Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas One and all

This Tuesday I visited the majestic Royal Albert Hall to partake in their classical Christmas concert. The event was a sell out, though the number of empty seats was a telling sign of the snow in the home counties. Obviously some had felt that the journey wouldn't be worth it!

The concert itself varied between being awesome and awful, with many of the rearrangements sounding a little bit like Disney reworkings of famous carols. The absolute highlight though was the Royal Philharmonic's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's famous nutcracker suite that played into the interval. Sensational :)

Having never been to the Albert Hall before it was amazing to be inside and see the grand interior, with two enormous Christmas trees to the sides of the stage. The acoustics are also fantastic, with even the quietest parts of the music coming to the very back of the nosebleeds (where I was seated) with astonishing clarity. Obviously not something I can recommend that you all attend, as it's already finished, but if you see a good classical concert advertised there I would urge you to sample it.

So it's now Christmas eve. I hope that all your shopping is done, your presents are wrapped, and you are chilled and ready for some quality time with your families. To put you in the festive mood, here is a gorgeous picture of a Christmas tree.

So Merry Christmas to you all. I hope to be back before the new year with some kind of arbitrary list. Be safe and have fun!

Friday, 18 December 2009

The known universe

This is breathtakingly, mindboggolingly beautiful.
The American Museum of Natural History take you on a journey to the outer edges of the known universe. If you fail to be staggered by this then you are simply unstaggerable.

This video has inspired me to do a short series of blogs based on this journey. I'm not sure if it should be a part of the basics of series or not. I shall see where my mind takes me.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The basics of: Algebra

I intended to start this piece with a definition, but than had a look online and found it needlessly verbose for those trying to understand the basics. There is a very simple way of thinking about algebra, and it is to simply do with letters what you would do with numbers.

This sounds patently absurd and I can imagine the cries
"But I know 2 + 2 = 4, what on earth could x + x equal?"
Of course the point is that you don't know what x equals in this case, indeed the use of x is completely arbitrary. The letters in algebra are simply substitutions for unknown quantities,and we do do the same thing with x.
As we don't know what x means, our job is to either simplify a mathematical statement so that should we ever find out what x means it is easier to deal with, or solve an equation that will tell us what x is.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Book review: Bad Science - Ben Goldacre

I'm going to save you the trouble of scrolling to the bottom of this review and urge you to buy this book. Go now, it's absolutely fantastic in every way and should be read by everyone. Once you've come back, you can read this review in full in anticipation of what to expect when you open it up. Done? Good.

Ben Goldacre is a doctor probably best known for his 'bad science' column in the guardian on a saturday. Due to the clash of names you would be forgiven for thinking that the book was just a collection of those columns. This is very much not the case. What Dr Goldacre instead attempts is to educate the reader about the scientific process, through examples of times when it's not followed.

What you experience as a result is a challenging, engrossing. shocking and depressing in equal measure. The delight and wonder that you find the placebo chapter is soon frittered away as you learn about frauds and quacks that have made untold millions. First it's humourous to see these characters cut down to size, then slowly the human cost is revealed. Goldacre's revelations about the AIDS crisis in South Africa left me feeling both angry and hurt.

It gets worse, not in quality but definitely in effect. The importance of science in the world is regularly overlooked and it's having your attention drawn to just how overlooked, and just how devastating the consequences can be is chilling. The books close only seeks to illustrate this with depressing effect.

Of course, while 'Bad Science' can often be depressing, it's for the content, rather than the quality or style of writing. Indeed Ben Goldacre is often highly witty, with some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny passages. This a book that seeks to entertain through information, and that it does with genuine aplomb. Most people that read this book will learn an awful lot, and occasionally it is necessary to re-read elements of the book to ensure that the point is got. This again is not a failing, like the wonderful 'Short history of nearly everything' by Bill Bryson, the scope is ambitious, squeezing a magnificent amount into just shy of 350 pages (not including references).

For those that won't find any new concepts, this book will still both shock and entertain and for everyone else, the challenge of learning is definitely worth it for the feeling of accomplishment you receive at the end. Absolutely necessary for anyone that cares about the world, medicine or science.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Should the treasury afford to give Tax breaks to the UK games industry?

Below is a little article I wrote as part of a job application to show off my writing ability (stop sniggering). I'm posting it here for its relevance to Tom Watson's column today on comment is free...

In 2008 the UK was the third largest games development territory in the world, with a turnover of £4.02bn. Ed Vaisey, Shadow minister for Culture has described the UK games industry as an "unsung success," which in the same year contributed £1bn to the Treasury and had an export balance of £100m. To such a positive background, it may seem surprising that two groups (TIGA and NESTA) currently are lobbying hard for assistance for UK based developers in the form of tax breaks.

Surprising, that is, until you look at more recent numbers. 44 UK based development studios have gone out of business in the last 12 months, there has been an 8% fall in the number of development staff, with a 5% fall in the size of the sector expected over each of the next 5 years. So why has the birthplace of Elite, Speedball 2, Tomb Raider, Driver and GTA suddenly hit such rocky times? The main issue, and the one that the question hopes to resolve, is international competition.

Currently Canada, France, a number of US states and other nations in the world provide tax breaks for their video games sectors. This enables games to be produced more cheaply in those territories and more importantly for studios to offer far better terms to their developers. Stories abound of top developers being poached (particularly to Canada) with the offer of a large increase in salary as well as very generous relocation packages. With this backdrop it is easy to imagine why it is so hard for our own studios to retain top staff.

It is of course all well and good banging on about tax breaks, but the UK is currently in recession. The government surely cannot just throw money around to anyone who comes to the door with a begging bowl. The question that has to be asked to any industry that wants a handout is will it be sustainable? In this regard TIGA have quite promising answers to the question based on the results of the similar policies that have launched in France and Canada. Ubisoft have grown their French development team by 20% since the introduction of a 'cultural tax break' to that amount and over in Canada reports suggest that the revenues gained from the growth of the industry have paid for themselves twice over. Gareth Edmonson, vice-chairman of TIGA is equally positive about projections for the impact on the UK industry stating that "Over five years the tax measure would cost £192 million but would deliver £415 million in tax receipts."

So why the resistance? Well a primary and very simple reason is the ingrained ignorance of UK politicians towards the games industry. The current culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw manages to at least mention Video Gaming in a statement on the recent 'Digital Britain report,' but only to state "we will also implement a new, more robust system of content classification for the video games industry... ensuring protection of children now and in the future." This stunning oversight only helps to perpetuate the myth that videogames culture has nothing useful to contribute.

Politics quite simply hasn't caught up. The video games industry is often compared to film when it comes to classification and the desperate rush to protect the young. Where the comparision isn't often made by those with the power to make a difference is the enhancement in culture and skills that both provide. Much is made of the fact that science and mathematics is shrinking in the UK, yet support for an industry in which these skills are highly valuable is being allowed to shrink astonishingly rapidly.

So to the future and how likely it is for attitudes to change. Thankfully TIGA have already done a great job in promoting the industry for more than just it's negative headlines. MP's should be invited into games studios to look at just what goes into developing a game. They should be shown both the talent that is widespread in the UK but also the rate at which it is venturing overseas. There are very few industries in the UK where the balance of exports is positive and with a little political will that balance could grow.

So to return to the question of whether the treasury should offer the UK games industry tax relief. As far as I can tell, it can little afford not to.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

This is just too good!

Further to the fact that this is just hilariously false, it is also an apt demonstration that creationists must be lying to us, that is not passionately representing the wrong belief, but actually deliberately misinforming people to try and gain followers. The simple fact is that anyone who has even been in the same room as a book on evolution knows two things.
  1. Darwins theory of evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life. It just discusses how diversity in living populations arises.
  2. The first organisms to form were single celled. You couldn't possibly spot newly formed life by just peering into a jar, instead needing a pretty powerful microscope.

Unless maybe they're onto something... Could the primordial soup possibly have been peanut butter?

I really wanted to slam the BNP...

But then I found out that Anton Vowl was doing it so much better than I ever could.
Go and check out The enemies of reason. It's frequently brilliant, and I could currently only hope to emulate

Monday, 26 October 2009

Flash game of the week: Achievement unlocked

This week's flash game is a charming yet extremely pointless way to waste 15 minutes of so. Welcome achievement unlocked!
The premise is extremely simple and a nod to the achievement and trophy collectors of the Xbox 360 and PS3. You play a small blue elephant who has to run around the level collecting all the achievements that there are to offer. Incredibly simple, but the circus music and 8 bit graphics were charming enough to encourage me to find all 99 acheivements, have fun!  

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


This little video clip has just been brought to my attention

I just had to share it with you all

Monday, 12 October 2009

Flash Game of The Week: Desktop Tower Defense

Happy Monday everyone!

I thought I'd start a little item (not included in my previous labels post) called flash game of the week, bringing you the best casual games that I can find to while away your time.
First up is a classic in the flash gaming world, that I've only just found out has been updated and improved.
Ladies and gentlemen, Desktop tower defense.

The premise for the game is very simple; little critters try and scurry across your desk, and you have to stop them by laying weaponry along the way. I shan't go into more detail as all the information is on the website. What I will do is warn that this could easily sap hours and hours of your life without care, if you have somewhere to be, set an alarm!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The basics of: Evolution

Welcome to the first in this 'the basics of' series that I am planning to run as the informative side of this blog. In this post I am going to try and inform about evolution.

The ideas behind evolution, on the face of it, seem so implausible as to be ridiculous. Indeed only 51% of the UK population think that evidence for evolution exists (see this survey from the British Council/Ipsos-Mori). This clearly has a lot to do with the incredible lengths of time involved. It is very hard to mentally envisage periods of thousands of years, and yet evolution has taken place over a scale of billions of years (It's worth adding a side note at this point that evolution takes place over varying timescales depending on the type of organism and it's environment. It's not worth getting tied up in specifics for this brief overview. To learn more about this have a look at some of the suggested reading at the bottom of the page).

There is a second complication, and that is a kind of human bigotry. It is standard learning in human culture all around the world that homo sapiens is the dominant organism on this planet. Genesis 1:26 states:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  (

This is hardly the sort of background we need before learning that all living organisms are quite literally our distant cousins!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

My labels and what they mean

While working on that promised evolution post. I got to thinking, with a blog that aims to have as wide a scope as I hope, how will people be able to work out what they would like to read?
Well I imagine that this was the very thing that Blogger's labelling system was devised for! So here is a brief outline of the labels that I intend to use, and a description of what they mean.

'The basics of:' The title given to all those posts that detail processes and how to's. Expect this to be primarily based around the world of science. Alongside this will be post about real world skills, tutorials and other such things.
'Yesterday's games today:' A feature I hope to run quite regularly (I won't tie myself to any timeframe, it'll only annoy me if I fail). I need an excuse to return to my retro games collection. I'll write about my experiences of the classics (and not so classics) this time around.
'Personal' Posts that are about me in some way.
'Comment on:' I aim for this to be a sort of mini comment is free. If I see a news item somewhere that I feel the need to voice my opinion on, it will go here.
'Is it any good?' My own personal reviews column. Music, Games, Films and more will all feature here.
'Fun' Should I see or hear anything that tickles me I'll pass it along.
'Other' Because this very post doesn't fit into any of the above.

This list isn't intended to be exhaustive. I'm sure I'll add things as time goes on, and maybe lose areas I'm not so committed to.

Anything you'd like to see written about that fits in the above categories? Use the comment box below to get in touch.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Excuses, excuses

Despite the fact that I probably have absolutely no readers yet for this blog. I feel it appropriate to make an apology. I did say last week that I would try to make two posts a week initially and see what happened. Well it's nearly the end of the first week and there is still only the one post.
In fairness I have not been slacking. I am currently working on an introduction to evolution in (hopefully) readable terms. However this is proving quite an undertaking for someone who doesn't have a huge amount of experience in popularising science.

Excuses out of the way, I think it's only fair to try and entertain you, so I've spent a few minutes trawling the internet looking for some funny excuses for a variety of latenesses.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

First: Me

Welcome to hippomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the name for my blog comes from the rather hilarious name for the fear of long words. I don't suffer from it, and may even occasionally become sesquipedalian myself! As the title bar suggests, this blog is one without a theme. Instead I'll just relay any thoughts that I feel are worthy of my typing time. These will include (but are not limited to) science, politics, video games, films, books, weather and more.

This first post is about me, but rather than defining myself in the usual boring multi paragraphed format, I thought it would be nice to give you an idea of who I am via the websites I most regularly visit (apart from the tediously ubiquitous Facebook and You Tube).