Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chore Wars

Ever had a row about who should do the next household chore? Well, now Chore Wars has come to the rescue. Get experience points and treasure for each mission completed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Inside "the surge"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Athens double barrelled cannon

I don`t know why but the idea of a decrepit "elite home guard" unit of businessmen and local luminaries called the "Mitchell Thunderbolts" coming up with a weapon so deadly that it could only perform "sturdy service for many years in celebrating political victories" appealed to me. Here is a bit more on its test firing:
"According to reports one ball left the muzzle before the other and the two balls pursued an erratic circular course plowing up an acre of ground, destroying a corn field and mowing down some saplings before the chain broke.

The balls then adopted separate courses, one killing a cow and the other demolishing the chimney on a log cabin. The observers scattered in fear of their lives ... The Watchman [newspaper] promptly reported the test an unqualified success.

The Cannon was then sent, at Gilleland's insistence, to the Augusta Arsenal for further tests. Colonel Rains, arsenal commandant, tested the gun and reported it a failure for the purpose intended. Colonel Rains had tested a similar weapon at Governor's Island in 1855 with the same results.

Gilleland, however, was still of the opinion that the gun was a perfect success and engaged in a heated correspondence with the Confederate Secretary of War. " (from
Gilleland was a builder, mechanic and dentist. A scary crossbreed if ever there was one! I have a mental picture of the man: the sort you don`t want outside the tent pissing in, or indeed inside the tent pissing out, but preferably nowhere near the tent pissing in the wind.

The bleeding obvious

That`s why they call them "intelligence" I suppose.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I have 2,284 internet bookmarks. Imagine a book in which you had 2,284 bookmarks. Completely useless. Might as well pull them all out.

Because of my bookmark mountain, I am rather well informed about bookmarking software. I have long since abandoned the favourites in the pull down list from my browser (imagine 2,284 of those!) and have gone on a merry go round of more advanced web based bookmarking tools. I started on, moved to spurl, dabbled but decided not to get into bed with furl and ma.gnolia, moved to blinklist and eventually returned to

All of these are social bookmarking services, but I am completely uninterested in being sociable when I am bookmarking. As you may appreciate, I have enough problems dealing with my own great bookmarking lake without piping in other people`s contributions. My interest in all these services is simply that they offer advanced filing and tagging tools that let me navigate the swamp.

And yet none of them are quite good enough. My mountain/lake/swamp keeps expanding and my ability to use all of that accumulated net knowledge keeps contracting. In fact, I hardly ever revisit any of the sites in my list except in a desperate effort to prune things back. One obvious solution occurs: completely dump the lot of them. In fact, completely dump the whole idea of bookmarking. Live in the present, man! And use that funny thing you have installed in your own brain. Memory, I think they call it.

Well, it might come to that, but it goes against the grain. I am one of those people who files the cockroaches he's smashed. It also seems a bit of a shame. I have come across so much interesting information on the net. Wouldn't it be great to really be able to store and access it again in the future.

So I got to thinking what is it that is missing from current bookmarking technologies. The human brain stores huge amounts of information somewhat less reliably than these bookmarking sites but there is something about human memory that means that this is not a futile habit: serendipity/loose connections/randomness. Although we do use card filing systems for certain limited types of information, we access our memory often by very odd trains of thought: I might be thinking about making a pina colada for my wife, jump to the thought that my dad dislikes pineapple and coconut, and remember that I want to talk to him some more about our family history. That makes all of the huge wodges of info in my head worth keeping.

Could this be done with my bookmark swamp?

Two ideas, one simple, one a bit more complex:

1. Every time I open my browser, a tab (not my homepage but a second opened page) randomly opens from my bookmarks. (There should be a little cross in the top right that I can click to remove it from my bookmarks if the page turns out not that interesting on a second look.)

2. Every page I visit in my day to day web browsing, could be cross referenced with the sites in my bookmarks. Basically, the social bookmarking site would pick up the tags most commonly ascribed by other users to the site I have just arrived at and cross reference them with any of my bookmarks with the same tags and then display in a very inconspicuous manner, out of the main browsing window or in a tiny transparent overlay in the top right of the window, one or two of these bookmark's headlines and links. This, for the first time for me, would find something useful to do with the social aspects of the social bookmarking sites I use.

The photo is by Anne Mari

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ridings School closure

It seems the Ridings school is likely to close. I have written about the wider issues surrounding the Ridings before on this blog and I broke the original story about the Ridings when I was a cub reporter.

I am going to make a radical suggestion. The pupils have been let down by gutless politicians (most notably, as I talked about in my previous post, at a national level). They are to be transferred to other schools. Which schools? Well, of course, this is a one off situation, outside the ambit of the destructive 11 plus system which dominates Halifax education. So why not send them all to two of the closest secondary schools: The Crossley Heath School and North Halifax Grammar School, which just happen to be the two selective schools in Halifax?

Just let me pessimistic and cynical for a second. I have a sneaking feeling that not a single boy or girl will end up in either of those schools even though all the other schools that will be doing their bit to accommodate the pupils will be breaking their entrance procedures to allow them in. Because, you see, the whole point of Grammar Schools is to keep the oiks out.
Update: The more I look at this, the more outrageous the conduct already seems to be. Is the gutless procedural amorality never going to end? Here it is in black and white from the councillor in charge of education in Halifax: "Children attending The Ridings are not receiving an adequate standard of education." Let's quit the fannying around and say there is now no doubt that the school will close. Absolutely no doubt. The Pope will take to wearing Ra-Ra skirts, a thong and leg warmers before this inevitability will be reversed. (Hey, maybe he does?) They have to consult but it is over. The unions, the councillors, the central education institutions are just dancing a last tango, playing their prescribed roles.

And yet, correct me if I have read this wrong, they are going to recruit an intake of pupils into the Ridings this September! Into the school where the head councillor freely admits they will not receive an adequate education. And they are going to leave them there not for one year, when they will shut it off to new entrants, but two years! And don't tell me the situation is not going to get worse in the Ridings in that time. And then what? Off to the Halifax High School for a bit of a race riot?

Perhaps I am just a little naive. Perhaps the "procedures" mean you cannot possibly do an emergency redistribution of pupils at this late stage of secondary admissions. Perhaps it would lead to court cases from teachers at the Ridings saying the decision had not properly been consulted on? Perhaps there would be a bit of a squash in the classrooms of the receiving schools. I don't know. But surely this is a situation where the councillor should, as someone once memorably said, put his "nob on the block" and make a brave decision and try to get the Halifax head teachers together to do something right.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Merit marks

We used to have merit marks at my middle school. I think you got a badge if you came out top of the merit mark table at the end of the month. I say "I think" because I never actually confirmed that for a fact, never having actually explored the upper reaches of the table.

I do, however, clearly remember that you had to get something in the vicinity of 30 merit marks to be competing for top spot. It seemed an awesome figure. It was the same highly trained merit marked athletes who fought for the title every month. They must have got hundreds over the years. I think my total haul in all competitions was 18 or something. I was kind of like a merit mark defender, not a striker.

It wasn`t that I was a bad boy. I remember actually physically straining to get merit marked, but the teacher would just sail by. I was good but I was not worthy of merit.

Anyway, the point of this is that we have instituted a merit mark system for G.. He has been a bit of a geezer recently and under the new regime he gets a treat after every five good boy stickers. I have been thinking about it and it is really just a way of structuring one`s own actions as a parent, making sure you space out the treats a bit more and stick with the message.

I have a feeling, though, that G. may take after his Dad in the merit badge stakes. After an evening under the new regime, he has one sticker on the fridge. It was awarded retrospectively for a piece of remembered good behaviour before the new system was introduced, just to get the merit flowing. He is inordinately proud of it and has asked on at least six occasions what it was awarded for.