Sunday, 30 November 2008

Things I have learned this week

1. It is possible to buy an alarm clock with the voice of Stephen Fry.

2. Thanksgiving is fantastic. Yum.

3. Syd the cat has a good technique (intentional or otherwise) for getting a second breakfast.

4. A lipogram is a piece of writing which avoids using 1 (or more) letter(s).

5. There is one wild boar per square mile of the Forest of Dean.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The fastest electronic random number indicator equipment in the (North) West

I have some Premium Bonds. I have had them since January 2005. With average luck, I thought as I sent off my £100 cheque, I will eventually* win as much as I'd get with a savings account. Under closer scrutiny, however, this thought looks not so much like justified optimism, as a fundamental misunderstanding of probability, finance, luck and the functioning of government-backed bonds. I have never won.

In a way, though, some of my original reasoning stands. As well as the slightly dubious claim above, I can retrieve my £100 in case of financial crisis, although in practice I have always preferred to test the outer limits of my overdraft rather than give them up because there is part of my brain leaping about shouting "I could win a million pounds! A MILLION! HA!"

At the beginning of every month I get a little inward skip of anticipation, thinking that any day now someone could turn up with The Big Cheque. Whether they actually bring a 6ft cardboard cheque to the door I neither know nor care - in my imagination a man from the 1950s turns up with The Big Cheque and we both awkwardly try to manoeuvre it round the recycling boxes, front door, cat etc while I jump about a bit with an inner feeling of vindication. I'm not even sure it's the money I'm excited about - The Big Cheque has achieved mythic status in my mind which months and (potentially, let's face it) years without winning ANYTHING AT ALL can't dent.

Mr Listingslightly does not think it is healthy to dwell on this. He does not have Premium Bonds. He understands maths. I fear he may be right.

This is kind of cheating, but here's a link to's list about Premium Bonds. I was going to do a "reasons why it's good to hang on to them" type list, but I think it's covered by the leaping-about-million-quid-Big-Cheque thing above. Also, imaginatively anticipating, spending, donating and investing The Big Cheque is a much nicer insomnia diversion than paranoic medical self-diagnosis or thinking about work. I should mention that I have profited indirectly from ERNIE's munificence, as my Grandma has sent me some £ in the post when she has won. So there you are, a happy ending after all.

* If "eventually" means "in an infinite amount of time" then my argument may have been correct, I think. If I had an infinite amount of time I would study statistics, as I fear my knowledge is not what it should be.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Naming and Necessity. And Lobsters.

Back in the days before facebook I didn't know the surnames of most people I knew. To specify a particular person you had their first name and, if there was more than one within your acquaintance, an appropriate modifier - I've known a Blond James, a Sweet James, more than one Tall James and an Irate James over the years - and then a roundabout description, "You know, Kate's friend, the one with the hat. No not Portsmouth Kate, other Kate who went to Spain....." etc. Of course sometimes, though, there are people whose first and last names dance together so happily that they are always referred to in full.

Quite why there is a glut of Jameses, Claires, Sarahs and Stephens in the mid to late 70s remains unclear, but the following sites demonstrate, among other things, 1) that there is, and 2) that there is a fertility trough at about that time. So there aren't many of us late Generation Xers ("the baby bust generation"), and we don't have many names between us. Oddness.

This is an American site, so if it tells you there's one or less people with your name then there probably aren't any at all in the US.

2. The Name Voyager
This is fantastic. Among other things, it tells me that my (male) cat's name is now much more popular for girls than it ever has been for boys. I haven't told him though. I found this through the excellent New York Times Freakanomics blog (written by the authors of the book of the same name).

3. British surnames
This site has a map of Britain which can show the concentration of people with your surname in 1998 and 1881. It also tells you exactly how many people with your surname there were at those times and some other demographic info.

4. Adopt a Lobster
Yes again. Because lobsters are great. Mine is called Alvin and this month he's going to be released into the sea somewhere off the Cornish coast, to bury himself in some sand until he grows into a bigger lobster. You can also see the strange and/or highly predictable names people call their lobster adoptees here.

5. UK Population
Not a pyramid, more a work in progress on a potter's wheel, all bulging and uneven. On the same site there are lists of the top 100 boys' and girls' names for the past five years. One thing's for sure, if you want your son to feel inconspicuous in life (and to always be tagged with a letter, description or surname for ease of reference) you should certainly call him Jack.

6. Pseudonym Generator
For when it all gets too much....