November 2008 Archives

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a Volvo explodes

I heard something that sounded like what you think an explosion should sound like, and walked into the living room to see if Cleodhna had heard something like that as well. We peered out of the windows and couldn't see anything, but we definitely agreed that something had happened, so she went down to have a look. Barely had she got down there that I saw another explosion at the end of our street, and a police car arriving with blues and twos. By the time I'd fetched my phone and called 999 to make sure that they knew about the fire, a fire engine had turned up. All within, I think, 1 or 2 minutes.

Well, they put the fire out, it turns out it was a black Volvo estate that had exploded for no apparent reason, so all very good, but here's the thing that intrigues me. First of all, if the second explosion was the fuel tank, what was the first? And also: we live at number 23, and the exploding car was at the end of the street, so not far. Yet nobody in our block, congregated around the police car parked in the middle of the street, could say anything about whose car it was, even though they'd all vaguely seen it before.

Baby names, especially statistics thereof

Baby Daniel is born and will soon be out of intensive care, as will his mother; it looks like the parents made the right decision to, all things considered, choose a hospital whose ordinary maternity ward might not have been the best, but whose emergency intensive care ward certainly was. So hooray for modern technology, and the NHS; and hooray for a child born into this world to fantastic people, who shall hopefully become fantastic parents.

I needed to anonymise this post somewhat, as at least one of the parents works with rather unpleasant people, but it turns out that I don't need to. According to the Scottish stats, Daniel is the 7th most popular boy's name in 2007; in England and Wales, the name is regularly between 5th and 8th most popular.

Now, it's a good name; a child of that name can decide to be a Daniel, a Danny or a Dan later on, and say a great deal with that simple choice. So from this point of view, Daniel is a good name.

I wonder, though, whether "Daniel" rates highly in the popular names merely because there's only one way to spell it.

Consider "Ewan". There are two spellings in the top 100 Scottish list: Euan (160 babies) and Ewan (123 babies). My family would tell you that the correct spelling is that of my uncle Ewen (not in the list), and there could well be a Euen or two. At a minimum, the E[uw]an contingent is 283 babies in 2007, which moves that name from 46th and 61st to sole 20th, and possibly joint 19th with only 3 more Ewen variants.

Or, looking at girls' names, for instance, Niamh has 203 takers at rank 19; Neve has been used 69 times, at rank 67. But these are the same name. Combined, they count for 272 new babies, at an estimated rank of 14.

Bearing that in mind, is it possible that the stunning success of the names "Lewis" and "Jack", according to the official statistics, is not just due to popularity (Lewis is the current fashionable Scottish name, whereas Jack is popular in the entire UK), but because the names are so simple that there's only one spelling?

A reminder of why the Tories are evil and wrong

Quoth The Guardian:

The government's £20bn tax giveaway will hit middle Britain and leave a tax bomb ticking under the public purse, George Osborne said today.

Responding to Alistair Darling's pre-budget report, the shadow chancellor warned it would create a £1tn national debt and he branded a 0.5% increase in national insurance a "tax on jobs".

Laying into the proposals, Osborne said that Gordon Brown's promise to end boom and bust had proved "one of the greatest deceits ever told to the British public".

"The chancellor has just announced the largest amount of borrowing ever undertaken by a British government in the entire history of this country," he said.

"To pay for it he has placed a huge unexploded tax bombshell timed to go off underneath the future economic recovery."

I'm not sure what is worse, when it comes to the judgement of the shadow chancellor: that he genuinely believes that this type of Keynesian stimulus is "boom and bust", or that he had nothing better to say in response to Alistair Darling's weak-tea stimulus proposal than boilerplate Conservative pablum.

Look: boom and bust is the practice of saying "Hey, the economy's doing great, let's spend a whole bunch of money, and we'll cut taxes as well, because everyone likes tax cuts and ponies, right?" when things are doing fine, and when the economic downturn happens it suddenly becomes "Holy fucking shit, we've got to cut spending on everything, and hey, give me that tax money back", yes?

In which case, what Labour are proposing is the exact opposite of boom and bust. They're saying "we'll spend our way out of trouble, and when the economy has recovered, we'll raise taxes to pay for it". (Note that Osborne randomly conflates tax cuts and other stimuli that will happen in 2008/2009, and tax rises that are scheduled for 2011 if Labour win a further term.) You can argue that it won't be good enough, but at least Labour look like they're trying.

I love living in the future

Everything Bad Is Good For You

How you know it's 2008


But also: No correlation between immigration, population change, and racism.

We have stupid Photoshop jokes, and we have statistical analysis.

Via Chicken Yoghurt.

Hard disc failure samples

Via Daring Fireball: What failing hard discs sound like.

Some (e.g. the first Western Digital sample) would make for pretty good, if amazingly geeky, ring-tones.

How the Internet affects the newspaper market

So I'm filling out a survey for, and it's pretty US-centric - it asks me which TV shows I watch, for instance, and they're all US network or cable channel news shows. Then it comes to the "Which newspapers do you read, in print or online" question, and the options are:

USA Today The Wall Street Journal The Washington Times The Guardian The Christian Science Monitor The Jerusalem Post Roll Call The New York Times The Boston Globe The Financial Times The Washington Post The Philadelphia Inquirer National Journal The Hill The Los Angeles Times The Chicago Tribune

Now, you can understand the Financial Times being there - it's a major English-language financial newspaper and has been for ages - and the Jerusalem Post presumably has the same cachet among American Jews. But the Guardian doesn't have such a history of print distribution in the US: it's on this list purely because of its online audience. Which is pretty impressive, even if this is a survey of blog readers.


If you're a 30-something English-speaking geek, this will push all your buttons. Bonus points if you do - or did at some point - sing in a choir. So what I'm saying is: this is for Jamie, but pretty much everyone else I know will like it too. Via Andrew Ducker.

Given that the cultural references stop at about 1990, but this is only possible because of the Youtube revolution of the last few years, this video is inherently dated in such a way as it may be Proust's madeleine of my generation, but all of my contemporaries' children will be almost unanimously united in a "what the hell is that all about?" sort of way.

I love the Internet.

Addendum (spoilers for Dune, if you haven't read it):

Cleodhna and her sister Stalszve had a silly little song when they were kids that went like this, as I recall from her telling it to me:

The worm is the spice, the spice is the worm. Keep the rhythm out of your stride. His eyes are blue within blue Because he is the Kwisatz Haderach

This doesn't scan very well (and that was indeed part of the comedy of the whole thing). But it occurs to me that you could easily sing it to the Indiana Jones theme tune, lengthening a few words like "stri-i-ide", Kwisatz Haderach in general etc.

Now showing on the Internet

About those US elections

A friend of Ezra Klein writes in:

I say this as a Pats fan who watched my team waltz to the edge of immortality and then stumble on a banana peel: The irrational, We'll-Always-Lose side of me is preemptively angry at Nate Silver for all of his damn science. I mean, how many times can you publish blog posts along the lines of, "We just ran 10,000 simulations and McCain only won twice. In both those instances, the simulation factored in a suitcase nuke detonating atop the Washington Monument at exactly midnight the evening before the election, immediately followed by odd wind patterns, with the resultant fallout causing bald eagles to plummet to their deaths by the thousands over key parts of Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida," before the gods of overconfidence catch wind of it?

(That'll be this Nate Silver.)