but from the opposite angle:

Christian Payne takes the Prince Charles line:

Dave Shannon asks the hardest question:

You’ll notice that no one, not one single person, asked “What is gravity?”.

Then towards the end of the Breakfast interview, they bring up the entirely spurious issue of the asteroid that missed hitting the Earth by 334,000 miles at 8;33am this morning. Cue the stupidest question of the morning: “If gravity is such a big deal, how come that asteroid that Carol told us about didn’t crash into Earth?” That’s like saying, if the sky is blue, how come grass is green?

To add insult to injury, Sian ends up by saying, “See, that’s why he has a PhD and we haven’t, because he can understand these sorts of things and we’re still bamboozled” and Bill finishes up with, “You’d managed a major achievement this morning, which is that you’ve managed to explain something to all of us and made us both feel really thick.”

Poor Brian didn’t stand a chance. How can you manage to extract even a shred of dignity from that? How can you pull back from that and say something that will encourage people to watch your programme?

If the Breakfast team had thought for a moment and actually talked to Brian before the interview about what questions would make for an entertaining and interesting interview, ruling out questions that no physicist alive can answer, and including ones that perhaps the audience actually want to know the answer to, then I suspect things would have gone much better.

But to me, this is indicative of the attitude of the media towards science and technology: “Oh, look at those weirdos over there with their white coats and strange ways of talking. They’re not like us. They’re Boffins.” It’s an attitude based in ignorance and fear, and nurtured by the unnecessarily divisive split between science/tech and the humanities at school and then university.

Yet at times like this, the “I’m too dumb to understand you boffins” attitude is counterproductive. All Bill and Sian have done is put off people who might otherwise have watched Horizon, and pissed off the people who definitely will. Which is foolish, given that they are working for the very same organisation that commissioned Brian’s programme.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Midnight roadworks, part 2

by Suw on January 23, 2008

Just before 8pm this evening, it started again. Out came the angle grinders, the pneumatic drills, the machines that rip up the tarmac, and the lorries to take it away. God knows how long it’s going to go on for tonight.

I rang Islington council this morning to complain. A very polite chap took notes of my call, and promised to pass it on to the Highways Department, and that someone would get back to me. Someone did. A very nice lady called me back to let me know that this particular road is not the responsibility of Islington Council, but of Transport for London and someone from there would call me.

Well, I guess the chances of anyone ringing me back from Transport for London are nil, but the nice lady from Islington Council gave me their phone number, so tomorrow I will call them.

It’s not just the noise that upsets me, it’s the total lack of communication. No one has let us know that our lives are going to be disrupted. We have no idea what the hours of work are. We have no idea how many nights our sleep is going to be disrupted. And the worst thing is that there seems to be no reason for this work to be carried out during the night at all. Only a few weeks ago they had two lanes closed during the day so that they could do roadworks, and the traffic tailbacks didn’t seem to bother them then. So why is this different? Why is it so important that drivers not be inconvenienced that they are willing to ruin our sleep?

I made a point of going to Boots this afternoon to buy ear plugs. I got two different sorts, and I hope that one of them is comfortable enough to fall asleep in, and that they work well enough to cut out the noise – which is a lot louder tonight than it was last night. But I shouldn’t have to buy earplugs to get to sleep in my own, otherwise relatively quiet bedroom. I shouldn’t have to deal with the stress and tension caused by this. There’s just no good reason for it.

Tomorrow, a call to TfL, and a letter to my MP.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Midnight roadworks

by Suw on January 23, 2008

Kevin and I are both getting progressively more and more exhausted as we burn the candle at both ends, trying to get the wedding sorted, and get all the work done that we must before the Big Day. Getting a full night’s sleep – preferably eight or nine hours – is essential, but difficult.

Last night, it was all but impossible. I saw a huge transport lorry lurking outside mid-evening, and started to worry a bit. By 9pm, they had everything unloaded, and proceeded to dig up the road. They had jackhammers, and one of those machines that tears up the tarmac. The noise could be heard from our bedroom, even with all doors shut. The bass rumble just cuts through the walls like a hot knife through butter.

Kevin and I had wanted an early night, so we were in bed by 10pm, reading. I was hoping the roadworks would be done by 11pm, but no… instead, our downstairs neighbour put on some music with what I believe is termed “thumping bass”. Great. Thankfully that didn’t last too long, but it set my teeth on edge.

We carried on reading til 11.20pm, and I took a Nytol because I knew I’d never get to sleep without one. Midnight came, roadworks still going. I eventually drifted off, but woke up again at 1.30am… roadworks still going. Pound pound pound. Thump thump thump. 2am, still going. 3am, not entirely sure. Hard to separate pounding outside from pounding in my head. 3.30am, I think it’s still going. 4am, ok, now it’s quiet. 6.30am, central heating turns on, radiator sounds like Niagara Falls.


I do not understand why they have to do really loud and noisy roadworks in a residential area through the night. It’s absurd and stupid. And I’m knackered. I’m desperately hoping that they don’t come back tonight, because that would just be intolerable.

I think I’m going to need a nap this afternoon, just to get through the day.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Creative Business in the Digital Era

by Suw on January 17, 2008

At last, applications for the Creative Business seminar that I’ve been working on, examining new business models based around giving away creative works, are open!

If you are interested in coming along, you can read more on the site, or download the application pack.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Ways of writing

by Suw on January 10, 2008

Vince blogs that he is changing the way that he writes, moving from a strictly linear method to a more flexible scene-based method:

I’ve […] tried a different approach toward writing this book. In the past I have been religiously linear. The first draft has been written as it reads, from beginning to end. This time, instead of the process stalling when I hit a sticking point, I’ve jumped ahead and written a later scene. Not exactly rocket science, but it shows that even after thirteen years of this writing business, there are still some really obvious techniques I haven’t tried yet.

I wonder if the other writers work the same way and whether they use scenes as the primary building blocks for their stories? I’ve probably always done it, but I’ve certainly become more accomplished at distilling an idea into scenes as I’ve done more screenwriting and filmmaking. I refuse to go as far as using index cards, but I’ve certainly found it helpful for plotting and weeding out unnecessary passages before I have to actually write them.

Neil on the other hand, prefers a more exploratory approach:

I’m more or less happily writing Chapter Six of The Graveyard Book. I say more or less as I’m at that place where I hope that the book knows what it’s doing because right now I don’t have a clue — I’m writing one scene after another like a man walking through a valley in thick fog, just able to see the path a little way ahead, but with no idea where it’s actually going to lead him.

Me, I’m sticking to the method that’s worked so well for me up to now – resulting as it has in 5 beginnings, half a middle and no endings – of doing precisely no planning and letting my characters paint themselves into a corner whilst I look on, mystified as to how I am going to get them out again.

I’m sure you’ll agree that’s a winning strategy.

It’s so funny. These days I am surrounded by people writing books – including people who had formerly said that they couldn’t write for toffee. (Which just goes to show what poor judges of our own abilities we are.) Some previous non-writers are even on their second book.

The strange thing is that I’m writing more now than I ever have before. Some of it on the various blogs that I keep, a lot of it for clients, and quite a lot more privately, on blogs installed locally on this laptop, and a daft amount in Twitter. I just wrote something in the area of 30,000 words for a client, which I’m very proud of but which will never see the light of day. I’ve also got tens of thousands of words on various private local blogs that will also never become public, because that’s not what they were written for.

Last year, one of my goals was to write a book. I did start a novel, but to be honest, the main character turned out to be a complete nutjob. Whilst I’m not averse to writing a character that’s mad as a bag of ferrets, I wasn’t really expecting her to turn out that way, and it kinda threw me.

But I have to remember that I am writing a book right now. It just doesn’t feel like it, because I’m not sitting down and thinking “Time to write a book!”, I’m just sorta getting on with it. It’s not a novel, which is a shame. I won’t feel like I’ve really achieved anything as a writer until I have a novel published. It is going to be amusing, I hope, and it will also be interesting, I hope, but you’ll have to wait til probably early summer before you find out anything more about it.

After all, It could still go the way of all my other attempts, but that depends on what the lead character does. She could still turn out to be mad as a bag of ferrets.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Where’s my “I do”?

by Suw on January 7, 2008

Kevin and I both agree that the most important part of our wedding day is the ceremony itself, wherein we pledge to love each other for the rest of our lives. As ours is neither a church nor a civil ceremony (the legal obligation having been discharged the day before), we can have a ceremony that we have crafted and which is just right for us. Of course, figuring out what that ceremony is, what words it is made of, is a different kettle of fish all together.

Today I started looking at various different ceremonies. Kevin’s cousin is a Lutheran minister, and he is officiating for us, so I took at look at the ceremony that he’d sent over to us. I also looked at the Anglican Common Book of Prayer from 1928. The latter is much more familiar to me – the weddings I’ve been to have universally been Church of England and have therefore used some variation of this ceremony. This particular version, though, has a poetry to it – it scans properly, it sounds as solemn and heartfelt as it should, it resonates.

Then I dug a little further and found the The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony from 1662, which is still very familiar, beginning as it does with:

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony…

But which soon goes off on a rather alarming tack:

[…] the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

And then, after a call and response session absent from modern versions, we get to the duties of Man and Wife, in which Men are exhorted to “love their wives as their own bodies” and “be not bitter against them” (gee, thanks!), and Wives are reminded that they are not to plait their hair or wear gold or put on apparel.

I’m pretty sure neither of us want sin, fornication or fear brought into things, and I quite like plaiting my hair and wearing apparel, if not American Apparel.

Going further back, there’s a version of an Elizabethan Wedding Ceremony from the Prayerbook of Edward VI (Reigned 1537 – 1553) (… er, wouldn’t that make it Tudor?), which is also reproduced in a dramatic, if difficult to read, blackletter PDF. The introduction to the PDF tells us that the source for the document is “a true facsimile (probably the only one ever made) of the 1549 BCP [Book of Common Prayer] privately printed in 1896. This book appears in David Griffiths’ Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1896/5, and is a facsimile of the very first printing of the Book of Common Prayer, Griffiths 1549/1.”

Again, it’s amazingly familiar:

Deerely beloued frendes, we are gathered together here in the syght of God, and in the face of his congregacion, to ioyne together this man, and this woman in holy matrimonie…

There’s some nice period spelling there, but the words are pretty much the same. I will admit, that surprised me, because it had never really occurred to me that the words of the wedding ceremony might actually be centuries old. It’s just one of those obvious things that you never realise until you see it staring you in the face.

I also found, via [A]mazed and [Be]mused, this “reconstruction” of a medieval marriage ceremony – written by someone from the SCA so make of it what you will – which includes the following vow:

I N. take thee N to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

Like Stephen, who blogged this in May last year, I was perplexed and amused by the idea that the bride should be “bonny and buxom at bed and at board”. I think I can pretty easily vow to be buxom – it’s more of a state than an act, really – although bonny’s more of a subjective judgement.

It turns out that both “bonny” and “buxom” meant different things back then:

This wonderfully alliterative phrase comes from the Use of Sarum, the earliest English marriage service I have found, which was authorised by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1085. […]

Originally these words meant something rather different from now. “Bonny” is from the French ‘bon’, or ‘good’; “buxom” is from an old German word meaning ‘pliant’ or ‘obedient’; “board” is where you put food (on the ‘sideboard’) so this means mealtimes; and “bed” simply meant ‘night-time’. So “Be bonny and buxom in bed and at board” meant: “Behave properly and obediently through night and day.” The meanings of these words changed over the years and the church objected to talking about bonny and buxom brides in bed, so we have now lost this vow.

That’s a relief and a pity all at once. For a while I was wondering if I could get Kevin to vow to be “happy and hot at home and abroad”, but thought that might be pushing my luck a bit.

But then, as I read more and more, I started to realise… there are no “I do”s. At no point in any of these ceremonies does anyone say “I do”.

In 1549 we had:

[Name] Willte thou haue this woman to thy wedde wife, to liue together after Goddes ordeinuce in the holy estate of matrimonie? Wilt thou loue her, coumforte her, honor, and kepe her in sicknesse and in health? And forsaking all other kepe thee only to her, so long as you both shall liue?

I will.

In 1662 we had:

WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

I will.

And in 1928 we had:

N. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

I will.

Not a single “I do” amongst them.

Yet in the civil ceremony, there it is, the fabled “I do”:

[Groom], do you take [Bride] to be your lawful wedded wife?

I do.

Will you love and respect her, be honest with her, and stand by her through whatever may come?

I will.

Despite this, “I do” gets all the good tunes, movies and TV episodes, whilst poor old “I will” gets one song, by the Beatles (which I’ve never heard and may not even refer to wedding vows).

Next time… Just what is a troth and how do I plight it?

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

A meme to keep you happy

by Suw on January 4, 2008

Been ages since I’ve joined in with a silly meme, so here goes. From WhatIFoundThere, the Dadaist rock band album cover meme:


1. The first article title on the Wikipedia Random Articles page is the name of your band.
2. The last four words of the very last quotation on the Random Quotations page is the title of your album.
3. The third picture in Flickr’s Interesting Photos From The Last 7 Days any nice appropriately Creative Commons licensed photo* will be your album cover.
4. Use your graphics programme of choice to throw them together, and post the result.

some good some bad

Photo by studebaker2008.

The full quote was:

“We all carry around so much pain in our hearts. Love and pain and beauty. They all seem to go together like one little tidy confusing package. It’s a messy business, life. It’s hard to figure–full of surprises. Some good. Some bad.”
Henry Bromel, Northern Exposure, The Big Kiss, 1991

What amuses me about this meme is that many of the resulting album covers are far better and more interesting that a lot of real ones. But we really need an Dadaist album cover builder (akin to the LOLcat builder) for the real fun to start.

* You’ll note I changed the photo source. When I looked, most of the “Most Interesting” photos on Flickr are ‘All Rights Reserved’, and as someone who champions openness and sharing online, I have to also respect the wishes of those creators – especially photographers – who do not want to share. I don’t always get it right, but I always try, so rather than just pick the third photo on the most interesting page, I found a nice Creative Commons licensed photo instead.

It’s disappointing to see that Flickr hasn’t really done much else with Creative Commons except produce a rather clunky search page. I’d like to see them do a much more refined CC search, so that one can search across CC licence types. They should also apply the ‘most interesting’ algorithm to CC photos, so that we can see the best of the open photos. I’m sure there’s a lot more imaginative stuff that could be done, but it’s a shame to see Flickr not even doing the basics.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Best wedding acceptance yet!

by Suw on January 3, 2008

Thank you Lloyd!

Honestly, I have to say that it’s been really hard to figure out who to invite to the day and who to invite to the evening and I’m still filled with fear that I will have forgotten someone important. I just wish everyone could come!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Oh dear, I seem to have discovered Seesmic

by Suw on January 2, 2008

It’s funny how you can take a look at something like Seesmic, and really not get it… until one day, someone shows you the way and suddenly, it all makes sense, it all comes together. Seesmic is about banter, chit chat, conversation. And when you get into it, and you start talking to people, (and you lose your sense of self-consciousness), suddenly, it’s the most addictive thing you’ve seen all year (and all of last year too).

{ Comments on this entry are closed }