Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Changing Change

Bryony got some weird looking 1p coins as change the other day. I've never seen special coins with a denomination less than 50p before so I was a bit confused. A quick trip to the Royal Mint's website proved enlightening. Our coins are getting a makeover!

Basically all the coins (apart from the relatively new £2 coin) are getting new designs replacing those originally introduced over 40 years ago with decimalisation.

I could go on but the best thing, if you are interested, is to have a read of the Royal Mint's guide to the new coins.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Misty Moisty Morning

Yesterday it started off very foggy and damp in Penistone, in stark contrast to today where it has been exceptionally warm even before the sun was fully up.

The moist air picked out the spider webs in the hedge really well. I didn't see any spiders but there were lots of little webs all over the hedge. It looked a little like someone had gone overboard on the fake cobwebs for Halloween!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Well Wrapped

When we got married we got a lot of wonderful gifts. All the gifts are wonderful but a few stand out simply for the way they were wrapped. We got 3 gifts bought from Natural Senses. I can't really put into words how well Natural Senses gift wrap their items so I'll show you some photos instead.
Great presents and lots of fun to unwrap. I'll certainly think about buying presents from them in the future as there is now way I can wrap things this well!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Erdös Numbers: The Kevin Bacon Game for Mathematicians

I first heard about Erdös Numbers a few years ago when it cropped up in a quiz I was doing. Basically an Erdös number signifies your closeness (based on academic collaboration) to the now deceased Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös. Erdös himself has an Erdös number of 0 while those who have published work with him have an Erdös number of 1 and their co-authors have a Erdös number of 2 etc. It is very like the more well known (in popular culture at least) Kevin Bacon game which I'm sure you have all played at one time or another. Anyway having solved the quiz question all those years ago I thought no more about Erdös numbers.... until today.

It turns out that I have an Erdös number of 4. The head of the research group I work in, Yorick Wilks, realised from an old publication list that he actually has an Erdös number of 2 due to a paper he published with Frank Harary who published two papers with Erdös and hence has an Erdös number of 1. Now I haven't published any papers with Yorick but my PhD supervisor has and so my Erdös number is 4.

Here are details of the four papers showing the link from me all the way back to Erdös
  • Mark A. Greenwood and Robert Gaizauskas. Using a Named Entity Tagger to Generalise Surface Matching Text Patterns for Question Answering. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Natural Language Processing for Question Answering (EACL03), pages 29-34, Budapest, Hungary, April 14, 2003.

  • Robert Gaizauskas and Yorick Wilks. Information Extraction: Beyond Document Retrieval. Journal of Documentation 54(1), 70-105, 1998

  • Frank Harary and Yorick Wilks. On Unidirectional Linguistic Comprehension. New Mexico State University, MCCS-92-238.

  • Paul Erdös, Frank Harary and W.T. Tutte. On the dimension of a graph. Mathematika, 12 (1965)
The Erdös Number Project (which tracks all Erdös number related info) states that the average finite Erdös number is 4.65, which means mine is slightly lower than average. Also it appears I have the same Erdös number as Bill Gates -- not sure if that is a good thing or not!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Google Street View: CONFIRMED!

Looks like I wasn't the only one who spotted the Google Street View car in Sheffield today. At least that proves I'm not going mad I suppose!

Google Street View

For those of you who haven't seen Google Street View before (and don't know how many hours you could waste with looking at random places), here it is showing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The news had already leaked out that Google had started the long process of creating the images for the UK, and it looks as if today is the day for imaging part of Sheffield. I just saw what I'm fairly certain (given this picture) was the camera equipped car driving down Broad Lane past Mappin Street. Maybe I'll turn up as a very small person half way up Mappin Street when viewed from Broad Lane.

Friday, 11 July 2008

How to Waste Money: Resign and then Apply for Your Job Back

I know that politics is a funny old world but the recent by-election in Haltemprice and Howde, caused by the resignation on a point of principle by David Davis, was just a joke. Being a politician must be the only job where you can resign one day and then when the job advert comes out looking for your replacement you can submit your CV and be considered for the position. I think we need a change in the law to stop this mockery of democracy -- if you resign from your position as MP you shouldn't be able to stand in the resulting by-election.

David Davis won the by-election with 17,113 votes, giving him a majority of 15,355 over his closets rival. After the result was announced he is reported to have said "Today the people of Haltemprice and Howden have delivered a stunning message to the Government, and our campaign has reverberated across the country". Hmm, I don't think so. Not only has his vanity clearly got the best of him, but the debate he wanted to trigger seems to have been mostly ignored by the press and public alike.

David Davis could claim that his majority is now almost three times what it was at the last election (5,116) but given that the other two main political parties didn't field a candidate this is not surprising. I think though that he must be just looking at the totals and not actually looking at the whole set of data when commenting to the media.

Let us look at the numbers for a minute. In yesterdays by-election 17,113 people voted for David Davis giving him a majority of 15,355. At the last election 22,792 people voted for him giving him a majority of 5,116. So while his majority may have increased less people actually trust him to be their MP than they did last time; 5,679 people who voted for him in 2005 didn't yesterday. If that isn't a stinging rebuke then I don't know what is.

So let us look at just how much this farce cost the tax-payer. According to the Telegraph (not my daily newspaper but the only source I could find for the following) the cost will run to more than £200,000. Royal Mail provided free postage to each of the candidates leaving them with a bill of around £112,600. East Riding Council, which administered the election and the counting of ballots, is thought to have spent at least £95,000.

Given the farce that this election was I think we should a) change the rules to stop MPs resigning and then standing again at the resulting election and b) send David Davis a rather large invoice to cover the cost of this stunt.

Just to be clear, I'm not for a minute saying that David Davis' point of principle was wrong (my politics are my own private business) just that MPs should not be allowed to waste public money in this way.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Nimue, Puck and Navajo

As I mentioned in the previous post on falconry we had organised two separate sessions while staying at Dalhousie Castle. The second session was all about owls.

We had already flown Bandit the day before and now we got to fly three more owls. The first of which was Nimue, a Mexican Striped Owl.

Nimue was great fun to fly. Not only did he come to the glove without too much coaxing but he was also quite chatty and entertaining. Although as you can tell from the middle picture he clearly likes his food (bits of day old cockerel chicks).

The second owl was Puck, a Little Owl. Now I've seen Little Owls before but only from quite a distance, never this close.

Unfortunately Puck didn't like me at all. He would fly to Bryony's glove without any problems but he wouldn't fly to mine. And he wouldn't even sit on my hand when placed there, he just shrieked loudly and flew off. He was quite happy to let me stroke him when he was one someone else's glove though so I don't really know what the problem was. Anyway, I thought it worth mentioning the strange feather patterning on the back of a Little Owls head. Basically he has the same pattern on the back of his head as he does on the front (the white V like pattern above the eyes) so that from a distance predators can't tell if they are looking at the front or back of his head -- he literally appears to have "eyes in the back of his head". It wasn't so obvious when looking at him close to, but when looking through the view finder of the camera I couldn't work out which way he was facing.

The final owl we got to fly was a Great Grey Owl called Navajo.

Navajo was by far the biggest bird we flew on either day, both in terms of size and weight. While most of him is just feathers he is still a very heavy bird. He also likes his food -- in fact the only way to entice him to fly to the glove was with whole chicks instead of just little bits!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Dolly, Bandit, Jura and Brenin

Both of us have wanted to try our hand at falconry for quite some time. So when we saw that Dalhousie Castle had a falconry centre within the grounds we jumped at the chance, booking two different sessions so we could experience as wide a range of the birds as possible. The first session we had was billed as "The Ultimate Falconry Experience" and is designed to allow you to experience as many of the birds as possible.

We started the session by flying Dolly. Dolly is a Buzzard, the same as you may see flying in the sky across many parts of the UK.

Dolly looked huge, especially when she was flying towards your glove. She was, however, exceptionally light. We were both a bit worried about holding a large heavy bird for too long on our wrists but it really is a shock to find out just how light they really are.

After Dolly we flew Bandit who is a New Zealand BooBook Owl. Given that Bandit is an owl he flies and sits very much like a hawk.

Bandit was definitely our favourite bird to fly, although some of the birds that couldn't be flown (some were mating and some malting) may well have challenged for our affections.

After Bandit, we had a demonstration of Jura, a female kestrel, flying to a lure. Bryony actually got to hold Jura while we walked to the area and the falconer started to spin the lure. To look at close too Jura was one of the best birds. All the more interesting as we see kestrels so often but never close enough to really appreciate their fantastic colouring.

After Jura, we moved onto the last bird of the session; Brenin a Harris' Hawk. Don't get me wrong flying Brenin was really good fun, but he just wasn't quite as engaging as any of the other birds. That and the fact that he tried to take your head off every time he jumped from the glove and his propensity to throw dead chicken down the front of your t-shirt didn't really help.

All in all a very enjoyable morning and something that if you haven't tried before you really should.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Powered By Curtains

With climate change being such a big thing at the moment it seems every company is jumping on the band wagon trying to prove their green credentials or to flog you something to reduce your carbon footprint or to help recycle etc. So a newspaper article on flexible solar panels fits right in.

I can't tell though if the product being described in this article is pure genius or pure insanity. In essence someone has decided that you could use flexible solar panels as curtains. Just think about how much energy could be generated from a renewable source (OK the Sun isn't actually renewable as it's fuel will eventually run out, but stop being picky!) if every window could double as a solar panel. I'm betting the designer really thinks they are on to a winner.

I foresee one tiny little flaw though. Most people like to have their curtains open during the day to let light into their rooms (my brother being the exception that proves the rule). As such very little of the solar panel (if any) will be in a useful position to capture light and create electricity. Of course at night when everyone draws their curtains voilà, lots of solar panels. To quote Starlight Express though "we could use the sunlight, but it don't shine at night".

So I'm going to state that I think this is one of the most stupid ideas I've ever heard. Not only will they never generate much electricity, but the article admits they also aren't very efficient, so in their lifetime I'm assuming they will probably take more energy to make than they would generate. I'd probably rank them along side chocolate kettles and inflatable dartboards on the list of the dumbest inventions ever.

Of course some people will be daft enough to be duped into buying them.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Temple of Kali

You may remember that a while back I mentioned that I had pre-ordered a copy of Lego Indiana Jones for the Wii. Well it was released, arrived and I've played it quite a bit. It really is a fantastic game and may even be better than Lego Star Wars (which I thought would be impossible). I have, however, found a bug in the game which I though would be worth blogging about to save others the hassle of trying to figure out why they don't seem to be able to complete one of the rooms.

Level 3 of Temple of Doom is set in the Temple of Kali. The second room you enter contains the sacrificial pit with Willie suspended just above the surface of the lava (or whatever the hot swirly stuff is). The aim of the room is to rescue Willie by defeating the level boss Chatter Lal. Now it turns out that there is an expected way of defeating Chatter Lal, namely: punch him twice, then activate the two Thuggee statues to leave him nowhere to stand and then punch him twice more. Unfortunately it is possible to punch him often enough to remove all his hearts (and hence kill him) without activating the statues -- DO NOT DO THIS! If you kill him without using the status then he will die but the end of level sequence isn't triggered meaning there is no way for you to ever complete the room and move on to the next section of the level. The only way out is to quit and start the Temple of Kali level again from the beginning.

Given how much Chatter Lal jumps around I assume none of the testers ever managed to kill him without the help of the Thuggee statues and so this bug was never spotted. I was only (un)fortunate enough to find it as he seemed to get trapped against the statues by Short Round who just kept hitting him until he was dead. I wonder if the same bug is present for any of the level bosses where you are expected to do something other than just hitting them to defeat them? Also is the same bug present in the other versions of the game for other consoles than the Wii?

An annoying bug (especially as I find jumping across the spinning towers in the first room of the level tricky enough that I didn't want to have to repeat it) but not enough to ruin a very enjoyable game. Hopefully I won't find any more bugs but if I do I'll let you all know.