Sunday, August 31, 2003
Another fantastic weekend in London. Despite all of the looming deadlines (three conference presentations in the next month and two PhD chapters due in early October), Dan and I managed to get out and enjoy the gorgeous weather. And we have proof:
Dan in Primrose Hill  Me actually on Primrose Hill
Click the pictures for full-sized versions

Friday, August 29, 2003
Witnessed on the Central Line of the Tube today in London-- which was the only line working all last night-- a very badly etched amateur wrist tattoo that featured scarab beetles, a razor blade, and this inscription:


I imagine it does. So, apparently, does this poor man's spelling.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
You might remember that we were in Malta last year right around this time.

what's in the bucket, if not sand?Well, when this picture came into my Inbox today as part of a flyer advertising trips through, I had to laugh.

What is so funny is the image they use to represent Malta. There's an entire PhD to be done on the semiotic represenation of nations in travel advertising-- the amphora for Turkey, the pizza for Italy-- but what is striking here is that Malta is a country of rocky beaches. Not pebbles, but big, slabby, lithic beaches that just fade into the water. There are exactly two sandy beaches on the entire island, and the hotels that uses are absolutely nowhere near either of these.

Don't misunderstand-- I love Malta. It's just not a place where a pail and shovel will do you much good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
So last week I made my first real curmudgeonly post (look directly below this one) and got the highest daily hit count ever. Will this turn me into a modern-day Mencken? No. I refuse. Well, mostly.

So instead, I thought I'd post about the interesting tennis rankings situation. Yes, I'm toying with your loyalty here, but bear with me. This is actually a wild situation:

Right now, the top-ranked men's player and the top-ranked women's player are Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters, respectively. What's strange about this is that the ATP Champions Race and the WTA Rankings are so out-of-kilter that they've given the top slots to two players who haven't won Grand Slam titles in the last year. In fact, neither player has ever won a Slam.

There's been a lot of talk recently about rejigging the rankings so that this situation can't occur, and personally, I think it's a smart move. I even wrote in to the illustrious Jon Wertheim of CNNSI Tennis and suggested a way of fixing the problem that takes a page from non-parametric statistics. But really, it's just common sense. In a nutshell, when players win Grand Slams, they make themselves eligible to take the top spot in the rankings. If a player is the runner-up at a Slam, s/he is eligible to place as high as number two, and so on down, with semi-finalists eligible for Nos. 3 and 4, and quarter-finalists eligible for Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8. If this little adjustment algorithm were tacked onto the end of the rankings calculations, Roddick could finish no higher than No. 3 (he was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon), and Clijsters could finish No. 2 (since she made the finals of the French, but lost).

A revised top 5 for the men would wind up (1) Federer, (2) Ferrero, (3) Roddick, (4) Coria, (5) Agassi. And for the women, we'd have (1) Serena Williams, (2) Clijsters, (3) Henin-Hardenne, (4) Davenport, (5) Venus Williams. If you compare that with the current rankings, there's very little change-- just the shifting of the top spots to make way for the Grand Slam winners.

Doesn't this seem sensible and simple? Watch this space to see if anyone takes notice... I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Three pet-peeves this week have been scratching behind my eyes and I need to purge myself of them. So without further ado:

1. If you are sick and feel the need to cough, cover your mouth. Seriously. How hard is it to do? If you do not, and I am in range of your aerosol, I will say something to you. (If you've coughed on me, I won't be pleasant about it either.)

2. If you are British, do not make fun of the North American way I say words like 'class' and 'banana' unless you would like me to turn it right back around on you and show you how you do very same 'a' flattening that we do on words such as 'pasta' and 'latte'. (If you persist, I will take you to task on the national symptom of mangling the pronunciation of most other countries' territories and cities.) The moral of the story: before you throw that rock, make certain you've stepped outside the glass house.

3. If you are American and I talk with you about the sweltering heat here over the past two weeks, please do not tell me that the 100F temperature here is 'nothing', or then proceed to compare it to the heat in the American South. What you fail to recognise is that in the US, where there is lots of heat, there is almost always air conditioning. In the UK, we never, ever see temperatures that high, and almost no place in this country has air conditioning-- no window units, no central air... nothing. Now re-imagine what it must be like to suffer through upper-90s and 100s (F) without A/C to shoulder the load. Add to that the fact that it is hot at night as well, and you've got a recipe for discomfort that can only be measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. (Amazingly, many Americans have a very hard time believing that such a place could exist, but it is true. Dan and I spent hours in a museum [paintings and prints = cooling mechanisms] to avoid the hottest of this weekend.)

That is all.

Monday, August 11, 2003
Yes, there's a school shooting at the beginning, but that's not what this book is about. After finishing Douglas Coupland's complex and dark 'Hey Nostradamus' this week, I've been wondering what other people thought about it. Now that I've read the reviews, I'm not sure that book reviewers can let go of expectations and see the book for what it really is. First off, it's not funny. 'Generation X' was. 'Girlfriend in a Coma', also funny. 'Microserfs' was hilarious. But if his last two books weren't a clue that Coupland has moved into new territory, this one should pound the final nail into the coffin.

It's a challenging read-- one that shifts narrative voice and style several times. It's also a book that contains dozens of characters that matter to the grand arc of the book, so it's not the sort of book you can read sporadically, picking up several months later when you've got time.

The plots also meander in a riparian style where all run parallel courses, converging but not really ever flowing together. This is what makes the book so great. Imagine the book's four sections like tiers of a department store that each have the same layout, but all of which sell entirely different things. What echoes of one you see in another are enough to keep the stories linked, yet independent.

What it's about, ultimately, is a lot of things. It's a printer's drawer of ideas about death, religion, family, secrets, and the internal. No matter what they say today, this is the book that critics will call his best, fifty years down the road.

Thursday, August 07, 2003
The best news here is that when the SAT comes due for another 'recentering' in a few years (and it is just about due for another one, now that the test is computer-delivered in many sites), Colin Fahey's illustrious 200/200 will count towards bringing down the average score of his cohort. Unless ETS reads this piece and eliminates his score from their records, which they might well do.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Usually, when you really notice statistics in the news, it's because either (1) they are so contrary to common beliefs that you can't help but sit up and take notice, or (2) someone has botched an interpretation of them. This article discusses one of the latter cases and then offers an elegant and plausible explanation for why gay people, evidently, smoke more than the statistical average person.

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