Archives for: "May 2009"

Marmite Jesus looks more like Freddie Mercury

For some strange reason this nonsense made it onto the BBC News website.

It may not be immediately obvious to everyone, but one family are convinced they can see the face of Jesus on the lid of a jar of Marmite.

Claire Allen, 36, said she was the first to notice the image on the underside of the lid as she was putting the yeast spread on her son's toast.

Her husband Gareth, 37, said he could not believe his eyes when he saw it.

Mr Allen, of Ystrad, Rhondda, said: "The kids are still eating it, but we kept the lid."

He explained: "Claire saw it first and called her dad to come and take a photo of it.

"When I first looked at it I wasn't sure, but when I moved it away from me it started coming out. I thought yeah, she's right - that's the image of Jesus.

The only trouble is, it looks more like Freddie Mercury than Jesus.

Of course this is no more than pareidolia. I see all sorts of things in my bathroom rug, care bears, dragons, dwarfs, even yesterday I saw the Ebay logo. But that doesn't mean care bears are looking out for me. The survival value of this overly aggressive pattern recognition is obvious - it's much better to think you see a tiger hiding in the grass, than to not see one at all even when there is one there. It only takes a few vague suggestions of something to get our brains to fill in the missing detail and latch onto something, be they visual or even audio. Everyone encounters this all the time, be it pictures in clouds, tree bark or on bumpy wallpaper. The difference is most people know its just an illusion, apparently Claire Allen hasn't quite realised it yet:

People might think I'm nuts, but I like to think it's Jesus looking out for us

Yes, yes we do. Why would your intergalactic cosmic dictator be hiding in a jar of Marmite, couldn't he come up with something a bit more impressive?*

*This argument by no means can be used against the Flying Speghetti Monster - he is food and so would obviously appear in it.

The NHS should not be funding nonsense

It looks like the National Health Service might soon be willing to provide acupuncture for suffers of back pain, thanks to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

What is acupuncture?

Essentially its the notion that disease or other problems are caused by your qi (read: magical body energies) being out of whack.  This out-of-whackness can be corrected by inserting needles into specific meridians (read: magic qi pathways) to reflow the qi energies.

Today however we know the actual causes of disease, and there's no magic qi involved.

So what do the studies show?

Studying acupuncture is actually fairly difficult as its problematic to develop way to blind the tests, and decent placebo controls are difficult to achieve.  However some recent studies have been well designed to take these into account.

Typically they would comprise of four groups.  One group getting real acupuncture, with the needles being inserted into the magic qi pathways, a second group getting fake acupuncture, by having the needles inserted randomly.  A third group having no needles inserted, for example having cocktail sticks pressed against the skin without penetrating it, this group acts as the placebo control.  And finally a forth group getting no treatment.

What do the results look like?  For starters inserting needles in the actual acupuncture meridians show no difference to inserting them randomly.  This tells us that the whole qi thing is bunk - but anyone with two brain cells would have guessed that anyway, considering we actually know how the body works today and we don't just make things up randomly.  Importantly however jabbing people with cocktail sticks without breaking the skin produces the same results as the real and fake acupuncture.  What does this tell us?  That acupuncture is no better than placebo.

What does that mean?  It means it doesn't work.

Complimentary and alternative medicine have no place in today's society.  But they're nice sounding right?  Wrong, by definition they don't work.  If they did work they would simply be called medicine.  Getting people to think there's anything alternative about any of these "treatments" is one of the biggest marketing achievements in history.

If the NHS are going to do this - let me suggest a cheaper and safer alternative.  Paul's ancient mystical art of cocktail stick jabbing - all the same effects as acupuncture - but safer as there's no risk of infection from breaking the skin, plus I'll do it for half the price these acupuncture whack jobs will charge you.  The only difference?  My marketing department isn't as well funded.

I think Redmond was already onto something

Tom Gromak wrote up a post detailing his experiences with Windows 7.  However, almost everything he mentions positive of it, is present in Windows Vista, which he seems to dismiss out of hand.

Windows 7 is everything Vista was not: Sleek, stylish and speedy.

Sleek and stylish?  It looks pretty much the same as Windows Vista.  If it wasn't for the new less-efficient taskbar it would be almost indistinguishable.  Speed is hotly debated.  On my high-end systems there's no noticeable difference between them, even on low-end systems like my Tablet PC there's no difference.  Sure it might have a lower memory footprint, but who has any systems with 512MB of RAM in them these days?

[A]n easy-to-use screen magnifier, snipping tools [.] lots of ways to view the data on your disks

All the same as Windows Vista.

But it's also got features that, frankly, make OS X start to look a little dated. Some are big, like the many ways you can handle your digital media in Windows Explorer (hint to Apple: I know you want me to use iTunes to manage all my music and movies, but I really want to be able to do meaningful file management in Finder, too).

Identical to Windows Vista.

There's a vastly improved Windows Media player

Up for debate - its got some nice new features like internet streaming and remote play.  But the new interface isn't as smooth, there's an awkward jerk between the now-playing mode and the library, the rip tab has been hidden and you have to hunt around to see how to rip a CD, the advanced tag editor is gone as is the mini-player for the taskbar.  I'd kill to get the advanced tag editor and mini-player back - I'd probably even trade internet streaming for them.

better movie- and dvd-making

There is no movie making, Movie Maker was removed as was Photo Gallery.  You're expected to download the Windows Live Essentials pack to get all that stuff back, the Live version of Movie Maker is still in beta and even worse than Movie Maker was 10 years ago.

re's one example that I stumbled upon that seems so intuitive: Grab a window by the title bar and pull it to the top of your screen, and it maximizes. Pull it back away from the top, and it returns to its original size. Drag it right or left and it auto resizes to a width about a third of your screen's width

Yeah that's nice.

Oh, and unlike Finder (still, Apple? Really?), you can still grab and resize a window from any edge or corner you might like or need to grab.

How Windows has worked for as far back as I can remember.

Minimize a browser window, and you get a nice preview when you hover over its button

In Windows Vista.

Minimize a browser window with multiple tabs open, and you get a preview of each tab and the ability to pick which tab you want opened when you un-minimize IE.

Yup that's nice.

Windows Explorer, the venerable file manager, has new ways to quickly get to commonly used folders and places and, for the first time in a long time, actually works quite well with my home network. XP was always a little spotty in its ability to communicate with my other PCs, and Vista was downright hostile in its overbearing and underperforming ways.

Windows Explorer is the same as in Windows Vista, the only difference being the colour of the button menu, and how the navigation pane is laid out, which is a bit neater.  Networking is the same.

When Vista came out, I had just a short period of time to give it a test drive. But Windows 7? I get a year. A whole year.

Not quite.  Firstly you don't have a year, in March the RC will start shutting itself down automatically every 2 hours, it won't bomb out until June, let's call that 12 months minus the annoying constant shut downs which will drive you insane, and is really only there to enable you to get any data off before it time-bombs.  For Windows Vista however, Beta 2, RC1 and RC2 all time-bombed on the 1st of June 2007, the Beta 2 version was released in May 2006, so again about 12 months.  Comparing pre-release versions to trial versions is also unwise.

All in all a pretty positive article, its just a shame that most of the features he liked we had three years ago in Windows Vista which gets dismissed off the bat as being terrible.

Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut

Congratulations Timothy Peake on being Britain's first ESA astronaut. But several media outlets as per usual have got things slightly wrong, so let's gets the correction out there.

The Daily Telegraph for example says "Meet the first astronaut to fly to space under the British flag". Errr not quite.

I know what they're trying to distinguish between, the several British-born astronauts who have all been US citizens, and an actual British citizen, but it seems they're forgetting Helen Sharman, who is a British citizen, and flew under the British flag.

She went up to Mir in May 1991 onboard Soyuz TM-12 and performed medical and agricultural research. As part of the Juno co-operation agreement between the Soviet Union and a number of British companies, unfortunately it had to be in partnership with private companies as the Tories had prevented any money being used for manned spaceflight in the mid 80s. Despite fears of the mission being cancelled after the private companies failed to come up with the money to pay for the seat, some people namely those evil commies in the Soviet government understood how freakin' awesome spaceflight is and so made up the shortfall themselves, allowing the mission to go ahead.

And before anyone says then it was under the Soviet flag, here's the mission insignia clearly showing the British flag, and having English writing on it.

You might think people would spend 10 seconds doing a bit of research before writing their misleading headlines, but apparently not.

O2 HSDPA in the centre of Yeovil

I've been complaining about this for ages, crappy HSDPA coverage in the centre of town from O2 - annoyingly just going a couple of hundred metres west or east would sort it out, so just a tiny strip of the town was missing out, GPRS was the best we could get - ouch.

Well last night at around 3:00 I checked my phone and bam a solid HSDPA signal. But this morning it had gone back to GPRS, but later in the afternoon HSDPA was back with all its speedy goodness. Sweet.

Update on the new Windows Home Server

Following on from my previous post on the subject of my new server, its been running fine for a week.

Here's the thing sat next to the old server. Much smaller, and much more likely to survive the journey to Guildford - I've actually decided to use screws to hold this one together, not cellotape and blu-tac. Although I'm sure I'll be swearing at it when I need to swap out some disks.

The only real downside to using such a smaller case is the number of disks it can support. There are only two 3.5 inch bays with this particular case, and one DVD-ROM drive bay - which I play to use to put an extra disk in, as having a DVD-ROM drive would be a bit pointless. But if push came to shove Windows Home Server is quite happy using USB drives too.

Here's the exact build for those interested:

Asus T3-P5G31 barebones
Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Low Profile Fan
OcUK 4GB 677 DDR2
Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB

Other drives were harvested from the old server, but I'll probably end up adding a 1.5TB drive at some point. The new Western Digital drives are pretty quiet, but they're still farely loud while seeking. Not as quiet as my Hitachi P7K500 I use in my desktop, which are pretty much silent while doing anything, including seeking.

Temperatures aren't bad considering it only has one fan other the one in the PSU, which is on the CPU - no chipset fans (which always get worn out after a few years). The two cores float between 36° and 44°, and the two drives in there at the moment float between 39° and 43° the CPU fan happily runs at around 1400 RPM, I've only twice heard it spin up to about 2000 RPM and then only for a couple of minutes usually when the server is munching through some backups.

New server under construction

Today I'm putting together a new server, its based on an Asus T3 barebones system, I've got a 2.5Ghz dual core Pentium for it, and 4GB of RAM. As well as some of the new low power Western Digital disks.

This will be replacing my 9 year old system which has faithfully been running almost nonstop based on a 1.4Ghz Athlon Thunderbird, with 1.5GB of RAM and a collection of aging hard disks, this has been running Windows Home Server and a Virtual Machine running Small Business Server flawlessly, so hopefully the new system will be just as reliable.

All together it came to about £400, including Windows Home Server. On the plus side it should be using 25-50% of the energy of my existing server. Meaning it'll pay for itself in just a couple of years.

Considering how cheap hardware is nowadays this really is a fantastic time to be replacing older energy-hungry systems with new, smaller, faster and more efficent systems, something businesses should really be looking at to reduce their energy bills.

If everything goes to plan, my old server will be retired sometime tomorrow.