On Entropy

Sep. 14th, 2013 12:45 am
cjwatson: (Default)

[livejournal.com profile] ghoti said that she'd challenged people on Facebook to come up with a poem explaining the Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy, and unaccountably nobody had produced anything; so I thought I'd have a go. Feedback welcome!

On Entropy

Two systems, both unlike in temperature,
Each separate in space, though not by much;
When close, the hotter leaves its signature
By warming up the colder with its touch.

Now heat is work, the poets say, and more,
That work brings order; so dispersing heat
Brings entropy, disorder, to the fore
Increasing, which will sun and stars defeat.

Just as a glass, once broken, does not mend,
And mountains cannot unerode from sands,
The laws of chance say chaos is the end,
Time's arrow's fletched by entropy's own hands.

The colder cannot warm the warmer heart;
Thus irreversible is nature's art.

cjwatson: (Default)

Why do BT keep their street cabinet locations such a state secret, anyway?

I work at home, and we're making increasing use of videoconferencing at work. I also live 3km from my exchange just as the crow flies, let alone cable length which I think is more like 4km. If I get 2.5Mbps ADSL I'm lucky, and it's not desperately stable either. I refuse to use Virgin Media for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with. FTTC would be a very useful thing for me, and I've been awaiting it eagerly.

The Cambridge exchange was upgraded some time ago and it's been listed as "accepting orders", but of course this only means that some minimum number of cabinets support it. Several of my friends nearby have been switched on recently, and I've seen some Openreach vans driving around locally, so I've been trying to find out when it might reach me. This is far more work than it ought to be. The various checkers say nothing interesting for my telephone number; but who knows whether a negative result might mean "next week", "next month", "next year", or "never, you sucker"? All I was easily able to determine was that I'm attached to cabinet 83. Peering at the cabinet I frequently pass on the way north from here indicated that it's number 81.

So, with the aid of OSM (which beats Google Maps for this because it has house numbers, at least around here), the Royal Mail's postcode finder, and BT's address checker, I started trying to map out the border of the region covered by my cabinet. I think I've determined that it's roughly bounded by the unnamed path just to our north and east, Northfield Avenue, Roxburgh Road, Woburn Close, the path down to Arbury Road, Albemarle Way, and then the path back up to ours. Not that this has so far helped me find the physical cabinet so that I can see if there's a new FTTC cabinet next to it yet, which is the point of the exercise, but at least now I know roughly where I ought to be looking. I should perhaps figure out how to record my findings on OSM for others. (Oh, and to rub it in, as far as I can tell all the surrounding cabinets are now FTTC-enabled.)

But honestly. What is the point of this being secret in the first place? Broadband forums generally seem to think that BT deliberately keep cabinet locations a closely guarded secret, rather than it just being inaction; I don't know how much to credit that and how much it might be conspiracy theory, but it does seem borne out by reality. It's well-known what the cabinets look like; they're generally right out in broad daylight; you can look up your cabinet number; it's common enough for the number to be stencilled on the cabinet; and cabinet-level information is relevant to a lot of people waiting for FTTC (I found huge numbers of forum threads about the same kind of thing). If the problem were vandalism or what-have-you, even targeted, they really don't raise the bar very much by keeping the information secret; they must already have all the data for maintenance purposes, probably even fairly well-indexed; and BT and Openreach must get vast numbers of trivial queries that they could avoid just by publishing this data.

It all seems like obscurantism for the sake of it.

cjwatson: (Default)

As a result of clearing out my old car in preparation for scrapping it, I now have a substantial amount of car-related paraphernalia which is now surplus to requirements and only serving to take up space in our shed. If you have a use for any of these and would like to take them, then you can have them for free as long as you collect either from here or from the pub, since by definition you must have quicker transport than I now do:

  • about half a dozen bottles - mostly part-used although the odd one may be full - of motor oil, antifreeze, and screenwash (ask if you want a more detailed inventory);
  • a set of jump leads;
  • one of those silvery things you put over your steering-wheel to stop it getting too hot in summer.

I also have a Halfords roof box (I think it's one of these but it may not be quite that model; ask if you care about the details and I can try to find out more exactly). If you want this, make me an offer. You collect; since there's really no sensible way to transport one of these things except by fitting it to your car on the spot, I recommend doing so in daylight, and I can probably help you fit it.

cjwatson: (Default)

I sent this to my MP (Julian Huppert, LD, for Cambridge) this morning. I deliberately took a different line from the usual one because I'm well aware that Julian doesn't need persuading on this but it may be useful for him to have more ammunition of the form "Catholics are not quite such a unified block as it may appear".

Yesterday at Mass it was suggested to us that we might like to support a campaign to preserve the current legal definition of marriage (I forget exactly which campaign). This is of course in line with what our bishops tell us. But this Catholic does not support the party line; and I felt it important to write to you in favour of equal marriage, although I know you've already publicly stated your support for it.

Campaigners against equal marriage, including many Catholics, seem to feel that it is in some way a threat to their existing marriage or their existing way of life. Allowing consenting adults to marry even if they happen to be of the same sex poses no more a threat to my marriage than allowing the marriage of black people, or people past the age of having children, or people who happen to be taller than me. I do not fear it, and indeed I can see no respectable reason why I shouldn't welcome it wholeheartedly. The support of a verse of scripture (amid many other prescriptions rarely followed nowadays) and some dubious claims about what is "natural" are little more than unconvincing fig leaves for a fear of what is different, and the Catholic hierarchy should be ashamed of its un-Christian attempts to cast as many of the first stones as possible.

I rather suspect that the current reactionary point of view of a number of traditional religions, including my own, will come around eventually. Judging from carefully-phrased comments one of our priests has made when he's been required to read a bishops' letter on the subject, not even all of our clergy are as reactionary as it might seem today. In the meantime, it is the right thing to do for the state to move on without them.

(It occurred to me some time after sending this that "casting the first stone" was a poor choice of scripturally-inspired metaphor, because Christ didn't say that the woman caught in adultery hadn't sinned, only that he didn't condemn her. That wasn't what I intended to imply. Nevertheless, getting the Catholic church to bless equal marriage is clearly a bridge too far at the moment; for now it would be enough if they simply got out of the way.)

cjwatson: (Default)

[livejournal.com profile] ghoti was speculating that people might well just choose to vote along party lines for Thursday's PCC elections, and was considering voting tactically as a result. I wondered what those party lines would amount to across the county. Here's what would happen in Cambridgeshire if everyone cast their first preference in exact accordance with their vote in the seven parliamentary constituencies in the 2010 general election (data from Wikipedia; errors my own). I cheated a bit and aggregated the independents together, since none of the same people are standing and their total vote share was rather small.

Liberal DemocratY109,15929.0
Various independentsN5,0341.3
English DemocratsY2,5640.7
Monster Raving LoonyN5480.1
Christian PeoplesN4890.1
Cambridge SocialistsN3620.1
Animal ProtectionN1810.0

Total turnout in 2010 was 67.8%. (And I've just noticed that there's a less prettily-presented version of these totals on the Wikipedia page above. Oh well, I've done the work now, and maybe this will help to inform people's voting intentions anyway.)

I am not even slightly Nate Silver, and even if I were I'm not aware of any meaningful pre-election polling that I might be able to go on, so this is about the best I can do. First-past-the-post with this naïve approximation would have the Conservative candidate winning handily. Under the Supplementary Vote scheme in use for this election, well, it's hard to say. (If a candidate obtains more than 50% first preference votes, they are elected; otherwise, the top two candidates remain in the contest and any second preferences for either of them from ballot papers whose first preference was for an eliminated candidate are added.)

More people normally vote for smaller parties under non-FPTP systems, but surely not enough to swing this? Pre-coalition I would have made a rough guess that this might be a case of a split left-wing vote and Liberal Democrat and Labour votes would mostly pool one way or another while UKIP votes would mostly transfer to Conservative, but who knows what effect the coalition has had on this. Plus there are two strong independents running as well - I plan to vote for at least one of them - and it is difficult to guess what share they'll pick up. On the other hand, Supplementary Vote is a rather poor system which only counts some second preferences, which may reduce the extent to which any differences matter.

We will find out soon. Please vote if you can!

Book meme

Jan. 1st, 2012 03:19 pm
cjwatson: (Default)

From [personal profile] kaberett: NPR's top 100 SF/Fantasy books. Bold if you've read, italicise ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a book/series you've read part but not all of.

Read more... )

Of those I read last year, my favourite was probably "Anathem", although it did take a while to get into it. "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" are comfortably on my re-read-again-and-again list, and I really must finish the "Hyperion" series because I adore Dan Simmons' style. I would not read any more of "Thomas Covenant" if you paid me.

cjwatson: (Default)

I've always considered myself to be both British and Irish. I've been entitled to be an Irish citizen all my life by virtue of having been born on the island of Ireland; but since I was born in Northern Ireland, I'm also a British citizen, and so by a subtle quirk of Irish law I wasn't automatically an Irish citizen. To actually become one I had to do something that only an Irish citizen is allowed to do, the most obvious of which is to get an Irish passport, and I've been meaning to get round to that for years ...

So, as of today, I finally hold a pas Éireannach, and I'm legally a dual citizen. (And it's remarkable how much less ratty it is than my British passport which has spent more time than it ought to have done in a trouser pocket!)

When I talked about intending to do this before, people sometimes asked me why I was bothering. After all, both the UK and Ireland are in the EU, and neither is in Schengen, so there's no functional difference between them; I expect I'll travel on my Irish passport from time to time, but I don't expect it will have any practical effect (although an apparently very confused US immigration official once grilled me about why I wasn't travelling on an Irish passport when I was born in Belfast).

Firstly, I want to: I feel an attachment to both countries. Granted, I've only ever lived in the UK, but in some sense that's an accident of century-old politics, and I feel at home in a different way when I'm in Ireland.

Secondly, I think that if you have privileges extended to you by governments then it's generally a good idea to take them when you can.

Thirdly, my children may want to claim Irish citizenship themselves. They should be able to do so (and, under current law, so can their descendants, indefinitely as long as they keep registering foreign births), but that will be a lot easier for them if I've done the paperwork.

Fourthly, it does not seem outside the bounds of possibility that at some point in my lifetime the UK will have a hissy fit of some kind and leave the EU. I'd rather it didn't, but it's possible and it's not like I'd be able to do a whole lot to stop it. If that happens, there are obvious practical reasons why I'd want to remain a citizen of the EU, and Ireland seems much less likely to leave.

Anyway, rational or not, I'm happy to have finally got this done!

September 2013

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