Monthly Archives: March 2008

Rationality 1 : Superstition 0

On 3 March 2008, in a popular TV show, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged India’s most “powerful” tantrik (black magician) to demonstrate his powers on him.

Minutes turned to hours as the tantrik tried spell after spell against Sanal Edamaruku, attempting to kill or harm him. Live on TV (attempted murder in front of hundreds of thousands if not millions of witnesses?).

Of course, the tantrik failed. More here.

90 and out.

Had to happen eventually, though he looked set to last forever, Clarke is no more.

I first discovered the writing of Arthur C. Clarke (or as Viz once memorably renamed him, “The Arthur of Space-1999, Author See Clarke”) in the early 1990s at the local library. I started with 2010 (2001 was on loan), thoroughly enjoyed it and skipped back to 2001 (making sense of 2010 in the process) as soon as it was available.

Then though the Rama series, various collaborations and short stories. He is one author I can come back to any time. I always end up reading one of his books on a flight. Shame about 3001 though, that really was no fitting end to the odyssey series.

Not really a writer’s writer, more an engineer with a gift for story telling. Sadly missed.

Local history Monday Tuesday

Whalebone Lane, bit of an odd name for a main road in a town not exactly famed for its whaling fleets, isn’t it? Well, the name derives from Whalebone House, that stood close to the junction of the modern-day High Road and Whalebone Lane. The house taking its name from the large whalebone arch that formed the main gate.

Whalebone House c1935

The house was destroyed in bombing in April 1941, not much survived, although the whalebones did, being transfered to Valance House, where they were recently rediscovered.

There had been a house on the site since at least 1667, the house shown in the photograph above dated from around 1747. What follows is a somewhat incomplete history of the house and owners:

  • c1667 Owned by a Mr. Bell (no further details)
  • c1747 Daniel Pilon constructed the house shown in the photograph.
  • 1783 Nicholas Peter Pilon
  • 1823 to 1846, used as a school by John Peacock
  • 1846 to 1855, owned by the Mull family. Sold off on August 10th 1885 by auction.
  • 1887 Alexander Anderson
  • 1889 to 1917 Philip Savill and Mrs M. Savill
  • 1920 Reginald Wood
  • 1922 Walter Hayter
  • before 1941, owned by Mrs Lester.

When exactly and why the whalebones made their appearance, I’ve not yet been able to discover – anyone know?

Papers

Today, via but she’s a girl I discovered an incredibly useful piece of software – Papers.  Now I’m not the most tidy person in the world anyway, but when it comes to journal articles and papers I’m hopeless. I keep my references in a bibtex database managed by  Jabref, but as for managing actual electronic copies of the papers themselves, I tend to end up with various directories full of half sorted PDFs all with cryptic names like “fulltext” or “sdarticle1″.

For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of a script to read whatever metadata is contained in the PDF and attempt to rename and sort the articles into some semblance of order. Today, within three hours of downloading Papers, I’d managed to catalog, rename and tag around 300 PDFs.

Just import a PDF and Papers attempts to rename it sensibly and store it somewhere equally sensible. The software offers the option to search one or more of the online abstracts databases (web of science, google-scholar, etc) for keywords in the articles to locate missing metadata.

I did go a bit overboard at first, and let the program import every PDF I had on my desktop, this has resulted in about a dozen software manuals and component datasheets also being added to the catalog.  I can deal with this.
Papers does seem to be rather biased towards the sciences more than the humanities and arts; for example the default searches do not include any of the specific humanities abstract databases.

If you are a Mac using, OSX running, disorganised scientist, it’s well worth the £20 asking price.

That seems to have gone well…

Now running on the new server, lots more space and bandwidth. Also now running the Debian-stable version of wordpress, so although old, it should be secure and do away with the bi-monthly wordpress updates. No idea what happened to the posts made in February – they’ve just vanished into the ether.

I should concentrate on writing some stuff to post here now.