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Seven prompts or five questions - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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July 24th, 2012


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08:48 pm - Seven prompts or five questions
Comment to this post, and I will list seven things I want you to talk about. They might make sense or they might be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.
Please bear in mind that it has taken me four months to reply to huskyteer's fun prompts. Alternatively, if you prefer, I'd be happy to ask five questions (in the style of the old journal interview routine that rolls around every few years) rather than to provide seven prompts; please let me know either way.

Pottermore! Will you be signing up?

Well, Meg has done, and she hasn't been particularly impressed by what the site has to offer, so signs point to "no" - and the fact that months have elapsed between question and answer without action tends to point towards no. While the principle is attractive, the content doesn't really appear to have got people talking. I hope it's not for a reason as superficial as the lousy usernames that are specified (admittedly, for entirely reasonable reasons); in truth, I get the impression that the usability of the site is far from lacking, giving a terrible effort:results ratio, and that's not a superficial reason at all. In truth it has been some time since I have been in an extended fiction-reading mood; when the mood returns, if I return to the Hogwarts universe, it's more likely to be to a fan-fiction take on things.

Are red pandas as cute as giant pandas? If not, why not?

No, though they make considerably better web browsers. (Giant panda web browser has an immense footprint and takes ages to do anything...) I'm not sure it's possible to particularly usefully intellectualise whether, or why, something is cute or not, but I've heard it suggested that giant pandas have relatively similar ratios of bodily proportions to human babies, thus giving them some degree of innate attractiveness to humans. Besides, giant pandas' cuteness comes in part from what they do, and this gives me a good excuse to link to pandas on a slide, particularly roly-poly tumble panda just before the very end. Show me a red panda doing anything like that (or, perhaps, being treated to the chance to interact in such stereotypically human-child ways) and I'll reconsider.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've said out loud to one of the cats?

Meg and I are drawing blanks on this one, sorry. Our thresholds for where are embarrassed and possibly where we should be embarrassed - if you accept the premise that anyone else has the right to set the embarrassment threshold, which in this context I'm not sure I do - are so far apart that nothing really springs to mind. Neat segue from the previous question, mind; we do treat the cats to the chance to interact in lots of stereotypically human-child ways. Xander plays lots of chase-and-fetch-the-inanimate object games (if you throw the right thing: catnip mousie, catnip ducky, or a big string bean) and both kittens will play with anything flickery, especially if it is dangled just out of reach. Ribbons are star performers here; a promotional toy for the Olympics with four ribbons handed out by Lloyds at the Torch Relay is a tremendous feline favourite.

Being a grown-up: awesome or sucky?

Obvious response: I'll let you know once I've grown up!

Boringly, let's assume the functional difference between childhood and adulthood is whether or not you are required to act as a reasonably independent economic unit, modulo the different types of state support that are available under different circumstances. The extra commitments that seem to arise from adulthood leave a lot in the negative column that the extra potential realised by the degree of economic freedom I am fortunate enough to have can't seem to match in the positive column. In theory, part of the joy of being an adult should be getting to decide how to draw the lines and which commitments to take on or not to take on. In practice, you've got to be pretty privileged to be able to get the chance to do that at all effectively. Now I recognise that I am pretty darn near the top of the privilege tree on a global scale and that it doesn't behoove me to complain that my metaphorical silver spoon is only silver-plated, but the world we live in is pushing the concept of freedom so hard to everyone when in practice it is available to very few.

Is there a car you'd love to own, or are they much of a muchness to you?

Car styling and car brands are much of a muchness to me, and I am not a sufficiently aggressive (or progressive?) driver to want to drive particularly quickly. Similarly, I can't ever see choosing a high-performance car with the intention to take it to a track day... or even a drag strip to get rid of those tricky corner things. However, there are certain characteristics that do appeal, and if I had a free choice, I'd try to shoot for cars with those. Reliability is key. Fuel economy is a close second place. While Meg and I can drive manual cars, I like automatics, even despite the fuel economy problems! Surely it's possible to have an automatic car that is set to change gears economically rather than with a focus on power. My size preferences are towards the relatively thin - I bashed and scraped our old Ford on a regular basis, though have barely had a scratch in our little Polo - but I wouldn't mind the car being reasonably long for legroom.

I really like the concept of automatic parallel parking and am delighted to see that becoming more and more frequent; a couple of years ago I think it was only available on a top-end Lexus and a top-end Skoda, but these days I've seen it on a few others and am delighted by that. The last car we hired was a Toyota Auris, I think (maybe a Yaris - as I said, I really am not big on branding!) and I was rather impressed; not only did it have Continuous Variable Transmission, so even the automatic gearbox did not clunk from gear to gear, and the hybrid function with the electric motor was really swish. On the downside, the car did have a button which when pressed told you that there was no GPS system; while a GPS system can be installed, it is apparently very expensive and arguably underpowered compared to standalone ones (let alone ones you might find on an upmarket phone these days). That's frustrating and would be a real turn-off... though it's such a daft thing by which to be turned off.

In a perfect world I would like not to have to own a car and that public transport were sufficient to enable this in practice. I'm really taken by Personal Rapid Transit. In practice, I think it's more likely that we'll just get taxis that do not require drivers, being yet one more class of job declared redundant in the search to eliminate human error and wage bills. My prejudice is - to my discredit - negative towards most taxi drivers' preconceptions of good customer service in practice, though I don't think I'd like to see them eliminated. Then again, I tend to use the self-checkouts at supermarkets for pretty much all but the fullest trolleys, even despite their frustrations.

I'm riding my bike more these days, but I'd like to find somewhere reliable that repairs bikes (because - again, to my discredit - I just do not have interest in learning to repair them myself) that doesn't make me feel lame for having a very old, very basic utility bike rather than a super-light, immensely-geared stunner.

What's your favourite weather/climate?

I like it when there's snow lying on the ground, but not enough to cause significant travel problems, because we live in an area where you know that if we're getting enough snow to lie then rural areas are going to be stuck in snowdrifts. Also if there could be some way to eliminate it without going through the nasty slushy phase then that would be a bonus. (Sublimation, perhaps?) I'd get sick of the absent change of seasons in a matter of a few weeks, but that's the cold side I'd like to err on.

The best answer to this question I ever heard was someone wishing that it could be dry during each day and wet during each night. I really like the sentiment, even as a sometime night shift worker who would get hit by this.

You're required to provide stand-up entertainment - what do you do? Jokes? Singing? Poetry recital? Magic? Or flee the room?

Off the top of my head, I could probably come up with thirty or sixty seconds' worth of puns and other silly one-liners, blatantly stolen from Tim Vine, without much if any preparation. Original material - and, specifically, original material that might stand up on its own as part of a routine rather than just being (hopefully!) appropriate in context to some other ongoing conversation - is hard, though. I fear you'll have to put me down for a strip tease, and I don't think any of us really want that...

Meg and I had a more active weekend than usual this weekend past, in part because we've long had lots of "oh, we'll do that this summer" plans and finally this has been a weekend with passable weather where I've not been at work.

On Saturday, we went to see a playing of Moonrise Kingdom at the local arthouse cinema. It's a charming '60s US period piece romanticising non-specific boy scouting in a 12-year-olds' adventure / young love story, fully deserving of the audience and critical acclaim it has received. It's essentially rather sweet, though the roses are not without some rather considerable thorns, and the film does not shy away from sharing them too.

On Sunday, we went to see the DC Presidents, a reasonably local American Football team, host their final home game of the season against the Lincolnshire Bombers. The Presidents are in their first year and so have started at the bottom of American Football in the UK, sharing infrastructure with the Durham City association football team which may inspire their name. The crowd of possibly forty or fifty were in good voice and the weather was pretty good - OK, maybe slightly cold and slightly windy, but really pretty good on the whole. Two front row seats, a couple of raffle tickets and half-time nibbles still left change from fourteen quid, so the value can't be complained about either. Unfortunately the Presidents demonstrated their inexperience; while both teams made slow but positive performance on the ground, DC didn't really have an effective defence to the Bombers' passing game, and there's definitely a vacancy for a dedicated kicker, punter or both. The Presidents kept it competitive until half-time, going in 9-14 down, but conceded 25 without reply in the second half. Lots of fun and we look forward to going back next season.

My favourite news story that I've seen recently is this one about bookmakers quoting odds on long-term and niche, or even personal, markets; the most common example comes about when parents want to bet on their child growing up to play for England, or pass their exams with perfect grades, or so forth. You might recall that I've organised a long-shot prediction game on LJ a few years ago; it was borne of a similar slow-burning interest.

I've often wondered how bookmakers set these odds in practice, and cope with potential extremely high volatility. From the other perspective, given that part of the art of being a punter is searching for maximum value from a number of different bookmakers, I've often wondered whether bookmakers would do the research on quoting your requested market without knowing for sure that you would bet on it. I'd presume you can't ask six different bookmakers to quote odds that will take some research and then only bet with the best one, but... In practice I have a gut feeling that the way they get around the volatility is by being very, very tight with the odds they offer. Now people are only going to bet on themselves if they think they're going to achieve their goal, though the existence of the betting slip may provide an extra motivation, but I have a suspicion that the bookmakers may devise what they consider to be a true set of odds for a requested unusual circumstance and divide them by three, five or even ten before quoting them to the outside world, if they don't think they're going to face competition.

One of my favourite quotes, from Guys 'n' Dolls, runs along the lines of "One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider." Surely bookmakers who are prepared to quote odds on such novelty markets end up opening themselves to becidered ears from time to time? The saying goes, "You never meet a poor bookie", but we do hear mention of bookies going out of business from time to time; for instance, it is not immediately obvious whether John McCririck's self-deprecating claims in this regard are shtick or substantiated.

Apparently there was a trend some time ago where you could catch bookmakers out once each by asking them to quote odds on whether anyone in a particular golf tournament might score a hole-in-one at any point; bookmakers apparently tended to offer substantial double-digit odds against when it's closer to an even money shot. The bookies learned quickly. I've also heard rumour that some people managed to get 50/1 against anyone solving Fermat's Last Theorem at the start of the conference at which Andrew Wiles would go on to provide his proof (technically, his proof of the the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, from which FLT follows) in a presentation with a highly unassuming title... but, again, the bookies smelled rats quickly and didn't lose too much. There must be plenty of other cases where punters pulled the wool over the eyes of the bookies, but I haven't yet found them. (The Political Betting blog is worth following for tales of how its authors manage to move the markets on a regular basis, whether their bets ultimately prove successful or not.) It would surely make for a delightful book that I hope already exists and which (at least!) one of you is going to tell me about.

Anyway, the big betting vogue is the forthcoming Olympics. Inevitably, I am tremendously excited about it, even though the IOC has overreached to the point where it is up there with FIFA and Goldman Sachs as pestilences I would gladly see, and gladly pay small money to see, neutered. Already the bookmakers have quoted prices on a wide variety of novelty markets, though the only one I'm curious about is whether any athletes will manage to "pull a Bendtner", or not-so-stealthily advertise a certain Irish bookmaker who is most assuredly not one of the official sponsors. (The bookmaker in question is keeping schtum.)

The big betting market is upon the question of who will light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony. (See, for instance, William Hill on the matter a while ago and earlier today. (How would this market have been settled at the 2010 Opening Ceremony - a four-way dead-heat?) My viewpoint on this is that this might be a good market to lay, not to back; nobody is quoting "The Field" when it's conceivable that the organisers might choose to do something entirely radical with the concept of having a single human cauldron-lighter. Besides, as Meg (and doubtless other fans) pointed out, it is already canon that the Tenth Doctor is the one who goes on to light the cauldron. Tee hee!

It would be a tremendous piece of cultural trolling if the ceremony were to make that real-life canon as well as fictional canon, and - well - who is more British than the Doctor? (I think the accepted politically correct way to refer to it these days is "Gallifreyan-British".) Unfortunately I fear that the IOC might look askance at someone else's intellectual property - and, in particular, IP that has not made it outside the Anglophone world in the same way as, say, Tolkein's work - being promoted on the biggest global stage in this way, so I fear the Anglophiles are set to be disappointed here. Nevertheless, I think there are a lot of Brits hoping to get the chance to play cultural reference bingo and if there could just be some tangential reference then the squeeing would doubtless be heard through time and space...

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting; there are comment count unavailable comments to the post already. Thank you!
Current Mood: excitedexcited

 


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