Category Archives: Information

Imperial College Union Votes to Rename Bars: #phase3

The Union is currently in the midst of a plan known as Phase 3 to modernise the Union’s bar and nightclub areas in place of the existing dBs and da Vinci’s to make them, y’know, actually decent places to have a night out. I will concede that da Vinci’s is alright, but dB’s is sorely in need of a refurbishment.

Anyways, the Union recently ran a competition to rename these new bars as part of the Phase 3 development, and they’ve just released the final shortlist of names, along with the opportunity to vote which names will be adopted for the new nightclub and bar.

Shortlist for the nightclub:

  • Iris
  • Lab
  • Metric
  • Neighbourhood
  • Theory

Shortlist for the bar:

  • Consort
  • Crown & Shield
  • Library
  • Quad

Now, I will be the first to admit that I did not submit any possible names; mostly this is because I’m ludicrously terrible at naming things. If I ever have children they’re probably going to be named by pasting pages from a baby name book onto a wall, then chucking darts until one strikes a name I like the sound of.

However, somebody at the Union seriously screwed up when they picked this shortlist. Some of the names are just plain terrible and others have the rather more significant problem that the collide with names of places already on campus; the most egregious example here is “Library”, which will have the rather unfortunate effect of making the sentences “Let’s meet at the Library” or “Let’s eat at the Library” ambiguous. I cannot possibly fathom how the brief enjoyment of a moment of irony derived from drinking in a bar called the Library could possibly outweigh the continuing irritation this could well generate for years and years.

“Quad” is broken for the same reason, although to a lesser extent. “Crown & Shield”, presumably drawn from the crown logo of the RCSU and the shield of the CGCU, is basically a massive fuck-you to the miners and the medics, the latter of which needs no further alienation from the rest of IC; it also makes it sound like a pub, which the new bar will not be, the pub niche is filled very well by the Union Bar.

The only half-decent name there is “Consort”, presumably drawn from the Prince Consort Road on which the Union sits, which possesses the fairly unique quality amongst the rest of actually sounding like a bar as well as being vaguely appropriate.

The names for the nightclub are mostly just plain awful. “Lab” is another unfortunate collision. The only decent one there is “Metric”, as you can tell by it being the runaway leader in the polling up to this point.

Speaking of the polling, it is rather severely flawed by the lack of an option to vote RON (re-open nominations) , something which is usually a central part of Union democracy. One wonders if President Ashley Brown‘s experience fighting the battle for election against RON left him with a grudge.

I jest, I jest. He’s been very good in engaging with the dialogue about this on Twitter, and that’s pretty damn admirable.

Anyway, I would suggest scrapping this poll altogether and starting a new one from scratch before this one is allowed to run on too long. Most people I’ve spoken to about these names share my opinion that they’re terrible. All I can say is, I don’t want to see this become a presidential election issue when the presidential candidates publish their election manifestos for next year. I can’t imagine anything quite as ignominious for the current president as to have his successor immediately strike down the voted-for Phase 3 names chosen under his stewardship.

Anyway, as the poll probably isn’t going to be called off, go here and vote for the least bad options. Thank you.

Of the Sun and Streetlights

Did you know that we can measure the magnetic field on the surface of the Sun?

That is something I find absolutely marvellous, that we can measure magnetism on something over 92 million miles away from here, on a surface that’s over 5000 degrees celsius. It’s one hell of a trick, for sure.

It’s accomplished by using a phenomenon called the Zeeman effect, and just a pinch of quantum mechanics. Electrons orbiting the nucleus are only allowed in a set of distinct energy levels, so they can only absorb energy to jump from one level to another. Photons of light have only a certain energy related to their wavelength (or colour); this means that to jump from one given energy level to another, only a very specific colour of light will do.

This means that when certain colours of light hit that atom, they’ll be absorbed and cause electrons to jump into higher energy levels. This causes certain colours of light to be missing when you look at a rainbow (or spectrum) of the light. You can calculate where these lines would be from quantum mechanics. This is how we know what the Sun is made from, for instance.

Now, when you add a magnetic field to the mix, things get a little more interesting. The magnetic field affects the orbit of the electrons, and splits one energy level into many more. This means that there are now more ways for electrons to jump from one level to another, so your neat little spectral absorbtion line will split into many lines: this is the Zeeman effect. You can tell from how much the line has split what the magnetic field strength is.

All these results can be calculated from quantum mechanics, and the Zeeman effect works just as well here on the ground as it does in the Sun. It’s brilliant!

Extra: Spectral lines work in reverse, too. Electrons in higher energy levels in an atom can only lose energy and go into a lower level by emitting a photon of a precise colour. Streetlights, for instance, work by exciting electrons in sodium, which then emit a photon of a very particular orange colour as they drop down into a lower level. This means that streetlights are almost exactly monochromatic (i.e. a single colour).

Back On The Radar

It’s scary how Twitter has really become my primary way of squirting infomation out into the world. Sadly, it usually means that information is squirted out in ephemeral chunks of 140 characters, which is hardly ideal.

Anyways, stuff what I’ve been doing.

We did indeed figure out somewhere new to live, a flat near Acton Town tube station with a living room. It’s pretty much the furthest out I’ve lived so far, but the good tube links makes it not exactly onerous to zip into central London.

I’ve somehow filled time with a bunch of activities: finished up the new Fencing Club website which I encourage you to visit and join because it’s awesome, went go-karting (which I guess Dickie won? I forget), signed up for Spotify Premium so that I can use the iPhone app, went to see Coldplay, Jay-Z and Girls Aloud at Wembley, met friends for drinks (many times), moved down to London, sorted out phone and Internet, finished my Literature Review, bought my own fencing gear, fenced in a proper competition against another university, etc.

It’s weird because it’s the like the second week of term and I already feel sort of rushed. Haven’t quite gotten around to properly tidying my clothes away, so I’m still sort of living out of a suitcase. If I don’t do it soon entropy is just going to take over.

Reading:

Started a whole bunch of things, not sure when I’ll finish them. Half-way through Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, started on Naomi Klein’s No Logo, a chilling account of the power of brands, and I’m really getting into the Sandman graphic novels, written by Neil Gaiman. They’re dark and twisted, wrapping themes and motifs around events; although as one of the writers of Lost puts it, “when we run out of ideas and do the same things over and over, it’s a motif”. I’m mostly reading it on the tube, but it’s bloody hard to resist the urge to just go read it now.

Anyways, see you later all.

Housing

Sometimes you just have to vent, and it really feels like that time is now.

A few weeks ago, we generally thought we were sorted. We had a 7-bedroom house in Parson’s Green all lined up, deposit down, move-in date arranged, just had to sort out what rooms are for who, how much everyone is going to pay in rent, etc.

Then our leasing agent gets in touch to say that landlord is pulling the house off the rental market, and they’re refunding our deposit and fees.

This means we now have to find a new place to live. In a month. Which means ringing round agents trying to find if there are any suitable places.

One of my housemates has helped by deciding he’s going to live at home meaning we only have to find a 6-bedroom place, but even that is close to impossible now, so we might well have to settle for two 3-bedroom places, which means figuring out how we’re going to split our little group into two.

It’s a horribly emotionally draining experience. I was so looking forward to moving in to our new house, and now I just feel downcast as I think about how we’re going to sort this all out. No doubt too I’m going to have to make trips down to London to see places, and the whole thing just completely sucks.

Especially because people went and left the country on holiday and work because they thought that everything was fine and we were all ready.

I’m so angry at the landlord it’s just beyond belief. I’m angry that nobody thought it might be wise to give us more warning that the place might be being sold and not rented so we could have kept our options open. I’m angry that this kind of shitty behaviour is apparently legal.

Now, I have to go to bed so I can be up early to ring round landlords and estate agents to see if any of them have anything left.

Why Ubuntu / Linux isn’t Really Ready for Consumers… Yet.

Update: Hey Reddit! This post has much nastier things to say about Ubuntu than the one below, so I think you’ll like it more. No, I’m not a Microsoft astroturfer. Wish I was though, I wouldn’t mind the money. Honestly, I want to like Ubuntu / Linux in general. This is why I tried Ubuntu again after it sucking the first time, and why I bought an Eee PC running a Xandros variant without even considering putting XP on it. But you guys don’t make it easy.

As anyone who follows my Twitter feed will know, I’ve recently been trying to install Ubuntu on my desktop.

On the whole it’s not that painful, the LiveCD lets you get a feel for the system, the installation is mostly painless even if you want to dual-boot etc, the interface is clean and easy to use, almost everything you’d ever want is already installed and almost anything else is available from the package manager. It’s great when it works. Really great.

The trouble is, often it doesn’t. For example the wireless card on this machine seems to have issues. Sometimes it won’t connect to a wireless network, sometimes it totally hangs the machine. The solution to this seems to be to dive in head-first into config files and the command-line, rip out the provided open source driver, and whack in a layer that will let me use a Windows driver.

My first attempt to do this just disabled wireless on the machine entirely, which wasn’t a forward step. I was honestly quite lucky to get it back to where I started from.

Software support can also sometimes be iffy. Stuff that should be simple like Adobe Air seemingly requires a trip through the terminal to convince to work. Another rather significant downside is that a lot of applications you’re used to using don’t have versions for Linux. You can use WINE to get Windows applications working, mostly, but it’s not an ideal state of affairs. And you can forget about playing games; support is even more dire than Mac gaming. That is unless you once again want to press WINE into service; frankly though it feels slightly iffy running Spotify, let alone TF2.

So my point here is three-fold:

  1. Hardware support is patchy.
  2. Proprietary software can be hard to get working / unavailable.
  3. If something goes wrong, it requires a lot of scary stuff (command-line, etc.) to fix.

See, I’m sure that if I had a working machine and a few months I’d start to learn the Linux-fu necessary to deal with this, but it’s just a pain if something as essential as Wi-Fi doesn’t just work, or if you can’t play your favourite games.

They’ve got a long way to go with hardware support, and it’s going to be an uphill battle every step of the way. There’s a lot of hardware manufacturers who aren’t going to provide Linux drivers, and there’s a dogmatic craziness in the Linux world that THOU SHALT NOT distribute non-free drivers with your distribution, which means that nobody just provides Windows drivers, or makes it easy to get Windows drivers. It’s totally daft, and it’s not helped by nutjobs like Richard Stallman. I guess you can put me into the camp who doesn’t like the GPL. Give me the BSD license any day.

The software difficulties are as equally hard to overcome; you’d have to deal with the horrible Balkanisation of the Linux distros for one thing so that people would have something simple to compile binaries against. Idealism isn’t going to get people to give away the source code to everything.

However, there’s certainly a market for Ubuntu / Linux systems where you can be sure of the hardware configuration and fix all the problems in advance. This means that something like eeebuntu works really rather well, and is supported rather better than Asus managed to support the Eee themselves. It’s a pleasure to use, and makes me see myself using my Eee a lot more in the future.

Similarly, if all the software you could ever want, literally, is encompassed by the repositories of your chosen distro, then it’s also a very comfortable experience where you can be reasonably sure that everything will just work, which is literally the ideal consumer experience.

So, if you lie within some narrow definition of “consumer” then Ubuntu is going to be perfect for you. If you lie just a little to the edges, it’s going to suck. There’s really no middle ground between “idealised consumer” and “pretty hardcore techie”. I guess that’s why they’re going to carry on working with it. If they can expand that consumer window, this could be heading somewhere.

Distributed Version Control: A Review

This post is all about stuff that’s only interesting if you’re into programming. Read at your own risk!

Next year as part of my degree I’m working with a partner to create some software that’ll simulate cold, dense plasmas (the physics kind, not the blood-is-made-from kind) and the thought of working on this by emailing files to each other and the like just seems utterly beyond tedious, so I’ve started investigating various types of source control, which will make it a lot easier to work together and keep in sync without getting rapidly into a horrible mess.

Continue reading Distributed Version Control: A Review

Hellenic Holidaying

I’m a sucker for alliteration.

I just came back from a week-long trip to Greece, and all in all it was pretty good fun.

View of the Acropolis

The week began with three days in Athens. This was something I really wanted to see because I studied A-Level Classical Civilisations, one module of which was Athenian Democracy, taught by the fantastic Mr Middleton. There’s just something about having a really inspiring teacher that really gets you genuinely interested in the material; those lessons still stick in my mind. So for me the experience of standing on the Areopagus, or seeing the Parthenon built by Pericles, or the Thermistoclean wall – these things were more than simple tourist sights. I knew the history, the significance. I saw the theatre where they performed Oedipus Rex and Prometheus Bound, the tragedies and the comedies; the very birthplace of thousands of years of culture, the works that inspired Shakespeare. It all meant so much to me because I understood it.

The new Acropolis museum is also quite a thing to behold, although they are awfully fond of glass floors over very large drops…

There’s an exhibition of various artefacts discovered on the Acropolis, and a brand new gallery housing the Parthenon marbles, including casts of the ones not actually physically there, mostly because they’re in the British Museum in London. It’s actually astonishing how many the BM actually does have; easily half of the total collection. The most depressing thing about the marbles is that today they’re in a very sorry state; some you can understand only from the accompanying descriptions.

We took a walk around many of the other sights, the ancient Agora (or marketplace), the historic Plaka district, and sights like the Parliament building and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We then headed down to Piraeus to take a fairly hellish overnight ferry to Rhodes. Spend a bit more and get a cabin or a seat, is all I can say. I did get some reading in, though.

Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about Rhodes, so the whole thing had no resonance with me; the Old Town is however extremely beautiful, but my knowledge of the history and iconography of the period is somewhat weaker, so I had trouble identifying the origin of most of the architecture. Heavily fortified, though, probably Byzantine or Crusader, although there are the occasional Islamic (probably Ottoman) touches like water fountains, but I mostly had to guess!

Rhodes Old Town

On Rhodes we stayed in a hotel in Faliraki, which isn’t as bad as you’d expect from its reputation. The beaches are beautiful, and the nightlife is nothing if not loud and vibrant, but we didn’t partake in much of it. Cocktails are, happily, abundant. The sea is incredibly cool and clear, and generally an all-round pleasure to swim in.

Hiring a car is certainly worth it, we did it for only a day and still got to see many of the sights around the island, including the beautiful Lindos.

DSC00806

The weather altogether was incredible, there was pretty much only five minutes in the whole week in which the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Speaking of the sun, the heat at midday was absolutely ferocious; it became almost impossible to do anything except sit in the shade and sweat, unless you had access to a pool or the sea to keep cool. Every day you think you’ve gotten used to the heat and every day feels like you’re about to melt. We really noticed it in the amount of water we were consuming just to replace what we were losing. That’s certainly what advice I’d give to anybody else going, keep out of the sun as much as possible, and keep hydrated.

Anyways, it was altogether a lovely week, and it’s certainly a part of the world I’d consider visiting again.

Pictures are available here.