This week’s Pod Delusion is out now! In it, you can hear me wittering on about Captain Scarlet, and lots of really interesting stuff, too: an interview with the wonderful Gia Milinovich, the latest on the bizarre CBeebies Get Well Soon row, a bit of public health discussion of the census by Sean Davidson, and loads more good stuff besides. So why not make listening every week your new year resolution?
I’m afraid my inner pedant got the better of me and couldn’t overlook another correspondent’s loose grip on reality last week, resulting in another letter published in my hometown rag, the Southport Visiter. Sorry for the geekiness: if you find it frustrating when letters myopically concentrate on the specifics of claims while ignoring the bigger issues, it’s probably best if you don’t click through.
I may or may not post an edited transcript on here at some point… I promised a while ago to make a point of doing so, but haven’t been great at keeping it up
I’ve recorded a bit on IT in the NHS for this week’s Pod Delusion. Other topics covered include “The Big Freeze”, Google, and ITV’s regions – how can you resist?
I intend to try and remember to add a note here each time I contribute, given that this site was intended to bring all of my writing from all over the internet into one repository – even if that ideal has never really come to fruition.
Plus, I wanted an excuse to use this ‘Diary’ template which hasn’t seen service in some considerable time, but which I think is rather pretty. So there.
After holding my own in the non-aligned category of Iain Dale’s political blog rankings, I’m amused to see that overall I’ve dropped from being the 69th best political blog in the UK to, err, 198th. I guess you can’t win ‘em all.
This week’s Gazette post was another eerily familiar one, though this one’s been reheated so many times now I fear it’s lost all nutritional value. Ah, well…
When is a kilogram not a kilogram?
The lump of metal by which we define a kilogram has lost weight: It’s now 50μg lighter than it was when it was created, 118 years ago. We know this because other cylinders created at the same time are now heavier than it – but they are not the designated ‘official’ kilograms, so I guess, in a round about way, it’s now them that’s wrong.
This is one of those delicious stories which messes with my brain. It’s scientific, philosophical, and incredibly accessible. ‘Cool!’
So, if the official measure of a kilogram is now lighter, is it lighter, or is everything else heavier? And how heavy is it? Despite having lost 50μg, its mass must surely still be 1kg, as it is by definition 1kg. Indeed, if it had lost half it’s weight, or gained ten stone, it would still weigh 1kg.
And, even more intriguingly, this is a kilogram that’s been kept in a triple-locked safe – so how can it possibly have lost weight?
Richard Davis, who’s the bloke in charge of the lump of metal, says that nothing will change: A kilogram will still be a kilogram. But what does that mean? A kilogram is the mass of this lump of metal, which has changed, so how can the kilogram philosophically stay the same? Scientifically, we can say that a kilogram is the weight of the lump of metal plus 50μg, but that’s not very satisfying, because if the lump has fluctuated already, who’s to say it won’t again?
The sensible solution is to define a kilogram using some more scientific measure – a popular option is to define it by a number of atoms of a particular type, which would never fluctuate. Except that it might, as our understanding of physics increases.
It’s all a bit reminiscent of the problem of the 2p coin from last May, but maybe that’s just because I like this kind of story.
Anyway, I hope it makes you think.
Originally posted on Gazette Live
Financial hints and tips for freshers
A reader has requested that I do a piece giving hints and tips for those about to go to university. It’s an interesting request, because in 2004, one of the big online portals was commissioning a set of articles around a similar theme, and I wrote an application piece giving financial hints and tips to freshers to try and get the commission. I didn’t get the job.
I came across the piece I wrote for the application a few weeks ago, though, and thought that if I was applying for the job now, I’d naturally post this kind of thing on the blog if it was rejected. So, I’ve dug it up… And with only the tiniest bit of editing, here it is.
Financial hints and tips for freshers
My first year proved to be an intensive learning experience for me in many ways – not least in a financial sense. Since I never really listen to other’s advice, it seems a little hypocritical for me to be relating the lessons I’ve learned, but then if someone else can learn from my mistakes, I suppose it might be useful. So here are my tips for making your loan stretch that little bit further in the first year…
Don’t buy every book on the reading list
I didn’t go quite as far as buying every book, but I was really excited when I started my course, and so bought lots of books that I thought would be useful – some of which I’ve never looked at again. Even the books people tell you are ‘essential’ often turn out to be rubbish. Not only was this a complete waste of money, it’s a right pain having to move so many books when it comes to the end of term.
Get a savings account
When you’re a student, ‘saving’ seems something of a foreign concept. But if you’re like me, then getting a big loan payment makes you think that you’re rich, so you go out and spend… and then have no money left by the end of term for luxuries like food. So my advice is to put the loan payment into a savings account, so that when you check your balance it isn’t there. And when you do come to spend it, you have to actually think about it. It helps a bit with budgeting.
Don’t buy loads of equipment
Ask people what they think is important, and what you really don’t need. When I started, I was sent a list of all sorts of things that I really needed to buy, from special gloves to marker pens to safety goggles. All I really needed was a couple of labcoats. And remember that a lot of what you do need can be bought through the Student Union, which will save you a fair bit.
Get a refund on your TV Licence
If you buy your TV Licence when you arrive at uni (and not before), you might find that you have three complete months over the summer when you won’t need one – so you can get a refund for this part. Don’t do what I did – I completely forgot about applying for a refund, so I ended up paying to use a TV over the summer when I wasn’t even using the room.
Get internet banking
Internet banking provides an incredibly convenient way to check on your finances, and move money about – especially if you also have a savings account (see above). If nothing else, you’ll be the first to know when the student loans have been credited to your account, which is always good news.
Pay bills as soon as you get them
A couple of times in first year, I had bills and just thought that I’d pay them when I was next in town. Then I lost them. I didn’t quite manage to get myself a late-payment charge, but I was close. With things like accommodation charges, they often come just when you get your loan payment through. By paying them straight away, you have plenty of money to pay them with and absolutely no chance of losing them!
This might seem an obvious point, but particularly if you’re in self-catering halls, you can get fined for all sorts, from making too much noise, to not emptying kitchen bins, to accidentally setting off the fire alarm. The individual fines don’t seem like much, but with those as well as library fines, it can all add up pretty quickly.
Get friendly with someone who drives
This may seem a little exploitative, but you can save a fortune on taxi fares.
Get a decent bank account
I opened my account with the bank with the best freebie. Unfortunately, it would only give me a tiny overdraft, and was generally unhelpful. After a few weeks, I ended up closing the account and opening another at a different bank – a lot of unnecessary fuss. Make sure, though, that your account has a big overdraft, as this can often come in handy for paying big bills just before your loan payment comes through.
Don’t be too stingy…
Most of the stories you hear about penniless students are exaggerated. It’s not too difficult to manage your money, as long as you’re careful. And everyone’s in the same boat, so it’s no excuse for being stingy…
I’m planning on posting some more on this subject later this week, more practical stuff hopefully, and maybe even a little bit of advice of being homesick and that sort of stuff. It might be shiny and new, or it might be an edited rehash of something else I think I might have lying about somewhere. I haven’t decided yet. But if this sort of stuff applies to you, stick around.