Saturday, April 28, 2007

A. Monkey on my Back

I've had the new Arctic Monkeys album on advanced order from Amazon from about 45 seconds after I heard that there was to be a new album. Maybe if I improve my typing speed, I'll get it faster next time ...

It eventually came in the post, and I put it on while I did some painfully detailed documentation work for my most recent client. Anyone who knows me from work knows that documentation and Stan just don't get on. I blame what I call sarcastically my "legendary attention to detail".

Next thing I knew it was over, and not a single track had registered with me.

The next day I drove to Bradford and played the album again in the car. Same deal - not a track struck a chord or was in any way memorable.

It's perfectly possible that I'm malfunctioning. But I doubt it. I still believe that "Whatever People Say..." is the best album of the century so far, and that "A Certain Romance" is the best track of the century so far. So I haven't lost my taste for the Arctic Monkey's music.

Maybe I was expecting too much - but maybe they've lost it. Maybe it's similar to the situation with "The Streets", where he became embarassingly rubbish when he made the big time. Great when singing about being poor and not getting girls - woeful when he started singing about being a pop star.

The Arctic Monkeys' energy came from the pursuit of Fags, Shags 'n' Kebabs in working-class Sheffield. I hope they find another muse from somewhere, because even though I believe these are among the most talented people in the world right now, I am not going to be pre-ordering the third album when that time comes.

btw. I hear that they are likely to have just about every track from the album in teh top twenty this week, thanks to downloads being counted. I certainly applaud the demise of the idea of choosing the "single from the album". Some pencil-necked record exec would traditionally choose this and there are so many famous cases of them getting it badly wrong.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

So much data, so little time

The truth is out there. But it's lost in the static.

Terabytes of information every day and somewhere in there is the pattern that will create a new drug, predict financial markets or catch fraudsters. Terabytes of information. Er ...excuse me .. wazzat ??

A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes is a thousand megabytes is a thousand kilobytes is a thousand bytes and the byte is the unit of storage equivalent to a word.

So imagine a terabyte is like a thousand billion words.

A kilo-word is a short story, a mega-word is a set of encyclopedias, a giga-word is a library, a tera-word is all the libraries in Europe.

So when you hear 10 terabytes, visualise someone trying to search all the words in all the books in all the libraries in the world and youre getting a taste of the scale of the problem.

In fact youre only getting a taste of the scale of the problem circa 1980 when the first terabyte Data Warehouses were built to run programs that took days to mine the data in their mainframes.

Now in the internet age, we're beginning to look into the realm of peta-bytes - thousands of terabytes. And the users of Data Warehouses dont want to wait days anymore, they want the answer in real-time.

Search engines need to know what searches are popular, which links are being clicked, how long people are waiting for an answer before clicking elsewhere in disgust.

Financial markets are vast, but within the chaos are patterns. Imagine reading those patterns a second ahead of your competitor.

Retail companies need to know which lines are moving and which are stagnating, which offer is bringing in business and which are a waste of time.

Drug companies generate insane amounts of data from clinical trials : spot the pattern, or else a harmful drug is released or the next-big thing is poured down the sink.

In most modern industries the right answer at the right time can be worth billions, supplying the wherewithal to find that right answer has become the fastest-growing sector of the IT industry.

The world of data warehousing today is an almost religious clash of design philosphies: ETL versus ELT, Inmon versus Kimball, Appliance versus Big Database. All the usual blue-chip computing giants versus a crowd of crazy start-ups like you thought had all died in the Dot-Bomb bubble in 2001.

The truth is out there but it'll cost you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


My dear Stanetta has dragged herself from under a pile of SATs revision to put her blogging shoes on. Not surprising her main gripe is SATs.

I'm a fan of measuring that which can be measured. Knowing where a child is in their educational development I'm sure is very useful. However, these tests are being used to measure the schools and the teachers. I have even heard that the results are used to stream children in their secondary schools and in some fee-paying schools the results or predicted results are used to screen applicants.

And so, instead of being an objective measurement, SATs have become a pressurised event that children prepare for and dread upto a year in advance.

My biggest complaint is that the barrage of mock tests and revision periods take 11 year-olds away from wider learning. And they don't have the energy left to blog as often as I would like them to.

I'm reminded of the "Observer Effect". The act of testing children's education affects children's education.

By the way, "The Observer effect" is not to be confused with the tendency for Sunday newspapers to spawn more and more supplements with less and less interest and value.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In praise of second-hand music

I'm going through a phase of buying most of my music from charity shops. The downside is that CD cases are pretty bashed about, the choice is limited and the repertoire is not bang up-to-date. If you think about it, someone doesn't want the CD enough to give it a few cubic centimetres of house-room, so how good could it be ?

On the upside, they are £2.50 each and the money goes to good causes. I read them onto itunes for my ipod, toss the case and put the actual CD with a few hundred others in my car to relieve tedium on long journeys.

For example, yesterday I drove to Yorkshire and back for a bit of business, which is not a long journey by my standards. I made the following discoveries :-

(1) Dido doesn't need Eminem or Faithless to make a nice noise
(2) Alanis Morrissette is not bland, easy-listening - I think she's due a reappraisal.
(3) Do not play Fairground Attraction on tricky drives - you will sing so loud you will not be able to hear your Satnav and miss your turn-off (true story).

All these came from a single trip to the Oxfam shop, along with Coldplay's "X&Y", which is likely to be rubbish, because I can't believe I could have picked 4 out of 4 good ones for a tenner.

I haven't given up on new music, but while I'm waiting on Amazon sourcing a copy of The Arctic Monkeys' latest for me, I'm enjoying catching up on some albums that have passed me by over the years. You have to be a John Peel to listen to everything and fully appreciate it the week it comes out. Some people don't even try to keep up and miss whole decades of music, to the extent that they are still listening to the same 80s electro-pop they loved at Uni (you know who you are!).

btw I heard The Arctic Monkeys' version of Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" on the radio, which was truly exceptional. I may not have the patience to wait for the Amy Winehouse album to come to a charity-shop near me either.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Darfur II

Last week I looked down on Darfur from Google Earth. Today I saw some remarkable pictures of the real effect of those blackened specks.

The first good news in a long while is that the UN has been invited in. It's only 3,000 troops - which is less than half the existing African Union deployment - but it shows the international community seems to be taking this war seriously. Or at least shows they've noticed it at all.

In fact "war" is hardly the word. It reminds me strongly of the tyranny of Sadaam Hussein in gassing the Kurds. Or ... no, stoppit.

I'm very aware of Godwin's law : which states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." and that overuse of the Nazi/Hitler comparison should be avoided, as it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.

But to me the only thing that's stopping the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed from being a 21st century version, is a lack of modern weaponry.

We in the West built the Iraqi war-machine as an antidote to fundamentalist Iran, and the weaponry was used to a shameful degree against a minority of Iraqis.

I'm sure it's more by luck than by judgement that the Sudanese weren't equally endowed.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Perfect 0

Stanetta is 11 today - Happy Birthday to you !

At 11, her birthday dresses are British size 6, which I believe equates to the much-hyped American Size 0.

Stanetta is average height and weight for an 11 year-old, so it gave me a shock that she's now wearing adult sizes. It was even more enlightening though to see exactly how little a size-zero actually is.

Only a small percentage of women surely can be the size of an average preteen ? I understand Kylie can comfortably dance on the palm of one hand, so maybe she's one of them.

Luisel Ramos wasn't. Aged 22, she died of a heart attack last August actually on a fashion catwalk, after trying to live on just Diet Coke and lettuce leaves for an extended period. She had a Body Mass Index of 14.5 - which is similar to mine (if I were 3.50 metres tall).

But I hear a large number of women desire to be that size. Judging by a un-scientific (but throroughly enjoyable) study of the twenty-somethings at my local gym, even the smaller ones are a well-toned size 10 and quite a long way from fitting my daughter's clothing.

I'm heartily sick of being told that it's "men" that are pushing this idea. The only men who like females of this size and shape are either doing ten years in Barlinnie or are homosexual clothes designers who don't want creases in their creations. Give me Mrs Stan's callipygous size 14 any day.

So who is behind this ? "The media" ? I really don't believe that there is such a beast as "the media", acting in concert towards some devious end. They'd do anything for circulation - that's their single motivation. So they wouldn't be body-obsessed unless their readership already was.

And why aren't there hoards of men struggling to fit the clothing of 11 year-old boys ?

Traditionally, a blogger usually has an unshakable certainity as to what the right answer is to any given issue. Stan is flummoxed - can anyone help him ?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Full-On Gonzo Culture Shock

This video is no doubt as old as the hills, but I've just found it and I believe I am going to build a temple to it. Maybe if I can understand the video, I'll be close to understanding the Japanese mind.

So it goes

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes'.

I heard Kurt Vonnegut died today. 'So it goes' really doesn't get the job done.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Sometimes you despair of the Internet. It's all too easy to see it as a sales channel for porn, gambling and erectile pharmaceuticals.

Google Earth have added some content from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC to their satellite images of Darfur.

You can zoom in Darfur (it's in Sudan) and you're guided to some peculiar black markings on the ground. You can zoom in further and you realise that you are looking at burnt-out houses, thousands of them for miles and miles in each direction.

Every single one of the houses tells a story - usually a story involving the Sudanese government calling in an airstrike on the village, followed by their best mates the Janjaweed driving in to kill the surviving men, rape the surviving women and carry away anything portable before torching the place.

And we can see it ! I can then zoom the heck away to my own postcode where the view is reassuringly different. Then I can zoom back, and away and back and away. And you read the supporting information, about how the surviving women have to risk rape and death in order to gather firewood and find food for their families.

It's telling that it's the Holocaust museum that is involved. Would things have been different if the Internet were available in the 1940s and anyone could have called up satellite pictures of the Warsaw Ghetto, seen the smoke from the chimneys at Auschwitz, zoomed onto the parade ground at Dachau ?

I hope they are successful in their attempt to draw attention to this atrocity. The only people doing anything about the conflict just now are the African Union's 7000 troops, who are attempting to control an area the size of France.

Since I don't have any guns or tanks to blast the Janjaweed to Hades, I've had to content myself with giving to Oxfam, who are at least trying to help the survivors to survive.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My son the Infidel !

Thanks to Cruella for pointing this one out.

Someone filmed their mum's reaction to them declaring themselves an atheist.

I have an inclination that her reaction isn't going to drive him back into the loving arms of the church anytime soon.

Thanks to my mum for being nothing at all like that. I never "came out" as an atheist, but it was never an issue at home. We had better things to discuss than religion. Thanks Mum.

Dead Bodies

In the news this morning were reports of a death that I have to admit I enjoyed reading.

Mark Langford was a sleazy "businessman" who made a ton of money from other people's compensation claims, then ran off to Spain leaving his employees (including my ex-boss) with a text message that their salary wasn't getting paid any time soon.

For some reason his car parted company with a motorway. Would it be too much to hope that he was sending a text message at the time ?

For the most part I am life-friendly - I'm against the death-penalty. But the fact that this man's mis-spent reprehensible life has come to an end has brought me nothing but joy. Sad day for his wife, who he has now (typically) left to face the music alone, but I can't imagine any of his victims losing any sleep.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sandwich Course

Science has the potential to be a force for good in the world, and our lives have been enriched by the fruits of the combined intellects of history's scientists. In science it's not immediately clear which piece of basic research will lead to the birth of a whole new industry so it's dangerous to rule out a line of research, just because we can't see immediate applications.

The Faculty of Bacon Butties at Leeds University seem to taking the mickey however. If I thought that one penny of my tax money was funding the creation of the state-of-the-art bacon butty I would be really angry rather than just mocking.

Universities are closing Chemistry departments and cutting down on real science while these people with their imbecilic pseudo-scientific formula waste university time, money and equipment.

Bacon is a crucial part of my diet - but I'd rather food research were left to Walls etc. rather than being something done at University.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Meme Random

liThe unit of genetic information is the "gene". According to the great Richard Dawkins the unit of cultural information is the "meme".

Examples he gave were "tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing fashions, ways of making pots, or of building arches". These all propogate around our culture, bashing into each other, replicating, being corrupted, combining, interferring and generally behaving incredibly like genes.

In fact, the whole concept of a meme is itself a meme, which makes my head hurt.

The Internet is the plague rat of memetics, spreading catchy ideas around the world seemingly faster than light. Some of these internet memes have been extremely dumb, but raise a smile or make you think.

In honour of my learned colleague, Kenny, who in one 48 hour period dissed the good Professor in a comment here and then indulged in a meme on his blog, I am propogating one of the internet-style memes from his site. In honour of the Great Dawkins, I am changing it slightly in the hope that the mutation will increase its probability of survival.

1) Who would you like to sing you to sleep? Alison Goldfrapp - just to see if she could.

2) SUV or envirofriendly car? Green engine please, but I need aircon and a decent audio system and to heck with the effect that has on the polar bears.

3) Major or minor chords? Dumb question - anyone who chooses doesn't understand music.

4) Favorite love song? "Lock Keeper" sung by Marilyn Middleton Pollock.

5) Piano or guitar? Guitar

6) Disposal or forgiveness? Forgiveness is the default action.

7) Favorite item of clothing (come on, we all have one)? Leather jacket - has kept me warm and anonymous at many football matches.

8) Your preferred term of endearment (eg darlin', love, honey, babe etc.)? "Big man" - because that's what Mrs Stan calls me

9) Blog or book? Book. Blogs are fine, but shouldn't be confused with the real thing.

10) Favorite scent? Frying bacon - also my favourite sound !

11) "We're doing this properly". Discuss. "Yeah, right !"

12) Too much or too little blogging makes Stan a dull man. Already dull - can't make much difference

Friday, April 06, 2007

Wonder if a paperclip taps on the window

For those who hate, loathe and detest Microsoft Word and dream of attaching a few tons of high-explosive to the person responsible's butt - stop wishing. He's decided to strap it on himself.

Charles Simonyi was head of Microsoft's application software group which developed the "Office" suite we have come to know and loathe. He has signed up for a bit of space tourism, departing in just a few minutes from Kazakhstan (no relation), heading in an upward direction at speed (assuming the mission computers are running a reliable operating system).

His hobbies include dating Martha Stewart, object-oriented programming, ham-radio, sailing big yachts, and being ballast and a waste of oxygen on a spaceship.

Actually I like the guy - he's become a billionaire while being an employee and he endowed the position of "Professor of the Public Understanding of Science" at Oxford University, a position currently filled by the great Richard Dawkins.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hummer Bummer

Just 15 miles drive from my house lies the UK's only Hummer dealer. On that journey a Hummer H2 will likely use 2 gallons of fuel.

This is a semi-civilised version of the US army's Humvee, capable of driving over a 16-inch high wall, fording 20 inches of water, traversing a 40% side slope, ascending/descending a 60% grade, and towing 3 tons. Not typical conditions in the Manchester commuter-belt.

You just know the kind of people who are likely to buy these.

My question : is it acceptable to allow anyone with £50,000 or so to drive poluting, dangerous, road-surface damaging vehicles ?

My personal opinion : sure, but it'll cost you. I'd say 10x the standard road-tax and a special congestion-charge. Freedom has its costs.

Here are some people who would certainly agree :

I'm trying to keep my promise

Over chez-moi, I have pledged to keep my media analysis down to a minimum. I've been obsessing about Bryony Gordon from The Telegraph, my new mate Tasha and Kate Silverton for ages. That doesn't mean I can't do it here.

Stan knows about my deep-seated love of Kate Silverton, or, as I like to call her, the third Mrs Y. I've been metaphorically vying for her affections with an ex-colleague (R) for quite a while now. I think R would need a better sense of humor and humility to start knockin da boots with Kate. I think I am in first place at the moment due to the fact I have actually had an email from her. She's about my age but infinitely fitter -- she did a bloody triathlon for God's sake. Stan maintains that she has static eyebrows. I have seen them move, once. Even when she's giggling her socks off, they never seem to move, so I guess Stan has a point. No matter, the third Mrs Y is garjus.

Uggg. This post was brought to you by the most virulent strain of flu I have ever been subject to.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Posting Number 100

How time flies - this is the 100th posting to this Blog.

One of the other blogs I spend time reading is Cruella's. She is unashamedly feminist, obviously smarter than I am and has a real gift for rhetoric.

She has just posted on Professional sports are a waste of money and resources.

I have been so bold as to disagree - should be an interesting discussion.

She definitely has a downer on the 2012 Olympics. My instinct is that hosting the Olympics is something all countries should aspire to, and I can't see it as a bad thing. It's going to cost like stink and heads will roll, but it's a noble project nonetheless. Far better use of our resources than Trident, and fewer people get excited about cost-overruns in that project.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Get Lost

Do not; I repeat, do, not; try to contact me when the new series of Doctor Who is on TV.

(1) The writers are on-fire. Not from the current series, but can anyone tell me if there has been a better piece of TV sci-fi than the episode : The Girl in the Fireplace written by the incredible Steven Moffat ("Coupling") ?

"Real" Sci-Fi fans who scoff should note that "The Girl in the Fireplace" was nominated for a Nebula award in 2006. In fact, one of his earlier scripts "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" won the Hugo award in 2005. So yah-boo-sucks.

And he's written an episode for this series, "Blink", which will air on June 2nd. So doubly keep out of my face that night.

(2) But most of all, I get to watch it with Stanetta - high quality Daddy and Daughter time. Any opportunity for a 40 year-old bloke to bond with his 11 year-old daughter is priceless.

As to the Doctor's new assistant Matha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Mrs Stan approves of the fact that this one has a bottom.

The first episode was a little disappointing to tell the truth, and the makers of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" really should sue over the plagarism of the Vogons. Surely there can be only one bureaucratic, ultra-violent, boar-like thick-skinned, rhyme-loving race in the Universe.

But I have hope that standards will improve, and anyway Stanetta loved it up in a childlike way that I can only envy.