Thursday, 30 January 2020

Thus begins the hunt for a new car

This morning I had a close encounter of the third (party) kind, and the countryman is unlikely to drive again. C'est la mort.

We will probably end up doing a car swap, with Chris getting something new, comfy and quieter, me getting the rattly, slightly harsh riding car that I don't think she ever really enjoyed driving very much. It's an ill wind, as they say.

I'm OK, a little achey but no harm done except to confidence and shortly the bank balance.

Monday, 27 January 2020

And sometimes truth depends where you stand.

That can, of course, be a cop-out.

I've just been looking through some data produced a while back using a couple of different kits to couple enzymes to antibodies for the assay work we do. I plotted the values in a couple of different ways, using log or linear axes. Where a set of concentrations reduce over a range of say 100 fold, plotting on linear axes will make the difference at the highest concentrations obvious while masking behaviour at the lowest concentrations. If the same data is plotted on log axes then the behaviour of the data over the whole standard curve is normally revealed, at the expense of making big differences (like double the signal) at the top end seem relatively small.

Of course if you are used to these things then it's easy to read what's going on, but from a marketing perspective, big change = eye-catching.

I wonder what the church has done over the years like that? Society does it all the time, and we're constantly being told about rights for this minority group or reform in that area going on. This is often not difficult to read, but can result in some eye-catching headlines and pressure to shut up and get in line.

Back to the church, is Missional one of those areas that look like they're making a big difference at the wide end without touching the more sensitive parts? Actually, is that true for evangelicalism generally - not that I have energy, inclination or enthusiasm to investigate it, but I wonder a little.

Or am I just a little slow, having missed the POMO 'deconstructing church' bandwaggon?

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Quotes and truth

Today I came across 2 quotes alongside each other, that have been used in newspapers:

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be prefered to those who think they've found it. Terry Pratchett, quoted in the independent.

A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in The Times

While taken out of context, one says to me that they would prefer to remain proud in their self-deceit, while the other recognises the need for truth.

So here I sit, broken hearted.

Usually there's an iffy next line to complete the Limerick. In this case I'm sat outside the church building in Oxford waiting for someone to unlock. The email giving details said to be there at 8.30 ready to practice for 9am. Scrambled to get out, having got home late last night, extra stuff to load into the car too, and forgot headphones for the (slightly loathed) IEM. 

I was feeling nervous and unprepared, but in a way this has helped. I've always maintained that worship should not be too professional, and this helps prove the point. 😉

Friday, 24 January 2020

Abuse and cruelty isn't in the business model.

While listening to the wireless in the car this morning, they were interviewing Nick Clegg - the former British deputy Prime Minister, ex-leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the UK, and now PR person (title, head of global affairs) for Facebook.

He came across badly to begin with, being asked questions about the use of Whatsapp to exfiltrate data from Jeff Bezos phone, apparently not having significant technical understanding and offering 'nuffin to do wiv us' answers. When quizzed about proposed taxation of internet companies by the UK, the grease oozed and the politician surfaced, suggesting piecemeal taxation would be ineffective and that any money obtained would be just a tiny amount compared to the taxes normally taken by the UK.

And then he earned his money with a bit of real insight.

The interviewer moved on to online material posted that encouraged children & vulnerable adults to self-harm or even committ suicide, wanting to know why it wasn't being stopped, with an undercurrent suggesting that this was something the business actually wanted on their platform. In a way she set up the situation for Clegg's answer, but at this point he became much more serious, much less obfuscatory. It seems it's a real problem for them too - the advertisers don't like it - and it *sounds* like they're doing all they can  to 'fix' the problem.

So where does this stuff come from, and why can't they fix it?

As a kid at school, life was frequently deeply unpleasant. The smarter bullies would set up situations where you were given choices that either ended up in public humiliation or getting physically abused in some way in order to show their superiority (while surrounded by their gangs) while the less bright ones would just threaten and punch. When the weaker children were picked on they would attempt to divert the attention of the bullies on to other, weaker or more vulnerable children. Some of the kids I knew at the age of 13-14 were already talking about getting into protectionism when they left school (and they had few choices apart from a local sweet factory, since they were disruptive and unlikely to get qualifications).

At the age of  16 I went to work in another 11-14 school as a lab tech, and I saw exactly the same kind of behaviour again.

To me, the problems in Facebook, Instagram etc are all about ordinary people. I've been lucky to work with generally well educated people, though have seen a reasonable number of bullies, liars and the odd nut job over time. It has sometimes made me forget that ordinary people camn often be extremely unpleasant. It also makes me ask whether I've been like that at times without realising it.

The problem isn't Facebook as such. The problem is giving everyone a public voice.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Posted once before (so worth repeating then ;-)

 While everyone is pondering the future and how we might have to change things, perhaps we should be reviewing the various alternative political and economic systems available to us:

You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows.
The state takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The state takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The state takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The state takes both, shoots one, milks the other and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows.
You sell one and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot and block the roads because you want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide.

You have two cows but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have 2 cows but owe Santander for 6.
Nobody drinks milk.
You have a siesta and read about the collapse of the Euro

You lease 2 cows and pay somebody 3 times the going rate to milk them using borrowed money.
You refinance the 4 cows to secure the services of Goldman Sachs. They sell the future milk production of the 60 cows and fund your lifestyle.
You retire to anywhere that doesn’t use the Euro.

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the cr_ap out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a democracy.

You don't have any cows.
But you claim sovereignty over the ones belonging to your neighbour

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

There's an amusing irony to this trip

In a couple of weeks I'm due to visit another company for the first business trip since May 2012 when I went to the ESHRE conference in Lille.

The irony? It's to Belgium.

Google maps live view doesn't paint a pretty picture - flat, wet, in a new town at least 10K from anywhere that's anywhere. It's a privilege to travel with work, but sometimes it comes with a sense of humour.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Driving a new car feels odd.

So my 9 year old mini with 126,000 miles went for an 'authentic' service with the local mini dealer this morning, and I had a loan car with 893 miles instead.

Now I'm completely fine with a new car, and an unfamiliar vehicle is no trouble, but car tech has moved on again. This time it was keyless ignition (where's the switch, do I just press the clutch or what?) and a lack of obvious controls for adjusting the driver's side mirror. Some things that should have been great weren't so smart, like the instruments were mostly analogue, but a bit dark and cramped, difficult to read at a glance.

At some stage we're going to have to chop this old mini of mine in, but I've no idea what we'll replace it with yet.


The interior of the new car looked really nice after dark, with everything suddenly much clearer and making more sense. The leathery interior had that nice 'new and expensive' smell, and generally seemed a lot better than first thing when all I wanted to do was get to work ASAP without hitting anything.

But driving back to the dealership tonight, the new car felt kind of vague, rubbery, a bit wandery on the road instead of precise and crisp, and with poor feedback & action at the brakepedal. There was plenty of power, but also turbo lag, and it just made the experience a bit remote, imprecise, uncertain and took away confidence that the car would go where I tried to point it. Getting back in my own car, it felt crisp, precise, relaxed and like I was connected closely to the wheels, engine and brakes. Certainly the ride wasn't terribly comfy compared to many more softly-suspended cars, but it did feel good.

A colleague described a bend on a road we both use to drive to work as though it were a corner, requiring significant slowing to get around. He drives a Renault Zoe electric car, and also describes himself as not being a good driver. The bend is gently sweeping left-hander with reasonable visibility and a wide carriageway, and certainly far from being a corner *to me*. I wonder if the Zoe is as bad as I think it is, and it makes a gentle bend like that feel like a corner, simply because it's a rotten drive without either feedback or precision? My old Peugeot 307 was nice & floaty over bumpy roads, but handled like a drunken cow on the bends.

I'm also impressed that my old car still feels good to drive at this mileage. There's certainly less power than when it was younger, but it says quite a bit for build quality that things haven't become sloppy or worn out.

I have amusing memories of a Ford Cortina E MkIII we owned briefly. It had done around 100,000 miles, but didn't feel too bad solo or with a front passenger (if driven gently at London speeds). We popped down the motorway to Gatwick to collect my parents and grandfather from Gatwick airport, and on the return journey, full of luggage too, it was more like trying to guide a boat up the motorway than drive a car. We got back safely, but my knuckles were a little white at times. And related, I have similar memories of a Sierra with only 50,000 miles that was a company pool car, but that was a horrible drive even solo.

Yup, the mini is good.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Like a fine wine

We aren't the kind of household that just throws things away because it's been around, unused, for a while.

I should correct that.

I'm not the kind of guy who throws things away, just because they've been sat around unused for a while. Chris isn't a guy, and she DOES sometimes throw things out, but generally she's not wasteful and we both have a fair bit of stuff 10+ years old.

I digress.

Some time back I posted a picture of some of Lauralea's jam, given to us on a previous visit, stored carefully from 2013. That's Chris's department, since I don't do jam.

However recently it became obvious that the wine rack (stored in the coolest, darkest room) was beoming full, and free space was needed. Now a while back we were given a vast quantity of victoria plums by a friend which were duly converted to wine and jam. After 6 months they were sampled, and while the jam apparently tasted OK if you managed to chisel some from the jar, the wine flavour embodied all that was unpleasant in yellow plums.

In the hope of improving, it was laid down to mature.

A couple of years later it HAD improved, and we drank some, then for reasons no longer remembered it was forgotten and left. Over Christmas I re-explored the bottles. Several had severely corked and were un-drinkable, but 3 appeared to have survived intact, and although they'd thrown a sediment, once that had settled out after the change from horizontal to vertical they were sampled.

The nose was like a Rheinessen or other German wine, with strong scents of green apples and flowers. Flavours still had a background of plums, but not in bad way, with a pleasing amount of acidity balancing a moderately dry and quite long finish. It's actually not bad, though I suspect a fair bit of the alcohol has departed via the cork.

We dated these bottles - 1996. That wine is older than some of the people I work with.

Just for a bit of context, I have a 'special' bottle of wine on the same rack - 1982 Coteau du Layon, that I'm still waiting for an occasion to crack open & try.

Guess our house is a place of relative stability.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Shall we go to 'Transform' (insert the 'inspirational' name of current denomination bibleweek).

We talked this week about whether to go to the bibleweek that I've previously discussed here and here. From a historical POV, although some good things have been said, I've felt increasingly over the years like they are discouraging and unhelpful, making the cracks and divisions between groups seem more obvious, and the wriggling to get along has looked painful.

So this year we aren't going, at least not to stay - perhaps just for a day or 2.

It's a relief. We've all changed: me certainly; but them too, possibly more than me. I don't identify them as being in the 'us' group, and I haven't got with the program so pretty sure I'm not in their 'us' group either. If and when we move out of the area I'll be relieved from a church point of view, because we'll be able to start again - or not - but will have freedom of choice to decide where to go instead of feelng boxed in and heavily invested.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

I am a fair-weather runner.

That should come as no surprise, after all, who wants to be out pounding the grey streets (or slithering on the brown mud) of Oxfordshire's pseudo-village, Kidlington, when they could be in the warm eating lasagne.

I had my first run back on Monday. 3.2K=2 miles in about 20min. A better start than it might have been, and it was actually quite pleasing to be out again, even though I feel like I just shuffle along old-man stylee. Today was intended to be run 2, but it's cold (due to get colder) and just tazzing it down out there right now.

Staying in, not getting soaked & catching a cold, seems like a much more prudent thing to do.


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

You KNOW you're getting old

When you look at what's involved in rooting and reflashing a phone, and decide it's not worth the hassle.

Almost like an asteroid about to smack into the Earth

Today is the day when Windows 7 support is being discontinued by microsoft.

According to some news papers it should be a valid reason for mass panic, weeping, wailing and stopping doing your banking online. DOOM! Doom I tell you!

It's nothing a quick Linux Mint install couldn't fix, but there's nothing like a good panic and a screaming headline at the top of the front page to help shift a bit of product.

Much more quietly, Windows phone died today.

Not that it wasn't obvious - both the remaining users weren't surprised.

It had reached the point more than a year ago where a lot of stuff wasn't really working anymore, but the things carried on, y'know, working a bit. Ben had our last Lumia (the rather crappy 650, having already 'consumed' my 640) we had no use for them since moving back to Android.  However to finally see the platform killed is disappointing - given decent hardware and reliable apps it could have comfortably taken on Android, but that was never going to happen.

Goodbye Nokia Lumia - we enjoyed you while we could.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Phrases one comes across

And then 'borrows'.

The 10 years it took him to get a bachelors in Psychology - majoring in social cognition - has given him all the prerequisites for a career in the motor industry - as a speed bump - but otherwise he's virtually unemployable.

I shouldn't, but I find it funny.

It's a matter of mildly sad amusement

A revived draft post.

Today (31st December 2019) it became possible for heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership instead of getting married. Homosexual couples have been joining in civil partnerships for some years.

Why sad & amused?

For many of us, marriage was about committing to each other, making promises to each other that we would be faithful, supportive etc. It wasn't about whether the wife would obey her husband or whether he would be head of the home and she the neck that turned it (to borrow a family phrase from an earlier age). It certainly wasn't about conforming to religion.

I'm sad that people see marriage as a religious institution, rather than a human one to help families grow and stay together.

I'm amused that people think what they're doing is different, whether it's cocking a snook at the establishment or feeling like they're doing something 'special' and new.

I hope people are faithful, loving and honest in these partnerships - in other words they don't behave like people often do once the shine & feelings of a new partnership have become a little familiar, possibly worn a bit.