Monthly Archives: September 2010

What Is The Difference?

After posting a very silly blog post last Friday, I have decided to lift my game and post something serious. So today’s topic is going to be hedgehogs.

Well, more than just hedgehogs. I want to add porcupines and echidnas and inform you all of the Earth shattering news that they are in fact not the same animal. Not only aren’t they the same animal, they are in fact three very different species with some surprising news about echidnas in particular.

Let’s start with the hedgehog which belongs to the order Insectivora which surprisingly eats insects. While the porcupine belongs to the order Rodentia. So it’s a rat with rather dangerous spikes. They are both are Eutherian mammals, which give birth to live young.

Now the echidna though is one of the two weirdest animals on Earth. From the order Monotremata. Which means it’s not a rat. Here’s what it means courtesy of http://www.echidna.org.uk/details.html .

The name Monotreme comes from the fact that the echidnas and the platypus use the same opening for reproduction and eliminating waste products, which is an attribute that is found in reptiles (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1995). Other reptilian characteristics include the ability to lay eggs, cervical ribs, and that there is “localisation of ascorbic acid synthesis in the kidney (Serena, 1994; p.118).

The long-beaked echidna is found in the humid mountain forests of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. The short-beaked echidna is more widely dispersed and can be found throughout Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea. Whereas the platypus is only found in the Eastern parts of Australia.

So an echidna has one hole, lays eggs, produces milk, is a marsupial of sorts and its monotreme brother the platypus got Charles Darwin into a lot of trouble. It does share one habit of the hedgehog though. It eats insects. But not rats.

Oh, by the way. Why do they all have spines then I hear you ask. They are a product of convergent evolution. Sounds a bit complicated to me. Might leave you to do some research on that and I will get back to doing something else.

Now that was a far more enlightening post than last Friday wasn’t it?

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Filed under echidnas, hedgehogs, mammals, Porcupines

Twitter Bots – The Good, Bad And Very Ugly

During a Twitter exchange recently about the nuisance that Twitter Bots are becoming, a lot of Tweeters were asking about how to identify them and what to do about them. So I thought I might save posting 100 Tweets and give you my personal opinion and filtering process.

We should start at the beginning though. What is a bot? It is a contraction of robot, which is apt, as they work automatically or by scheduling or programming. They are very easy to create, and usually collect website links, RSS feeds or Twitter posts and then feed them to Twitter. The most common auto feeders are Twitterfeed, SocialOomph, Ping.fm, Google, Twittelator or via an API. There are many others. Luckily Twitter has made the origin of a Tweet very clear on the ‘Home’ screen of a user’s Twitter page.

This example post below has been automatically posted by Twitterfeed.

Old Oil Rig Converted Into Brand New Vacation Spot For Scuba Divers [Travel] http://bit.ly/c1sCnw
about 7 hours ago via twitterfeed

If I see a long uninterrupted list of postings like this, with its source as Twitterfeed, Socialoomph, Google or similar auto posting sources, it is probably a bot.

From this you can make a decision about continuing to follow or not. There are many very GOOD useful bots such as news channels, some great humour bots or gardening tips. It depends on your interests. Then there are RT (ReTweeting) bots that collect Tweets about a particular subject that interests people. These can include subjects like dog training, writers, new books, scuba diving or any number of interests. These bring your subject of interest into one follow.

Then there are BAD bots that are trying to sell you something. Every ten minutes. Normally with a link to a website and are repetitive in nature. If not bad, at least boring and clogging up your timeline.

Lastly are the UGLY bots that are often sex and porn sites, mail order brides, money scams and worse. I’ll leave the rest of these types to your imagination. There are also bots that send direct messages. These you will have to block as you find them.

So what can you do? When new to Twitter, the first thing you want are some followers. Not much fun with no one listening to you. In the process it is inevitable that you will end up following some bots. Usually they use a tool called ‘auto-follow back’ to make you feel good that you now have a few followers. Unfortunately, they are not good listeners. Until recently, if you unfollowed the bot, it would use a tool called ‘auto-unfollow’ to end you beautiful one way relationship. Twitter has now ended this ‘auto-unfollow’ tool, so the bot has to unfollow you manually. This means that your follower count may not go down immediately.

So you want to do a bot clean up? I have tried a number of 3rd party applications to identify and remove bots. Unfortunately they have proven to be very slow, inaccurate and unreliable. They can lead to you unfollowing many of your favourite Tweeters by mistake. The only sure fire way I have found is to use my Twitter webpage ‘Home’ page. Slow yes. But very effective.

My method is to check my ‘home’ page once a day and look through the list of recent posts. When I see a post by a suspected bot, I open the user’s Twitter page and check their last 20 posts. Then I can make an informed decision as to whether I unfollow, block or continue following.

Just one last tip. Someone setting up bots rarely sets up only one. I have found that a girl’s name followed by a number and a pretty picture a good quick bot identifier. I blocked a bot recently which used the names Lisa1234, Lisa1235, Lisa1236. Get the picture. I found 25 of these Lisa with a number bots. Not a very imaginative bot!

Well, happy bot hunting! But do be careful.

As an addition to this post, my recent post about Twitter’s Very Precious Garbage Dump may be of interest in understanding why Twitter is happy to have so many of these automated accounts. They keep the user numbers up!

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Filed under bots, ihatebots, scams, spammers, twitter

A Teaching I Will Go

After a relatively long period of navel gazing, procrastinating, idle daydreaming and just plain laziness, I have decided to return to my designated profession as a ‘chalkie’. For those who haven’t heard this label before, it means teacher. And worse still, an English teacher.

One could say that I have been afflicted with the absence makes the heart grow fonder syndrome, but really I have just missed the sense of superiority that teaching brings. Up in front of a group of people hanging off your every word, or in reality, probably falling asleep after deciding that the concept of the present perfect just isn’t worth staying awake for. Sadistic examination preparation course where overloading students with 25 hours of homework each day bring a sense of immense satisfaction.

In all honesty, what I have missed most is being able to wield a red pen, and inflict the maximum humiliation on students’ essays. A truly rewarding feeling in exchange for devoting my Sunday afternoons to their pitiful attempts at using the English language. Yes, I have just missed the power of it all.

Back to reality. The real reason is that I have missed the wonderful interaction with students and the rewards that teaching brings. It is a bit like writing too. The pay is lousy, but the satisfaction gained is immense.

Wish me luck!

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Filed under efl, english, english students, esl, teaching

Why Paris Sucks

Bellanda in Paris is my guest blogger today. Explaining what it’s like to live in beautiful, romantic Paris. The city of love.

bellanda

Ahhhh… Paris! City of lights… City of romance… City of love! I mean really, could a city like this ever really suck? I’m not going to go over all of the things that make this city incredible, because frankly, I think we all pretty much know that already. I am however going to take a closer look at some of the things that could happen in a typical day based on personal experience. We all know this city is indeed a truly amazing place to visit, but whether you are a tourist or a resident, there are some things one can’t deny… Paris can and does suck at times.

Oh, I can feel some of you getting your defences in an uproar, ready to pounce and defend one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but just hold off for a moment. Let’s start simple.

Ever notice the number of cute little dogs prancing around on leashes or being carried in those stylish bags by their owners? One might say that these French dogs are cute, chic even, until you’ve ruined a truly lovely pair of shoes stepping in their not so chic poo.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that no one in Paris cleans up after their dogs… but I am saying that for this typical day, you might want to wear galoshes so you can clean them easily if and when the occasion presents itself. Things get a little more complicated if you are fashion conscious. I know, you might decide to wear those gorgeous shoes you bought especially for Paris. I can’t blame you, but I can warn you that you will need to learn how to walk like a Parisian.

Ready? It really is quite simple and I bet you won’t even need to practice before venturing out on your own. Before you take your first step outside, look down. Keep your head down, and watch your every step along the way. Now, you might say to yourself, okay, but I will miss the Eiffel Tower, gorgeous buildings, cute little cobblestone streets and shops. To that I say, yes, but you can’t expect to have it all now… can you?

Ah, you are a quick study and you’ve arrived at the Metro with your shoes in perfect condition! How wonderful! You can pick your head up and look forward again. Well, actually… to be safe, I recommend you look in all directions with your hands on your phone, wallet and anything else you hold dear. This usually makes holding onto that dirty pole inside the metro car a challenge, but you are in luck! You get to experience a partial metro strike, so you won’t have to hold on at all! Just remember to use your body and push like crazy when the doors open, because you don’t want to let go of those important things. If you can get inside the metro car, you have proved yourself worthy of being canned like a sardine with all of those Parisians and should feel a little less like an outsider. Don’t worry, the little old woman screaming at you, is just upset because you stepped on her foot by mistake.

Oh, check this out! This really is your lucky day! Due to the lack of space inside the metro car, now no one can hit you up for money. Add that to the fact that it is not summer! This means you are limited to just the regular pee smells one normally deals with. It also means your skin will not be rubbing against someone else’s sweaty flesh! Oh, I almost forgot. Try not to be alarmed or offended by those wandering hands that “accidentally” touch you. I’m sure they were just trying to rob you and didn’t mean to feel you up. I know you are not worried as you’ve taken my advice and have that covered. You will be going home with your wallet today!

You are doing well! You’ve arrived at your metro stop, but apparently the majority of the people in the train with you have too, and now you have been pushed out. I know you wanted to wear those really great shoes, but they have caused you to fall in the mad rush of people and you have hurt your ankle.

You’re new here, so you are an optimist and say to yourself happily, “I can’t believe I’m in Paris! I’m not going to let a little injury like this get me down. ” You look around at the metro map. What a truly miraculous underground system! You smile while listening to some musicians playing for their keep, while a drunken man sits with comatose eyes and another is screaming profanities at everyone who walks by. You really didn’t want to sit anyway, so you’ll just hobble your way to the exit.

You start following those superbly labeled signs, SORTIE. You might even giggle to yourself that you are like trained rats going upstairs, then downstairs… down long tunnels, turning, oh wait SORTIE, more stairs going up. You really would have liked to help that poor woman with the baby carriage go up the stairs, but your ankle is killing you. As you walk down what appears to be your last long tunnel before going up more stairs, you ask yourself what all new people to this lovely city do, “What does someone who’s handicapped do?”

Oh, don’t fret your pretty little head about details like that, you are in Paris! Besides, you really need to go and buy a few things before heading back to that two room apartment you are renting for 1600 Euros a month.

You’ve managed to find everything you need at the supermarket, and only had one person flailing arms and making that Phiff sound behind you because you were moving too slowly. Oops! You picked the wrong line. Isn’t that always the way? Even in Paris you manage that! You chuckle at the humor of the situation, as another register opens up. You politely offer the first spot to the people in front of you, only to get trampled by those behind you. Okay, that one surprised you, but hey, you’re in Paris! It’s your turn and once you have paid for not only your groceries, but your bags, you are ready to go home. Thank goodness you live around the corner!

A woman smiles at you as she passes you, and you smile back, proving to everyone around you that you are both expats but you don’t care, this is Paris! You are now living in Paris! You are caught up in your thoughts and forget to look down, and of course just in front of your doorway, you realize you should have worn those galoshes. But hey, this is Paris and a little dog poo never killed anyone. Besides a real Parisian once told me, “I can’t believe all the merde de chien there is in Nice!”

So, silly me! How could I ever have thought to say Paris sucks? Just walking you through a typical day warms my heart. My apologies… I love Paris, in spite of itself. 😉

Bellanda in Paris

You can find out more about Bellanda and her art, creations and life in Paris.

At her website http://bellandaphoto.com/

On Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/BellandaCreations?ref=sgm

Or on Twitter. @BellandaInParis

Derek’s Vandal Blog
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Filed under dogs, metro, Paris, Romance, satire, shoes

Real Magic

There is no doubt in my mind that of all the places I have ever visited, the small area of Appenzell in the far north east of Switzerland must be be the most magical place on Earth. Not in the sense of fantasy, but in the daily lives, culture and traditions that live on and are preserved and cherished by the Appenzellers.

Whereas in other parts of the world traditions are kept for little more than touristic value, in Appenzell it is still a part of life that they protect because it is how they live. In the small municipality of Urnäsch, just s few miles from Appenzell, the rich culture is especially preserved.

We were fortunate enough to be told that there would be a market day in Urnäsch while my wife and I were visiting Appenzell. Expecting a few fruit stalls and a cow or two, we drove out to Urnäsch with perhaps a light lunch and a walk in mind. Instead, we arrived and were greeted by approximately two hundred cows, complete with ornamental cow bells, being prepared for market. The farmers and their wives and children all in traditional dress and a small group of yodellers singing beautifully with the accompaniment of their bells.

What we didn’t see were tourists. We were amazed to see men and boys in either the traditional blue shirts with delicately embroidered edelweiss or the striking red and yellow costumes with a golden spoon earring hanging from their right ear. As an aside, the spoon was used in times past for measuring salt. Salt being salary as it was then.

The other amazing aspect for us was that we were so warmly welcomed. Not to be guided to a tacky gift shop and tempted to part with our money, but simply because they were proud of their culture and heritage and wanted us to share it with them.

A few images of Appenzell can be found here. I dare you not to be tempted to make the journey to this absolutely magical place one day.

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Filed under appenzell, holidays, switzerland, Urnäsch

Good Luck Lives Quite Close

While many are particularly fussy about the company they keep, it is a little more difficult to be choosy when it comes to neighbours. Of course a doctor, lawyer or celebrity would be quite a stroke of luck for those who would think these ideal neighbours. For others it may well be someone with a large boat, a big swimming pool and a few spare Ferraris, while other people may see a qualified motor mechanic or plumber as ideal. Someone from whom you could reap a few friendship fringe benefits.

In my case however, I must be one of the luckiest people in the whole world when it comes to my neighbour. When it comes to omens of good luck in many parts of the UK and Europe, little is as lucky as a chimney sweep or ramoneur as they are called here in French.

The legends and superstitions behind chimney sweeps are very old and in parts of Great Britain it is considered lucky for a bride to see a chimney sweep on her wedding day. In fact sweeps hire themselves out for weddings. It is also considered good luck to shake hands with a chimney sweep or to be blown a kiss by one. Where I live, people will always touch a sweep when they see one. Just for luck. In Croatia it is good luck to rub one of your buttons if you pass one in the street. And in Germany, small ornamental sweeps are given as New Year gifts.

So is my neighbour a real chimney sweep. Of course he is. Complete in his traditional uniform of an all black suit with golden jacket buttons and of course a black top-hat.

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Who the Heck is This Murphy Guy Anyway?


There are those rare times when you connect with someone and you say to yourself, “Hey, this person is really on my wavelength.” And so it was with Karin when I chatted with her about her blog and read this line in one of her posts.

“I am quite possibly the worst sheet-folder ever raised in the western world.”

Perhaps it was an inkling that she somehow possessed a similar warped sense of humour to myself. Or maybe it was because she answered my silly questions without huffing and puffing and running away. Anyway. The upshot is that Karin Kysilka is the very first person I have asked to be a guest blogger. And fortunately for both myself and my readers, she accepted. Hopefully we can look forward to reading more of Karin here and on her blog, which you now must visit after reading this or you will be instantly cursed for a period of two weeks by Karin’s Murphy guy.

Who the Heck is This Murphy Guy Anyway?

Sometime in the past century, some person we like to call, “Murphy” said something like, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” and from that point, that little quotable adage was called, “Murphy’s Law.”

I have a little problem with this story.  Okay, I have a big problem with this story.  Who the heck is this Murphy guy, anyway, and who gave him the authority to write a law?

Murphy’s law was “law” before I was old enough to vote (before I was even born, actually), and I don’t remember reading about him in any of my physics textbooks.  None of the senior citizens I know recall voting for him either, and no one mentions him on The Science Channel as a great theoretical physicist.  So … how does he get a law? Where does he get off saying something that affects my life on a daily basis like that?  Is he CIA? Antique Soviet saboteurs?  What?

This idea has been bothering me so much that I decided to do a little research.  I started with Wikipedia, which, as we all know, has a fantastic reputation for accuracy in subject matters like this one.  What I learned is that Murphy may have been a plagiariser.  (For the full report, see the article here.)  Several individuals claimed authorship of the law in the 1950’s, including Murphy, but variations of the law appear in print as far back as 1877.  Of course, if you choose to do a web search, you will find as many different versions of the story of the origin of Murphy’s Law as you have the patience to sit and read.  I stopped at two.  (I’m not known as a tremendously patient person.)

All of this history begs the question, why would someone want to curse us like this?  Who was this diabolical creature?  Was this so-called “law” named by some spiteful human that wanted to make life difficult for everyone, or was it really named in jest after some poor slob who could never get his act together?  If so, I feel sorry for that poor unfortunate slob.  I am plagued daily by the Forces of Entropy and Chaos, who work very hard to make sure I am a prime candidate for the effects of Murphy’s Law.  Of course, having a packrat husband, three cats, and a 3-year old only adds fuel to the fire. With the deck stacked against me like this, I guess I should count my blessings that someone already named the law after Murphy, otherwise we might all have to figure out how to spell, “Kysilka’s Law”.

As if this guy’s poor unfortunate luck isn’t bad enough, imagine what your life would be if you were actually related to Mr. Murphy.  What would your life be like?  Even if you believe in the immutability of Murphy’s Law I imagine it would be a bit like being related to Hugh Hefner.  In a way, it’s kinda neat, but do you really want to admit it?  If you didn’t believe in Murphy’s Law, then being a relative of Murphy would have to just be an unmitigated embarrassment, kind of like having Mordred as your brother.  I mean, sure, you love the guy, but he brought down Camelot.

So, this idea of “belief” in the law keeps me coming back to this question:  Just because someone said it once, why do we all feel like we have to live by it?

I have decided.  I am hereby calling for an overturn of Murphy’s Law.  I want it declared null, void, and of no further force and effect on Planet Earth.  Better yet, let’s get the whole Universe involved.  After all, we wouldn’t want to banish Murphy’s Law here on Planet Earth, only to have it return with a vengeance when we send colonists to Mars, do we?

It’s time to take a stand against tyranny!  What do you think this project will take?  Picket lines?  Protest marches? I can’t figure out who to picket and where to protest.  No one wants to take responsibility for letting the adage become a law.  Should we hire a physicist to prove Murphy’s Law wrong?  I don’t think we need to go that far.  I think we just need to look at all the good things that have happened in our space program and realize that Murphy’s Law only has the power we choose to give it.  Sure, the first moon landing was rather more exciting than the astronauts would have liked, but they made it down to the surface and back home safely.  Sure, Apollo 13 had an almost unbelievable string of bad luck, but the astronauts made it home alive.  Sure, bad things have happened, but Spirit and Opportunity roved Mars years past their projected life span.  We have to focus on the good things, people.

Murphy didn’t write a law.  Murphy was a pessimist, and we were silly enough to believe him.

Let’s write an amendment to that law, the same way the original law seems to have come about — through groundswelling grass-roots support.  Let’s amend the law to say, “Anything that can go wrong, might go wrong, so just be prepared and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.”

What do you say?  Are you with me?

Karin Kysilka’s Blog

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Filed under guest blogger, humor, Karin Kysilka, Murphy's Law, satire, Sod's Law