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February 08, 2007

Student Journalism

I enjoy reading student newspapers. Not only is there no real news in Cambridge worth writing about, but most of the writing is hilariously bad and over the top. I've seen plenty of apologies for erroneous and unbalanced reporting - most notably for an entire front-page spread in Varsity more recently. Most of the writing is, quite literally, intellectual masturbation; I am fairly sure there must be a competition to see which "journalist" can use the longest words in their articles.

Yet at the same time as deliberately obfuscating their meaning by hiding behind verbosity (look, I'm doing it too), they completely misjudge their audience. Yes you can use long words, but you've over-simplified most of the issues so much that they don't make sense anymore.

I'm afraid that was a bit of a rant, but here's a kernel of evidence to back it up. We turn to Varsity again, January 26th issue, page 6.


Binge drinking endemic in student culture

This is written by Rebecca Lester, "Investigations Editor," who frankly doesn't seem to be able to investigate her way out of a paper bag. I hadn't realised Cambridge offered degrees in "stating the bleeding obvious."

Here's the best bit, right there in the first paragraph:

The average Cambridge student consumes 28.4 alcohol units a week, a CUSU/Varsity survey revealed last week. This equates to nine units a night, far exceeding the recommended daily allowance of two units a day for women and four for men.

Now last time I looked, there were seven days in a week. So 28.4 units per week works out at something more like 4.06 units a day. This seems a little closer to their recommended daily allowance. Perhaps everyone's drinking exactly the right amount!

OK, I'm not that naive. But there is certainly something odd going on, their figures don't make sense. Additional statistical gems include:

177 - bottles of vodka drunk by the average student over course of Cambridge career

Hmm, I've probably had 1 or 2, but 177 sounds like complete and utter tripe. I know several people who don't like vodka at all. Does that mean some people are drinking 354 bottles? I suspect that 177 is the number you'd get if you totalled up the average student's drinking and expressed it in "bottles of vodka" units. Although they don't say how big the bottles are so it's quite hard to check.

31% of students have injured themselves while drunk

Now I've certainly injured myself while drunk. I've even come back with the odd cut and graze. I've also injured myself while sober. I suspect 100% of students have done the same. I admit I'm probably nit-picking on this point, but the statistic in itself is meaningless. It'd be far more interesting to know how the rate of injuries varies with sobriety. Perhaps a study for our beer-goggles scientists?

The most amusing thing about this article, however, is it's formulaic nature. There's nothing really very new here. We know that students drink a little more than is healthy. They always have - Byron et al. used to drink themselves silly on wine. I'm really not convinced that this subject is worth a two-page "investigation." It's as if our "investigations editor" sat down for three minutes brainstorming and decided to write about the first thing that came into her head.

The article is ringed by an advertisement for Jesus College's May Ball. Ah, the great Cambridge May Ball, what more blatant excuse for a solid night of drinking? That's what a May Ball is for. Ethical reporting indeed - if they really cared about student drinking they wouldn't advertise balls at all. They could have at least put the advert on another page!

Now admittedly this article is rather out of date. So what's made me write about it now? Well, it's the fact that this week's TCS has done exactly the same thing.

The dominance of alcohol in much social activity is hard to ignore.

Well, quite. But I don't care, probably since I'm drunk at the time.

My Software Needs

Now I've finally installed a release copy of an operating system, I have to go through the process of installing applications all over again. Here's a few thoughts on how my software needs have changed.

In the olden days one of the first things on a new computer would have been Winzip. This application allows you to collect and compress files using the popular zip format. I haven't installed Winzip for a while now, though.

The first thing that's changed is that there's no longer nearly as much need to compress data. There's piles of space on my hard drive. If I want to transfer a big file I burn it onto a CD. The internet is now plenty fast enough to transfer most files in an uncompressed form.

Not only that, but nowadays I've no need of specialist software to unzip downloaded files. Windows will do it for me - and has done since Windows XP (I think - it may be earlier). I'm afraid it means I no longer need Winzip.

Compression isn't dead, however. These days I make far more use of free software. This often comes in a compressed format, for example in RAR form or as a Tarball.

Acrobat Reader has stayed - and is even more useful. I now save my own documents in PDF format to transfer them around. Office 2007 lets me save directly into PDF, whereas before I had used a special printer driver.

The Internet has taken a larger part in my life as well. I transfer lots of data around via FTP and other techniques, using FileZilla. I first installed this only a year or so ago, but now find it indispensible. Putty comes in useful as a Telnet client. The more things I register for online, the more passwords I have. PINs lets me keep track of them all.

Perhaps the most obvious change is in the type of software I use. Now vast amounts come free from open-source developers as opposed to faceless corporations. One day I might even find enough time to improve them or make my own.

February 07, 2007

More tripe in the name of science

According to the Beeb:

Scientists believe they have worked out a formula to calculate how "beer goggles" affect a drinker's vision.

The drink-fuelled phenomenon is said to transform supposedly "ugly" people into beauties - until the morning after.

There's even an equation given on the site to calculate your "beer goggles effect."

A formula rating of less than one means no effect. Between one and 50 the person you would normally find unattractive appears less "visually offensive".

Non-appealing people become suddenly attractive between 51 and 100. At more than 100, someone not considered attractive looks like a super model.

Now I think that this sounds like utter tripe. So why on earth are researchers at Manchester University wasting time and energy on this sort of rubbish?

The research was commissioned by eyecare firm Bausch & Lomb PureVision.

Aha, all becomes clear.

February 05, 2007

Valentine's Day - Paper Rose Links

Some links again, I'm afraid.

Instructions to fold the standard sort of paper rose are available here and here. It's fairly pretty and doesn't look impossible to make (admittedly I've not tried it yet due to lack of paper).

Scroll right to the bottom of this page and you'll see that there are several different roses available. Those interested in the Kawasaki Rose can find a modified version with a stem here.

Finally there's a totally different rose at this site.

February 02, 2007

The downside to being a beta tester...

Somewhat infuriatingly my Beta version of MS Office 2007 has died today. It expires on 1st February and refuses to do anything anymore. I'm allowed to look at my documents but not edit them.

Oh well, £100 spent at Amazon then...