Posts Tagged ‘Glasgow’

The time I took up running

A ha! The time I took up running. Me. Running.

I was young and foolish, can I blame it on that? I was 19 years old and living in halls at Glasgow University. One of my flatmates was a girl called Jess. She was my favourite flatmate because she was cool and sporty.

I think I must have talked about wanting to take up running in the way that I once raved on about wanting to do a bungee jump. The idea of being a calm and composed Baywatch-esque runner appealed to me because it was so the opposite to me.

On my birthday, Jess said that, for my present, she was going to teach me how to run. And she did.

We went running two or three times a week, usually in the morning before lectures, and we ran around the park behind our halls of residence, her looking effortless and natural, me panting and puffing along and hoping I didn’t have a heart attack.

A few times she couldn’t come so I went alone and tried to convince myself that soon I’d stop thinking about how much my little body was trying to rebel and be able to just enjoy it. I don’t think I ever did get to that stage. I just plodded along, in my ungainly little way. At the end, when I was within sight of my front door, I’d try to sprint but there was nothing left. I was exhausted. If I did manage any increase in speed, it was so desperate and uncoordinated that I resembled a charging baby elephant and prayed that no-one was watching.

My body was eternally grateful when I stopped chasing this silly pipe dream and went back to walking and sitting down.

A few times since (on crazy days) I’ve thought about going for a run. But more often than not, I see people out running and I just think, “What on earth are you doing? You could be reading a good book and drinking some tea.”

Also, I’ve heard that running makes your face saggy because of the continuous up and down motion, which makes the skin on your face all loose. Looks like I had a lucky escape really.

Bird Droppings

It’s over to my guest blogger today for some fascinating facts on this subject:


Today I thought I would take a break from the more serious subjects I’ve covered recently. The topic today is bird droppings (or more commonly pooh). Unsightly mess? Spoils public buildings & many other structures – definitely. But how much do you know about it? Will you even carry on reading this because you think it’s boring and uninteresting. Tell you what – I thought that before I started thinking about it. It almost became something “to get excited about” as LLM might say.
I wonder if you’ve ever been hit by bird droppings from the sky as you walked along outside? I have. I was fortunate though, it landed on my shoulder (and therefore thankfully missed my head although it did get some small splashes) and left me with a stained shirt for the rest of the day. Yes, I was on my way to work walking from the train station. Oh well, it gave people in the office a good laugh when I arrived with the mess down the front. (“I see you had some visitors drop in on way to work this morning”, and other such witty remarks.)
So what could be interesting about bird muck? Well, in case you’re struggling, one of our national newspapers came to the rescue recently. It published a survey analysing droppings found on cars in different cities in the UK. It seems to suggest that it’s not just where you park your car that affects whether it gets muck on it but that it is related to the colour of your car. Is there a colour, for instance, which does or doesn’t seem to get hit as much as others? Yes there is but it’s not as simple as that. Before we go any further let’s look at the published table below:

Red – 18 per cent
Blue – 14 per cent
Black – 11 per cent
White – 7 per cent
Grey/Silver- 3 per cent
Green – 1 per cent

This is quite interesting as you can see that nearly 1 in 5 cars that are hit are coloured red. Hmm.. perhaps you won’t buy a red car next time. Before you get too carried away by this revelation just look at those figures again. Now you don’t have to be a maths whizz to see that the figures don’t add up to anywhere near 100%. I make the total 54% (and this is the full table as appeared in the newspaper). (You might have to add 7% if the white/grey means two colours tied on that figure but it doesn’t say.) What happened to the other 46% of the sample? Were they all colours different to the ones specified? If so why not include an “other colours” category? LLM covered “getting excited” about stuff but at this point I was doing “getting angry” (at the quality of this presentation). Why publish such a rubbish table which appears to show only just over half of the number surveyed? Is the paper really that bad at its adding up? (Is this turning into a “Chat 2” blast?)
Ok so let’s look at some more of the detail behind table. They looked at 1,140 cars across five cities: Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. Sounds like a fair spread, north, middle & south, but wait a minute, think about this – why no London investigation? (London is noted for its population of pigeons in certain areas so should have been a good area to get a lot of test results.) Seems like a fair number of vehicles but did you know, as of the most recent figures, there are 31 million cars in the UK (and 134 million in the USA). Now take the sample size and divide it by the total number of cars (& times by 100) to get a percentage – any guesses? I’ll tell you it’s 1,140/31,00,000 = 0.00367% – that is 1/272 of 1%! Just take a moment to think about that – not half of 1%, not a quarter of 1%, not even one 100th of 1% or one 200th of 1% but 1/272 of 1%! How small is that? Now come on, since when did a fraction of 1% as small as that represent a big enough sample to make inferences about cars across the whole country. And yet, there in a national newspaper, the survey is given some column inches with no ref to how small the sample is when compared to the total number of cars on the road.
So far, amongst other things, we have: an apparently incomplete table that doesn’t add up to anywhere near 100%; we have a sample size so small that it makes it hard to deduce meaningful data; and we don’t know why the capital of the country has been excluded from the survey.
Steam is (metaphorically) beginning to come out of the ears at this point but bear with me there’s more.

The next bits are what I would call basic. Think about it – we are not told anything about the locations surveyed. Were the car parks on open ground? Were the cars just parked in streets? Were there overhanging branches or even road or rail bridges which often have metal support girders underneath providing many ideal perches for pigeons? (The car park at my own place of work actually has a dual carriageway going over it so has two bridges & therefore lots of girders & therefore lots of pigeons.)
Remember too that the research did not consider the type of birds doing the fouling of the vehicles. (They actually spelt it “fowling” at one point in the article – haha.) Whilst they could not possibly see all the birds doing the deeds it is possible that they surveyed at a place in a city where there is a resident population of a particular type of bird –pigeons, sea-gulls or starlings for example. Btw, did you know that pigeon pooh is more damaging than say seagull pooh? I’m sure you want to know why so I’ll tell you – it’s because pigeons eat seeds and therefore produce grainier pooh and it’s that which causes more blemishes on your car’s paintwork. However what about all those smaller size birds: sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, finches, thrushes etc?
The article also gives you the useful info, from car polish experts Autoglym, that car paint damage is NOT caused by the acid or alkali in the pooh which I always thought – so I did learn something useful from reading it. I won’t bore you with the technical explanation – if you’re really interested you can look it up.
Did you know that insurers estimated that the annual cost of damage to paintwork from bird droppings is about £57 million? Best advice? – just clean it off as soon as possible. Well I’d never have thought of that!
In the car park where I work two people have yellow cars. Why is yellow not in the survey table? Does this mean it’s the safest colour to buy because the survey did not spot one yellow car with bird muck?
Another stat which might have been helpful is the colour distribution of cars on the road. Supposing, for instance, that 18% of all cars on the road are red, it would be no surprise that 18% of the bird muck survey were found to be red cars would it? This again is basic stuff which any normal person would ask. It’s like saying that a survey found that the average age of people going into a particular building was say 68 and you say why so high? Why were there not more younger people going in? Ah well, you see, it’s a day care centre for pensioners. Bigger picture springs to mind here!
It takes about 3 seconds to research colours of cars sold. Here’s the table of colours of cars sold (so not the actual total in the country, but does include yellow) for most of 2010:

1: black Cars sold: 465,249 Percentage share: 24.7
2: silver Cars sold: 402,537 Percentage share: 21.4
3: blue Cars sold: 310,331 Percentage share: 16.5
4: grey Cars sold: 270,863 Percentage share: 14.4
5: red Cars sold: 192,335 Percentage share: 10.2
6: white Cars sold: 188,463 Percentage share: 10
7: green Cars sold: 20,735 Percentage share: 1.1
8: beige Cars sold: 17,237 Percentage share: 0.9
9: yellow Cars sold: 7,621 Percentage share: 0.4
10: brown Cars sold: 6,967 Percentage share: 0.4

These figures do come to 100%. Again simple bit of research – look at the top 3 in the bird dropping sample (red, blue, black) and add up the percentage figures. It comes to 43%. Now look in the table for 2010 sales and add up the percentages for the same 3 colours – it’s 51%. Not that far apart I’d say.

Inference – the more cars there are of a certain colour the more likely they are to get hit! It’s not rocket science but it doesn’t make headlines and you know as well as I do that “headlines” sell papers.
Another newspaper gave the following table apparently for most popular car colours IN THE WORLD! And here it is:
1. Silver – 26 percent
2. Black/Black Effect – 24 percent
3. White/White Pearl and Grey – 16 percent each (tie)
5. Red – 6 percent
6. Blue – 5 percent
7. Brown/Beige – 3 percent
8. Green – 2 percent
9. Yellow/Gold – 1 percent
10. Others – <1 percent
We see that this table also does add up to 100% (you do have to add 16% to the 84% total because two colours were tied in third place).
Black, red, blue comes to 35%. Not that far off 43% really.
Now, apart from the fact that I was “getting angry” about this terribly presented (bird droppings) survey, I was amazed to note what I had come to believe over many years was actually being confirmed. I have on a number of occasions come to my car to find it has droppings on and yet the one next to it has none. When it first happens you don’t notice anything special but when it keeps on happening you begin to wonder: am I parking under a bird’s nest? Is there a tree branch over the parking place? Did I definitely remove the “Pooh here” notice from the roof of my car? Ooh… wait a minute was the notice invisible? – remember “Invisible Art” from 4.7.12. Better check that.

Ok so now you know the facts but will it influence the colour of car you next buy. Will you rush to the research paper and get the info and then decide to buy a GREEN car or even SILVER?
And you thought bird pooh was not that interesting. (Maybe you still do after reading Mr Angry’s rant.) What about readers of this blog sending in the colour of their car and whether it gets “pooped on” on a regular basis.

Last word has to go to the Ornithology experts who were quoted in the article:

“The British Trust for Ornithology is more circumspect on the role of colour in the ‘drop zone’ for birds.

A spokesman said: ‘We do know that birds can be attracted to certain colours during display but droppings on cars are probably more to do with where you park; if you park where birds roost then you are going to get more droppings on your vehicle.’”

Incredible! Would you have thought of that? – and they didn’t even do a survey to back their conclusion up.


Freedom internet

The next installment of our guest blogger’s thought-provoking series on freedom….

After Freedom RulesFreedom MusicFreedom Art & Freedom Literature we now come to Part 5 which I’m calling Freedom Internet. As you probably guessed I’ve been covering elements of what most people call popular “culture” (music, art, literature). I think we have to accept that the internet has now become an element of culture in its impact and coverage. Not only is it an element of the culture here in our society but it also affects most cultures in societies across the world. Wikipedia has become the ubiquitous reference tool despite not having the reliability of the printed encyclopaedia. In the past, print had to be far more rigorous in what it published but today’s Wiki sites have only to say: “No ref” or “Citation needed” to indemnify themselves against claims of being conduits of false, confidential or potentially malicious info. And here lies a far bigger issue – unsubstantiated info appears alongside verified stuff with the result that people end up not being able to tell the difference.

The first thing to notice is that “the internet” or, as its altruistic creator Tim Berners-Lee called it, the World Wide Web, does not exist as a separate entity or area like which previous freedom subjects did. Remember his original idea was simply to enable scientists to share info & research without having to resort to paper, telecoms (telex, fax, at the time) & postal connections. There is no unique place called the internet. It exists only on computer chips, in telephone lines and on many different servers across the world. It is actually an open network of linked servers with various files which can be shared. It’s a bit like a library, not of books but of other libraries all across the world.

From that point of view what you see as “on the internet” may not be what someone else sees: take China, North Korea & other nations who severely restrict the access of their inhabitants to it. Their “internet” is not the same as mine or yours. One server owner may agree to content which others may not. These server owners then become the arbiters of what will or will not be released into the public domain. Quite simply they have now become the ones who, to put it mildly, “push the boundaries”. More bluntly they have become the source of much of today’s morality and the setters of standards apparently deemed acceptable. How so? Well think of it this way – to whom are they answerable? There is no ruling body for “the internet”, no high council (or committee) who decide the rightness or wrongness of putting a particular site up for public viewing. It is completely in their hands. The internet is an open network with no controls – except the consciences of the server providers! Comments made in print, film or artistic endeavour are more rigorously scrutinised because of the potential for libel claims. Where the internet is concerned, people can just “hide” behind made up names and identities.

The potential for criminal activity is greatly increased. I don’t suppose there are many of us who have not received an email telling us that upwards of $100,000,000 is lying in a bank account somewhere in Nigeria and that we are the only ones who can unlock this vast store of money. Why would you believe a totally anonymous stranger would want to give you a huge chunk of money? Most don’t; email deleted, move on, no worries. But, and it’s a big but some DID believe it and sent their bank details. Their accounts were emptied, no-one was caught; they suffered the complete embarrassment of being taken in by the scammers. Then there are the internet sellers who simply take the money and no product arrives or, if they’re buying, receive the product and stop the payment. And so it goes on. Starting up a proper trading company takes a lot more effort than sitting in front of a keyboard and conning people. Are we surprised so much of it goes on?

Then there are the “Munchausen Syndromers”. The internet has many forums for people with various illnesses and disorders. It’s an ideal breeding ground for attention seekers. A recent UK radio prog discussed the issue and interviewed people who had gone onto cancer sufferers’ web forums pretending to have cancer and how they were managing day-to-day. Not only was their condition fictitious but they often invented other family members: girlfriends, boyfriends, children to make their situation seem believable. (I think most people will agree that it’s one thing to pretend to like sport on a sport website forum but quite another to pretend to have a terminal disease.) People were befriended and some completely taken in by the person who was not ill at all just pretending they were. (LLM’s “Chat” blog from yesterday referred to it in para 3 without actually naming it.) There is a further condition known as Munchausen by proxy but we don’t have space to go into that one here. In the internet world Munchausen’s Syndrome has become known as MBI (Munchausen by Internet). Those duped by such people are (rightly) devastated to learn that they have been conned, sometimes out of money they offered to help a situation which really didn’t exist. How can the forums’ hosts check out everyone who joins them? They rely on the trust and truthfulness of those who join to give the site the credibility so that people can feel secure revealing details, often very personal, of their condition and their feelings about it.

In real life, meeting someone talking like this you would pick up a number of signals from their body language, facial expressions and the like. On the internet all these human interface reactions are not on show. You are, or you become, what you type because no-one can see you. Only the perceptive or the ones who’ve been through a similar experience and pick up on stuff that doesn’t ring true will see through the lies. That incidentally is how a number of these cancer phoneys were found out. Very soon after they take their details down, disappear and some admitted they just create a new identity and begin the whole process again.

Recent surveys in the UK highlighted the age at which kids admitted they had first viewed pornographic material on the internet. Some admitted seeing it between 10-12 years old and from that I think we could assume that they had done so at a younger age but were wary of confessing to that so they said an age that to them seemed acceptable. Is a button asking them to confirm their age going to deter them?

Further areas of intimidation or “cyber bullying” as it’s called have resulted in a number of suicides over the past few years here in the UK and I suspect in other countries as well. How can it happen? Simply because if one person wants to call another person names or say things about them which are untrue they can. Until a complaint is made any comment is allowed, it seems. Even then the damage can be done and taking the comment down does not reverse the effect on the person hurt.

Without an overall arbiter of web content we should not be surprised that things have gone rapidly downhill in the moral sphere as well as the practical. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle; closing the barn door will be no good, the horse has clearly bolted and we’re not going to catch it. But how many really want to catch it?

Imagine standing at a bus stop and a bus comes along but it has no destination on the front. Would you get on or would you ask the driver where it is going? Even if it’s going the right way would you like it if the route was decided by the passengers shouting out where they want it to go next and not by the bus company. If I travel from say Glasgow to London I will see signs along the way telling me, as I get nearer, that London is 400, 300, 200 and so on miles away. It’s there on a blue metal road sign at the side of the motorway. I know where I’m going and I know how far it is. As you’re reading this you’re obviously on the “internet bus” and probably got on some years ago. Are you just on to enjoy the ride? A Magical Mystery Tour? Perhaps serendipity? Or do you worry about where the bus is going? Will you get off if the bus starts going down a road you don’t like and get on one that doesn’t go that way? A different service provider for example.

The internet has done so much good in many different areas and undoubtedly is greatly beneficial in the realm of study & research, commerce, communications for families and so on. That is to be welcomed and applauded. However we will reap what we sow and sadly we’re seeing a lot of negatives. Whilst I can only raise a few pointers to the current situation I hope you can see that unless controls are introduced the whole thing will continue down the road of decline. Freedom on the internet has had very serious consequences for us all. In a way it is breaking down societal norms and the differences between societies because those with unrestricted access can see what others are doing or how they are behaving. They then press their governments for change and, if successful, their society and culture changes. But to what? – To be more like ours? Why should ours be better than theirs?

Perhaps I can finish with some crucial questions: “Where do you think we as individuals and society in general are heading in this very difficult area? Are we, in reality, just being led by the internet? Can you see any signs? Is freedom helping us get there?”

Now moment of truth! If you look in a real mirror you see what you really look like. If you could look into an “internet mirror” what would you see?

Are you who you are or are you what you type?