January 2007 Archives - wibbler.com

Daniel Tammet – The Brainman

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Top Gear’s Richard Hammond recently mentioned that the main benefits of his death-defying crash are a head for numbers and a liking for celery. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who have even more impressive “superbrain” powers, as immortalised in the movie “Rain Man“. Their condition is known as “savant syndrome“, a mysterious disorder of the brain where someone has a spectacular skill, even genius, in a mind that is otherwise extremely limited.
There’s one person that bucks the trend though. Daniel Temmet is an Englishman who had epilepsy, developed “savant syndrome”, but he has no obvious mental problems. And it’s amazing to watch. The guy can speak seven languages and can recite Pi to 22,000 places. He’d be useful in a pub quiz…
So, here’s a CBS News piece about him (video is top right of the page), some discussion on him, and below are two 45 minute long documentary on him. Get a cup of tea – there’s some amazing viewing here.

Moving In – The Aftermath

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I take it back. There are two things that are great about moving house at Christmas. moved.jpgFirstly, it’s the ultimate way to keep in trim while loading your body with turkey and chocolate. For the two weeks after we moved, there were endless tasks to be done – informing all the companies and friends of our new address, buying essential domestic stuff, putting up pictures, mistakenly knocking holes in the wall, desperately trying to cover them up before anyone noticed, that kind of thing. It’s a veritable workout every day. And secondly, the sales are on. On the strength of this, various things have arrived throughout the last few weeks – a fridge, meaning that we don’t have to suffer the mini-fridge any longer; a tumble dryer, meaning there won’t be clothes draped around everywhere; a bed and mattress, meaning that we can sleep (and what a bed it is, too); curtains for the entire place; and, for vanity’s sake, a surround sound system and a new piano. Amusingly – or not – this has all coincided with Revenue and Customs deciding they’ve forgotten to tax me sufficiently – and adding £500 to my tax bill for the next couple of months. Better stay in for a month, I guess…!
So, the house is very nearly done. We’re still after a dishwasher, and then there’s the garden to consider. Honestly, this house-buying malarkey is a task and a half. But, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be ready to announce an event that people have been asking about ever since we announced we were moving – the house-warming! As we’ve all grown up, maybe we’ll have Spritzers and canapés instead of beer tubes, silly hats and pizza. Probably not, though…

Blown Away in Leeds

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“Oraclecoursethangyouverymuch.”
I was still trying to wake up after an early morning start. The
geek-based course was about to get in full swing, and all the various
course teachers were coming in, vulture-like, picking off the
delegates one by one. Their enforced cheeriness grated slightly after
half an hour spent trying to find a car park in Leeds, a task only
marginally easier than forcing jelly down a drain. However, they did lighten our spirits on the drab, rain-filled morning. I even started looking forward to five days of database training. Sadly, people with personalities generally don’t train people in databases, as I discovered when a small Indian man shuffled round the corner. He announced the course in a thick Indian accent, showing all the excitement of a morgue assistant finding another dead body down the back of the incinerator. We all glanced at each other before shuffling off behind him to the training room.
By lunchtime I had at least learned something – never underestimate a boring man. He seemed to know everything there was to know about databases and computers in general. His problem, sadly, was that he was not good at conveying that knowledge. We could only understand every other sentence and developed a system of nodding whenever he looked at us, attempting to show we were following every word. It took about an hour to tune into his accent, and a further hour before I got into the groove of the difficult topic. Luckily the course notes we comprehensive enough to bluff my way through.
Lunch was not particularly inspirational either. Cold salad, hastily knocked together quiches and orange juice filled the vapid hour before the afternoon session. Thanks to the smokers insisting on going outside in the freezing wet weather to puff on their cancer sticks, the room got colder and colder. It was, frankly, a relief to go back into the training room, and perhaps this was precisely the reverse psychology we needed. The afternoon went with a bang, and before I knew it we had finished the first day. I managed to get to the car park without being blown off course – coinciding the course with bad weather was a possible error – and got into my car on the top floor. “Dammit”, I thought as I saw the NCP car park ticket on my passenger seat. “Please pay on the bottom floor,” it mentioned. So, downstairs I went, wallet in hand. A wallet, it turned out, which caught the notice of a woman sitting huddled on the bottom stair, looking as if she was waiting for someone. Me, as it turned out. “Nice weather,” I ventured, trying to be friendly as I searched for the ticket machines. “Yeah. The machines are other there.” She pointed to a darkened corner of the room. As I opened my wallet and got out wads of cash – NCP managed to charge £14 for 7 hours of parking – she piped up again. “Yeah, I may be homeless but I can be useful.” Here we go, I thought. After a wail about her life story, I felt compelled to give her a couple of pounds. I told myself off as I wandered up the stairs, but it was too late. She had probably bought a quarter pound of brown by the time I’d reached the top stair.
I had arrived in Leeds on Sunday afternoon for the five-day marathon and booked into the closest hotel I could find. It managed to be situated beside a chinese restaurant and a TGI Fridays, which gave little choice for healthy eating – but a big choice for deliciously overpriced fodder. I was here that I returned that first afternoon. As I entered the hotel for the second time that week, a large gust of wind heralded my arrival, blowing everything around me off the table. Hell of an entrance, I think you’ll agree.
After a meal at TGI Friday’s, some newspaper reading and email sending, I settled down to a good night’s sleep.
And that’s how it’s been for the past five nights. The weather has got worse – my mother phoned on Tuesday to check how close I was to the especially windy Pennines – the trainer’s accent has got bearable, and I’ve actually learnt a whole load of useful stuff. Today I’m off home, back to my wonderful girlfriend, my wonderful new house and a whole load of DIY…

Solve those poor parking blues

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poorparking.jpg
It’s a sad affliction. The more expensive the car, the worse the parking. People’s swing-in-and-leave policy really gets my goat, and I found an excellent example on Flickr tonight, with a cracking note from an equally riled potential parker. There’s a whole website – You Park Like An Asshole – dedicated to these people. My advice – download these gems from wibbler.com, print ’em out and dole them out the next time you find a double-parker. (via sethgunderson.com)

Saddam Shame

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So, Saddam’s dead then, which will surely come as a shock if you’ve been living under a large rock this Christmas. But, in these cases, it’s always worth looking beyond the headlines. Robert Fisk has two articles showing the emerging murky facts about the execution. In “Our complicity dies with him,” Fisk notes that the many secrets Saddam Hussein had about the West’s business dealings with Iraq are gone forever. which is handy for George and Tony. In “A dictator created then destroyed by America“, he points out that “Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair.” And finally, for those that wondered why the “official” execution video had no sound, IraqSlogger describes the common-sense and divisive conclusions you can draw from the timing of the execution and the soundtrack on the new sneaky mobile phone video of the execution. Nothing’s as it seems, is it? Happy New Year, Iraq!