Saturday, June 14, 2003

The spread of SARS

Alfred Croucher (China hand) has a very interesting article on how SARS was spread to Hong Kong from China. Some of it is speculative, but still interesting.

It is said the Index patient, a medical doctor from Guangzhou knew he had something highly infectious and got a visit to HK approved, ostensibly to attend a relative's wedding but with the real purpose of seeking expert treatment. Sadly he booked himself into the Kowloon Metropole first and actually attended the wedding before submitting himself to medical examination at the Kwongwah Hospital. His traces at the Metropole caused an extensive outbreak, as did his attendance at the wedding.

After the wedding he booked himself into the Kwongwah Hospital while warning the staff he may have a highly infectious disease. The staff there immediatly took appropriate measures and as a result no infections resulted from his stay. But Kwongwah is not by any means a specialist in infectious diseases so they arranged for the Index patient to be transferred to the Prince of Wales (POW), one of the top hospitals which specialises in infectious diseases.

At POW the staff, in their hubris, are said to have dismissed the warnings from Kwongwah and even the director examined the patient without appropriate precautions. As a result he and many other staff died while no-doubt passing on the disease to other patients.

The whole article is worth a read, particularly the discussion as to why the disease has been very easily spread in Hong Kong hospitals but not United States hospital (US hospitals have much better hygiene, and may already be taking precautions for possible germ warfare.
Socialising animals.

Brian Micklethwait had a post a couple of days ago on the education of dolphins. Essentially the point was that dolphins have culture and not just instincts and that quite a lot can be taught to them.

This is true, and it does not just occur with dolphines. Amongs related animals, different whale populations (within the same species) are know to make quite different calls and noises to one another.

And it occurs further down the animal kingdon, hence this fascinating article from the New York Times on scientists in Arizona attempting to educate condors bred in captivity about how to live in the wild. (Link via Brad Delong). A big problem is that "condors hatched in the wild typically spend over a year with their parents, presumably learning how to be successful scavengers" whereas those bred in captivity don't. Guiding orphan condors through adolescence is not an easy thing to do.

I have never seen a condor in the wild, but I have seen one or two in captivity. They are one of nature's extreme cases. They are as large as a bird that can still fly can be. They are magnificent, but they have a certain gawkiness about them. Nature is really pushing the engineering tolerances, and it shows. They lack the seemingly effortless but slightly sinister style of some smaller birds of prey, most notably eagles.

Friday, June 13, 2003

More things I learned in Spain

Supermercado means "supermarket" in Spanish.
Note to David Adesnik

Why not link to me. I have lots of posts on cricket.

Update: He did. I must try more shamelessly ask for links more often.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The importance of good design

Here we have a delightful page on the state of the art gizmos that every proper geek wanted in 1983. (Via William Gibson).

From Motorola, the first commercial portable cellular phone to receive FCC approval. The DynaTAC 8000X, which weighs just 28 ounces, works on the new Advanced Mobile Phone Service that's being rolled out, and has an LED display, memory to store thirty "dialing locations," and enough battery life for 30 minutes of talk time and eight hours of standby. Retail price: $3,995.

Ah, yes. Nostalgia. The days when gizmos were really clunky, and really expensive, and only a small corps of hard core geeks knew they existed. These days, it is amazing how many quite cool and interesting gizmos can be bought for, say, $100. Of course, the number of people who lust for tech products (particularly from the younger generation) is much larger than it used to be, and the resultant economies of scales are part of the point.

Still, I wonder whether todays products will look as clunky as these when we look back from 20 years in the future. To some extent, I think the answer is yes, but I don't think to the same extent. I think the quality of design has improved with respect to technical products, at least in some quarters. Certainly it has with respect to mobile phones. (This is pretty much the entire explanation for the success of Nokia. They got their design right before anyone else did. Their phones have never been anything special from a technical perspective). With some other products, less so.

Particularly with desktop PCs, less so. This is one product where design remains something of a disaster. Interestingly enough, Gibson in another post discusses why the computer used by one of the characters in his most recent novel uses a Macintosh G4 Cube. Essentially this is one of the few desktop PCs ever to get the design right. We are now in an age where ordinary users don't actually need the extra CPU cycles given to them by Moore's law (thanks mainly to the fact that the main bottleneck for most applications is now net connection speed and not CPU speed) and therefore a computer several years old can still be used by most users if there is some good reason for them to do so. The G4 Cube is now an old product, but its users still love it. They do so to such an extent that its resale value is something similar to its original purchase price, even though it was discontinued quite some time ago. Given that PCs normally lose their value with ferocious speed, this is remarkable.
Cricketing things that have been happening in my absence

After the end of the Australian tour of the West Indies, I commented that the West Indies looked to be improving, particularly in one day cricket. There was a caveat to that, however. The West Indies' wins had come at the end of the test series and at the end of the one day series, once these series were decided. In fact, they had won every 'dead rubber' in both series, but had lost every match when each series was still alive.

Over the last week, the West Indies have been playing Sri Lanka in the one day leg of the Sri Lankan tour of the West Indies. (Why the West Indies played a dull and seemingly endless seven match series with Australia rather than a potentially much more entertaining triangular series including the Sri Lankans, I don't know). This tour is about half the length of the Australian tour, with three one day games, and two test matches. The one day series is now over. So what happened?

Well, in the first game the West Indian bowlers kept Sri Lanka to a fairly poor 201, but then collapsed for 146 themselves, to lose by 55 runs. In the second game, the West Indies appeared to be in an almost unbeatable position when 116 from Lara and 94 from Gayle took them to 4/312 off 50 overs. However, 'almost' was the key word, and Sri Lanka got the runs with three balls to spare, after most of the batsmen chipped in.

So, the West Indies had lost all the important matches again. Not very impressive, to be honest. True to form, they yesterday easily won the match that didn't matter. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 191, and the West Indians met the revised Duckworth/Lewis target with the greatest of ease.

So far, in their home series, the West Indies have lost 6 one day internationals and won 4. This looks at least slightly respectable, but all four wins have been matches after the series was lost. They have lost 3 and won 1 test, and that 1 test was after the series was lost. They have two tests to play against Sri Lanka. The nature of a two test series means that it is not possible for there to be a dead rubber. To keep up this slightly peculiar streak of losing all matches that count, the West Indies have to lose both matches. I doubt they will, but who knows. As streaks go, this is a deeply unimpressive one. It indicates a side that can't take pressure. Lara as captain has work in front of him.

In other cricket, the second England v Zimbabwe match was a carbon copy of the first. England again won by an innings in three days. If England have anything to worry about, it was the relative failure of their top order batsmen. England were at one point 5-156 in their first innings, but thanks to Stewart, McGrath, and Giles, the middle and lower order managed to push the score to an adequate 416, which was still not hugely impressive against the Zimbabwean bowling. However, the Zimbabweans were then bowled out for 94 and 253, with Richard Johnson taking six wickets on debut in the first innings. A fairly blah result.

Lots of one day internationals now before the more interesting test series between England and South Africa. England's batting will need to improve a little for that series, but I think it probably will. I am forecasting a comfortable win for England in that series, because England are playing okay, and South Africa are in complete disarray.
A new hope

I have been moved over to the new version of Blogger. It will be interesting to see how this compares with the old one in terms of reliability and/or archive issues.

Update: There are some issues with comments not appearing on my page. In particular, it is in some instances showing up as "Comments[0]" when there actually are comments. Yaccs has a code update to fix this problem, but I am unable to install it on the public terminal I am presently using. If all goes well, I shall fix it at home this evening.

Further Update: These should now be fixed, at least in theory.

Even Further Update: I have encountered no archiving or reliability problems so far. It doesn't work properly with Mozilla, though. It detects that I am using a non-IE browser, and gives me a watered down, Blogger light version. (Of course, the old Blogger didn't work properly with Mozilla either, but in a "This isn't IE? Well I don't fucking care. I am going to behave as if it is" kind of way).

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Back in London

My return from Spain was largely uneventful, but my flight was a bit late, and I then had to negotiate my way to and through London via a series of buses, and I didn't get home until 2.30am. I think this messed up my sleep a little, and I have a bit of a headache as a consequence. Therefore, no major blogging until probably this evening.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

French Restaurants versus Spanish Restaurants

In France, many restaurants offer a so called prix fixe menu. This means that for a fixed price, you get three courses, and there are normally three or four dishes that you can choose from for each course. This works out much cheaper than ordering a la carte. However, drinks are usually not included, and the price of wine is often extortionate. (This is why I often drink beer in restaurants in France).

In Spain, the concept is much the same. Restaurants offer a menu del dia, which works much the same way. Unfortunately, this is usually offered only at lunchtime. However, on the positive side, drinks are included. Despite this, these meals are still somewhat cheaper than in France. If you ask for vino, you get an entire bottle of red wine with your lunch. And while wandering around Spain in the middle of the afternoon feeling somewhat pissed is not entirely unpleasant, I am still not sure if this counts as a positive or a negative.
Watching television

I have never really thought about the idea of politically partisan weather reports before, but when I think about it, it is actually fairly obvious. What do TV weather reports use? Maps. And maps are a traditional way of showing partisan politics. Many Basque nationalist signs and posters of all kinds show an outline of a map of what their ideal independent Basque nation would be. It consists of the three provinces of the autonomous Basque region of Spain, the Spanish province of Navarra, and the Basque area of southern France. (Navarra is Basque in perhaps the same way Vallencia is Catalan. The Basque language is spoken there, but in a different dialect. The two regions have been politically quite distinct for a long while. Navarra was a separate kingdom for centuries. Plus there are more non-Basques living there than in the area around Bilbao and San Sebastian. All this means that separatism is weaker there than here. And separatism is weaker in France than here, largely because the Basque people were never repressed by General Franco there. However, Basque nationalists see some future greater Basqueland consisting of the whole three areas.

Thus the weather report. The maps behind the weather girl showed the weather in the greater Basque area I described, including Navarra and southern France. This area was in a dark colour with everything else white, just as on the nationalist posters. There were no political boundaries shown in this area. And there were no weather reports for anywhere else. As I said, a politically partisan weather report.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Note to Slate.

It may well be that Pixar's great moment in the sun actually isn't now. The film they will release next year, The Incredibles, will be the first Pixar film from Brad Bird, possibly the most brilliant animator working in America today. In 2005, they will release the next film from John Lasseter, who made Toy Story and who has been the driving creative force behind the studio from the start. (Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo have been directed by Pixar's lesser lights, amazing as it may seem) It may be that despite the fact that "Finding Nemo is Pixar's 500th home run, its 3,000th hit, its third consecutive championship: a triumph that's more important for its relationship to an entire body of work than for its solitary pleasures", Pixar have not peaked yet, and that we will hear the same thing we are hearing now, only louder, for the next two years.

Of course, it is also possible that Pixar will make a mess of their next two films, or that Brad Bird's individual style will overwhelm the fact that The Incredibles is a Pixar film, and that now will be seen as the key cultural moment. However, it is impossible to pick these moments at the time they happen, because ultimately we dont't realise how large cultural forces will be before they are over. The fact is, though, most animation fans thought that this year would simply be a year in which Pixar released a nice little film before the really serious stuff came out in 2004 and 2005.
A nice thing about Bilbao.

Unlike in many European cities, the centre of the city, the casco viejo, has not been overrun by tourists. As a consequence, the cost of owning a shop there is still reasonable. Therefore, the area is full of shops selling ordinary things: shoes, clothes, furniture, household goods, CDs and DVDs, and a nice selection of shops selling weird crap of various kinds. (Also, the area contains a vast number of bars). In most Europeans cities, the shops selling weird crap have had to move out into less salubrious neighborhoods, which is a shame. In Bilbao, though, it is all still in the old centre. Between about 7pm and 9pm, much of the population of the city seems to be walking through this area, wandering in and out of shops, wandering in and out of bars for a drink and a quick snack, and just generally having an evening walk, mainly because it is a pleasant thing to do. This is one thing that makes Bilbao such a pleasant city.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Genuine Basqueness

Today, I came back from San Sebastian to Bilbao, with a lengthy stop in Ondarroa on the way. The coastal geography is stunning, with steep hills and mountains backing directly onto the sea, with fishing towns mostly in the valleys. I chose Ondarroa because there is another bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava over the river Artibai. Again I was underwhelmed. Calatrava's most famous bridge is in Seville. Perhaps I need to go there and look at it. There was an absolutely ancient looking stone arch a little further upstream which, quite frankly, struck me as the most interesting bridge in the town.

Ondarroa was described as a "centre of Basque nationalism" in my guidebook, and it did indeed seem this way. Lots of slogans painted on the walls. I can't understand either Spanish or Basque, but I got the point. They were decrying the brutality and tactics of torture of the guardia civil (But not that of ETA), and demanding independence. The many bars of the town were filled with posters showing a map of the Basque country a different colour to the rest of Spain.

And, as has invariably been the case on this trip, the people were tremendously friendly and welcoming. I went into several bars, had some lunch, drank a little red wine, and it was almost like I was one of the locals. (The Basques, like people in the rest of Spain, seem to spend much of the day drinking a little red wine). In one of the bars, I watched a strange Basque sports program on the television, featuring what looked like an under-15s woodchopping competition, and a weird contest involving picking up large, heavy cubic objects to head height and then dropping them on what looked like a giant bean bag. The winner seemed to be the person who could lift the cubic object as many times as possible. However, there appeared to also be a later round in which the cubic object was bigger. (In fact, it had "230K" written on the side of it, so that may have been its weight).

Anyway, Guernica tomorrow.
More hassles

Earlier today, the blogger homepage showed this, black on white.

Microsoft OLE DB Provider for ODBC Drivers error

[Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][TCP/IP Sockets]SQL
Server does not exist or access denied.

//global.asa, line 15

This did make it hard to post.

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