Monthly archives: August 2010

How to say nothing with numbers 31

I used to analyse data for a living. It’s fascinating to take a whole load of numbers, postcodes and geodemographic data (in my case) and come up with something meaningful, particularly if it makes a pretty map or graphic. I haven’t done any hardcore number crunching for years, and sometimes I miss it. What I did this morning hardly counts, but it was a little bit of fun.

Religious-idiot Richard Carvath did some primary school maths and was awfully pleased with the result. In the last 5 years 80,000 people have entered into civil partnerships. If the population of the UK is 60 million then you just divide one by the other and multiply by 100 to find that a mere 0.13% of the British population is interested in civil partnership! This is so small that it really means that nobody is interested! Civil partnership is irrelevant so we should stop doing them! (We’ll pass over Carvath’s usual bleating about how civil partnerships are destroying the institution of marriage. I don’t think he can comprehend that it can’t be both insignificant and a clear and present danger at the same time.)

Of course, that number is meaningless. For a start,around 19% of the country’s population is aged under 16. Take them out of the numbers and you have an adult population of around 48.6 million. Do the maths again and now 0.16% of the adult population is in a civil partnership. Still a tiny proportion, you might say, but this is still a flawed number. Most of the population aren’t gay- the majority of people would qualify for a “normal” marriage.

Carvath has insisted that only 1% of people are homosexual, a more commonly held figure is 10%. So between 1.65% and 16.5% of those eligible have taken up civil partnerships since they were introduced. How many heterosexual marriages have there been in that same period?

Well the Office of National Statistics says there were 232,990 marriages in England and Wales in 2008. Perhaps the Scots don’t get married. Rounding that up to 250,000 to give the straights a chance, that’s half a million people getting married every year, 2.5 million married people within five years. Between 5.2% and 5.72% of the straight adult population has got married within the last 5 years. If homosexuals are really as tiny a minority as Carvath likes to think then the numbers actually show that they’re over three times more likely to get civil partnered than straights are to get married. More realistic figures give marriage the threefold advantage over civil partnership.

The article Carvath cribbed his figures from crows about an increase in the number of civil partnerships being dissolved- 351 in 2009. Per thousand people married, this means that around 8.75 will get divorced. For the record the equivalent number for straight marriages in 2008 was 11.2. So it’s not clear what they were trying to prove.

What has my data mining proved? Mostly that if you want meaningful statistics you have to do a little bit of work establishing context etc.. It’s not clear whether Carvath was behaving like a tabloid- working out the worst looking number and assuming his audience are too dumb and gullible to question it or spot the logical flaws- or he really thought he was doing some clever analysis. I’m normally a charitable chap, but experience tells me that the latter is more likely than the former, not that either speak well for the man.

Tiger- Part Eleven

“I thought you could ride one of these!” Kay shouted.

“I can. It’s just been a while.” Irwin had just rescued the moped from toppling over at the traffic lights. He’d misjudged the balance of the bike and hadn’t put a foot out fast enough when he’d stopped.

Whilst they waited for the lights to change Irwin fiddled with the strap of the open face helmet he wore. Kay released her safety grip on him and tried out the bluetooth connection from her phone to her helmet. She could hear ringing, but it was a bit distant. She adjusted the microphone so it was closer to her mouth.

“We’ve got them tracked down to an industrial unit just off Eccles New Road.” the DI announced when he picked up the phone, no time for formalities. “We’re going in as soon as armed response get here.”

“We’ll be there as soon as we can.” Kay tapped the side of Irwin’s helmet and announced, “Eccles New Road.” when he turned toward her. He nodded, and started working out which way he should go when the lights went green.

“What about the other van?” Kay asked, “Just in case.”

“No report on that since it was spotted near Ancoats. The call’s still out on it, so we’ll find it again soon enough.”

“We’ll be with you soon. Or he’ll crash this bloody thing and we’ll be in hospital.”

The lights changed. Irwin set off, turning left as he did. The moped wobbled at low speed and there was a moment again where it seemed they were going to fall. The problem was that he was being too timid, Irwin decided. He twisted the throttle hard and the little bike leapt forward with a pained revving. Kay hung up before her boss could hear the language she let loose.

links for 2010-08-24

  • There is an large untapped audience for more popular SF magazines.

    There are millions of people who already read SF novels, and who watch SF based film and television. Even more people also read SF flavoured comics, play SF inspired computer games, listen to music and look at art that could have stepped from the pages of an SF story. Whatever it is SF gives people: challenging ideas, original thinking, mythic storytelling, entertainment or sheer untold weirdness, people want it and they want it in their millions. This is an untapped audience which exists as part of the mainstream in our society and wants more material to consume.

    (tags: writing scifi)
  • Scientists in France discovered the huge reservoir under the Tête-Rousse glacier on the slopes of Europe's highest peak after conducting routine checks with magnetic resonance imaging.

    They sounded the alarm last month after finding the pocket contained 65,000 cubic metres (14.3 million gallons) of water, the equivalent of exactly 26 Olympic swimming pools.

    (tags: MontBlanc)
  • Marie Stopes (1880-1958) shook the world. She wrote a best-selling sex-manual for women and was a controversial birth control pioneer. On a darker note, she also corresponded with Hitler and believed in the creation of super race.

    When Stopes set up her first birth control clinic in 1921, everyone assumed that she had trained in medicine.

    Yet, bizarrely, she was an expert on fossil plants and coal.

    So how did this young palaeontologist come to transform Western society and become one of the most infamous women in history?

  • They have been unkindly compared to garden sheds on wheels, but racing Citroen 2CVs is a serious business.

    This year, 25 competitors entered the 20th annual 24-hour race at Snetterton in Norfolk. It lacks the big budgets and fast cars of its more illustrious Le Mans counterpart, but its competitors will tell you it is a real test of driving skill.

    The RB Racing team eventually won the 738-lap race, recording a fastest lap of just over 53 miles per hour along the way.

    (tags: 2cv racing)
  • In the early days of Michael Moorcock's 50-plus-years career, when he was living paycheck-to-paycheck, he wrote a whole slew of action-adventure sword-and-sorcery novels very, very quickly, including his most famous books about the tortured anti-hero Elric. In 1992, he published a collection of interviews conducted by Colin Greenwood called Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle, in which he discusses his writing method. In the first chapter, "Six Days to Save the World", he says those early novels were written in about "three to ten days" each, and outlines exactly how one accomplishes such fast writing.
    (tags: writing)

I hate how drivers keep killing pensioners

If you read opinion pieces in papers, and even moreso the comments section on any piece about road safety and bicycles, you could be forgiven for thinking that the greatest evil on the roads these days is cyclists who run red lights. Even though I’m not the RLJ (red light jumper) type, and get exasperated by the people who cross pedestrian crossings when they should be stopping instead, I want their critics to shut up or develop some perspective.

Cyclists do not ignore the amber light and then hit a pensioner whilst going 45mph. They’re unlikely to hospitalise two teenagers by driving into them. On a very, very rare and unfortunate occasion a cyclist will hit a pedestrian and kill them. But for every time this happens well over a thousand people are killed by motor vehicles.

So until people give a proportionate amount of opprobrium to drivers who ignore, or speed up for, the amber light, use their phone whilst driving, turn without signalling, speed and commit any number of other potentially fatal sins they can’t expect me to respect their opinion when they whine about cyclists.

The Pink Panthers

The fractions of seconds flicker past on the CCTV footage from the Exelco store in Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza shopping district. As the clock races forward, an elegantly suited, tie-less western man enters through the front door and turns left towards a display cabinet. A second man walks in under an umbrella, his mouth and nose covered by a white anti-contamination mask. He reaches into a small rucksack and takes out a gun.

The seconds run by on the clock. The first man calmly opens a cabinet and picks out two items – a diamond-studded tiara and a jewelled necklace. The second man squirts a short burst of tear gas at the employees. Then they turn around and walk out. The clock shows 36.02 seconds.

This is the time it took the Pink Panther gang, the world’s premier “white glove” crooks, to commit one of the cleanest jewellery heists in Japanese history – netting almost £2m-worth of gold and precious stones. By the time the employees could react, the two men had disappeared. They were already weaving through Ginza’s heavy traffic on their getaway vehicles – later identified by police as bicycles.

The Guardian- The hunt for the Pink Panther gang.

There’s a story in this, for certain.

links for 2010-08-23

  • It might not look much. In fact, it looks practically suicidal.

    But two Danish inventors hope to launch the world’s first amateur-built rocket for human space travel.

    The homemade rocket is the brainchild of Danish firm Copenhagen Suborbitals, headed by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen.

    (tags: space rocket)
  • Boris and Barclays' mammoth bike scheme in the capital may be getting all the column inches, but on university campuses across the country, fleets of bikes are already available for hire, and from September the concept will be shifting up a gear.

    Schemes in Leeds and York – which offer university students and staff cheap bike hire for up to nine months at a time – are already well-established and growing in scale, and next month will be rolled out to campuses in Lincoln, Nottingham and Lancaster. The Nottingham project will start out with 460 bikes, with plans to increase this number next year

  • Cycling in this country is not exactly mainstream, but it does seem to be on its way to achieving that status.

    Commuting by bike has seen a huge increase in the last 10 years, and recreational and competitive cycling has also grown significantly. Growth leads to diversity and cycling has plenty of that. So what's mainstream and what's not these days?

    (tags: cycling bike)
  • A senior astronomer has said that the hunt for alien life should take into account alien "sentient machines".

    Seti, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has until now sought radio signals from worlds like Earth.

    But Seti astronomer Seth Shostak argues that the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would be short.

    Writing in Acta Astronautica, he says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than "biological" life.

  • For years the identity of BBC TV's Top Gear test driver, the Stig, has been the subject of frenzied speculation but now his identity appears to have been revealed and the aura of mystery surrounding him may be further shattered by his plan to publish his memoirs.

    The name of the driver who hides his identity behind a white helmet with a blackened visor was revealed today as Ben Collins, 35, a former Formula Three driver, described on his website as boasting "a reputation for being fast and aggressive".

    (tags: TopGear stig)

The shallow end of the meme pool 8

During the election I subscribed to a load of political blogs’ RSS feeds. After it I unsubscribed from most of them. Foolishly, I revisited the two most obnoxious of them again recently.

Richard Carvath stood as an independent candidate in Salford and Eccles, the seat retained by Hazel Blears and polled 384 votes. He claims, loudly and repeatedly, that he would have done better if the media, the big parties and homosexual-perverts hadn’t conspired against him. Homosexual-perverts is a favourite phrase of Carvath’s. He can’t just say homosexual, it has to be homosexual-pervert. He may have read somewhere that you can reinforce your message by using your preferred phrases regularly until the reader starts thinking in them as well. But he’s gone overboard- the Carvath blog is overloaded with them, every sentence employs a piece of similar wordplay, all of it of a level which should embarrass anyone over the age of ten. Homosexual-perverts abound, homophobic registrars who refuse to perform Civil Pervertships are conscientious objectors honoured with the title of Decents. I’ve seen him use the phrase Guardian-perverts as well, and it should be obvious who Barack Obortion is. I’m sure he thinks it’s all very clever, witty even, but it just looks like the ever less coherent ramblings of someone with serious mental problems.

Carvath is on a mission from God, the voice in his head. He recently had a nasty accident whilst climbing, breaking several bones and damaging his back. If it had happened to any of his growing list of homosexual-pervert enemies (which is anyone who points out how nasty his beliefs are) he would no doubt be crowing about how God had punished them for their sins. Because it happened to him it’s somehow a form of blessing and all part of his invisible friend’s holy plan. I can only hope he gets better mentally at some point as well as physically.

Real Street is the blog of Stewart Cowan, a Scottish evangelical christian who has yet to meet a conspiracy theory he doesn’t like. Recent favourites include a bus advert which is going to turn us all into Muslims and how trying to cut down homophobic bullying in schools is secretly a plan to legalise gay paedophilia. Cowan doesn’t mangle language as much as Carvath, but he does like to grasp at anything which he feels supports his prejudices whilst dismissing all evidence against them. The Daily Mail and conspiracy loving tabloids are right and anyone answering him with facts and basing their replies upon reality is obviously deluded.

Cowan has a couple of tame commenters who’ll up the frothing at the mouth quotient when necessary. English Viking hates foreigners who come over here to work and improve their, and our, lot. Ancient Danes and Norwegians who popped over for a little recreational raping and stealing are obviously okay, though. Len wants you to know the Truth and accept God, because science, reality and not hating people just because they’re different is obviously the work of Satan.

The natural response to the likes of Carvath and Cowan is this-

XKCD- someone on the internet is wrong

But in the long run that’s just a waste of time. They enjoy being wrong, and feel that having all the flaws of their arguments pointed out somehow proves their case. It’s far better to ignore them or point out elsewhere just how stupid they’re being today.

Which is what I know I should do, and what I shall try to do, but I’m not making any promises that I won’t pop over there occasionally and slap them on their own blogs.

Tiger- Part Ten

Jeremy Simpson nodded approval at Irwin’s memory. A call to MI6’s headquarters on the banks of the Thames- the striking building known as Legoland to many of its occupants- had returned sparse electronic notes which fleshed out Irwin’s recall. There had been, in the late nineties to mid noughties, a series of disappearances amongst the world’s disreputable club of arms dealers. Rumours had abounded, including one that they had all been victims of a gang of thieves.

With so many of the transactions conducted in cash, and occasionally diamonds or other easily transportable valuables, it was hard to track them. If anyone off the watch list came into possession of such booty, and were disciplined enough, the trail could go cold very quickly. So there was little to back up any of the theories about the retirement of any gun smugglers and it was generally notched up as one less bad guy. The disappearances had tailed off in the last few years. Until a report from January of an arms dealer and his family found in a bullet riddled Range Rover in Miami after rumours that an associate had ripped off a major client and promptly disappeared.

If the associate had been hijacked and killed then a large deal would have fallen through. There was no arbitration on the darker edges of the arms trade. The client wasn’t likely to sit down and try to work out a deal, they’d most often draw a gun.

So, were the pair next door part, or all, of a gang which had targeted arms dealers and stolen from them and their clients? In one way it was a dangerous trade to be in, the dead family in Miami was evidence of what happened to people who found they’d upset warlords or terrorists. In another way it was quite safe- who was going to tell the authorities that they’d been robbed whilst carrying out an illegal trade. So long as their victims remained in the dark about the identity of their robbers the gang could move relatively safely.

If this gang was able to target big deals, and they certainly had today, they must have access to some high level intelligence. If they could be made to talk they would be one hell of an asset. The gain would be so much more than Jed had hoped to get from the deal they had crashed. He was already working out how to get them out of the country- it wouldn’t do to give the French intelligence this valuable- and what sort of deals or threats would get the best information out of them. Jed wondered whether it might be worth abandoning the planned deal just to sweep these guys up quickly. The dark part of him started calculating the intelligence benefits against the loss of Williams’ wife and child.

Jed had a conscience, but he sometimes asked it to look the other way. This wasn’t yet one of those times. Irwin was good, he might recover Karen and Simon Williams. But even if he didn’t the two men holding Gerry Williams weren’t leaving the hotel free. Jed smiled. He was trying, by proxy, to do the right thing and save two innocent lives. But even if he failed at that he’d still come out of the day with far more than he’d expected going in.

Other fiction by Ian Pattinson

Ruby Red– available as an ebook through or for the Kindle.

So Much to Answer For– available as print on demand or ebook from or for the Kindle as part of the Post and Publish collection.

Global Weirding– available as print on demand or ebook from or for the Kindle as part of the Post and Publish collection.

Sounds of Soldiers– available as print on demand or ebook from or for the Kindle as part of the Post and Publish collection.

links for 2010-08-22

  • Twenty million people, most of them bad drivers, whizzing around a smoggy city a mile above sea level: Mexico City doesn't seem like the ideal place to navigate by bike. Before I moved here a few months ago, I almost put my Bianchi into storage. But I packed it at the last minute, and thank goodness. Mexico's sprawling capital is one of the most bike-friendly cities I've been to. It beat London to the bike-hire business with the launch of its Ecobici scheme in February. And it's still ahead in two other areas, which cities in Britain could and should copy.
    (tags: bike mexico)
  • In recent years, almost unremarked, a new confidence has crept into how the British use public space. As George Monbiot argued in these pages recently, and as Owen Hatherley shows in his forthcoming book on the built environment created by New Labour – A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain – this is a country ever more dominated by roads, shopping malls and other uncivic private developments. Public space, in much of the media at least, means CCTV, windswept pavements and 24-hour drinking.
    (tags: publicspace)
  • A Dutch designer says resurrecting the microcar is the key to reducing congestion and maximizing efficiency.

    Ralph Panhuysen, whose Space Efficient Vehicle (SEV) seats three in a sideways V formation and parks two abreast like shoes in a shoebox, dreams of a world in which small, lightweight cars sip fuel and travel two-abreast in a single lane.

    (tags: transport)

Manchester Blog Awards

Nominations have opened for this year’s Manchester Blog Awards. I’ve put Spinneyhead forward for everything except Best New Blog. It’s been around since 2001, I can’t really claim it’s new.

That I can legitimately put my blog forward for all but one of the categories is a sign of the strength of Spinneyhead. It’s also the reason I probably won’t win anything or even make it onto any of the shortlists. This is a personal blog, in that it reflects what I’m doing and the subjects which fascinate me at any given time, though it’s not of the confessional type you’d normally associate with the genre. It’s a city blog because I go out and explore bits of Manchester and come back with pictures and commentary, but I do that everywhere I go so it’s not exclusively Mancunian. It’s a vehicle for my writing, with the longer prose pieces being fiction, but there are a lot of short link filled posts. And it covers art and culture, even if that culture is almost entirely low brow. However, Spinneyhead isn’t exclusively dedicated to any of these areas, so it won’t sit right in any of the categories. Such is life.

I’ll admit that I’m a little sad that the eclectic nature of Spinneyhead means it doesn’t really stand a chance in the awards. It’s a bit like hoping a mongrel will even be let through the door at Crufts. Nonetheless, I love my mongrel, and it’s thriving far better than any of the pedigree single theme blogs I’ve tried to maintain over the years.

links for 2010-08-21

  • Astronomers have declared that the moon is shrinking after spotting wrinkles all over the lunar surface. The tell-tale contraction marks were discovered by US scientists who examined thousands of photographs of the moon's surface taken by a Nasa orbiter.

    Some of the wrinkles are several miles long and rise tens of metres above the dusty terrain. Researchers believe they arise from the moon decreasing in size by around 200 metres across its diameter. The moon's mean diameter is generally calculated to be 2,159 miles.

    (tags: space moon)
  • Billeted at a pub on the Kent coast, they had been ordered to capture any German aircrew shot down in the countryside. But the men of the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles were to carve themselves a little-known place in military history: they fought the last ever battle to take place on the British mainland.

    During the Battle of Britain, they had trooped out to pick up the crew of a crashed German bomber only to find the airmen waiting with machine guns. After a short battle the Germans surrendered – and their captors then took them for a pint at their local pub.

  • A device thought to be the largest tidal turbine of its type to be built in the world has arrived in Orkney for testing.

    Atlantis Resources unveiled its AK-1000 at Invergordon last week ahead of it being shipped to Lerwick.

    Trials on the device will be run at a European Marine Energy Centre test site off Eday.

    (tags: tidalpower)
  • Former Chicago-based professional architect Adam Reed Tucker is one of 11 Lego-certified professionals in the world, designing scale models of famous buildings and structures out of Lego bricks. His models, including the World Trade Center, the Gateway Arch, Fallingwater and others, are on display in the National Building Museum until September 5, 2011, in the exhibit, “LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition” in Washington, D.C.
  • In the long fake boom of the Nineties and Noughties, we were sold a thousand scams. End government regulation of the financial system! Turn banks into casinos! Pay CEOs 500 times more than their staff! Bow, bow, bow before our mansion-dwelling overlords and the Total Efficiency they will bring! Yet from under the rubble left by these delusions, one of the greatest scams has skipped out unscathed, and it is now successfully selling itself as a solution to the fading of the boom-light. It is probably in your workplace now, or coming soon. Its name? Management consultancy.
    (tags: business)

links for 2010-08-20

  • Forever associated with the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain 70 years ago, the Supermarine Spitfire has secured an enduring nostalgic place in British aviation history.

    For BBC Radio 4's Today programme, presenter Evan Davis was shown around a workshop at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, where rusty remnants of the fighter aircraft are used to help restore old Spitfires to their former glory.

    (tags: WW2 Spitfire)