This news just in: apparently men can kiss eachother

In the UK, we’ve had an advert for ‘New York Deli-style’ mayonnaise. The idea of the advert is that the mother, who is making sandwiches, has been transformed into a male New York deli owner by using the product. Get ready for the shock – s/he kisses goodbye to her/his husband! On TV!

Beware. This advert may signal the beginning of the apocalypse.

I’ve got no problem with this whatsoever, but it’s rather funny reading the comments of people who do… Or perhaps it’s a bit tragic? Or maybe people on the internet all have their react-o-meters instantly set to eleven. My favourite response? It’s tricky, I’m torn between two:

The first time I witness this advert I shall be complaining loudly to the appropriate authorities, and will certainly not be buying the product.

That wins points for deciding in advance of seeing the advert to ‘complain loudly’ afterwards. It’s good that they’re keeping an open mind until they’ve seen it.

Second up we have a wonderful bit of hyperbole:

This is what the word boycott was invented for!

Err… No, I don’t think getting in a flap about a mayonnaise advert was what the word was intended for. I also like another comment that describes the leader of the Christian Anglican Church, Rowan Williams as a “liberal druid”. Priceless.

For UK readers, you’ve probably already guessed that these delights come to us courtesy of the Daily Mail. (In fairness, there are a fair number of sensible people on there too, who can’t see what the fuss is about.)

Freedom of speech

There’s a great article in the New York Times today about the difference between US and other nations in respect to the laws on freedom of speech. (You might have to log in to read it, but it’s free and quick to do.) In particular I liked the quote from Jeremy Waldron, who is rather interestingly described as a ‘legal philosopher’:

It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.

Many people argue that any infringement on freedom of speech is, by its nature, wrong, but I strongly believe that the leaders of a society have the duty to ensure that an ‘atmosphere of mutual respect’ is maintained and defended.

Harvey A. Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer, defends the American system (where you are allowed to be as offensive and lie as much as you want) by evoking the old chestnut of Hitler:

The world didn’t suffer because too many people read Mein Kampf.Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea.

Given that there was some support for the doctrines of Hitler around the world, I think the idea of giving him the opportunity to gain a greater following in the US could have been a very bad idea indeed… Which just goes to show once again that lawyers don’t always think through what they’re saying, and that hyperbole can land you in a lot of trouble.

Back in 1919, Justice Holmes adjudicated on a case that set much of modern law’s attitude towards freedom of speech, and hate speech in particular:

The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.

… Which is cobblers. That’s like saying that watching adverts allows you to make an informed decision about which products you need to buy. There are always people who will be swayed, or who will find encouragement for existing predjudices, by the dissemination of decietful or biased material. Even a racist can sound charming if they want to: learning to be persuasive is easy, and there are always people who are happy to follow anyone who sounds like they know where they are going, which is why I think that the UK’s and other countries legal approaches to hate speech are an improvement on the US system (albeit sometimes with flaws, but they are a step up).

LOLcats go large

If you don’t already check by the LOLcats website then I advise you to do so very regularly – it updates every few hours and provides smiles and sometimes laughs on a daily basis.

One fan of the site decided to take things a bit further, reproducing the classic ‘invisible bike’ LOLcat as a mural on the side of his building in San Francisco. If you fancy going an seeing it for real it’s on a tiny street called Quincy, between Grant and Kearny.

How to get your homework done easily and essay/dissertation/thesis writing tips

I was asked today by a friend who is studying about how to get homework done. There are loads of tips that will help, but here are my biggest ones:

Tip 1: Get into a routine of doing your homework regularly
Spend an hour doing it immediately when you get home from school/college. There’s usually rubbish on the television at that time anyway! When I was sixteen I used to always work hard for an hour when I got home and kept well ahead of all my home work. These days I make my lunch for the next day and then go an do some exercise – learning to set beneficial routines makes your life and work a lot easier in the long run.

Tip 2: Turn off the internet connection and use books for your references
Don’t ever check your email while you are in your set study period. Turn off your messanger software. Don’t check facebook, myspace etc. Don’t even stream music you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t reply to text messages. No-one will be sending you anything so important that it can’t wait an hour for a response. Get rid of all distractions and force yourself to work every. single day. Whether you want to or not, get your work done. Set yourself realistic and useful targets and don’t stop until you’ve achieved them. Do all this and you’ll find it a lot easier to get the grades you want.

If it’s really impossible to get away from distractions then try working in the school/college library. They’re usually open for at least an hour after school.

Tip 3: Get ‘studying music’
This is a personal favourite of mine – whenever I have to work hard I’ve got an album I listen to which I know helps me focus. Find something with no lyrics that you can basically ignore very easily, because lyrics tend to distract you from what you’re trying to write. There are loads of good electronica albums out there, so I’m sure there will be ones that you’ll like. As a starter, try Lifeforms and Dead Cities by Future Sound Of London, Amber by Autechre, Takk by Sigur Ross (unless you’re Icelandic and will sing along!), or anything by Global Communications (all the albums are superb studying music).

Tip 4: Follow my other essay and exam tips!
Learn to organise your ideas – the way that they come to you the first time isn’t always the best order to make your argument. More tips on organising ideas for essay, dissertation, or PhD thesis here.

When you need to write under pressure then you need my top exam tips. They helped me for many years and really work, even if you’re just trying to write your homework.

This advice works no matter what level you are studying at, from school up to finishing a doctoral thesis. If you have any questions then add a comment and I’ll do what I can to help!

I hope not to continue in the ‘tempest,’ against the dead

I get so much spam that it’s lovely when I occasionally get something with entertaining random text. Could this be the old Digital Shakespeare trying it’s virtual hand at prose?

Hohe hoholulu

Much better after coffee and eggs and bacon. Murder pleasantly,
that anything you say will be taken and i’m perfectly certain
that he drinks. He’s her an examination, then sat back in
his chair not a year older than her friend, looked like
in the stocks to dry. John swore to revenge horribly but
you must realise that this murder is very led me to a little
wooden frame which hung against would be out of place. When
the millionaire spoke, nodded. What do you think, my little
one? He inquired, she doesn’t understand violence.’ ‘carrie
louise the ‘tempest’? I hope not to continue in the ‘tempest,’
against the dead, resumed mrs. Percy rapidly, countries.
that was the stage to set. But behind so that the roses
in her large hat almost brushed.

Happy Pi Day!

It’s Pi day! A day to celebrate the most annoying number in creation!

Here’s a lovely article about Pi by the BBC.

Altogether now… 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679 8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128 4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196 4428810975 6659334461 2847564823 3786783165 2712019091 4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 0249141273 7245870066 0631558817 4881520920 9628292540 9171536436 7892590360 0113305305 4882046652 1384146951 9415116094 3305727036 5759591953 0921861173 8193261179 3105118548 0744623799 6274956735 1885752724 8912279381 8301194912 9833673362 4406566430 8602139494 6395224737 1907021798 6094370277 0539217176 2931767523 8467481846 7669405132 0005681271 4526356082 7785771342 7577896091 7363717872 1468440901 2249534301 4654958537 1050792279 6892589235 4201995611 2129021960 8640344181 5981362977 4771309960 5187072113 4999999837 2978049951 0597317328 1609631859 5024459455 3469083026 4252230825 3344685035 2619311881 7101000313 7838752886 5875332083 8142061717 7669147303 5982534904 2875546873 1159562863 8823537875 9375195778 1857780532 1712268066 1300192787 6611195909 2164201989 3809525720 1065485863 2788659361 5338182796 8230301952 0353018529 6899577362 2599413891 2497217752 8347913151 5574857242 4541506959 5082953311 6861727855 8890750983 8175463746 4939319255 0604009277 0167113900 9848824012 8583616035 6370766010 4710181942 9555961989 4676783744 9448255379 7747268471 0404753464 6208046684 2590694912 9331367702 8989152104 7521620569 6602405803 8150193511 2533824300 3558764024 7496473263 9141992726 0426992279 6782354781 6360093417 2164121992 4586315030 2861829745 5570674983 8505494588 5869269956 9092721079 7509302955 3211653449 8720275596 0236480665 4991198818 3479775356 6369807426 5425278625 5181841757 4672890977 7727938000 8164706001 6145249192 1732172147 7235014144 1973568548 1613611573 5255213347 5741849468 4385233239 0739414333 4547762416 8625189835 6948556209 9219222184 2725502542 5688767179 0494601653 4668049886 2723279178 YADDA BANANA BOING ALL WORSHIP
XENU< LORD OF ALL 12380791

Astonishing BASE jumping video

BASE – Bridge Aerial Span and… Emountain. Or something.

Anyway, base jumping (parachuting off of objects already on the ground, such as sky scrapers or the Eiffel Tower) had become too boring and the challenge was constantly to get far away enough from the launch object before you scraped your body along it. Suits with little wings built into them were devised to make the movement easier… And of course that means that it’s now the challenge to see how close you can fly to the ground/moutain, etc. without splattering yourself all over it at 100mph.

How close can you get to the walls? It turns out that it’s about a foot or two.

Really, there is some amazing footage in this video: http://www.biertijd.com/mediaplayer/?itemid=4262

We’re eight years late for ‘rocketbelts’ and still waiting.

The Usbourne Book of The Future, published in 1979, promised us rocket belts by the year 2000. I demand to know where they are!

More interestingly, most of the predictions made for the period 1980-1990 all seem to be happening now, 20-30 years too late.

I loved the quaint prediction of how email might work (predicted for 1991-2000, despite having already existed for a couple of years back in 1979):

Hand-written letters are electronically copied, sent via a satellite link to their destination, where the incoming message is printed out.

Aww, bless! That sort-of did happen, but that was fax-machines and they weren’t really used for letters, only for business documents.

Read more wonderful predictions about the future here!

Blu-ray appears to have beaten HD-DVD

It looks like the competition to be the main format for high-definition movies has been won by Blu-ray. There were two in the running, but on Friday the major American retailer Wal-Mart said that it is not going to purchase any more stock of HD-DVD players, effectively signalling that it believes the race is over. Wal-Mart is the largest distributor of DVD players in the US and so this decision says very strongly that Blu-ray is the winner.

Movies in the Blu-ray format have been consistently outselling the HD-DVD movies since the launch of the Playstation 3 (PS3), which has a Blu-ray player built in, although this doesn’t mean that the victory was clear. There were still a million dedicated HD-DVD players sold, a similar number to the dedicated Blu-ray players, but it looks like the PS3 owners swung the market. This can only have been deliberate on the part of Sony – they are the makers of the PS3 and the patent holders on the Blu-ray technology – but their gamble has paid off with a huge success.

What is more important for retailers such as Wal-Mart is that customers are informed that there is now a standard for high-definition movies. The longer the battle continued, the less attractive physical formats for films looked. Downloadable films are the logical step on from downloadable music, and it is a rapidly growing market. It won’t put physical retailers out of business soon, but it is a likelihood that it will eventually.

Regardless of this, only around 15-20% of households in the UK have a high-definition television, so even with a clear winner it’s going to take a while before high-definition films rival the sales of DVDs. Most owners of HD TV sets don’t have any input devices that play in HD, so the technology is often wasted. Annoyingly, the display of standard-definition signals (such as normal television) is often worse on a HD TV than on a normal one, because the picture has to be scaled up to fit on the higher-resolution screen and the software in the television often isn’t good enough to replicate the standard-definition signal.

There is still a lot of confusion in the HD TV market, between 720/1080 and the ‘i’ versus ‘p’ tags, and many consumers don’t realise that they need a new kind of signal going into the television to notice any difference. The resolution of the film formats to being only Blu-ray will certainly help things along, but there is a long way to go before consumers understand high-definition the way that they understand normal televisions.

(New York Times article here.)

Hayden Christensen as Case in the upcoming Neuromancer film?

In Neuromancer, the main character Case has killed people in dirty meaningless fights, he’s a self-destructive drug addict, running himself into the ground, barely eating, and trying to convince the city streets to open up and swallow him in a dark alley one night. This character is a vortex of self-loathing, and I just don’t see many actors who would want to try and do that in a science-fiction film. I’ve spent fifteen years getting to know the character and seven years writing about it, so in this regard I feel that I know Case pretty well.

Does that character description fit with Hayden Christensen in your head? He’s most famous for playing Anakin Skywalker (who became Darth Vader) in the second and third of the Star Wars series. In fairness to Christensen, in the Star Wars films he (allegedly) went to Lucas and said ‘Are you sure you want Anakin to be this whiny?’ and Lucas said ‘No, make him more whiny!’. With direction like that the it’s hard to do much. While Christensen may yet display previously unseen depths of acting and character in his performance as Case, he’s not yet shown that he is capable of portraying the complexity of the part. I really hope he surprises us, and I’ll be the first to stand applauding if he does.

Christensen might be able to pull it off with good direction, but the director attached to the project, Joseph Kahn, doesn’t give me a lot of hope on that one. He’s best known for the very dumb action film Torque (scoring a rating of 3.4 out of 10, barely skimming out of the worst rated 100 films on IMDB) and the Britney Spears video for the song ‘Toxic’. The story of Neuromancer is fairly complex, with multiple antagonists with differing agendas, which is partly why this film hasn’t ever happened yet despite 20 years of people trying to make it. I’m very concerned that they are going to strip it back to a pile of meaningless action sequences.

If they made this film feel like a drunk hurriedly stumbling home through the bad area of town, people hurrying past and predatory eyes watching the progress from shadows, then it would feel right. It’s more likely to feel like a glossy jet-bike ride, and that’s going to be a huge betrayal of the book. Christensen’s casting feels like the jet-bike version of the story, and that’s why the people who want this film to be good are so worried about him.

Game FAQ maker despairs of America

Tonight I finished playing the rather jolly game Assassin’s creed. I liked it lots, some people don’t, but there you go; however, the ending is left open so you can go and find all the collectables in the game (although quite why you would bother is beyond me). The openness of the ending leads players to think that there might be something more to do (there isn’t really), but I thought I’d check reliable GameFAQs to see if they had anything for me, when I stumbled on the increasingly desperate guide by a chap called Brad Russell.

Skip down to the FAQ’s bit at the bottom of the page (press ‘Crtl’ and the ‘F’ key on your keyboard at the same time and type ‘FAQ’ then skip through until you get to the start of them). It gets quite funny as they go on, while the poor guy’s will to live is sapped by a constant barrage of questions all on the same lines.

You can read one man’s despair here.

Ecletic interesting links and articles collected by a painter, teacher, writer, and ex-PhD student