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03:58pm 28/05/2010
  Today's a big day for me, as I just submitted my thesis. This is basically a big book about all the research I've been doing for the last four and a half years. It's called "Thermodynamics and the structure of life", and it's mostly about what life is and where it came from. Next I have to wait a few months for a couple of people to examine it - but for now it's time to enjoy the sunshine...

Post from mobile portal m.livejournal.com
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Answers from my parliamentary candidates   
06:54pm 03/05/2010
  [Cross-posted from my Wordpress account, which I haven't really started using yet.]

I have now received answers from three of my parliamentary candidates to the questions I sent them last month.  I've actually had them for a while but was holding out for a response from the Labour candidate before posting this, but it looks like she's not going to get around to it.  (I sent a polite email asking why I hadn't received a response, and got a reply from an assistant saying "I think has replied. Sent from my phone." Whatever. It's not really my problem if they don't want my vote.)

The candidates' replies, along with my thoughts on them, are below.  To my mind the Liberal Democrats gave the strongest replies (disclaimer: I already supported the Lib Dems before I started this exercise, and I think my questions reflected that).  However, it seems as if the Greens have a better chance of winning in Brighton Pavilion (walking around where I live I see Green posters by the dozen, and the occasional Labour one, but I've never seen a single Lib Dem one), and so I might vote Green tactically, as I'm worried about splitting the vote.

Read more...Collapse )
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10:07pm 21/04/2010
  Okay, I can't help it, I need to rant about last weekend's Doctor Who.

Move along please, nothing to see here unless you're a bit of a geek and like Doctor Who but didn't like the last episode very much and want to read someone else's detailed explanation of why they didn't like it very much eitherCollapse )
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06:27pm 28/03/2010
  Bit of a long shot, but does anyone out there know how to make a Blogger template? And maybe willing to do it for beer money? I want to start a proper blog but I'm frustrated by not being able to make it look the way I want and don't have the HTML chops to do it myself.

I'm after something with a minimum of visual clutter, where each post is in its own separate bubble, similar to Boing Boing Gadgets.
02:08pm 23/02/2010
mood: ranty
After being annoyed by Sainsbury's online shopping site once too often, I sent them this message via their online contact form:
Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to complain about a frustrating mis-feature of your website, which degrades my online shopping experience to the point where I often choose to shop at my local corner shop instead, despite the increased cost.

I am referring to the fact that if I forget to "save" my shopping trolley, the items I've selected disappear from it without any warning or indication that this has happened. I often spend up to half an hour making sure I've remembered everything, only to get distracted by something else and leave the computer. If I forget to "save" then that previous half-hour of work is erased. There is no reminder, nor any possibility to undo. Worse, there is no warning or indication that this has happened, so I often don't notice until the point when the lorry turns up and I realise that I've only ordered a fraction of what I thought I had.

There cannot be a technical reason for requiring me to "save" my trolley, since your server is obviously involved in all the selections I make - so it must be a deliberate feature that someone at some point decided to implement. However, I cannot see a single case in which such a feature would be useful. Why would I ever want my last half-hour's worth of shopping to be erased? And even if I did, why would I want it to be the default option, happening automatically unless I specifically say otherwise? It just doesn't make sense.

Other web sites do not work in this way, for good reason. If I add a book to my shopping cart on Amazon, for instance, it stays there, regardless of whether I log out, leave the computer, close the window, etc. I don't have to do anything specific to "save" my Amazon shopping cart, because Amazon know that if I've added something to my cart it means I want to buy it, and if I don't then I'll remove it from the cart myself. This makes it very hard to remember that I do need to go through an additional step to make things stay in my Sainsbury's shopping trolley.

It's also a horrendously mixed metaphor, which is another reason it's so hard to remember to do. Shopping trolleys in real life are not the sort of thing that need to be "saved." When I put something in a trolley I expect it to stay there until I'm ready to go to the checkout.

Today I've started writing down everything I add to my trolley, so that I can add it back if I forget to save. But I don't think I should have to do this. It partially defeats the point of doing my shopping on a computer.

I cannot be the only person who is regularly confused and frustrated by this. For all the reasons I've mentioned I implore you to change this feature, so that things added to a shopping trolley stay in the shopping trolley, even if the customer goes away mid-shop without saving.

Yours sincerely,
Nathaniel Virgo

P. S. I am glad that I copied-and-pasted this message into an external text editor, because when I finished it and clicked "send" I was told that my account had timed out and I needed to log in again. Perhaps the message was sent anyway, although there was no indication to me that it was. If so you will receive it twice; if not then it would have been lost if I hadn't "saved" it, along with all the shopping I did before writing it.
sc140 + White Night   
10:04am 22/10/2009
  sc140: a multi-artist album whose tracks are each created in 140 characters of code, including some by me. (follow link for embedded player)

Also, a reminder: if you're in Brighton this weekend, Saturday is the White Night festival, where there are an enormous number of free events happening all through the night. I'll be doing a live audio-visual performance in the Phoenix art gallery from 7pm and then again in the top room of the Ocean Rooms some time after midnight.
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Manifesto: A New Ideology   
01:34pm 10/10/2009
  Recently I've had a lot of thoughts about things I want politicians to say, but which they are not saying. It feels like right now we've got a choice between two ideologies - league tables and top-down micromanagement versus a religious faith in the power of the free market - both of which are stupid, false and dangerous. So I thought I'd compile all the things I want to hear into a sort of manifesto for a non-existent political party which I would actually want to vote for.

Here's what I came up with:

The decline of ideology in politics is a great loss. But the old ideologies - socialism and conservatism - are obsolete. We're going to figure out what works and do it. This is our new ideology.

When we say "what works" we don't just mean "what works to increase GDP," we mean what makes things better for people living in Britain and in the world as a whole. We will not forget that economic measures play an important role in this but we will also not forget that they do not represent the whole picture.

Where free markets work we will use free markets. Where regulation works we will use regulation -- but we will always strive to use the right kind of regulation. We will develop markets that serve not only their participants but also the people as a whole. We hold that this does not happen automatically - it is not an in-built feature of free markets in general - but neither is it impossible. Where markets cannot work we will use good management that integrates local knowledge in an effective way.

In order to know what works we must do the research, we must gather evidence and arguments that will allow us to truly understand in advance the effects that our actions will have on the complex system that is our country's (and our world's) economy. So one of our first acts will be to increase funding to universities, particularly for the study of economics and development. We will fund economists from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of approaches and points of view, because in the end we care about what can be shown scientifically to work and not about a particular ideological view of how economics should work. Making Britain's universities the world's leading institutions for the study of economics will give us the intellectual tools we need to make the right economic decisions.

We will explain our policies not with sound-bites but with full-blown economic explanations. We believe that the public are capable of understanding the true reasons for our decisions and we see no reason to insult their intelligence by "dumbing down."

We will solve social problems and unemployment not by "being tough" or "cracking down" except where it's truly necessary, but by introducing economic policies that will re-invigorate deprived areas.

We will not measure our public services with league tables, because that doesn't work. It's a failed experiment that has only led to people playing the system and a decline in the real value of our services. Neither will we measure our services only by the revenue they can generate, because that is not always the appropriate measure of their value - if such a measure were applied to the roads then there would be a toll to use every one. Instead we will simply hire good people to run our schools and hospitals. We will empower these people to use their detailed local knowledge to make decisions that are appropriate for the specific local situation. Above them we will hire good managers, who will have the freedom to communicate with the people below them, allowing them to allocate resources to each area in an appropriate way, and so on up to the national level. Good management, not ideology, is the key to good public services.

We understand that our economy is linked in a complex and inextricable way with the global environment. We are not afraid to make sacrifices today to ensure the world is healthy decades into the future, long after the next election. It goes without saying that our decisions on the environment will be informed by science and not by the wishes or beliefs of politicians or big business.

We understand that we have a responsibility to the world as well as our own country. We will not pursue policies that increase our own country's wealth at the expense of poorer nations, whether the cost be monetary or social. Instead we will steer a path that benefits everyone, encouraging global development in a form that empowers all the world's people rather than concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. The people of Britain can only benefit from making the world a better place for everyone.

We will work hard to stem the influence of big business on politics. We understand that the interests of business and the interests of the people coincide sometimes, but not always, and our duty will always be to the people.

We believe that big businesses should be held accountable for their actions. While we will not pursue policies that would cause multinationals to leave Britain, we will work hard to achieve a world where business serves the interests of the people as well as its own.

Every policy here is subject to revision in the light of new research. Our promise is to do at all times what is right for the people, and to listen to reality and not ideology in order to determine what is right. This promise we will not break.

We will listen to the electorate, but we understand that this conversation should not be one-sided. We will not listen exclusively to focus groups but will instead engage in a dialogue: people cannot be expected to make up their minds about policy without understanding the science behind it. For this reason, communication with the public is of paramount importance to our new ideology. Under our government you will no longer be drip-fed a dumbed down half-explanation of our economic policy but will instead receive the full, frank and honest explanation that you deserve. In this way you will be empowered to truly participate in our national democracy.

With this new ideology - the ideology of no ideology, of evidence, pragmatism, communication and honesty, we will create a new and better Britain, and a new and better World.

Would you vote for me?

And more importantly, if you could put words into politicians' mouths, what would you want them to say?
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My first letter to my MP   
12:05pm 25/08/2009
  I've decided to become the sort of person who writes letters to my MP. It can't hurt and might do a little bit of good. Here is my first, which I sent this morning via http://www.writetothem.com

Dear David Lepper,

I am writing to you in response to a BBC news article (link below)
which states that the government has "published new measures that could
see people who illegally download films and music cut off from the

I feel very strongly that, if this were allowed to happen, it would be
a violation of criminals' human rights.

Access to the internet in the 21st century cannot be seen as a
privilege which can reasonably be withheld as a form of punishment.
Increasingly, people rely on the internet for income, social
interaction, shopping, finding employment and many other essential
aspects of modern life. I can only imagine that this dependency of
ordinary people on internet connectivity will increase in the future.

As the dependency of British people on the internet increases, denying
access to it becomes less and less like denying access to an optional
form of entertainment, and more and more like denying access to an
essential resource such as education or the press.

I therefore believe that denial of internet access should be seen as a
"cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" under the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. It is degrading because it denies access to the
internet's social functions and inhuman because it denies access to the
internet's economic functions. These functions will be an increasing
important part of British life in the 21st century.

I am not arguing against strong piracy laws in this letter. I am
simply saying that the punishment for such crimes should be in keeping
with the punishment for other crimes of a similar magnitude. The
invention of an entirely new type of punishment for this type of crime
is not acceptable, especially when its social effects are likely to
become so much worse in future years.

I hope that after reading this you will help to prevent this form of
punishment from becoming part of British law.

Yours sincerely,

Nathaniel Virgo

P.S. the link to the BBC news article is
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02:16pm 04/08/2009
  ...while I'm on the subject of inane drivel about my life, I got my nipples pierced yesterday. Hooray for nipples!

I had a nipple piercing once before, but I took it out when I grew up. I'm happy to find that I've now managed to un-grow-up enough to have it done again.
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01:08pm 04/08/2009
  Following on from my recent post on i_am_the_atom(*) about the government trying to turn private security firms into a police force, I've just heard that they're also trying to turn the police force into a private security firm - by charging community events for the cost of policing. That's right, if you're thinking of putting on some kind of event for your community you will now have to pay the police to come and police it for you. How unbelievably disgusting is that?

Apparently not even the police force is safe from the idiotic notion that public services should behave like private companies, justifying their existence by running at a profit rather than, you know, serving the community.

Here is the petition you should be signing to try and stop this particular act of offensiveness.

(*) for those that don't know, i_am_the_atom is kind of what passes for my proper blog. It's where I tend to put anything I say that might actually be interesting, so that this journal can be reserved for inane drivel about my life. I'm not quite sure why I do that any more - I'll probably change it all around again some time soon.
04:46pm 01/08/2009
mood: chipper
A few weeks ago I experienced homophobia directed at me for the first time. This made me realise that I want to take more responsibility for my visibility as a queer person, and since it's Pride here in Brighton today it seems like a good day to start. (I watched the parade earlier, which was tremendous fun as always, but now it's pissing it down so I'm being proud at home instead of outside.)

I used to think of my sexuality as something private - not to be kept secret, but also not to be shouted about or drawn attention to. My own personal "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But when I mentioned it in passing to someone I'd built up quite a friendship with and it turned out they had a problem with it, I realised that's not a strategy I want to follow any more.

So: I'm bisexual. Which for me just means there's a lot of complicated factors that determine whether I'm attracted to someone, but the specific detail of their gender isn't necessarily top of the list.

I'm not expecting this to be news to anyone, and I'm totally not looking for sympathy (I don't need it - as far as I can see there's basically nothing bad about being bi, and having been a makeup-wearing goth boy most of my life I'm well used to dealing with prejudice). It's more a show of solidarity. Human rights still have a long way to come in this world, and since I live in a pretty safe part of it there's no reason for me not to stand up and be counted.
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10:16am 31/07/2009
mood: amused
Today I accidentally typed the word "funfortunately."
12:29am 30/07/2009
  In an amazing example of life imitating Star Trek they've actually created transparent aluminum. Unfortunately it has two main drawbacks that will likely prevent it from being used in whale enclosures in the near future:
  1. It's only transparent to X-rays, and
  2. A few nano-seconds after you create it, it explodes.
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09:05pm 21/06/2009
  This is what our country is becoming:

click for video

Police using over the top tactics illegally against people who try to photograph them has been a recurring theme recently, but this video shows such an event in more detail than I've seen before. I haven't felt this angry in a long time.
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01:09am 20/06/2009
  I'm not quite sure what happened there. My best guess is that my phone managed to post that by itself while in my pocket.  
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08:53pm 19/06/2009
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07:56pm 19/03/2009
  Google Street View has come to the UK. Brighton isn't on it, but Norwich is, and so is Leeds, where I went to Uni. I've just spent the last 10 minutes or so zooming along Woodhouse Lane, past Leeds Uni and up to where I used to live. Bloody bizarre experience. Mostly consisting of thinking "wow, I'd completely forgotten that random thing that happened at that precise point when I was drunk once."  
a dream   
02:11pm 18/03/2009
mood: okay
Overslept last night but had an awesomely inventive dream in the process. Last night's dreamCollapse )
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01:45am 08/03/2009
mood: okay
This is just a quick test post from my GPhone...
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Movie review: Watchmen   
03:51pm 07/03/2009
  Well, I thought that was about right, really. Quite pleasantly surprised. I think it helped that I read the comic last week, though, otherwise I might have been quite confused by a lot of it. The film includes almost all of the sub-plots and back-story that's in the comic so there's a lot to keep track of while watching it. It's certainly the best comic conversion I've seen, and contains a lot of stuff that seems to be aimed more at people who are already familiar with the story than people coming to it for the first time.

Of course, it goes without saying that the ending isn't quite the same as it is in the comic. Rantyspoilers behind cut - watch the film firstCollapse ) I don't know why this has to be done in Hollywood - they compromised on so little during the rest of the film that it seems weird that they felt the need to do it at the end. But really, the amount that's changed is miniscule compared to just about any other movie adaptation of anything ever, so in the end it's just a tiny niggle about an otherwise totally awesome and very satisfying film.


In other news, I had the strange idea the other day that it might be a nice idea to go to a hairdressers and have someone cut my hair for me, something I haven't experienced for something like 15 years. So I'm growing my hair back. Just until it's long enough to have a hair cut, then I'll probably get bored and shave it off again.

Also I had a nose job in January. On the NHS, naturally. Most people can't see the difference, but I remember how it was before and I'm much happier with it now. Plus I went swimming yesterday and could actually breath properly through it for the first time I can remember, which is just awesome.
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