Archive for July 2008

What's in a Name?

A nine-year-old girl whose parents named her Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii was put into court guardianship in New Zealand so that her name could be changed.

In his written ruling [family court judge Rob Murfitt] said names such as Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Fish and Chips, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit were prohibited by registration officials. Others that were permitted included twins called Benson and Hedges, other children called Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter and, the judge added, “tragically, Violence”. Another mother tried to use text language for her child’s name, he said.

From The Guardian. And I thought that the British can lack class when choosing names for their children.

There’s a certain logic behind abbreviated names such as “R8l” (Rachel) or “HiD” (Heidi): they would be easier to type into a mobile phone; could reduce the number of double-length SMS messages—resulting in cheaper phone bills; and would be much easier for a child to learn to spell. But what kind of lowest common denominator world do these parents want to live in?

Written by multinormal

July 24, 2008 at 11:09 am

Posted in Could do better

Lawful Prey

There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that man’s lawful prey.

Seen in a Philpotts attributed to John Ruskin (apparently incorrectly).

Those Victorians had a way with words, don’t you think?

Written by multinormal

July 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Words

Mirrors are Counterintuitive

Imagine you are standing in front of a bathroom mirror; how big do you think the image of your face is on the surface? And what would happen to the size of that image if you were to step steadily backward, away from the glass?

People overwhelmingly give the same answers. To the first question they say, well, the outline of my face on the mirror would be pretty much the size of my face. As for the second question, that’s obvious: if I move away from the mirror, the size of my image will shrink with each step.

Both answers, it turns out, are wrong. Outline your face on a mirror, and you will find it to be exactly half the size of your real face. Step back as much as you please, and the size of that outlined oval will not change: it will remain half the size of your face (or half the size of whatever part of your body you are looking at), even as the background scene reflected in the mirror steadily changes. Importantly, this half-size rule does not apply to the image of someone else moving about the room. If you sit still by the mirror, and a friend approaches or moves away, the size of the person’s image in the mirror will grow or shrink as our innate sense says it should.

From the New York Times.

It’s been years since I studied the physics of reflection—I was never much of a physicist anyway—and when I have time it would be fun to puzzle this one out, but a quick test shows that the article is likely to be correct about both phenomena.

It’s fascinating that we can can so fundamentally misunderstand everyday objects like mirrors. Another way of thinking about this would be to say that it is fascinating that, hundreds of years after the discovery of mirrors and the physical and mathematical properties behind them, our education system is so poor that the vast majority of people—myself included—aren’t sufficiently familiar with the relevant science to be able to answer simple questions like these.

Written by multinormal

July 22, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Science

Of Rich Countries, UK Children Rank Poorly in Well-being

Young people in Britain … regularly score at the bottom of charts that measure relative deprivation, poverty, educational attainment, health and general well-being in Europe.

From a New York Times article on knife crime in the UK.

Pretty damning, but sadly unsurprising.

Out of 21 rich countries studied by UNICEF in 2007, the UK was ranked worst for family and peer relationships (reflecting factors such as family structure, time spent with family members and the quality of their friendships), and behaviours and risks (reflecting factors such as whether children eat breakfast, are physically active, use legal and/or illegal drugs, and are involved in violence). British children were also in the bottom third of the countries for material, subjective and educational well-being.

Written by multinormal

July 17, 2008 at 11:17 am

Posted in Could do better

CPW's Pathetic Apple Store-like iPhone Display

Presumably mauled somewhat on release day, but still. It’s kind of sad that the Carphone Warehouse think they can just put a real wood display surface out and instantly have a mini Apple Store in the corner.

Crummy customer service, too.

Written by multinormal

July 16, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Could do better

Yellow Pages are now Cybersquatting

I just Googled for my dentist; they initially appeared to have a website, but when I visited the site I found that the Yellow Pages had bought the domain and were cybersquatting.

Along with the BT Phone Book, The Yellow Pages took pride of place next to the phone when I was a child. Instead of staying abreast of technological changes and aggressively innovating—and becoming what Google is today, say—they seem to have tried to hold on to their dead tree monopoly and have been reduced to these bottom-feeding, scummy practices.

Written by multinormal

July 16, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Could do better

Fours Shortage at NYC Pumps

With regular gas in New York City at a near-record $4.40 a gallon, station managers are rummaging through their storage closets in search of extra 4s to display on their pumps. Many are coming up short.

From the New York Times. For reference, $4.40 per gallon is about £0.58 per litre; according to, the average price of a litre of unleaded petrol in Manchester, UK is currently £1.19.

Interestingly, the size and appearance of the digits used to display the price of gasoline in NYC is regulated by law.

Written by multinormal

July 15, 2008 at 10:29 am

Posted in Interesting