Blog posts

  • Courtesy of The Right Honorable Christopher Foss

    In the middle of a MetaFilter thread about the relative attractiveness of various military aircaft, MeFi user Devonian found the perfect words to express something that I've felt ever since I was in the Air Training Corps back in the 1970s and spent a week's summer camp at RAF Marham, which was home at the time to a squadron of Victor tanker aircraft:

    Yeah, the Vulcan is best appreciated when it - preferably them - are doing a QRA-style get-upstairs-fast scramble from the runway you're standing next to. Static, it's impressive just for its size and alien-ness (although not as Vogonesque as the Victor, which still looks like something from a parallel universe where Chris Foss is a defence minister) but you don't get the pretty. Cranked up to 11 and pointing at the sky, it's just pure triangular porn.

    Which is a shame, given it's designed to kill people in seven-digit quantities. It's easier to feel good about, say, Concorde, which can't even kill you by alcohol poisoning as there's just not enough time during the trip to drink that much champagne.

    posted by Devonian at 6:25 PM on February 24

    Seriously, I was as awe struck by the sight and sound of a Vulcan bomber (especially one flying low) as the next air cadet, but for my money there has never been another big aircraft - not even the Concorde - quite as futuristic looking as the Handley Page Victor.

  • Tomako

    If you're seated in your shiny modern open plan office at a desk that's equipped with a Tomako, aren't you going to find yourself being disturbed by colleagues who are trying to figure out who's hiding inside the damned thing? Especially if your office is set up to allow hot desking, so they can't tell who you are by where you're sitting. Pretty much defeats the objective of being undisturbed, you'd think…


    Contact Us for Pricing

    Designed by MottoWasabi/Anna Salonen & Yuki Abe.

    Tomoko is a sheltering, acoustic piece of office furniture for privacy and concentration in open-plan offices, lobbies, recovery rooms and other open spaces. Tomoko helps you to create an immediate territory of your own by eliminating elements that interfere with your concentration, such as noise or visual distractions. At the same time, it signals to others that you are not to be disturbed. At home, Tomoko gives you a quiet place for reading a relaxing book or focusing on your home office work. Tomoko can also be built as a light fitting. The hood is made of 100% recyclable polyester felt and the base is powder-coated.

    The Tomako, by Vivero

    Alternatively, perhaps the idea is to get all the managers - whose work is so important that they simply must remain undisturbed at all costs - to don a Tomako so that everyone else can go about their work uninterrupted.


  • 30% very good advice, 50% unnecessary yelling, and 20% nonsense

    I have to confess, reading Mallory Ortberg's account of the letter Ayn Rand sent to her teenaged niece in response to a request to borrow US$25 to buy a dress makes me warm to the old monster, just a tiny bit:

    The Letters of Ayn Rand is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It is a perpetual source of comfort and inspiration to me. Every morning, Ayn Rand must have thrust herself forth from her steel bed and asked herself "What is the most Ayn Rand thing that I can do today?"

    On May 22, 1949, the answer was to write a letter to her young niece, who had sent her a short note asking to borrow $25 for a new dress.

    To Connie Papurt, AR's niece, a daughter of Frank's sister, Agnes Papurt

    May 22, 1949

    Dear Connie:

    You are very young, so I don't know whether you realize the seriousness of your action in writing to me for money. Since I don't know you at all, I am going to put you to a test.

    If you really want to borrow $25 from me, I will take a chance on finding out what kind of person you are. You want to borrow the money until your graduation. I will do better than that. I will make it easier for you to repay the debt, but on condition that you understand it as a strict and serious business deal. Before you borrow it, I want you to think it over very carefully.

    Here are my conditions: [Details of repayment schedule follow…]

    I want you to drop–if you have it in your mind–the idea that you are entitled to take money or support from me, just because we happen to be relatives. I want you to understand very clearly, right now, when you are young, that no honest person believes that he is obliged to support his relatives. I don't believe it and will not to do it. I cannot like you or want to help you without reason. But you can earn my liking, my interest and my help by showing me that you are a good person.

    Apparently history doesn't record how young Connie responded to this offer. I like to think that Connie thanked her aunt for the advice but politely declined to accept a loan on the terms her aunt offered.

    [Via MetaFilter]

  • The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

    Reading The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens mostly makes me very glad that I first encountered the internet long before the term 'social media' showed up.

    When Pizza reached 100,000 followers on Tumblr, she posted a picture of a pizza box, takeout chicken wings, and an orange soda spread out on her bed: "pizza and chicken wings 2 celebrate." One fan replied, "CONGRATULATIONS GIRL! YOU DESERVE IT!" Another: "MOTHER OF GOD 100K?!?!" An anonymous user was unimpressed: "you only have 100k because of ur url." But Pizza shot that down: "uh no i had 93k before i got this url so excuse u."

    It had taken Pizza more than two years to reach this milestone. In late 2010 she had signed up for Tumblr, the then-three-year-old social network, and secured the URL At first, she mostly posted photos of party outfits - hipster photos, she thought. They were the kind of images you might find under the "summery" Tumblr tag: poolside drinks, sunsets, sundresses, palm trees, tiny succulents; a shopping list of the things she wanted to buy, if only she had the money. Pizza also wrote some funny one-liners, but otherwise she reblogged jokes, switching back and forth between fashion and comedy. She tried out new names, new personas, changing her URL a few times; after a couple of years, she went all-joke. By the end of 2012, she had amassed 90,000 followers, a respectable number for a Tumblr, a sign she'd earned a certain amount of fame in her circle - the teens who reblogged her jokes. She then changed her domain to, her followers started to call her Pizza, and her numbers began to climb. That same year, she turned 15. […]

    I can't help but think that one aspect to this story that the article doesn't explore as I'd have liked is the real money issue: not the one about the individual teenagers and the sums their Tumblrs could generate from one month to the next,1 but the one about about how much of the money the various advertising/affiliate marketing/sponsored content schemes that are supposed to generate as payments to bloggers isn't getting paid, especially given that apparently these businesses can so easily fail to pay up just when an inconveniently large monthly payment is due. 2

    Finally, there's a small part of me that wants to build a time machine, go back to 1962, and see if I can get this article published as a short story in Galaxy Science Fiction. I think Frederik Pohl would have gone for it.

    1. Eye-popping as these figures are from the perspective of the individual bloggers.

    2. I suspect that's partly because the story ends up being something along the lines of 'If you don't like it, sue us and see if there's any money left to collect once you've paid for the lawyers.' and that would be a very different type of story, but I'd still have liked to hear more.

  • Christopher Ironside's Decimal Designs

    Reading this piece about Australia's introduction of decimal currency, it struck me that despite having lived through the process 1 I didn't know anything about who had designed Britain's decimal coins. Thankfully there's a web site about the UK's transition, complete with an account of the (very British) process as seen by Jean Ironside, widow of Christopher Ironside who designed the UK's first set of decimal coinage:

    In the end, after months of to-ing and fro-ing, Christopher finally managed to attend a Royal Mint Advisory Committee meeting. I believe this had not been done before as it was feared designers would become tongue-tied in the face of an eminent gathering which included Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Anthony Wagner and John Betjeman and which was chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Philip. Possibly by now the Mint realised that Christopher's tongue was seldom tied.

    He found the meetings he had with the Committee very helpful. He could pull out a pad of paper and demonstrate what happened to some of their suggestions. Thus time was saved. One recurring problem was Garter King of Arms who had to be satisfied with the accuracy of the heraldry. Christopher used to call on him for clearance from time to time which led to the saying in our house, 'If only Garter could be more elastic'. Year in, year out, the secrecy prevailed. Christopher supposed he was now designing the coins but he did not know. At one point, when answering the telephone to Alan Dowling, I said in desperation, 'Has Christopher won or not?'.

    He paused for a moment. 'You have grounds for great optimism but don't run up a flag. Nothing is certain until the coins are finished and have received Royal Assent'. This exchange sealed our affectionate later enjoyment of Sir Humphrey in the programme Yes Minister.

    1. As it happened, the UK's transition took effect on my 8th birthday. I remember getting a presentational pack of our first decimal coinage as a birthday present.

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