Sunday, 25 February 2007

Picture of the Week: #8

Hot on the heels of my complaint about attending too many Christian events, here's a photo of a Christian event.

The main CU meeting, in fact. This week was one where we all met together (as opposed to in separate colleges) at St Aldate's Church, which can hold all 200+ plus of us easily as well as providing an awesome sound and visual system. I was running the visual system. Believe me, for someone like me, there are very few things more ridiculously fun than controlling 3 cameras and Powerpoint by remote control with a huge computerised projection system. Only problem is, I really want one for the little parish church at home now. It may be difficult to convince the diocese to pay for it.

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Thursday, 22 February 2007

Actually, maybe giving up chocolate would be easier

We're a couple of days into Lent, that time of year when, by tradition, people give something up in order to show off lose weight become a better person give glory to God. Many people decide that they will give up chocolate, or indeed anything sugary. Others go with the "life betterment" approach, and give up things like swearing or gossiping. Right up at the difficult end of the scale you have people trying to give up thinking the worst of others, or maybe trying to give up a particular attitude.

All of these people lack ambition.

To go for this whole "giving things up" schtick properly, you've got to try to give up a whole lot of things. That way, if anyone asks you what you're giving up, you can not only make them feel guilty that they're only giving up one thing, you can also show off your impressive memory skills by reciting your entire list.

The downside of this is that the things you give up have to be fairly easy, because otherwise you'll spend all day trying to remember whether you're accidentally infringing one of your own rules. With this in mind, I would like to present the List Of Things That I Am Giving Up For Lent.

  • Planning the assassination of the President of the USA
  • Carrying out assassinations of Presidents of the USA
  • Eating kittens
  • Trainsurfing
  • Trucksurfing
  • Just surfing in general, really
  • BASE jumping from cliffs under 150ft in height
  • Tickling policemen
  • One-handed press-ups
  • Bluffing my way into foreign embassies during cocktail parties
  • Amateur tattooing
  • Kidnapping members of UKIP and releasing them into small areas of Britain where I've painstakingly re-written all the road signs in French
  • Smearing fake blood across my face and slumping motionless onto the desk in the library
  • Dressing in a monkey suit and running through the Psychology department chased by people in white coats
  • Stealing numberplates
  • Competing in the blindfold shot put
  • Attempting to register to vote under the names "John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith", "Paddy O'Door" or "Agent Orange"
  • Sticking "Pray For Me" notices on Richard Dawkins' back
  • Heroin
  • Selling my blood
  • Selling my housemates' blood
  • Selling more than one of each of my housemates' kidneys
  • Use of the terms "fluffy wuffy bunny wabbit", "snooky-poos" and "dearest, loveliest Elizabeth" when referring to my project supervisor
  • Especially in front of him
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Bungee jumping
  • Credit card fraud
  • Putting up notices around town telling people that they can claim free cake in the Town Hall by walking in and loudly proclaiming "I HAVE A BOMB IN MY RUCKSACK"
  • Hiring people to walk out of the Town Hall carrying rucksacks and eating slices of cake
  • Drink driving
  • Eating kebabs from Ahmed's Bar-B-Que van during tutorials
  • Replacing the front cover of every copy of the Daily Telegraph in Univ's Junior Common Room with the cover of the Socialist Worker
  • Drag racing
  • Racing in drag
  • Drag racing in drag
  • Leaving cryptic messages signed "Falcon" in the margins of the newspapers in Starbucks
  • Borrowing all of the first year textbooks from the library
  • Setting up a small bookstall outside the library, mysteriously stocking only first year textbooks
  • Disco dancing in church
  • Climbing trees in the park armed with a toy bow and arrow and claiming that I am the new Robin Hood
  • Going into a crowded lift and screaming from the moment the doors shut until the moment the doors open again
  • Murdering people with axes, polearms, or knives with blades longer than 4 inches
  • Playing lacrosse
  • Prank calling the Dalai Lama
  • Feeding the animals at the zoo

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Tuesday, 20 February 2007

No, it is not a "hobby", thank you very much

I was talking to one of my housemates last night, who was confused about where I'd been that evening. As it happened, I'd been at a Christian Union meeting.

"But I thought that was Thursday," she said.

"No, no, you see, Thursday is when I'm at my church's study group," I replied. "Monday is CU Lads' Group [a name that sometimes seems a little cringeworthy for some reason], not to be confused with the main CU meeting on Wednesday. Perfectly easy to follow."

"Do you enjoy going to all of these?" she asked.

That was the point at which I realised quite how easy it is for something that I've enjoyed - going to various church and CU meetings and gatherings - to more or less take over my life. I had a think about this afterwards, and realised that in a typical week I go to seven of these events, at least one on every day other than Saturday. There's very little else that I do with my time at the moment, other than work. (And wasting time posting long screeds online. But we don't mention that.)

I certainly don't dislike this situation - in answer to the question I was asked, I do enjoy being so involved in the life of the church and the CU, and if I was finding it a drag I wouldn't continue - but still, surely doing so much in one sphere and so little outside it cannot be a good thing in the long run. It's like people who play sport to a high level, or get so into their job that they take it home with them; their life narrows to the point where there are the things they have to do, and the one thing they like to do, and that's about it.

Living as a Christian in the world, as we're told so many times in places like 1 Peter 2, is about living among the people here, not withdrawing into our own little shuttered communities (I'm looking at YOU, Amish people...). Yes, in the end, our home is heaven. But right now, we live here. I think I need to have a look at just what I'm doing with my time here, and maybe try to spend it in a slightly more varied manner, before I end up spending all week in the same way.

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Sunday, 18 February 2007

Picture of the Week: #7

Just so I can prove that I do not spend all my time only in lectures and in my room (just most of it), here's a photo from my housemate's birthday party. If you're looking for a nice upmarket restaurant in Oxford, this was The Living Room - it's pretty good.

For some reason, I always find people look better in photos if they don't realise that you're actually taking photos. Well, other times they will look absolutely terrible (and believe me, I have a good collection of those), but there's another good use for them. Blackmail!

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Wednesday, 14 February 2007

And if you think that's cynical, you should have seen the ones I decided not to use...

I seem to have ended up in something of a tradition on Valentine's Day of treating it with as much contempt as possible, often going so far as to suggest that not only the commercialised aspects of it, but in fact its entire basis, are complete rubbish. This has resulted, for example, in my handing out "Anti-Valentine" cards, printed in draft-quality black and white with anatomically correct pictures of human hearts on the front, to those of my friends who were, like me, resolutely single.

Now that another year has passed, and I'm that much older and wiser (well...older, anyway), maybe it's time that I posted something online that truly speaks of love, of real romance. Maybe it's time that I abandoned the whole grouchy attitude.

....naah. Turn up the volume and let's go.

As before - not my video, so not covered by my CC licence.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

If you have work to do, do NOT start reading the archives

Over on Sluggy Freelance (for the uninitiated, Sluggy is a very long-term webcomic with a superb story and pretty good art to match), Pete Abrams has started work on another major storyline. This one is (almost certainly) going to be bringing back a major character who's been literally cocooned for a couple of years now. Coming hot on the heels of the Phoenix Rising storyline, in which another recurring character who hasn't been seen for a while (along with the main villains of the piece, who had likewise been lying low) made a very dramatic appearance, it seems that the overall story is starting to get properly exciting.

(It's worth noting at this point that I didn't realise Sluggy was a complete story heading for eventual completion until Abrams explicitly said so the other week. That's how long-term the storylines run - I envisaged it as a kind of eternal framework in which the characters continue to have their weird adventures ad infinitum. Having an overall framework is a much better idea.)

Anyway, because of the pace at which the story runs, this chapter began with a few days of recapping where the characters were and what they were doing, before launching us into the action six days ago.

And then yesterday, a little notice from Abrams appeared at the top of the strip saying that he'd got emails complaining how the storyline was slow-moving and that nothing was happening.

I'd remind you at this point that Sluggy publishes six days a week, and continues throughout the entire year (barring the odd filler week here and there). That's a serious amount of material.

And yet, within five days of the start of this particular storyline, enough people are whining that nothing is happening that Abrams has to put a notice on the main page just to placate them. Sure, we get a countdown to something that will spark off more action, which is all well and good - but really, people, there's such a thing as pacing a story well, and that's exactly what he's doing. Give the man a break.

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Sunday, 11 February 2007

Picture of the Week: #6

Yes, I know it was only the other week that it snowed. I'm still putting more snow pictures up, because this time it properly snowed, and it made everything look exceedingly awesome. It also made me late for a lecture and completely soaked my shoes, but that's beside the point.

This graveyard belongs to the little church just round the corner from my house. I go through it pretty much whenever I walk into town (well, except after dark, as it has a reputation for being where the junkies hang out - did I say junkies, parents/other concerned relatives who may be reading this? I of course meant well-balanced individuals who wouldn't harm anyone at all), but it's one of those places that is so familiar that it's only when it changes dramatically that I really look at it. Such as now, when it looks rather like something out of a Thomas Hardy dramatisation.

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Thursday, 8 February 2007

Oh, and the cigar and walking stick. Don't forget those.

It seems like more and more websites are trying to become Myspace these days. I've just found the official user page of Eels on Youtube, which bears more than a passing resemblance to your average Myspace artist page. In fact, Eels already have such a page (warning: autoplaying music, one of the most annoying aspects of any webpage ever implemented), which does make one wonder just what the point is. Facebook, too, is becoming ever more Myspace-like.

This trend towards internet homogeneity is probably not a good thing in the long run, as it makes it harder for new and interesting ideas to break through - they'll end up thinking that they have to be like Myspace, in the same way that certain companies decided that losing the penultimate vowel from your name meant that you were down with the kids. (Funny, I assumed that many more than 2 companies had done that. Weird how stereotypes spread so much faster than reality.)

In the short term, though, we get more content. In this particular case, it means that it's easier to get hold of Eels' videos quickly. Not that they weren't already available in some form, of course, but before, you couldn't let your blog readers watch a man in pyjamas perform a drum solo on a dustbin. Now, though...

I know none of you would be so stupid as to assume that I had the right to release this video under my usual CC licence, but just in case, this video has not been released under my CC licence.


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Wednesday, 7 February 2007

I think the "For Dummies" series needs to bring out a "For People With Rage Issues" version

Ever wondered how to install Linux on your computer? You have? My, what a wonderful surprise! Now everyone gets to listen to my handy step-by-step guide.

...What, not everyone actually wants to? Fine...the people who want to be educated/informed can click the link, then, and everyone else can just go off and do something more interesting...

Oh good, you're still here. On we go then.

  1. Obtain Ubuntu disc. Think about how much fun it will be to have a whole new system to explore.
  2. Look at system requirements and realise your computer can't handle it.
  3. Wait a month or so until Windows gets SO slow that you need to buy more RAM.
  4. Buy more RAM.
  5. Install it.
  6. Finally put Ubuntu disc in drive, and go through user-friendly install process.
  7. Stop hyperventilating after user-friendly install process comes perilously close to deleting all data on your computer.
  8. Start up Ubuntu from hard drive, marvelling as you do so at the cool new bootloader that lets you choose between Ubuntu and Windows. Laugh happily as you think how rarely you will be using Windows from now on.
  9. Shudder briefly at inexplicable chill of foreboding.
  10. Allow veneer of happiness to erode slightly at realisation that Ubuntu won't run your wireless card first go. Or at all under its own steam.
  11. Decide that a little exploration into the help files is in order.
  12. Decide that the help files are completely useless for anything more complicated than "change the screensaver", and accordingly take laptop downstairs to use wired net connection instead.
  13. Spend hours upon hours trying ever more esoteric ways of getting wireless to work. Eventually decide that you've fiddled with enough settings, it's time to reboot and see what they've done.
  14. Stare at screen with comprehension slowly dawning and turning into sheer blind anger as you realise that Ubuntu now won't work at all. Go to sleep in disgust.
  15. After working on Windows machines in the lab all day, decide that Ubuntu's got to be worth another shot.
  16. Install Ubuntu to the hard drive for the second time in as many days.
  17. Try various settings with entirely new driver files you found somewhere on the Internet.
  18. Reboot, and gaze with awe and wonder as the little green lights on your wireless card proclaim to the world that We Have Established Communication With The Internet.
  19. Celebrate new Internet connectivity by downloading shiny new graphical effects modules.
  20. Forget about the fact that shiny new graphical modules require some quite important tinkering with very basic graphics settings.
  21. Accidentally break said settings, apparently convincing your computer that it no longer has a screen. (No, really, that's what it said.)
  22. Realise that your lack of skills with the Linux command line means you have absolutely no idea how to change the graphics settings back to where they were unless you have access to graphics. The irony of it.
  23. Grit your teeth and install Ubuntu to the hard drive for the third time in two days.
  24. Go through entire process of making wireless card work again, forgetting a key element half way through and accidentally making only half your computer believe that it has a wireless card installed.
  25. Fix problem, vow never to install anything remotely difficult on computer ever again, and go and post vindictive opinions on Blogger.

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Sunday, 4 February 2007

Picture of the Week: #5

Rather low on choice for this week's picture - I've been alternately busy and strenuously avoiding being busy, which hasn't left much time for idle photography. I did get a chance to use my funky new tripod though, which means that I can successfully do night photography:

Don't think I need to explain it, really. Full moon, clear sky, from inside a warm (and therefore pretty humid) room. Just one thing to note, though - a beautiful night usually means a cripplingly cold morning. Hence having to wipe frost off my bike's saddle today. I don't want to have to do that very often.

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Friday, 2 February 2007

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Animals are Expendable - wait, what?

Those of you who used to read my old blog may remember that I've previously mentioned the new animal research facility that is currently being built in Oxford. If you didn't know anything about it, then suffice it to say that it's a big building that will bring together all the current animal research in the university so that it can be properly overseen in one place, therefore leading to considerably better conditions for the animals and much easier auditing of procedures by outside organisations.

It's also quite possibly the biggest target in the whole of the UK right now, maybe with the exception of Huntingdon Life Sciences, for the extreme end of the animal rights movement. (And by "extreme end" I do not mean the people who are a bit concerned about the necessity of these experiments, I mean the people who either implicitly condone or actively carry out violence in the name of their movement. Just so you know where we stand.)

Anyway, I had a lecture today in a seminar room that overlooks the main building site. The building's coming along very nicely - most of the cladding's finished, and the builders seem to be working on smaller structures just outside, and probably the interior workings. And no, I am not going to post a photo of it up here, that's more than my degree's worth.

The only thing that struck me as odd was a particular feature of the architecture. For the most part, you see, it's your average multi-storey lab - fairly dull, blocky, beige building. Except for one thing - as far as I can see it does not have a single window anywhere. On the ground floor, yes, I can understand that - there will be more than a few stones thrown at this building by idiots. For the same reason, not including anything more than slit windows until maybe the third floor makes sense. But having none at all...well...the whole place looks rather like the Ministry of Love.

Security is obviously a big issue here, but I think I'd argue that public relations is too. Making your controversial laboratory look as intimidating and fortress-like as possible doesn't reassure anyone that what is going on inside is legal, controlled and useful, it makes it look as though you've got something to hide. I really hope this isn't a foretaste of the attitude Oxford's going to hold towards the public once the lab actually opens.

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