Heron in the Hawthorn

Heron in the Hawthorn, originally uploaded by kcm76.

The heron sitting in the top of the hawthorn tree in our garden in North Greenford a couple of days ago. He obviously had his beady eyes on my pond fish, and I can’t blame him as it was a cold winter’s day. I felt rather sorry for him having to probably go hungry tonight when he took fright at me opening the back door, but I don’t think he’d have got any fish as they were all huddled in the deepest middle part of the pond. And it was quite amusing to watch this large, rather ungainly bird, trying to balance on those small twigs whilst not getting its feet stuck with the thorns! It’s not the best photo I’ve ever taken, but the best I got: it was almost dusk and I was taking through the study window.

Zen Mischievous Moments #122

From last week’s New Scientist:

Patent protection for jokes

“YOU cannot be serious,” tennis ace John McEnroe famously shouted when the umpire ruled one of his shots as “out”. Reader John Mulligan suspects that the patent officer felt the same way about Timothy Wace Roberts’s patent application for a “Business method protecting jokes”.

The abstract of his US patent office application 200602593306 opens: “The specification describes a method of protecting jokes by filing patent applications therefor, and gives examples of novel jokes to be thus protected. Specific jokes to be protected by the process of the invention include stories about animals playing ball games, in which alliteration is used in the punchline; a scheme for raising money for charity by providing dogs for carriage by Underground passengers; and the joke that consists in filing a patent application to protect jokes.”

We don’t know what the first jokes referred to are, but suspect the second relates to notices beside London Underground escalators saying “Dogs must be carried”. As for the third – does this mean Wace Roberts’ patent application is evidence of “prior art”, making itself invalid – or is it valid and in breach of itself?

The Zen Way of Playing Rugby

I’m currently struggling through a nasty gastric flu bug, which meant yesterday I had time to lie in bed and watch the Six Nations Rugby Union Internationals on TV. And I realised a strange thing about modern rugby: it’s the only game I know where the referee spends the whole match telling the players how to play the game while play is in progress. In all other sports I can think of the players are assumed to know how to play the game and the referee penalises them when they transgress. In rugby the referee tells the players what to do then penalises them if they ignore him. Listening to the referee’s radio mic there is a continual chat of things like: “[ref waving arm] Offside line. Eight white your feet are behind it … [blast on whistle] … Penalty blue. Eight white, offside.” The forwards even have to be told every time how to scrummage: “Crouch … Touch … Hold … Engage”, or form a line-out: “Lads I want one metre between the lines. Three blue, that’s one meter not half a meter.”

Its a good thing rugby is a relatively slow and even-paced game of set-piece plays, little heaps of big men fighting for the ball, someone kicking the ball and occasionally a bit of open running. Can you imaging how interesting it would be for cricket umpires to run their game the same way as a rugby referee? Or the confusion that would ensue if the zebras tried telling American Football players how to play while play was in progress?

Sunday Seven

No Friday Five this week, so we’ll have a Sunday Seven instead. My Sunday Seven is easier as it is seven answers to one question rather than having to wrote something about five questions.

Seven things I will not do …

  1. Wear evening dress
  2. Wear a tie or jacket on holiday
  3. Play golf
  4. Ballroom dancing
  5. Role play
  6. Eat anything that’s still alive
  7. Plumbing


I just love weird instructions for appliances so here’s another piece from Feedback in this week’s New Scientist, which I have slightly shortened:

… [X] does not tell us how he came to be in possession of a Fibre Optic Musical Animated Fairy “of unknown provenance”, but he does tell us that, despite being a retired professor of modern languages, he is baffled by the instructions that came with it for changing its bulb. …

“Operating Synopsis. If the bulb not brightness, make use of the reserve bulb elucidate as follows: 1. Turn off electrical source. 2. Fetch out the lampholder. 3. Troll the broken bulb, fetch out of it. 4. Setting in reserve bulb, troll the bulb without a reel or stagger. 5. Revert the lampholder.”

Alien Postcards (2)

This week New Scientist printed some of the runner-up entries in their New Year Competition. The challenge was to compose a text message of no more than 160 characters, sent home by an alien who has just arrived on our planet. Of this batch I especially liked:

Too late. Another one overrun by Starbucks.

Humans are not conscious beings but remote-controlled by little boxes pressed to the head or wires plugged into their ears.

This planet, mostly harmless, is chiefly remarkable for providing the best evidence so far that the limit of 160 characters on SMS messages is a universal const

Natives wonderful. Send ketchup.

Full article here. Enjoy!

Friday Five: Birthdays

1. When is your birthday?

2. How old will you be?
I was 56. Probably a good average. Body feels more like 76 and brain about like 26.

3. Do you prefer to throw a party or attend a party?
I’m a grumpy old git so I don’t often do parties. Guess it’s partly because I didn’t get into the habit as a kid. Giving parties is stressful. And as I don’t give parties no-one invites me to theirs. Easy really!

4. Presents: take’em or leave’em?
As my birthday doesn’t worry me particularly (see a couple of posts below), neither do presents. It’s nice to get them, but it isn’t essential. I’m just as happy for someone to say “happy birthday” and buy me a beer.

5. Best birthday so far?
Not a clue. I’ve had a lot and not many have been sparkling — just the way my birthdays are. Had a couple of good ones as a post-grad student with friends lining up more gin & tonics on the bar than I could (un)reasonably drink!

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

Senior Bosses Want to Sack 5% of Employees

BBC News reports that according to a recent survey almost a half of UK senior bosses would like to sack 5% of their employees to improve competitiveness and efficiency. The report makes this sound like the old Roman Legion’s trick of decimation: eliminate one in ten to encourage the others. However 75% of bosses said they wouldn’t bring in such a policy because they are afraid of creating a “climate of fear”.

Well I hate to tell them something … there already is a climate of fear, because this is exactly what many employees think their employers do actually do.

Indeed I have heard HR people openly and seriously saying that they give managers an annual target of having 5-10% of employees in the lowest “unsatisfactory” level of annual appraisal. Such a rating leads to a programme of “corrective action” which if performance doesn’t improve results in dismissal. If these people are not replaced (which generally they aren’t: “they weren’t doing anything useful so we can live without them”) then this automatically raises the performance bar for everyone next year when the manager has to find another 5-10% of unsatisfactory employees.

Hands up all those who think their employer doesn’t do this? …

Yes, I thought so. Now, senior managers, why is morale amongst your staff so low?