Wednesday, 31 December 2008

"Stop me oh-a oh stop me..."

Morrissey may have implored listeners to interrupt him if his lyrical meanderings seemed overly familiar, but for some of us, repeated listens to humour set to music aren't a chore.

Watching a recent documentary about comic songs, I couldn't help but notice the frequency with which the participants took on a defensive attitude. It seems that the comedy song is much derided and undervalued. On one hand that is odd to me, as it's a medium of humour I like very much. On the other, I can understand the wariness - whilst a bad Christmas cracker joke might annoy for a few seconds, a bad comedy song has the potential to elicit far more lasting displeasure. I experienced this first hand when I went to a Linda Smith charity benefit gig last year; though the woman herself was very funny, not all of her friends paying tribute were as amusing as they thought they were, and we were subjected to some 'comedy' songs so dire I wondered if I would ever laugh again.

But no matter - we recovered from the trauma eventually. Fortunately there are enough good songs out there to keep me on the writers' side. Given the frequent doom and gloom in the news of late (aka always), I thought it would be nice to wrap up this year (or start the next one, if you're temporally ahead of me) by sharing a small selection of some of my favourites.

So, to kick off, here's 'The Vatican Rag' by Tom Lehrer. As a Good Catholic Girl I should probably heartily disapprove, but it seems to me to neatly summarise a heck of a lot about Catholic practice and is rather funny to boot, so there you go.

Fast forwarding to the 80s, with a rather more earthly subject matter, 'Let's do it' is probably Victoria Wood's most famous song:

Already a hero of mine for his stance on Ginger Pride, Tim Minchin deconstructs romantic destiny in 'If I didn't have you'. The extent to which I find his mathematical analogies amusing may go some way to explaining why I am still single.

Back to this side of the globe, proving that not all the humour has to come from the pros are the Amateur Transplants. I was directed to 'The Anaesthetist's Song' (below) by a friend who aspires to make a career out of knocking people out. They appear to have done plenty of comedy song homework, as their 'Drug Song' pays heavy tribute to Tom Lehrer's 'Elements'.

Picking up on my previous blog post, it seems appropriate to link to one of Mitch Benn's most recent efforts. As a resident on The Now Show he has the (un)enviable task of having to come up with 2-3 songs per episode that reflect the week's news. Here's '(Stay the hell away from) Hallelujah':

And finally to finish with a spot of Bill Bailey. 'Love Song' was one of the highlights of 'Part Troll', and it's a testament to its popularity that when I saw him on his most recent tour, he performed this as an encore and the audience matched him word for word.

I hope that at least some of the above have raised a smile. Happy new year.

Monday, 29 December 2008

A love is not a victory march

The race for the Christmas number one slot was a bit different this year, what with the contest being fought mostly between a TV show winner and a dead guy who has never released a single over here, the result being the same song occupying the top two slots and featuring again further down the chart.

This is what happens when Simon Cowell tries to convey that he has musical discernment. Normally the X Factor winner would be given any old chart fodder for their first single, guaranteed to go to number one. This year, the bizarre decision was taken to use an epic Leonard Cohen song, covered by many, but the definitive version being widely regarded to be Jeff Buckley's from the album Grace.

Now, Grace is among my favourite albums ever, and Hallelujah is one of the high points. So naturally I joined the throngs of those expressing their dismay at the choice. Campaigns began on Facebook to implore people to overthrow the X Factor grip on the charts by getting other versions into the top ten on download sales. In a moment of festive madness, I even decided to join the flashmob planned to fill Trafalgar Square with hundreds of Buckley fans who would all burst into song at a given moment. The reality was rather more muted, as The Times was unfortunately on hand to note, but hey - I guess I can now say that I have sort of featured in a broadsheet newspaper. (In response to the article, I should like to point out that (i) they may have been up to twenty of us at one stage (ii) nobody was taking it particularly seriously (save for one rather intense individual) (iii) it was rather embarrassing when what I presume was the combination of cold and ridiculousness prompted us to all forget the words to the second verse and (iv) no eardrums were irrevocably damaged in the making of the protest, but I can't promise it was entirely melodic either).

Like many who objected to the song choice, I have nothing against Alexandra Burke - I think she has a great voice, seems like a lovely person and I wish her a long and happy career. Nor do I feel that the song is off-limits for covering - Buckley's version was not the last, and nor will Burke's be. For me, what was objectionable about the whole thing was seeing a great song commodified. It wasn't that the winning performer had chosen it because it had always been a favourite of theirs, or that they had performed it earlier in the competition and had their 'breakthrough moment' with it. Rather it seemed a case of, "This is the product, you have to sell it." To take a song loved by so many and to use it in that way rather taints what emotive music is about.

Inevitably, despite their passion, the Buckley fans lost the battle for the top spot. But to get an unreleased version to number two, ahead of another X Factor alumnus was pretty impressive. And perhaps the whole thing will prompt a few more people to give Grace a listen, which is no bad thing. Maybe Cowell will reflect upon the overall response and conclude that his choice was ill-judged. Or maybe he'll be buying the rights to another classic song as we speak...

Jeff Buckley
Originally uploaded by
Café du Monde

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Good news

It's nice to know that sometimes, just sometimes, there exist stories in the news to which the only possible response is to smile.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Extreme gingerism

Surely the most extreme gingerism I've documented so far?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Ginger is feeling hopeful

Thank you America.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Gingerism in science

The other day I was looking for information about a category of genetic variants called SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms i.e. variation of a single 'letter' in the DNA code of a gene). In my hunt, I stumbled across SNPedia, which provided me with the information I needed.

Having a further look around the site, I found references to SNPs in the genes that contribute to red hair. It was at this point that I discovered that 'red hair' is categorised, alongside cancers, mental health problems and heart disease, as a 'medical condition'.


Monday, 27 October 2008

Everything is connected

I care about the environment. I love Strictly Come Dancing. I never thought those two interests would collide:

I guess more things are connected that we first thought...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Times are lean...

... or so it would seem. ebay have stopped sending me emails trying to get me to notice that they sell designer frocks (definitely not a recommendation based on my customer profile), and have dispatched instead a message pointing out that they sell towels, batteries and light bulbs.

Recession, anyone?

News flash: medical students redeem themselves

Having given me plenty of reasons in the past to suppose that your average bunch of medical students couldn't organise a carve up in a mortuary, I am pleased to report that my mind has been changed. I gatecrashed a student conference on global health this weekend (gatecrashed in the sense that I legitimately paid for a 'non-student' ticket, but nonetheless felt a bit of an interloper surrounded by all these clinical types) and I have to say that the organisation was fantastic. They had done a really good job - everything ran really smoothly, there were lots of people to help lost visitors, registration was painless, and only one session overran. So, well done to them. It's easy to point out the bad, but good should also get credit.

What's more, they had really given a lot of thought to the wider messages they were promoting. The conference pack came in a Fairtrade cotton bag, contained some Fairtrade chocolate, and a mug to be used in the tea breaks, thus saving on plastic waste or the cost of hiring crockery. Surefire way to win me around!

One the other hand, I recently got to see the printed copy of the magazine mentioned below. I haven't given it a thorough read yet, but it generally looks good. I did note, however, that the article I had gone through thoroughly and changed every erroneous 'practise' to 'practice' had been published without those corrections. Sigh.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Advice to a Young Medical Student

A few months ago, an email caught my eye regarding a new student-led magazine on global health at the university. It's a topic that interests me and, although I'm now staff, I still feel like a student, so I thought I'd get involved. I was a bit short of time though, so I initially signed up to do a spot of proofreading, in order to get a feel for the set-up before I considered volunteering for anything more time-consuming.

A couple of months passed while the writers exercised their craft, and eventually some articles started to trickle through. A couple of things should have warned me how painful and frustrating the process would come to be. Firstly, it was rapidly apparent that the editor had failed to distinguish between the roles of a proofreader and a copy editor. Secondly, it was clear that many of the writers actually needed their craft exorcised.

That students at a Russell Group university should produce such poor writing left me open-mouthed. Not least medical students, a group I doggedly persist in thinking of as reasonably smart, despite increasing evidence to the contrary. Quite how they've got so far in life, and specifically in academia, without someone giving them guidance is beyond me. Having said that, a recent conversation with a public health trainee who had four years of clinical practice behind him revealed that he found the idea of having to write 10,000 words on anything a daunting proposition. This is roughly the length of the dissertation that is part of every undergraduate degree, apart from medicine. Ho hum.

Anyhoo. I should try to get something positive out of this situation. The following list should provide guidance for any undergraduate medics who are thinking of unleashing their writing on the world, and warning for any mugs who are thinking of volunteering to edit/proofread.

  1. It's not unreasonable to expect that formal writing should not involve (i) contractions (such as 'don't') (ii) cliches/idioms and (iii) inappropriate use of the first person. I was quite tempted to thank the student who started a paragraph, 'Now don't get me wrong...' for neatly breaking all three rules in one go.
  2. A paragraph has more than one sentence.
  3. When did you last see triple question marks in a quality periodical??? Did you not stop using this method of emphasis when you were at school???
  4. Using the line, 'The Oxford English Dictionary defines X as.....' is the kind of thing you do when you're twelve and you want everyone to know that you're smart cos you can use a dictionary.
  5. Gauge your audience, and pitch your writing to them. Informing university students of the dictionary definition of 'politics' is a bit patronising unless you're going to focus on some niche definition, or subvert the whole thing.
  6. Don't include new stuff in the concluding paragraph.
  7. Recognise the difference between an opinion piece and a fact piece. Heck, recognise the difference between journalism, blogging, and ranting.
  8. If the first paragraph tells me more about your personal prejudices than it does about the topic, you're doing something wrong.
  9. Africa is a bloody big continent. Don't write about 'Africa' as though your oh-so-insightful comments apply equally everywhere. And don't be paternalistic.
  10. Don't use Roman Numerals for references. You may think it looks more smart but it takes up stupid amount of space by the time you get to 28.
  11. Use appropriate sources. Telling me that London has an epidemic of TB on the basis of a BBC news article from SIX years ago that doesn't actually make that assertion is not clever. Nor is quoting an expert's comments from a controversial TV programme that may have been the victim of biased editing.
  12. Actually read a newspaper or a magazine and see how your writing compares. The Sun or Heat will do. Seriously.

I should point out that there were occasional glimmers of hope amid the gloom. Sometimes I picked up an article and thought, 'Praise the Lord! Some good writing!' It was at that point that it usually became apparent that the writer was either (i) not British and/or (ii) a non-medical student

I give up.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Excuses excuses

Apologies to regular readers for my recent inactivity. I offer up the following explanations:
1. I now spend all day using computers and don't get as enthused about sitting down in front of one when I get home.
2. My internet connection has been a bit dodgy.
3. I've spent way too much time trying to teach medical students to write (more on this later)
4. There's a new series of Strictly Come Dancing on.
5. Boris Johnson ate my mouse.

Normal service will resume shortly.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Future UnCERNtainty

So, apparently the world might end tomorrow. Out of all the screw-ups I ever made in the lab, it's safe to say nothing I did was ever likely to have that kind of effect.

I'm actually having a few days off with no fixed plans. It occurred to me that something I could do is find someone else at a similarly loose end and meet at the Underground. If we both board the Circle line, but headed in different directions, what would happen at the point at which our paths cross, if we managed to make eye contact? Would the Underground grind to a halt? Would Bob Crow be silenced forever? Would Boris's hair get even wilder?

But do I really want to fork out £5.90 on a travelcard if the world's going to end? Does PAYG work in a black hole?

Sunday, 7 September 2008

More sporting success

It probably won't last due to the sheer size of the Chinese team but look - we're top of the table!

My people have spoken

'Taboo' by Tim Minchin

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Shame Wolverhampton isn't closer to London, or else I might have taken myself along to Gingerfest, a photography exhibition celebrating all things ginger. Video here.

Not the first project to celebrate us Titian-haired beings. I did volunteer for the Ginger Snaps project, but alas, I was too late. Good to see not everyone's intent on verbal abuse.

Alternatively, maybe I should hop over to Holland this Sunday for Redhead Day 2008. How cool is that?!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

News round up

Nowt major, just a couple of things that caught my eye in today's news:
1. The grammar pedants have won, but still might not be happy. Tesco has caved in to pressure from the Lynne Truss brigade to change their express checkout signs from '10 items or less'. But rather than the more grammatically correct, '10 items or fewer' they're going for 'Up to 10 items'.

A spokesman for the Plain English Campaign said:

"Saying up to 10 items is easy to understand and avoids any debate."
Unfortunately, I would beg to differ. '10 items or less', though jarring, is totally comprehensible and unambiguous in everyday speech . 'Up to 10 items' makes me think that perhaps it could mean 9 items or fewer. Did they never learn the difference between the '<' and the '≤' signs in maths? Surely for totally clarity it would have to be 'Up to and including 10 items'. That would make for a very large sign. I think they were better off before.

2. "Farm Pregnancy 'cuts asthma risk.'" I wish that science news editors would be a little more discerning regarding what is 'good, interesting science' and what is 'good, interesting science that is of relevance to the general public'. The discovery that pre-natal exposure to a farm environment may reduce risk of developing asthma in later life is scientifically interesting. It might give clues to immunologists who are trying to develop a better understanding of the basic biology of asthma. I don't, however, think that it is information of great use to anyone else - it's the kind of story that makes you go, 'So what?' What are we supposed to do with that information? Tell pregnant friends to get themselves along to the nearest pigsty? Congratulate rural friends on the likelihood that their future children will have good respiratory health? What exactly?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Ginger's Olympic Round-up

Well. What a fortnight. I've watched more sport in the last couple of weeks than I usually notch up in a year. And how much fun it was. So much to say that I've forgotten most of it already. But here are a few of my thoughts on various highlights/newsworthy elements:

No idea I'd find this so gripping. Something rather enthralling about all the action in the velodrome. They're just so fast and sleek. And good. And the British squad seems to comprise a number of genuinely likeable and admirable people. Will definitely try to pay more attention to this sport in the future.

I've even been persuaded to take my own bike out a couple of times since the start of the Olympics, which has been rather underused since I bought it. I've had my reasons - neither my mudguards nor my left elbow were quite the same after that incident. But perhaps it's time to get over my phobia. I think I'll start by aiming for London Freewheel - at least there won't be any scary cars involved.

Finally, Shanaze Reade finally give justification to the journalistic over-use of the phrase 'crashing out'. Ouch. I was really disappointed - she seems a great character, a very ballsy young woman, and I was hoping that she'd add to her World Championship titles. But alas. I hope her bones knit well, and that she has more luck in London.

One of the few sports that I used to watch on a regular basis, I did lose interest in athletics a while back. Although there have been a few magic moments in the last few years, disappointment and underachievement seems to be key to our appearances. Christine Ohuruogu's gold was a rare spectacle. There are too many excuses and caveats made for many of our performances. And am I the only person who really doesn't give a monkey's about Paula Radcliffe? Even if she'd won the marathon in world record time, I don't think I'd get as excited as by some other performances. As it was, she came 23rd, and all the media hoo-ha focused on that, rather than the creditable sixth place of fellow competitor, Mara Yamauchi (highest place ever by a Brit woman). Perhaps we need to get over our favouritism of certain athletes and cast the net wider.

Oh and please can we get rid of Brendan Foster and his down-in-the-dumps commentary style? Most other sports commentary seems to be done by a combination of trained presenters and ex sportspeople. But whilst many of the latter were Olympic champions in my lifetime (Gary Herbert, Jonathan Edwards, Adrian Morehouse), Foster's greatest achievement was a bronze medal in 1976. Perhaps time to step aside for someone a little younger?

Modern Pentathlon
One of those odd events that kind of appeals to me, despite the fact I hate running, have never fenced or shot, and on the one occasion I found myself on horseback, I demonstrated all the grace and style of a sack of potatoes. That said, perhaps I wouldn't have been much worse off than the men, who rather suffered from a combination of terrible weather and peculiar horses. At any rate, the women deserve a mention - we've managed to get at least one medal in this in the last three Olympics.

But is is really a sport?
A debate that always turns up with regard to something or other, usually in relation to events in which the outcome is decided by judging. I don't mind judging as such, so long as it is fair and accurate. But some events do seem divisive in this respect. I don't know why it is, for example, that I should feel totally at ease with synchronised diving being a sport, but not synchronised swimming. Having watched the winning Russian performance in the latter, I was very impressed, and have no doubt of the physical skill and effort that goes into it. Perhaps the problem is the word 'performance'. I do think that a sport shouldn't have make up and glitter as an integral part of its presentation. There is also the functional element - a lot of sports do have a sense of real life purpose to them. It is easy to come up with practical applications for a lot of the skills - being able to run faster, jump higher, lift greater weight etc all could be useful under certain circumstances. Synchro swimming falls foul of both those ideas. I am willing, however, to see it continue if they ditch the make up, and get the men to do it as well. And I promise I'm not just picking on it cos it helped the Russians overtake us in the medals table. How could I possibly be disappointed with our 4th place?

Compare and contrast:
(i) Blake Aldridge, who vented his frustrations at coming last in the synchro diving on his 14 year old teammate. Aldridge certainly wasn't blameless, and his comments were highly ungracious and unsporting. (And I'm rather with Daley on the inappropriateness of ringing your Mum in the middle of a final).
(ii) Bradley Wiggins, double gold medal winner, who explained that he didn't push for a world record in his Individual Pursuit victory, because he wanted to make sure he was still fit to perform the Team Pursuit, especially as members of that team had given up their chances of competing in other events in order to give their all to the team event.

Olympic Greatness
Much debate over who is the greatest - Bolt or Phelps. Not really comparable - very different, totally great achievements. In terms of British achievement, I caught a brief glimpse of a table of 'British Olympic greats' that slotted Chris Hoy (four golds, one silver) above Sir Matthew Pinsent (a measly four golds) and below the king of the table, Sir Steve Redgrave (five golds). But there is a serious omission, who I'm ashamed to say I, too, failed to think of until I read this. Where, in our list of great Olympians, is Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson? Eleven gold medals over twelve years in four events. Wow. Sure, the paralympians perform in separate events for obvious reasons (although Natalie du Toit came a highly creditable 16th out of 24 in the women's 10K open water swimming) but being an Olympic champion means putting in the best performance of all your peers at a point in time. Dame Tanni surely deserves to top that table? I'm looking forward to seeing if the GB paralympic team can take up the baton and keep the medals coming in. Let's face it, if they at least pick up the baton in the allotted time frame, and keep hold of it, they'll be doing better than our sprint relay squads.

"Yes, I've had offers while I've been here. But with the London Games in 2012, it would be crazy to go. This is the greatest job in the world."
- Dave Brailsford, British Cycling Performance Director, on why he won't be bought by other countries.

"If I'd even missed one session, I would have lined up with doubt and fear in my mind. What would happen if I lost the gold by one thousandth of a second, because there was a training session I skipped or didn't give my all to?" - Chris Hoy, showing an attitude that some of our other sportspeople could learn from.

"Can I just say one thing: Mum, if you're watching at home, I'm fine and safe." - Shanaze Reade, after her first-round crash.

"I was disappointed with the time" - Rebecca Adlington, on her winning 400m freestyle performance.

The Handover
How cool was that bus?!? Gold medal for the engineers, surely.

I think we acquitted ourselves quite well - it's always tough to work out how to fill that kind of thing. I did have a quiet chuckle when they said that the little girl had been chosen by Blue Peter viewers - hard not to think "Oh, really?" As for the other representative choices? Dancers/singers, fine. Jimmy Page - rock legend. Leona Lewis - internationally-known pop princess. David Beckham - sportsman who has never competed in an Olympics, or won a championship for his country, who now practices his sport away from his homeland. Hmmm. Wouldn't have featured in my top 50 list.

Oh and ah... Boris. Well, he didn't fall over, or poke anyone's eye out with the flag. But he might have looked a tad more professional if he'd done up his jacket and stopped trying shove his hands in his pockets at every opportunity. I wish him no personal ill, but I do hope that he doesn't sit out the whole of his four year term of office.

London 2012
I may well be in a minority in my home city, but I was actually delighted when we won the Olympic bid. None of the typical London cynicism for me. I really think it'd be great to have such a huge event here, and I look forward to my wonderful city having some major positive attention. And now we've had so much sporting success at this Olympics, it gives us a great platform from which to enter into the games.

Bring it on.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Not something you see every day

Now there's a sight to behold.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

A sporting chance

I love the Olympics. I freely admit that I don’t watch sport a lot of the time, but there’s something about the Olympics that gets me hooked, especially on some of the sports that don’t get as much coverage as some of those that I do pick up on from time to time. I do find that watching all that physical endeavour usually does tempt me to try something for myself. If there were no limitations on me at all, such as age, ability or physique (all mere trivialities, eh?) then there are quite a range that I can imagine would be fun to do. I have to be honest, though, and say that I just cannot understand the appeal of being a professional swimmer. I don’t like running, but at least you can do it in different locations, on a variety of terrains, with company, with music to listen to. Swimming? Well, a pool is a pool is a pool. I don’t know how they don’t go mad with the repetition.

It’s been said in plenty of places, but it’s sufficiently amusing to repeat – Britain does best when it’s sitting down. All the sports in which we seem to consistently get Olympic medals these days – cycling, rowing, sailing, equestrian – don’t exactly require the participants to be totally vertical. So perhaps my sense of inspiration doesn’t even require me to get off my backside.

I’ve got totally hooked on the track cycling. It’s been really exciting to watch (well, maybe not the Points race, which was a trifle unfathomable). I now understand the pursuit and the Keirin, and they are really quite gripping. Plus an event is always more interesting if your team is doing well.

So, today I’ve watched us get three medals in the rowing, four in the cycling, seen footage of a British women’s world record in the swimming and Michael Phelps getting his seventh gold, and then witnessed a man so bloody fast that he won the 100m sprint with 30m to go.

All of the above makes the football Premiership (resuming action today) look rather bloated and self-absorbed. Here are some things to ponder. The GB Baseball team qualified for the Olympics but had to withdraw as they couldn’t afford to participate. Rebecca Adlington, achiever of so many great things (first British woman to win swimming gold for 48 years, one of only four British competitors to win two golds at a single Olympics, 800m freestyle world record holder) was paid the grand sum of £8-10,000 a year by UK Sport prior to her trip to Bejing. British Cycling received a fillip in the form of Lottery funding about 10 years ago which helped develop the infrastructure in which to develop the talent that sees us guaranteed 6 track medals and likely to get several more; UK Sport earmarked nearly £8 million to fund up to 44 cyclists from 2005-09, which is impressive. But back in London, Frank Lampard has signed a new deal with Chelsea that will see him earn an average of £6.8million per year for five years. Meanwhile, Premiership cleaning staff can’t even hope for a London Living wage.

Yes, I do realise that the mega football salaries derive from very commercially marketable clubs, rather than national sources, but still… you’ve got to ask whether they’re worth it. And I don’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer. It’s 42 years since England won the football World Cup, and we’ve never even made it to the European Championship finals. Feel free to polish any club trophies and medals, Mr Lampard, but it'll take something pretty special before I'm as proud of you and the rest of the England squad as I am of those who achieve so much more for so much less. And that includes the cleaners.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Funny Science (part one)

The stereotype of a scientist doesn't usually include a lot of laughter, unless directed at the poor unfortunate nerd. But that's not necessarily an accurate representation of the truth. A lot of us can be quite funny if we put our geeky minds to it. Have you ever seen what happens if you fill a latex glove with dry ice, and then let it expand till it's as big as a medium-sized pig? No? You haven't lived.

Anyway, given that science and comedy are two major interests of mine, I've decided to present for your viewing pleasure snippets from three fairly contemporary scientific TV comedy efforts. First up we have Lab Rats, a new offering from BBC2. Set in a British university lab that seems to change its research focus week by week, according to whatever odd requests are made of the staff, it's got quite a cartoony, surreal feel to it. It's certainly not going to feature in my 'Top 10 list of most funny sitcoms ever' but I do feel like championing it a bit, if only cos it's the only programme I've ever watched being recorded in a studio. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can testify that the laughter isn't canned, although now I do understand why it can sound like it. The series does seem to have improved as it's gone on, but here's a clip from the first episode (the one I saw being filmed), showing Cara at her most deliciously daft:

Second, across the pond to The Big Bang Theory, which is kind of like Friends or Will and Grace but with physics geeks. The Women in Science blog didn't seem desperately impressed by it, and I can understand why. There are only really two female characters, one of whom is a gorgeous fashionable blonde, the other a speccy, curly haired deadpan type. Guess which one is a physicist, and which one is the love interest from across the hall? Having said that, the guys don't exactly come out of it looking like fine specimens of social aptitude in action, so I feel more inclined to be affronted on behalf of sciencekind, rather than womankind specifically. Here are Sheldon and Leonard engaging in a very geeky kind of macho posturing:

My last offering (for now) is Look Around You which beats the other two hands down in its commitment to pure scientific endeavour whilst simultaneously presenting a big old heap of nonsense. It ran to two series, the first of which parodied Open University-style schools programmes, whilst the second targeted Tomorrow's World and the like. I gave a DVD of the latter series to a friend of mine who's just qualified as a science teacher - I hope he shows it to his pupils someday. But not the first series - to the untrained brain there is just too much potential for confusing fact with fiction. Here's what the Look Around You team have to say about MATHS:

So there we have it. I have to admit, although I can quite happily watch all three, I do wonder to what extent they might appeal to the general, less nerdy, public? Do the 'science bits' seem off-putting, regardless of how (in)accurate they are? Can science and comedy mix? I'll come back to this another time and explore a few more examples.

Finally, I do realise that it is totally necessary to suspend a certain amount of reality when it comes to TV shows of any kind. But there is one inaccuracy I really can't tolerate in all of the above. How on earth did Cara, Lab Rats' tiny technician, manage to get a lab coat that fitted her perfectly? When I was an undergrad, the smallest lab coat the uni shop sold still required me to roll up the sleeves. Maybe we'd get more women into science if the safety equipment actually fitted them. ;-)

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Credit where it's due

Recently I blogged about Fairtrade T Shirts for sale at low prices and pondered whether they could possibly be the product of Fairtrade cotton being used to make garments in sweatshops. Well I did a little delving and this is what I found...

Firstly, from Sainbury's:

Dear [Ginger],

Thank you for your email. I understand you are interested to know our policy on how our Fairtrade t-shirts
are made. I appreciate the chance to outline our position in this area.

All our Fairtrade t-shirts are made in an accredited factory in Bangladesh. The factory has to be approved by the Fairtrade foundation to ensure it trades to the highest standards.

The yarn is from India from accredited Fairtrade farms, which means the farmers are paid a better wage for the cotton grown. The funds raised from the Fairtrade foundation are used to subsidise and improve the farmer’s lives and villages through supporting schools. This implements clean water and generally enforces a better standard of living for the community.

Then M&S:

Dear [Ginger],

Thank you for your email.

You may be interested to know that all of our suppliers are expected to meet our Global Sourcing Principles, and to encourage their own suppliers to implement them. This requires our suppliers to comply with national laws and to work towards the international labour laws contained in the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code.

Our Global Sourcing Principles promote the right to freedom of association, requiring that workers are free to join lawful trade unions or workers' associations, and the payment of national minimum wage. Any new suppliers who we conduct business with have to pass our audits on key issues such as underage labour, pay, working hours and health and safety.

So yay! Nice to know.

On a related matter, I notice that Sainsbury's now print their receipts double-sided which strikes me as a neat and simple way of saving paper. So change can happen.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Mock the Week

Once again, BBC2 comedy hits the nail on the head with its assessment of the media:

Sunday, 20 July 2008

How 'fair' should Fairtrade go?

A couple of things have recently prompted me to ask this question. Firstly, seeing press adverts for Fairtrade Cotton T Shirts being sold by Sainsburys for £3 (M&S have been doing them for a fiver for a while now), my thought process went as follows:

1. Yay! Mainstream use of Fairtrade cotton!
2. Ooh, and low prices meaning it's commercially competitive, whilst still retaining ethical business practice.
3. Hang on, they only say that the cotton is Fairtrade. How are these made so cheaply?

Now, as anyone who watched Blood, Sweat and T Shirts can attest, the cotton harvesting and garment-making industries are two very separate enterprises, both of which can involve huge exploitation and unfair employment conditions. So it is entirely possible that a company could use certified Fairtrade cotton to make garments in sweat shops. I'm not saying that's the case here (especially as t shirts are so simple that they might only cost pence to make even at a fair price) and I shall endeavour to find out for sure. But it did make me aware of the risk of falling for potential pseudo-greenwashing; just because part of a process has been certified to be sound cannot guarantee the rest of it.

Onto my second issue: even when the wages are fair, is our 'work' as responsible consumers finished? So, the roof is sound and the water is clean, but what about other aspects of the working environment? American Apparel is a company that boasts good working conditions - its clothes are made exclusively in LA, by a fairly waged workforce predominantly made up of migrants who might otherwise be forced into lower paid work that doesn't provide the same healthcare benefits and union membership etc. All fine thus far.

But is there a dark side, after all. A while back, perusing AA's website, it did strike me that the way that some of the clothes were presented seemed to cross that line from 'sexy' to 'sleazy'. In the end, I put it down to perhaps me being an unfashionable prude, who didn't 'get' the art of couture. But it seems there might have been something in my instincts. There have been reports about the conduct of AA's CEO, Dov Charney. Several lawsuits have been filed against him, by his employees, for sexual harassment. Admittedly, none have led to an in-court settlement, but there seem to be quite a range of reports suggesting that Mr Charney is less than keen on keeping business and pleasure separate. Given that working for him is probably the only decent employment opportunity for many of his workforce, one might ask whether it is really fair for them to be subjected to such a working environment. What's an ethical consumer to do?

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Club Sandwich(board)

Oxford Circus
Originally uploaded by diamond geezer

The great big fluorescent 'Golf Sale' sign could be a thing of the past. At least if Westminster Council get their way. There is a plan afoot to ban them from the West End, and fine offending companies up to £2500 for non-compliance. The Council argue that not only are they an eyesore, they also make life difficult for pedestrians.

Ok, so they're a bit shabby, but I'm not sure I agree with the latter. Cutting through Covent Garden, yes, there are a few advertising cheap theatre tickets that one might have to navigate around, but far more tricky are (i) tourists (ii) people pretending to be statues and (iii) the hoards of people who erroneously thing that outside Covent Garden tube station is a good place to meet (been there, done that). Heck, they even serve a purpose - one helped me find a DM stockist on Garrick Street when Covent Garden was without one for a while. And that's, like, totally crucial information. ;-)

Actually, if Westminster Council want to ban things that make one's transit from A to B on foot problematic, may I suggest targeting the following as a greater priority:

  1. People proffering The London Paper and London Lite
  2. Chuggers
  3. The Scientologists on Tottenham Court Road who try to lure you in by offering a stress test (presumably to detect how stressed they've made you by getting in your way)
  4. People who stop at the top of escalators to plan their next move, oblivious to the pile-up behind them.
  5. Loved-up couples who think that meandering along, holding hands, is acceptable behaviour on Oxford Street/in mainline stations during rush hour.
  6. Users of those suitcases with extendable handles, who ignore the existence of everyone else, to leave a trail of chipped ankle bones in their wake.
  7. Cars
  8. Groups of 50+ exchange students who manage to block off entire chunks of pavement at a time
  9. Stationary rickshaws
  10. Boris Johnson. (Oh alright, maybe this isn't his fault. But I've got to try...)

I mean, lets look at the positives: at least a great big placard is more environmentally friendly than a load of fliers. And if you were feeling desperate for a cut-price nine iron, then they could serve you very well.

All this does remind me of a question I have pondered before. What exactly is it about golf that prompts this kind of advertising, far more than the sale the any other product? Do people who play golf respond well to that kind of thing? Whatever the answer is, I hope that the people who were probably employed on a sub-minimum wage to do this manage to find other work. Or else there might be a protest. With neon placards.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Laser Eye Surgery

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic

Ewww. But tee hee.

Cyanide & Happiness @

Friday, 20 June 2008

Ah, Boris.

Boris, Boris, Boris. Do try to do your homework first. Or else you'll only go around saying that documents don't exist when they do, and you had access to them, if only you'd noticed.

Also, statements such as

"these are going to be the most wonderful Olympics in history, since 753BC or
whenever it was that they kicked off".

sound rather less endearing in print, and rather more idiotic. This is why I was happy to see you on political comedy shows, and not running my city.

Ginger's Beauty Tips

Ok, I'll admit it, for all my optimism about future academic/career directions, it's hard not to feel like a little bit of a loser having dropped out of my PhD, particularly when you look around at peers doing Proper Grown Up ThingsTM like getting married, buying places to live, having decent career progression etc. And yes, chinks in my armour are starting to appear, resulting that for the first time ever I recently came away from a look in the mirror thinking - hmm, wrinkles.

Nonetheless, I shall endeavour to resist a wholesale submission to the beauty industry that would like to plant insecurities in my head to encourage me to part with my cash. To help you do the same, I hereby offer you two of my top secret beauty tips:
1. Enlarged pores? Don't stand so close to the mirror.
2. Puffy, tired looking eyes? Stop reading about eye creams online and go to bed.
My work here is done.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

What goes "Ha Ha Ha" *thump*?

No, not a man laughing his head off, as the old joke goes. Rather, a man about to be arrested for discovering that a little laughter can be a dangerous thing.

So, Chris Cocker from Blackburn was watching Have I Got News for You one evening when a particularly funny joke made him laugh so hard that he fell off his sofa. No big deal, one might think, until the Police turned up and arrested him. The noise of his amused collision with the floor had attracted a neighbour's attention, who believed he had collapsed, and phoned the police (quite why he didn't call for an ambulance no one seems to have mentioned). When the police turned up at Mr Cocker's door, the latter was initially helpful, but as the police became more insistent about being let in to check that things were ok, Mr Cocker became more obstreperous. With the eventual outcome being a dousing of pepper spray and a night in a police cell.

You really couldn't make it up, could you? Just as well events didn't take a turn for the worse, or else he could have become a prime candidate for a Darwin Award.

A Political Twist

Well, quite an eventful couple of days in UK politics. Firstly, the Government narrowly wins a vote to increase the number of days terror suspects can be imprisoned without charge, partly thanks to what some regard as Brown almost bribing DUP members to back him. That a political leader in trouble should go to such lengths to secure a successful vote it perhaps not surprising.

But what happened today was. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, resigned not just from the shadow cabinet, but as an MP, in order to protest against the result, and to trigger a by-election on the issue. It's a move that is being hailed as 'unprecedented' in UK politics, and seems to be as much a shock for his party and leader as it has been for the government and the media.

Personally, although my voting habits are firmly to the left (which does not necessarily mean Labour these days), I've got to applaud Mr Davis for taking such a stand. His actions, alongside those Labour cabinet ministers who were willing to resign their posts over the Hybrid Embryo vote, demonstrate that successful politicians don't necessarily lack integrity. He has an awful lot to lose - even if he wins back his seat there will be no guarantee that he'll be warmly welcomed back - there is some suggestion that this is likely to seriously displease David Cameron for bringing into turmoil what has been a recent increase in the popularity of his party. But sometimes you've just got to take that kind of risk if you really care about something.

It'll be the first time in my life I'll be willing a Tory candidate to win an election!

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Just seen this on The Culture Show. If you need to procrastinate, watch this video by Johnny Kelly:

I love the idea of colour-coding your shelves.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Ginger is no longer in a relationship with her PhD

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings.
And why Ginger has taken the slightly dramatic step of quitting her PhD."
-Lewis Carroll (and others)

Yep, that's right. Your blogging hostess is officially a PhD drop-out.

I realise that, from the perspective of my blog, this might seem like a bit of a bolt from the blue. Sure, I've had the odd grumble, but mostly I've kept my disgruntlement to myself. But trouble has been a-brewing for a while now, and recently I made the big decision to call time on my research project. Without wanting to go all 'group therapy' on you, I thought I might use my blog as a way of offering an explanation. Not least because I found Googling 'Quitting a PhD' quite a helpful way of seeing what other people's experiences of this kind of situation had been before I made my final decision.

So, where to start? Well, I entered into my project with the best of intentions, and the desire to see it through to the end. And it's not like I went into it blind - I'd already worked at the lab in question for 10 weeks before I committed myself, as well as gaining lab experience elsewhere. And things were fine to begin with. I had the newbie enthusiasm, the naively optimistic 'get back on the horse' attitude to the odd experiment that failed here and there. But as time went on, things began to unravel. A bit of extracurricular reading introduced me to the existence of a different field which got me far more intellectually and emotionally fired up than the one in which I was working. I began to realise that, post-PhD, I'd rather work in that field and cease lab work altogether. I still remained committed to seeing it through though.

But then... well, there were the experiments that failed to work over and over again, gradually eroding my self confidence, and occupying weeks and months of attempts before I finally managed to show that it wasn't actually my fault. The realisation that the technical problems plus the consequent demotivation meant I was at least six months behind schedule. The dread with which I was filled at the thought of carrying this on for another couple of years, and the long hours it would entail, when my heart was no longer in it. And other problems I won't go into on a public forum.

I do appreciate that everyone goes through 'second year blues' where it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that you have no data, and the end is both a bloody long way off, and yet too soon to get everything done. And I don't think that any one of the reasons I cite constitutes, on its own, a need to throw in the towel. However I do think that, in combination, there was a compelling argument for my decision. I did not want to give over a major part of my life for the next 2-3 years to something in which I no longer had any confidence, had lost passion for, and which was no longer directly relevant to my future plans. I have a deeply ingrained 'I'm not a quitter' attitude, but I am beginning to appreciate that sometimes there is virtue in walking away and not flogging a dead microarray.

Something that has surprised me is how much kudos I seem to be getting for making the decision. PhD/science web-fora seem to be full of people saying 'I want to quit, but I don't want to let my parents down' or 'I wish I'd quit a year ago'. I am fortunate in that my family and friends have been supportive of my decision. What came as a surprise was that people seem to view it as a brave step to take. Certainly, I know it's one of the gutsiest decisions I've had to make, but I was fully prepared to have to justify myself and fight against the perception that I was a wuss who didn't have the courage to meet the challenges of a PhD. It's been a pleasant bonus not to be burdened with that label.

Right, having managed to spout cliché after cliché, it's time to get on with the rest of my life...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Quotation of the week

Nicked from a t shirt:

Engineering forsight: An escalator can never break. It can
only become stairs.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Eurovision Live Blog

[Scroll down for the exciting minute by minute account...!]

Going to try a spot of real-time blogging and see if I can match Terry Wogan jibe for jibe.

The Eurovision Song Contest is one of my guilty pleasures. Musically, it really bears little resemblance to the kind of thing I listen to normally, but there's just something about the whole bonkers spectacle that has me hooked. I was out of the country for last year's competition but still managed to persuade my companions to watch pretty much the whole thing on the TV in the hotel lobby. We got some very strange looks.

Who do I think will win? Not a clue. I didn't see the semi finals, so I have no idea what the competition will comprise, save for the fact that Dustin the Turkey (representing Ireland) has been eliminated already. The UK doesn't stand a chance. The three main contenders for our place were all good - Simona had the Euro-quirkiness, Michelle Gayle had all the poppy sparkle of Gina G, and Andy Abraham's song was just good honest soul/pop. But non of them would have finished in the top 10, because whereas we still champion Eurovision as an outlet for camp cheesy goodness, the rest of Europe seems to view it as either (i) a political love-in or (ii) a showcase for allegedly serious music. Which is why, for me, Scooch's catchy-innuendo-laden-naff-costumes-ooh-look-there's-a-cheesy-dance-routine entry last year was absolutely perfect, but the rest of Europe placed it 22nd out of 24.

Ah well. Let the fun commence...

20:01 Terry describes last year's winner as being like a 'badly tempered Jeanette Cranky'. I'd go for a 'Harry Potter gone wrong' myself.

20:03 I really can't imagine the wardrobe department being able to find another use for a dozen 'half-bride-half-groom' costumes. What a waste.

20:07 Having a flesh coloured face mic doesn't disguise it if it's so large it looks like you've dozed off on a bag of cotton wool.

20:09 Romania are going for 'serious and earnest'. Ooh, no they're not, they've suddenly switched to a grittier backing track and a female vocalist. Blimey, this is a messy excuse for a song.

20:11 Not sure I'm totally convinced by their Enrique Iglesis/Carol Vorderman duo either.

20:13 Ooh, it's us! Didn't check the running order.

20:16 Funky, fun, catchy, uplifting and well performed (possibly in one of Cliff Richard's old suits). Doesn't stand a chance.

20:17 Onto Albania. Terry: 'A pleasing view of the first belly button of the evening'. Not totally sure about her tuning, but coming from the country that spawned Jemini, I can hardly criticise. Almighty great wind machine they've got there.

20:20 They might be in with a chance, based on previous years.

20:21 Germany. Going for the Sugababes approach.

20:23 Nice costumes, pretty girls, but - ouch, those harmonies. Not good.

I don't know what's sadder: (i) I'm watching this. (ii) I'm doing so alone (iii) I'm bothering to live blog.

20:24 Armenia. Ah so that's what dancers are for - to enable you to move like a weeble.

20:27 Good Euro-pop. A contender in my book, but I'm not sure if it's too musically reminiscent of where Eurovision was at a few years ago. But a spirited performance.

20:29 Bosnia & Herzegovina. Terry: "Four knitted brides of Frankenstien and a loony with a clothes line." Yep, that sums it up. The kind of thing that gives Eurovision a bad name. Well, worse than usual, anyhow...

20:31 Ah, so that's what Helena Bonham Carter's been up to lately.

20:33 Israel, that well known member of the EU. Written by Dana International, so a good pedigree.

20:35 Disappointingly bland, but ticks enough boxes to be in the running I suppose.

20:37 Finland. Justin Hawkins, who failed to win to UK's contest last year, seems to have moved to Scandinavia. It's not really what I think of when contemplating Eurovision, but then Lordi won it, so who am I to judge?

20:41 Croatia Terry: "Men in hats and a grumpy old man". He really is very old. Actually this isn't bad, in a very European way. But it does remind me strongly of something - can't think what though.

20:43 The grumpy old man rant and the red dancer would probably make a lot more sense if I spoke Croatian. Ah well.

20:45 Poland Terry: "A Polish Lovely whose time has been well spent on a sunbed... you haven't seen teeth like this since the Osmonds."

20:46 On reflection, live-blogging seems a little futile when Terry can deliver such gems. I can't think of anything else to say. MOR ballad, probably forgettably by the end of the night.

20:49 Iceland. Euro techno pop. Cheesy in a safe way. Suitably life-affirming lyrics. Woman wearing a dead ostrich. What more do you want? Probable contender.

20:55 Turkey. Ok, but I'm not sure who it's aimed at. Can't even work out whether it's a love song/political thing/angry rant.

20:56 Female host looks like Cat Deeley in a foil emergency blanket.

20:59 Portugal. Terry: "This is not over when this lady has sung" Meow.

21:01 Not sure about the male backing singers in Karate suits. Very Euro-ballady. Not my cup of tea but could be in with a chance. Ooh, there goes the wind machine again.

21:03 Latvia. Ooh, pirates. Lots of them.

21:04 Brilliant. All the cheesy goodness, catchy hooks, costumes and dancing that Scooch had, but with the added advantage of not being hated by the rest of Europe. All together now: "With a hi hi ho and a hi hi hey we're hoisting a flag to be free...."

21:07 Sweden. Has my telly gone odd or is she in black and white?

21:08 Jocelyn Wildenstein in Gina G's dress. Quite average.

21:10 Terry's commentary on the Danish ident was hilarious. Will have to find it on Youtube.

21:11 Denmark. This is cheery and uncomplicated. Sufficiently uplifting for Eurovision - will it suffer from lack of gimmicks though?

21:14 Georgia. Did one of the backing dancers really have two fingers up at one of her fellows? Bet the singer whips off the sunglasses.

21:16 A call for peace is always a good Euro lyric. I was wrong - the glasses remained but the costumes switched from black to white.

21:18 Ukraine. Terry reckons it's a potential winner. Very visually distinctive from the other entries. Catchy high energy pop. He could be right.

21:21 Female host now sponsored by Interflora

21:23 France Women in fake beards and a golf cart. What every song needs.

21:24 Despite the fact that the French have broken a long held disdain for singing in English, I really cannot tell you what this is all about. Unfathomable.

21:26 Azerbaijan. Men with scary screechy falsetto voices should think carefully before deploying them in a public place.

21:28 They've clearly read the Eurovision manual. Random costumes - check. Gender bending vocals - check. Lots of drama with no plot - check. Not sure it's worked though.

21:31 Greece. Quite poppy, but more in a chart way than a Eurovision way. Ooh, we've suddenly acquired a flower garden. And oh look, a costume change. That's never been done before, no sireee

21:34 Spain are obviously going for the 'if you can't beat them, at least give some of the residents of the asylum a night out' approach. Backing dancers presumably considering this to be an all term career low.

21:36 I think it's supposed to be a spoof. Of something. Not sure what. The 'pretending to be crap' backing dancer is getting a bit annoying.

21:38 Serbia. They like their heartfelt ballads, don't they?

21:42 Russia. Terry makes his first political voting dig.

21:45 Oh my goodness, Terry was right. They really have got Michael Flatley on ice skates.

21:47 Norway Inter-EST-ing diction. Actually, not a bad song, but pretty forgettable compared with a lot of the others.

21:51 Phew! Glad for the break. Looking at the recap, here's my nominations:

Best costume change Georgia
Most Bonkers Bosnia or Spain
Worst Tuning Albania
Good spirited fun - Latvia and Croatia
Hairiest Finland (or France's backing singers)
Most straightforward pop effort Iceland and Greece
Most judicial use of wind machine Albania Portugal
Worst Plastic Surgery Sweden
Happiest ditty Denmark
Trying to tick too many Eurovision Boxes Azerbaijan
Most likely to fail for political reasons UK

And my vote goes to... Croatia, Lativa, Denmark, or Ukraine. Not sure who will actually win though.

22:17 Peculiar Green Room lady seems to have mugged a peacock for its eyelashes.

22:21 Eh? Did I miss something? How come our voting came first? And why do we only get to see the top three placed votes from each country? Surely that goes against the glorious torture of running through every single flipping vote from the 43 countries involved.

I shall have to find out the full score breakdown from the UK. If the glimpse I caught was right, I think Spain managed to get a point out of us. UK viewers are clearly taking this very seriously.

22:26 We're one of only three countries with nul points so far. Go figure.

22:28 Yay! San Merino like us. There had to be someone.

22:33 Disappointed that Russia are doing so well - I thought it was rather bland - all I can remember about it was the ice skater.

22:40 Ok, I know everyone hates us but surely the rubbish that came from Spain and Bosnia does not deserve to come higher than us.

22:51 Turkey have Leticia Dean presenting their points. Still nothing for us. Of the top four I rate Armenia and Ukraine - Russia bored me. Greece was ok, but I don't know what makes it better than everything else.

22:53 I must say, Malta can always be relied on for not being totally caught up in voting for the politically popular countries. They even vote for us some years.

22:54 Ah I love the Irish - they gave us 8 points, and gave their 12 to one of my favourites - Latvia. Good voting, Ireland!

23:01 I've got it! I know what the Latvian entry reminds me of. There's a song called Looking High High High (Looking high, high, high/ Looking low, low, low/Wondering why, why, why/ Did she go, go, go?). Which, through the power of Google, I can now tell you came 2nd in Eurovision in 1960.

Fewer people hated us then. I blame Tony Blair.

23:06 So, Russia have won it with a lead of 42 points. We came last. Eurovision isn't as much fun as it used to be in my youth.

Au revoir Serbia. See you next year Russia.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Breaking News: Prize Winning Author Has Limited Vocabulary.

Obviously, the Nobel Prize winning author, Doris Lessing, has yet to learn the meaning of the word 'no'.

Isn't that what agents are for?

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Humorous Interlude

Couple of amusing things I've come across today.

Firstly, via Blogs of Note, I present for your amusement Photoshop Disasters. More laugh-out-loud moments per page than your average blog. (Warning: some nudity. Well, sort of. Or not. You'll see what I mean).

Secondly, cos I haven't quite moved on, Facts about Boris. Personal favourites:

When you wait half an hour for a bus that's supposed to come every five
minutes, and three come along at once, THAT'S BORIS JOHNSON.
Boris Johnson steals odd socks from your washing machine.
Boris Johnson framed Angus Deayton.
Boris Johnson uses the London Underground to blow-dry his hair.
Boris Johnson makes you think you left the gas on.
All very true, I'm sure.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A Mature Response

Still struggling to come to terms with the implications of the election result, I decided to channel my energies into a mature and deep response. Then I decided to ditch that idea, and convey my dissatifaction in the medium of lolcat-ese.

With thanks/apologies to lewishamdreamer and koltregaskes, whose Creative Commons licensed photos I modified.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Deep breaths

Okay, getting over the initial shock (which wasn't a total shock really, based on the wisps of info that have been emerging through the day), here are some thoughts about the results in general:

  • Deeply frustrated at the outcome, but had been bracing myself for it for a couple of days now. Still, finding it hard to work out what 1.17m people think he has to offer them for the next four years.
  • Will be interested to see what proportion of second preference votes Brian Paddick got. I wouldn't be surprised if it was bigger than his first preference proportion.
  • Delighted that Sian Berry got so many votes. I'm hoping that the Greens get at least a couple of seats in the assembly. She was a really decent outside candidate, and I hope she gets to have some role in the London Assembly.
  • Really worried that the BNP managed to come fifth, with quite a chunk of votes. Desperately hoping they don't get any assembly seats.
  • Still not convinced of the value of independent candidates standing for this kind of election. I've only just got around to finding out who Winston McKenzie is. Seems to be a serial electioneer, having been associated with a marvellously contradictory range of parties.
  • Disappointed that the BBC cut the coverage just as Sian was starting her speech, but I guess if they'd broadcast her, then they'd have had to broadcast some other people who should probably not get air time.
  • Intrigued by the heavy thanking of the Police early in the speeches of the three main candidates. Was there trouble anticipated?
  • Wondering how much the rest of the UK are laughing at us right now.
  • I've never been an Evening Standard reader, and I'm certainly not going to start now.

And the winner is...


I may have to go into exile for the next four years :'(

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Please Spare Us

I'm really really worried Boris Johnson will become Mayor of London. I dread to think what he will do to my beatiful city if he's elected. Please watch this and vote for anyone but him or the BNP, if you're eligible to do so.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Tribute vs Plagiarism

For starters, a little task for you. If you haven't already see the video produced by the band OK Go where they dance around on treadmills (where have you been?!?), please do so immediately:

Now, I think this gives us an ideal opportunity to consider the classification of types of copying. This, for example, is a lovingly created tribute to the above. This, is a gentle mickey-take of the above. This, however, is a blatent rip-off, and I hope the creators are ashamed of themselves. Or, at the very least, send a royalty cheque to the band. Hmph!

(Oh, and if you enjoyed the original, also check out this video by them - I was delighted that they actually did the routine when I went to see them live. And when you're done, marvel at/be terrified by the number of fans who have seen fit to create their own tributes.)

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Gingerism strikes again

I can't stand Jonathan Ross, but having written before about the inexplicable appearance-based prejudice that some redheads seem to encounter, I feel I must share this clip from Friday's show, in which Catherine Tate demonstrated that the feeling runs very deep in some quarters (but who'd have thought it'd be a cat's home?)

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Ginger's Guide to London Streets: Bits and Bobs

The first time I ever spotted one of these little critters was on Tottenham Court Road. Given the plethora of geeky electrical shops around there, I thought it was some kind of officially sanctioned reflection of the consumer bias of the area. It was only when reading Art of the State that I realised that it was actually part of some much larger project; these mosaic space invaders can be found all over the world. Thus far, I've only located two: the red one is on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Tottenham Court Road, the blue one is near the Oxford Street entrance of Tottenham Court Road Tube station - have a look here to see it in situ.

In other news, I was contacted a couple of months ago by a website called Schmap who wanted to use one of the photos from my Flickr photostream for the new edition of their London guide. I happily agreed, but I'm not quite sure what I think of their guides overall. Firstly, the pages have so much on them that they take ages to load on my less-than speedy machine. Secondly, they stuck my photo as part of a gallery above a review of Patisserie Valerie. Which is fine, as that does feature in the photo. But as the review fails to mention they have more than one branch, I thought it was a bit misleading that they listed the address as Brompton Road. I did contact them about this, and eventually they seem to have removed my contribution, although they didn't tell me that they were going to. Ah well, that's my fifteen minutes of fame over!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

What do *you* reckon?

During an innocent conversation about the merits of the various radio stations we listen to at work, a colleague commented that she found the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 rather annoying. "Oh yes!" I agreed. "I hate those programmes where members of the public are allowed to phone in with their opinions".

The reaction was: "That is such a [Ginger] thing to say!" Which has me slightly worried. Surely I don't have a reputation for favouring oppression of free speech, or a disinterest in what Joe Public has to say? I was all set to explain here in detail my defence, comprising points such as (i) such programmes favour polarised opinions and just aren't interested in the calm middle ground (ii) the sort of people/opinions that get aired just conform to the most obvious stereotypes of both ends of any debate and (iii) I get annoyed at such opportunities being presented as though the actual opinions really matter when, in the great scheme of things, they don't change a thing and are just a tokenistic way of filling airtime.

But it seems that others can say it far better than I:

Thursday, 27 March 2008

I would get more sleep...

... if this weren't so very true:

From xkcd

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Dull epiphany

I realised recently that I spend more time holding a pipette than I do a pen.

That's all.


Monday, 10 March 2008

Unequal standards

There have been a few stories in the press recently debating the contrasting media coverage of the respective disappearances of Madeleine McCann and Shannon Matthews. In fact, the differing lengths of their wiki entries probably says it all. There does seem to be compelling evidence for the argument that class has played a part in how eager the press and public have been to respond to these cases.

But there's another element of bias that seems to be going on, highlighted by the murder case of Scarlett Keeling. I can't help but think that if Karen Matthews had left a two year old alone in a flat while she went to have dinner, or a fifteen year old daughter alone in a foreign country (during term time) to be looked after by a male tour guide, she would have been loudly denounced in the media for being a neglectful, unloving mother - her actions being typical of all that is wrong with society.

But, strangely, such comments are rather muted in the press. Do pretty, blonde middle class girls somehow not deserve good parenting? Isn't every missing child of equal value?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #7: Carthusian Street (EC1)

I only really noticed Carthusian Street at all because of its peculiar second road sign that is, for no apparent reason, in French. The sign underneath, 'Borough of Finsbury Bondary 1906'(?), is quite charming too. Having got a picture of that, I felt I better go on a hunt for other points of interest.

It's a pretty short road, so I wasn't too optimistic. Apart from a
disused pub and a hairdresser with attitude there was nothing that immediately caught my eye. And then, tucked unassumingly away, I came across The Chamber of Shipping, with its lovely 1920s crest (below left), including crossed ships near the top. It seems to have quite a long history, but has only been located in Carthusian street since 1994. Its purpose seems to be to act as a trade association for UK ship owners, which seems fairly evident from the name. I was intrigued, however, by the comment here that the £4.3bn gross income of the British Shipping industry makes it 'one of the largest earners of invisibles'. What with that, the inexplicable foreign road sign, and a name like 'Chamber of Shipping', one can't help but wonder if one has stumbled into JK Rowling territory.

Anyway, short and sweet, but a rather different kind of curiosity to the ones I've found thus far.

(Oh, and if you're thinking that the lighting looks suspiciously summer-y, it is. I am soo behind with writing up these entries!)

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