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My blog: More politics per click than Nick’s

Iain Dale’s Guide to Political BloggingLast year, Iain Dale produced a Guide to Political Blogging, in which he ranked this esteemed organ as the 29th best non-aligned political blog in the UK.

This year, he’s repeated the exercise, with one crucial difference: Instead of a committee of one deciding which blogs to include and the rankings, he opted to employ hoi poloi – he allowed the public to vote and decide.

This fact, in combination with the fact that there are now many more political blogs about, has meant that there are some big changes to the list this time around – not least the fact that Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor, has fallen out of the top 30.

I, however, remain at number 29.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me, and thanks to Iain Dale for compiling the list. It’s always nice to know that people like what I do. The Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2007-8 is available to pre-order now, and would look particularly fetching on any shelf if nestled alongside Instant Opinion.

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

When is a kilogram not a kilogram?

A kilogram

A kilogram © Robert Rathe - www.robertrathe.com

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

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Writing Elsewhere.

LiveBlog: Google launches Presentations

Presentations are now available in Google Docs – finally! Hurray!

So, as something of an experiment, I’m now going to LiveBlog my first thoughts on the system… my first ever LiveBlog!

09.39 I have a lot of presentations on my computer, as I’ve done quite a few in my time as a medical student, so I’m now uploading them to Google Docs, where they can finally join the rest of my work.

09.41 I’ve uploaded six presentations so far. The size limit is generous, 10Mb, but the system only accepts PowerPoint files, which I guess will be a disappointment for those using competitor’s products. The conversion is pretty excellent – I’ve only come across one instance of some misplaced text, and there are a couple of issues with my original presentations using non-standard fonts, but other than that, they’re importing brilliantly.

09.44 My main gripe so far is that I have been unable to find a function for adding notes to slides, which is a shame, as most of my presentations have pretty extensive notes. The mini-slides on the right of the screen also don’t render properly – they’re approximations of the full-size slides, but often text is placed somewhat differently.

09.51 The print function seems quite good – in fact, it removes slide backgrounds more effectively than PowerPoint itself. However, another minor gripe is that whilst it will import AutoShapes perfectly from PowerPoint files, there’s no way to add them to files online, which is quite an annoying feature if trying to make slides look pretty. I maybe should have pointed out that most of the presentations I’m uploading are on this very website, here, so you can see the sorts of things I’m working with.

09.56 For some reason, Google won’t import my Acute Confusion presentation. Looking at it here, you’ll see it’s one of the simpler presentations I have, so I can’t understand why that one, of any of them, should fail to load. Another problem is that there’s no transitions or animations available, which sort of ruins one of my presentations. And, as with Spreadsheets, multiple spaces are displayed as single spaces, so where I’ve used them to line things up with diagrams (yes, I know that’s bad practice, but it’s common), it just hasn’t worked.

09.59 Scratch what I said about spaces – you can put them back in to line things up, but the uploading engine appears to remove them all. The logic of that decision is lost on me.

10.05 I’m now up to about 12 presentation uploaded, and I’m still noticing oddities. For example, you can upload presentations with different themes for different slides, and they import fine, but you can’t create them. In natively created slideshows, all slides have to have the same theme. It also occurs to me that, particular on slideshows I’ve uploaded, a slow connection would be useless. Perhaps it’s because my slideshows are naturally quite graphically intense, but it does take quite some time for all the pictures and backgrounds to load. Whether the native backgrounds are smaller files that would be quicker to load, I’m not sure, but I certainly hope so.

10.13 I’m still going, but just wanted to let you know that you can read more about the launch here.

10.17 The Hip Fracture presentation (view it here), which I thought would be a nightmare to upload as it’s very graphically intense and has quite complex layouts, has uploaded almost perfectly – very little tidying up needed, in fact only one correction on the title slide.

10.23 It’s actually quite fun looking again at all of these old presentations.

10.30 It occurs to me that the File menu across the three different applications is completely different – they should probably make that a bit more consistent some time. And I also note that the Presentations application does the same odd thing as the Docs application, whereby underlined text is always underlined in black, regardless of the text colour.

10.43 Well, I’ve played about with this new toy for over an hour now, uploaded a whole load of presentations, and feel that this LiveBlog has gone as far as it can go. Just for completeness, I should say that the system has now accepted my Acute Confusion presentation, but I don’t know what’s prompted the sudden change of heart.

Google Presentations is a good idea and a good system. I wish it’d been around when I was still writing large numbers of collaborative presentations. It imports PowerPoint slideshows effortlessly. However, the editor is very basic, lacks some straightforward expected functionality (shapes, transitions, etc). It’s already suitable for basic collaboration presentations, and it seems a good tool for giving presentations over the web, but much more work is needed if this is to become one of Google’s trademark ‘killer apps’.

This post was filed under: LiveBlogs, Technology.

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