Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"You may rrree-moof your gloves!" - Roald Dahl's "The Witches"

On a recent visit to Cambridge, I found a marvel in a local antiquarian booksellers'. I have always been very fond of Roald Dahl's books and almost had a seizure when I found the American first edition of Roald Dahl's The Witches. With shaky hands I opened the front cover and had to go for a breath of fresh air. This was what greeted me:

Signed by Roald Dahl (author)
and Quentin Blake (illustrator)

The tale revolves around a seven year old boy who, when visiting a seaside hotel which happens to host a witches convention at the same time, discovers a sinister plot to get rid of all children. Wiches look like ordinary women but they wear wigs and gloves to cover their bald heads and claws, hence the quote in the title, and they have no toes. Most importantly, they hate children. Filled with Dahls customary gruesome thrills, the novel is a marvel and it even has the ominous number 86 thrown in everywhere for superstitious nuts.

Whether I am one of them, I could not say. Suffice to tell, I dearly wanted that book, gloriously sporting the signatures of both author and illustrator as it was. However, the price tag was a bit on the steep side and the lady behind the her messy desk would not budge. In fact, budging did not seem to be very high up on the list of popular pastimes for this portly proprietor. As she wanted a whooping £300 for the book, I had to go for another stoll.

Detail from the front cover

They say walking is good for you. Good exercise and beneficial to the heart just about sums it up. Under the circs, I was inclined to applaud the notion as my heart was about to make a formidable leap. I checked the ilab web pages where I discovered a British first edition, signed by Dahl but not by Blake to the exhilarating sum of £1250!

I am not much of a mathematician, but I fear my strained, squeaky voice gave my conclusions away as I feebly tried to negotiate the price. It was, of course, to no avail. However, the woman's sedentary business style had surprisingly ceased to trouble me and it was with a song on my lips I parted with the stated.

Dahl drawn by Blake

Having been on display at my abode for a month now, I will have to turn my attention to redecorating the old den to accomodate its entry into my shelves. I might even take Roald Dahl's advice, sung by the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory upon the fate of Mike Teavee...

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install
a lovely bookcase on the wall

Sources: Dahl, Roald: The Witches, New York 1983, Dahl, Roald: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl by Blake

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A More Sensible Approach to Journalism?

On Monday, the Guardian presented their new angle on journalism. Every day, they will  publish a newslist including upcoming articles, events and speeches and the twitter page of the journalist in charge of that particular element.

The new system is an experiment meant to last for a fortnight but which might become a permanent fixture. The idea is not only to provide insight into the inner life of the newspaper but also to preempt complains after publication. Readers will be able to tell the journalist about what to include or not include and even point out stories the newspaper might want to cover. This system is based on the paper's earlier, positive experiences with twitter.

The Newslist

Of course, not all stories will figure in the list. Some, which the paper might want to keep exclusive or which need to be kept unpublished due to source concerns, will be kept from the list. The national news editor of the Guardian, Dan Roberts, said that the risk of news leakage to competitors would be far outweighed by the benefits of reader opinion.

The scheme is known to have worked well in newspapers such as The Atlantic Wire and the Swedish Norran. Hopefully, this makes for the open, more transparent form of journalism needed after the News of the World debacle.

To visit the Guardian's newslist, click here.

Sources: The Guardian Online, last visited 12.10.2011, Pic.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Get Back to Work! - Get all the mindless youtube surfing done in 20 minutes

You have more important and pressing things to do, you just need a short break. However, as soon as you start watching videos on youtube you end up moving to the next video over and over again. Suddenly, you've lost hours.

This post will take you through the most famous viral videos of all time saving you time and bother.

Have a look at these:

Psycho Girl Can't Sing, 10,124,744 views

Star Wars Kid, 23,486,877 views

LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!, 40,986,188 views

Numa Numa, 43,491,538 views

Charlie The Unicorn, 60,024,126 views

Chocolate Rain, 72,306,793 views

David After Dentist, 100,174,287 views

Sneezing Baby Panda, 118,257,336 views

Charlie Bit My Finger - Again, 376,293,596

Now get back to work. There's nothing more for you out there just now.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

"Calcium Made Interesting" by Graham Chapman

This is an essay written by the late Dr. Graham Chapman of Monty Python. It is superb for teaching both chemistry and English.

Calcium Made Interesting

Calcium, an alkaline belonging to the group 2A of the periodic table, has large breasts. Its metallic form is readily oxidized and releases hydrogen from water. It occurs naturally as the carbonate CaCO3 in limestone, chalk, marble, and in brothels. This element makes up 3.4 percent of the earth’s crust and has wild parties 3.4 times a week round at its place. When Calcium Carbonate gets a bit heated it gives off CO2, and when it drinks claret it gets so sloshed it forms Calcium Hydroxide a.k.a. Ca(OH)2. The reaction of CaO and H2O to form Ca(OH)2 (a process which is called slaking, by the way) is very naughty indeed and can only be compared to sexual intercourse! At the climax of the reaction a white precipitate called Calcium Hydroxide appears and stains the sheets.

Calcium also occurs as the phosphate in Apatite and forms a large part of many silicate minerals which, if you’re really stoned, is a great scene to get zonked on, man. How about CaSO4 and 2H2O as a mantra? Or more simply just repeat “Gypsum” to yourself. But take care because on a bad trip, if things get a bit hot, it turns to Plaster of Paris (Where there are many prostitutes and a great gay scene—see ‘Ferrous Sulphate’). If Apatite, when finely ground and taken from between the thighs of a young school girl with blue knickers and white socks, is treated with Sulphuric Acid it produces super-phosphates which are used as fertilizers, if that’s anybody’s bag.

To sum up, Calcium is an aphrodisiac. In fact, just reading about it gives you both an orgasm and a high that you’ll really phone home about! Try this excerpt on for size:

Meeting the hard calcareous rock he thought how Calcium is involved in almost every biological function. As his hand came ever closer, up until it reached that place… Oh, the relief… Oh! The ecstasy… He reflected upon how this amazing mineral provides the electrical energy for the heart to beat and for all his muscle movement. Slowly, as his hand fell to his zip and he eased his fingers, slowly inserting them into his flies and, groping, he pondered upon how Calcium is responsible for feeding every cell. To his surprise he was not embarrassed as he…and then he…
Wow! But if you want a real buzz, then get into other Calcium compounds like Calcium Carbide (CaC2) which is produced when it is heated with ‘coke.’ It’s something else, man, way out! It will not only stimulate your erogenous zones but increase your vital statistics. (If you’re interested it can be delivered to your home in a plain brown wrapper. Details in the next chapter.)

Sources: Chapman, Graham; Calcium Made Interesting, Pic1,  Pic2

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Mad Hatter Day

Today is Mad Hatter Day, a 25 year old holiday where we celebrate silliness. We see the madness in what is considered sane and the sanity in what is considered madness.

The day is named after Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter, a character appearing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass. Thoroughtly nonsensical, he is stuck in an endless tea party with a dormouse and the March Hare. The date was chosen as a result of John Tenniel's drawings of the Hatter where he has a note with the notation "in this style 10/6" stuck in his hat.

Alice, the March Hare, the Dormouse and the Hatter wrapping some tea in a pot
 So, what to do?

How about taking a small box out of your pocket and then talk to your mother without making a sound, pressing a number of buttons with numbers on them and then send?

Or how about dressing up to look less like yourself in order to attract a mate?

Why don't you go to the store and buy a piece of meat you do not know where came from? Perhaps it came from the hind leg of a sheep called Alan on the brink of inventing a cure for itchy wool? Or perhaps it is your neighbours rump. You sleep 20 cm from his head but haven't seen or spoken to him for ages.

Or, find inspiration in Ari Rapkin of the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science's view of the fundamental madness of the world:


We travel around by taking the juice from hundred-million-year-old rotten dinosaur food and exploding it in a metal can.

A "sports fanatic" is not someone who participates in sports, but someone who sits indoors on a beautiful day, drinking beer while yelling at the picture on a little box. (Throw the ultimate football party: Forget the TV; just sit around eating and drinking with friends.)

As much as we say we like to "get away from it all", the more successful we are, the more we take it all with us when we go. (Take a vacation with all the comforts of home: Just stay home!)

We're so well-fed that we're getting food with intentionally reduced nutritional content--so we can take the trouble to eat without getting the benefit of doing so. (Enjoy the ultimate in fast-diet-food: Skip lunch.)

We've saved so much gift-giving for the Christmas season that it has entirely unbalanced the flow of cash and consu mer goods through the year. So merchants decided to start the season early to have something to do the rest of the year. (There's now only one major gift-giving holiday -- but it lasts for five months. Surprise someone with a MadHatterDay present.)


And, after all, why is a raven like a writing desk?

Sources: Pic, Ari Rapkin