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Astronomers discover a star travelling at 3.7 million MPH

Sorry to dash your hopes but when I say ‘star’, I mean the astronomical kind. Sadly, nobody has ejected Kanye West from Earth at that speed.

Astronomers have discovered a star travelling at 3,700,000 MPH (1,027 miles per second), which is about ten times faster than most stars move. They plotted its prior path and it appears to have come from the centre of the Milky Way, wherein lurks a supermassive black hole.

So how does a supermassive black hole eject a star when they’re best known for their insurmountable gravitational attraction?

Apparently it’s due to something called the Hills Mechanism, which sometimes kicks into action when a binary star system — consisting of two stars orbiting one another — gets close to a supermassive black hole.

If one of the stars in the binary system gets too close to the black hole, the ferocious gravity of the black hole will pull the star in. This takes energy away from the (three-body) system as a whole. However, thanks to the conservation of energy, the star that avoids the black hole will be given an energy equivalent to the infall velocity of the one that’s captured. The energy the surviving star receives is what results in its phenomenal speed.

The black hole ejected the star some 5 million years ago and it's travelling so fast it’ll escape our galaxy entirely within 100 million years. I look forward to seeing that happen. Astronomers have had a pretty good look at this star as it’s fairly close to us now, only 29,000 light years (174,000,000,000,000 miles) away.

With absolutely no sense of drama, astronomers have called the star S5-HVS1. It should have been called something like Ergomighty the Ejector or whatever.

Things like this make me realise how fragile our little planet is in the galactic scheme of things.

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Wordpress 5.3 critical error

After upgrading one of the sites I manage to Wordpress 5.3, I encountered our old friend the Critical Error. It has been a while since I've seen that one and I thought I'd jot down some notes about how to debug that error and get your site working again.

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Cookies and bum implants

Cookie monsters

I am massively fed up with having to confirm I'll accept cookies all the time. I visit a lot of tech sites and they seem to want confirmation at least weekly. I know by clicking the default Yes, Agree or Confirm I'm giving them permission to invade my privacy at will. For all I know they can now legally come to my house and stick their finger up my bottom. They're doing it wrong of course — the cookie stuff, not the finger-up-bottom stuff — they should implement the most restrictive data-sharing settings by default, but that's another matter. I've already given them access to my colorectal system so why do they need to ask again and again and again? And again.

Staying with bottoms

I read that someone called Sophie Elise is desperate to get rid of her bum implants. I know how she feels and I asked my GP the same thing.

“You don’t have implants,” she said, “you’ve just got a fat arse.”

I shan’t be going there again.

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Chepstow Real Ale and Cider Festival, October 2019

I went back to my old stomping ground in the weekend and attended the Chepstow Real Ale and Cider Festival. This is my brief review of the occasion.

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Today is World Egg Day

Eggs are excellent. There are very few meals that cannot be improved with the addition of an egg. To celebrate this day I present you with the The Order of Eggs, which are the best ways to enjoy an egg as determined by people.

  1. Fried
  2. Boiled
  3. Poached
  4. Scrambled

It is ironic that something as wonderful as an egg should come from something as creepy as a chicken. I am of course aware that other creatures lay eggs but it’s the humble hen’s egg that’s the most satisfying (also as determined by people).

Many US presidents have commented about eggs:

The egg is the ultimate creation in nature, I keep one in my hat at all times.” — George Washington.

I hope our constitution is like an egg; oval and eggy.” — Abraham Lincoln.

Leave my trousers alone and fry me an egg instead, Monica.” — Bill Clinton.

What’s an egg?” — Donald Trump.

One shocking fact is that every US president has said the word ‘egg’.

Happy World Egg Day, everyone. Go on, you know you want one.

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Apple Reminders on iOS 13, iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina — much improved

Apple's Reminders app is much improved under macOS Catalina, iPadOS 13 and iOS 13. It’s now a ‘proper’ GTD app with much added functionality as compared to previous versions. It’s still not perfect, though.

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Laundry nonsense

My laundry hardware is conspiring against me. A couple of weeks ago I moaned about my washing machine’s inability to count and today my condensing drier ate one of my fleeces. It chewed up the main zip and one of the pocket zips, thus ruining it. It simply detached these zips and spat them out. This is despite already having received a verbal warning for turning every last one of my t-shirts inside out every time I use it. There will be repercussions. I will at the very least throw my toys out of the pram.

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In The Tall Grass (2019) movie review — it fails to deliver

I watched In The Tall Grass on the weekend and this is my review of that film. I thought I’d better write one quickly because it’s the sort of movie I could easily forget, and therein lies a big clue about what I thought of the film.

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US whistle-blower gets an A for English

The US whistle-blower who’s currently exposing some of Donald Trump’s alleged shenanigans also scores well with his writing.

A writing instructor has an article in The New York Times that praises the whistle-blower’s use of directness, headings, topic sentences and active verbs.

I can’t tell you what’s going to happen to his blockbuster complaint about the president’s behavior, but I can tell you that the whistle-blower’s college writing instructor would be very proud of him.

Hopefully that’ll be a consolation to him if Trump manages to carry out his Twitter threats and prosecute him for treason.

Still, good lessons for us all there, particularly me. My blogs are often passive rambles that veer off on inexplicable tangents.

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Google proves quantum supremacy — world still safe

Lock all your doors. If a Skynet T-800 turns up and says “Come with me if you want a sieve”, don’t believe him, he has no genuine interest in cooking utensils and is simply using that to lure you 1000 years into the future where, I believe, the Brexit debate is still ongoing.

Quantum supremacy sounds very grand and Terminatoresque but it just means a quantum computer has done something a non-quantum computer couldn’t do in any reasonable time.

In Google’s case, they ran a bunch of computer instructions on a quantum computer and then analysed the result. Then they tried to do the same thing on a (non-quantum) supercomputer. It took the quantum computer 3 minutes and 20 seconds to carry out its task and, if they lived long enough to wait for the result, it would have taken the supercomputer 10,000 years.

The news leaked out via a paper published on NASA’s website but Google hasn’t announced anything itself yet. Google has a policy of not commenting on things that take 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

Quantum supremacy is merely a milestone and a proof of concept rather than some sort of grandiose ‘supremacy’, but it’s nevertheless an important achievement for computer scientists.

With all this progress in the field of computing, how is it my robot vacuum cleaner spends most of its time stuck in a corner, repeatedly bashing against a wall?

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The Thomas Cook Affair

The bit I’m trying to understand about Thomas Cook’s collapse is why it costs me £100m to repatriate the people stranded by Thomas Cook. And when I say me I mean the taxpayer — I don’t have £100m personally.

I can understand why the government would repatriate stranded Brits but surely this would all be covered by some sort of insurance, wouldn’t it? If not, then the rules need to be changed to ensure travel companies purchase insurance that covers this sort of thing in future.

I think the government was right not to step in. Yes, a lot of jobs are at stake and a lot of customers are in the mire but it seems as if Thomas Cook were on an unstoppable downward tumble. If the government stepped in it would only be delaying the inevitable, which would have cost more and yet resulted in the same job losses and stranded customers in the long run.

Thomas Cook blamed many things but the upshot is they didn’t adapt to the way people book holidays these days. They didn’t embrace the whole online thing. They’re not the first company to make that mistake.

Of course Monarch went tits-up a while back too. In their case it was less about not adapting to the interweb and more about simply being shit. I flew with them once and had to sit in a broken seat with a lump of metal digging into my spine. I wrote a letter to them about it afterwards but in their reply they simply told me their CEO always flies cattle-class with a lump of metal digging into his spine and never complains. Yeah, right. With that sort of customer service it was inevitable they would eventually run into problems. Poor customer service can prevail for a surprising length of time — particularly where large, market-dominant companies are concerned — but karma catches up with such companies in the end.

I feel sorry for the stranded passengers and the redundant employees who suffer as a result of a company’s incompetence, but sometimes companies just get what they deserve. It’s sad, though, that in almost all cases of a large company collapse, those who engineered the problem will walk away with millions in their bank account.

Either way, a private company’s collapse shouldn’t cost me anything.

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Washing machine timers

Why does my washing machine insist on winding me up? It says there’s 3 minutes left so I think I may as well potter about the kitchen and wait. I watch it go 3, 2 and 1 and then it goes back up to 4. Yes, 4.

Does it exist in some bizarre space-time continuum? Is my washing machine simply too stupid to count? Or is it just (as I suspect) taking the pee?

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