Category Archives: General

The sirens’ call

Bill Bailey is just brilliant. Here’s another favourite.

Transport and housing, Italian style


What I like about this image is that, though it could come from various parts of the world, it very clearly is not in a British suburb.

The joy of gender

Quite often, when I have a meeting scheduled with a Chinese person, I don’t know their gender in advance, because I can’t guess it from their name.

This just adds to the fun, but I had assumed this was simply because I was an ignorant westerner. It appears, though, that it is in general more of a challenge in Chinese than it is in some other languages, and fortunately there are technical solutions to help you out if you need to know, based on the statistical usage of certain Chinese characters in male and female names.

A nice way to play with this, for any language, is to construct a URL of the form:<firstname>/<lastname>/

and you’ll get back a JSON string telling you, for example, that Jean Renoir is probably male, while Jean Smith is probably female. There’s a -1..+1 scale showing the confidence.

If you know the country, you can add the ISO code on the end, so it will tell you, for example, that Jean Smith is rather likely to be male if he/she comes from France:

Quite fun.

Act your age

Is growing up really necessary? If so, I hope one of my friends will tell me before it is too late.

Yesterday, I caught myself putting on my reading glasses to tie up the string on my yoyo…

David MacKay

Very sad to learn that we have lost Prof Sir David MacKay today.

David was a good friend, but I only realised quite recently that we were almost exactly the same age, a fact which I found exceedingly humbling.

If I should be granted twice as many days, and achieve half as much, I would be very happy. And very surprised.

The world is poorer for his passing. But much richer for his having lived.

An aerial view of the past



Queens’ College in 1947, before the modern architects got their hands on it.

The Britain from Above website is fun to explore – you can search it for archive images.

Here are views of Cambridge, starting in the 1920s.

The lifeline?


From Tim Urban’s wonderful site, Wait But Why, comes a discussion of Why Cryonics Makes Sense, in which he explains — in his usual light-hearted, cartoon-illustrated, occasionally-profane fashion — how he moved from thinking:

Cryonics is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.

to actually signing up for an appointment with one of the big cryonics companies.

If you are of a religious persuasion and believe that your deity of choice is likely to provide a better chance of long-term survival than Alcor, Inc., then you’ll probably have dismissed cryonics out of hand, but the article may at least persuade you that cryonicists (your new word for today) are not complete nutters. They completely understand all the possible hiccups that might not allow you to be revived in the future, but think that the experiment — which is less costly than you might think — is worth undertaking. They view cryonics in much the same way that people in the past might have viewed organ transplants. An interesting read.

Wait But Why adopts an unusual format for these longer pieces, going into some depth on a subject to explain it for normal readers, yet doing so in an amusing way.

There are shorter, amusing posts on the site too — see How I handle long email delays, for example — but for the longer ones, if, like me, you seldom sit there twiddling your thumbs and thinking, “Where can I go to read 14,000 words on some random topic this morning?”, then I recommend signing up to get them in your inbox.

Patron of the arts

Rose and I enjoy visiting art galleries, and occasionally making some modest purchases. Actually, we’d like to make a lot more, but on the occasions when we aren’t limited by budget, we’re limited by the available space in our little house.

So if I told you that we had recently ventured into life-size bronze sculptures, you might think we’d finally abandoned reason for madness.

But then, you’d need to see a picture of our latest purchase.

A celebratory introduction

One of our favourite furniture shops in the area, Angela Reed in Saffron Walden, now has a cafe. And it’s very good.

I have a new camera. It’s also rather good. Time to celebrate by bringing the two together, I thought.


We then went to see a different catering establishment: the old kitchens at Audley End.


Oh, for the curious, my new toy is a Fuji X-Pro 2… a nice update to my much-loved X-Pro 1. These were quick test shots with my 18-55 zoom.

Daylight savings

My mother, in her younger days, used to be a midwife. She once delivered a pair of twins, just as the clocks were going back.

The younger one ended up with a birth certificate stating that he was born before the older one…

Ansible – the absolute basic overview

Ansible is a system for setting up, managing and configuring machines – one at a time, or in vast numbers simultaneously. We’re using it more and more at Telemarq.

There are several tutorials out there that go into some detail about how to use it. This isn’t one of those (though it’ll teach you the basics). This is just intended to give you an idea of what’s going on if you find yourself sitting in front of a directory full of Ansible files, looking at unfamiliar file formats.

Also available on YouTube.

I had these slides in a directory from when I was bringing some friends up to speed in the past, so I added a soundtrack in case they were useful to others.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser