Tarzan of the Calais Jungle

Michael Heseltine is apparently shocked to discover that the Tory party is engaging in racist fearmongering about immigration: The Brexit case relies on fanning fears about immigration. I am amazed that someone like you now marches to the drum of Farage, Trump and Le Pen – a generation of demagogues spawned by a global recession and the fallout from internecine conflict among Muslims. Maybe he’s getting forgetful in his old age.

Etymology of “You’re fired!”

Tonight I watched a 90 minute documentary about Thomas J. Watson Sr, founder of IBM. (No, I didn’t get paid to watch it.) The most interesting thing I learned wasn’t about IBM, though. Before IBM, Watson worked for the National Cash Register Company, aka NCR. The head of NCR at the time was John Henry Patterson, who makes Steve Jobs look like the Dalai Lama. As well as randomly terminating the employment of people who failed to answer even trivial questions to his satisfaction, Patterson would sometimes lay off executives just to “break their self esteem”, and then hire them back once they clearly knew he was alpha bastard.

A digital telegram for your Monday

In the UK, Dixons have bought a company which sells mobile phones. The company is called Carphone Warehouse. If you’re younger than 40, you might be aware that mobile phones once looked like this: That’s the Motorola DynaTAC, with engineer Martin Cooper who made the first mobile phone call. The DynaTAC went on sale in 1984. Before that, there were even larger semi-mobile phones called carphones. They consisted of three parts: a handset, which generally looked like the DynaTAC; a control panel which was mounted into the car dashboard; and a box the size of a small suitcase which often went in the trunk of the car and contained the actual phone circuitry.

Harry who?

I’ve often thought that in a way, it must have been easier to be a great world-famous philosopher, artist, scientist or whatever back in the distant past, because there was so much less competition. Sure, Aristotle was a great philosopher, but his ideas about the laws of motion were crackpot stuff. Plus, there were fewer than 200m people in the world at that time. So that’s like being one of the smartest guys posting on LinkedIn.

Explaining Bitcoin

[One of a series of articles.] You’ve probably heard about Bitcoin. You might not really understand what it’s all about though, so here’s my non-technical explanation. Imagine you’re growing tulips. Anyone can grow tulips, but it takes time and energy, which puts a limit on the number of tulips around. However, they have no intrinsic value; you can’t use them to heat your home or feed your kids. But, people like them, they’re pretty.

LBJ was an asshole

By chance I saw two stories about Lyndon B. Johnson this week: Johnson lived to dominate, and he used crass behavior to bend people to his will. At 6-ft., 3-in. tall and 210 lbs., he liked to lean over people, spitting, swearing, belching, or laughing in their faces. Once, he even relieved himself on a Secret Serviceman who was shielding him from public view. When the man looked horrified, Johnson simply said, “That’s all right, son.

If you want to learn about history, watch Monty Python

One thing that always gets me about Monty Python’s movies is their historical accuracy. No, really. Yes, they are comedy, and yes there are ridiculous situations. But the Python team always played their comedy straight, and part of that was placing everything in a context full of accurate detail. For example, consider medieval combat. The Hollywood version has people running around, leaping onto horses, swords clashing at high speed, and so on.

In defense of GTA, part 1: A short history of video games

You’ve probably noticed that a new Grand Theft Auto game is out, GTA IV. As usual, the release of a new GTA has resulted in a new round of articles criticizing (or outright excoriating) the game. I’m a big fan of GTA. I’ve played every 3D GTA game from start to finish. As such, I feel I can provide an informed perspective on the game series. I see a number of annoying misconceptions and deceptions repeated time and time again, the most infamous of which is the claim that the game rewards you for killing prostitutes.

Interesting dead end in computer evolution

Someone noticed that google.jp had a picture of some kind of computer. Turns out it’s the Parametron. Not a Futurama character, but instead an early (1950s) computer from Japan that I’d never heard of. There doesn’t seem to be much on the web about it, but from what I gather, it used a really freaky design with no valves or transistors. Instead, the fundamental unit involved two magnetic coils and a capacitor, with the binary 0 and 1 values being represented by the phase of the AC current.

In case you missed it: Pearl Harbor

Independent Institute article: Newly released naval records prove that from November 17 to 25 the United States Navy intercepted eighty-three messages that Yamamoto sent to his carriers. Part of the November 25 message read: “…the task force, keeping its movements strictly secret and maintaining close guard against submarines and aircraft, shall advance into Hawaiian waters, and upon the very opening of hostilities shall attack the main force of the United States fleet in Hawaii and deal it a mortal blow…”