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Donkey Kong court case

Who would have thought somebody would go to court over Donkey Kong?

It is however true. A video gamer called Billy Mitchell is taking Guinness World Records and something called the Twin Galaxies Scoreboard to court on the basis of defamation after they removed his top score from the records.

The dispute is about whether he used an “unmodified original DK arcade PCB as per the competitive rules”. Guinness and Twin Galaxies appear to have some doubts.

Apparently, Mitchell also has a ‘perfect’ Pac-Man score:

To achieve the game's maximum score of 3,333,360 points, Mitchell navigated 256 boards (or screens), eating every single dot, blinking energizer blob, flashing blue ghost, and point-loaded fruit, without losing a single life.

I remember Pac-Man well. One of the first pubs I visited at the tender age of 16 18 had a Pac-Man machine, back in the days when you’d get a pint, a chip butty and a number of goes on the Pac-Man for a couple of quid. I played the game regularly and, whilst I can’t remember what the scores were, I can’t recall ever going beyond 20 screens or so, if that. The 256 Mitchell negotiated is quite remarkable.

I played Donkey Kong too, although I have fewer memories about that.

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Proton size measured with a better ruler

In atoms, electrons normally orbit the nucleus of an atom. The nucleus can contain a mixture of protons and neutrons in most atoms although hydrogen just has a single proton, which makes it the simplest atom to study: there’s just one electron orbiting one proton.

One day a bunch of scientists wondered what would happen if they evicted the electron from a hydrogen atom and instead replaced it with a muon. A muon is part of the same family of particles as the electron — a family collectively called leptons — and it has the same charge and spin, but it’s 207 times heavier and doesn't exist for very long.

What they noticed was that, against all known physics, the proton seemed to shrink by 4% in the presence of the muon. This elicited much scratching of heads and considerable stroking of beards. In fact, hundreds of papers were written about it suggesting the new laws of physics that might have been discovered.

Alas, it all came down to a faulty ruler.

They thought the standard proton (with an electron orbiting it) was 0.876 femtometers and measured the muonic proton to be 0.84 femtometers.

But some clever-dick has come along and measured the standard proton with a better ruler and pegs it at 0.833 femtometers +/- 0.01, which removes the discrepancy found with the muonic proton.

I feel sorry for all those scientists who expended much brain-power coming up with new theories, although I did giggle a bit.

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The longer we stay awake, the more we need to sleep, scientists say

The titular statement is hardly groundbreaking. If that’s all there was to it, I’d have discovered it myself and I’d have a Nobel Prize on the mantlepiece (rhetorically, that is, because I don’t actually have a mantlepiece).

Two years ago, scientists in Japan reported the discovery of a mouse that just could not stay awake. This creature, which had a mutation in a gene called Sik3, slept upwards of 30 percent more than usual: Although it awoke apparently refreshed, it would need to snooze again long before its normal lab mates’ bedtime. It was as if the mouse had a greater need for sleep.

I know how the mouse feels.

Scientists are doing more than stating the obvious of course: they’re looking at why we need sleep at all.

One theory is that while we’re awake we form strong synaptic connections in the brain, which make memories, and during sleep we ‘file’ these memories. We weaken the synaptic connections related to unimportant memories and strengthen those related to important memories.

But what’s going on at the cellular level?

It’s all to do with proteins and a process called phosphorylation, which is the binding of phosphor and oxygen to organic molecules.

I think my own brain is faulty in this respect, or at least it can’t distinguish important memories from unimportant ones. I'm likely to forget something important, like maybe a hospital appointment, yet remember useless details about an obscure, late 70s punk band.

I have to use an extensive system of electronic reminders to remember anything these days. I find placing a single reminder is insufficient and I have to add an additional reminder reminding me I’ve got a reminder to attend to.

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Avengers: Endgame review — a bit disappointing

By and large, I've enjoyed the Avengers and most of Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Endgame left me a little disappointed. I'll tell you why in this review, in which I've largely avoided any spoilers.

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HS2 and government projects in general

Has there ever been a major government project that was overestimated in terms of time and budget? If there has, I can’t remember it. It seems to me government projects are always underestimated and I note the HS2 project is now suffering the same fate.

They have fallen for the planning fallacy yet again.

Back in my project management days I used to add anything from a third to a half onto time and budget estimates as a matter of course. It’s hard to justify that sort of thing with your bosses when you can only says it’s for the unexpected, but if there’s ever anything you should expect on a project it’s the unexpected.

Most of my projects were IT projects and you could justify some of the additional time and budget on integration. If you’ve got four people working on separate components of a large lump of software, you can guarantee it’ll take a lot longer than you think to get those components talking to one another. And that’s despite the fact that they’re all allegedly observing the same communications protocols.

I think this is a specific example of a more general phenomenon. It is wise to break a project down as much as possible in order to estimate the resources needed but it always takes longer than you think to join the dots at the end.

I guess governments have other pressures on their estimates too. Politics is going to encourage them to underestimate because they want to be seen to be using as little of taxpayers’ money as possible. But I’d argue they’d be better off estimating accurately in the first place — or even overestimating — because they’d get more political mileage by coming in either on or under budget at the end.

What I don’t understand is why the government never learns. I’ve never managed anything anywhere near the scale and complexity of HS2 but, just looking at the way previous government projects have gone, they must surely have known of their propensity to underestimate. If I’d asked the various section leaders for estimates and it totalled up to £56 billion and 15 years, I’d be working on a real estimate of £100 billion and 25 years.

If a complete numpty like me can see HS2 was always going to be underestimated, why can’t the government?

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Google's private web proposals

Google is proposing a way to build a more private web which suggests a reclassification of cookies amongst other things. From a user's perspective I think Google are coming at this from the wrong angle.

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Zen Internet review after 9 years

I've been using Zen Internet as my ISP for 9 years now and I always recommend them to people, so I thought it was about time I did a proper review of the broadband package I use.

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Brexit and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

The Brexit backstop

Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, the issue of the Brexit backstop is surely puzzling. Neither the UK nor the EU want a hard border in Ireland. Yet for two parties who both want the same thing they’re doing an awful lot of arguing about it.

If neither the UK nor the EU is going to put a hard border up, who is? Is perhaps the Dominican Republic a bit bored with life and threatening to put a hard border in Ireland for a laugh?

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson tops Forbes highest paid actors list again: ludicrous. The world’s gone mad. Again.

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The Tumblr acquisition

If you’ve been blogging for a while — or even just following blogs — you’ll most likely have come across Tumblr. For those of you who’ve never experienced Tumblr, it’s a microblogging, pseudo-social networking site that’s known for its outré content.

It was launched in February 2007 and had 75,000 users within a fortnight. In 2013, it was bought by Yahoo! Inc. for $1.1 billion and in 2017 Yahoo! Inc. was itself bought by Verizon Communications.

Tumblr has recently been sold to a company called Automattic who are best-known for their Wordpress, open-source blogging software and their upmarket Wordpress services via wordpress.com.

Automattic reportedly paid $3 million for Tumblr, which is a bit of a drop from the $1.1 billion it was once worth, but I believe it’s found a good home with Automattic as blogging is where their expertise lies.

Tumblr currently hosts some 475 million blogs and attracts 400 million visitors every month, so it’s a significant chunk of internet real estate.

I link to a recent article on The Verge that carries an interview about the Tumblr acquisition with Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg. I found it interesting, anyway.

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Measuring cosmic distances

I was recently reading an article about the expansion of the universe and how recent data suggests the figures we've been using might not be quite correct. This led me to look at how we measure this expansion - and, more generically, how we measure any cosmic distance - and I thought I'd write an article about it.

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Protect your spuds from gulls

Of the things you need to know in life, this is a biggie. Anything that helps protect my consumption of the venerable potato is worthy of study.

Boffins at Exeter University have determined that herring gulls are more cautious about stealing your chips if they’re being watched. Alas they are career criminals and will most likely still steal them, but they’ll take 21 seconds longer on average to do so than those gulls that aren’t being watched.

As is typical of the criminal fraternity, a lot of them were uncooperative:

The scientists tried to test 74 gulls, but most would not participate.

Only 19 of them of them actively participated in the “looking at” and “looking away” test. I’d suggest they were just the lackeys and those higher up in the criminal network — the Godfeathers perhaps — avoided being linked to any crime.

The University of Exeter researchers said the study, conducted in coastal towns in Cornwall and published in the journal Biology Letters, shows how people might be able to reduce food-snatching by modifying their own behaviour.

Indeed, if I find myself in locomotion with a potato I now constantly crane my neck so I can lock eyes with these bewinged reprobates. This buys me 21 seconds to employ the “arm-over defence” as taught to me by Master Po during my stay at the Shaolin temple.

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Why do films get mental health so wrong?

The article I link to is specifically related to bipolar but the sentiment is true of film and TV representations of all mental health disorders.

The why, though, is easy.

People who don’t suffer from mental illness just don’t understand it. That’s true of most illnesses of course, mental or otherwise, but mental illness isn’t afforded the same respect as other illnesses. It just isn’t.

Despite all the science pointing to mental illness being a combination of biological, genetic and environmental causes, just like many other illnesses, you’re more likely to be blamed for your mental illness. Many people don’t see you as “ill” and assume you should just be able to think yourself better.

The short supply of empathy for these conditions is why so many sufferers find themselves living on the edges of society, either physically or emotionally.

Sadly such opinions are often prevalent even in medical circles, so it’s not surprising TV and film gets it wrong too.

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I am not a robot

I'm a bit fed up with 'robot tests' that websites ask me to pass before permitting me access. Half the time I simply don't bother and visit another website instead. Is there no better way to do this?

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How about a dozenal world?

I’ve always thought 12 was a good number. I slightly prefer six because it’s great with eggs. I can eat any number of eggs from the six and still maintain some sort of symmetry — or at least a pleasing pattern — with the eggs that remain in the box. Even removing one egg isn’t too bad, although it leaves the least pleasing remainder.

Twelve isn’t quite so good because removing one egg leaves things unbalanced, which is why I always have two boiled eggs for breakfast. But it’s still better than 10, which, as the BBC video shows, is often hard to divide up into useful parts.

If you’re in IT you’re probably used to working in bases different to ten, most notably hexadecimal and of course binary, but I like the idea of a dozenal base.

It’s just me that cares about the symmetry of eggs in a box isn’t it?

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This 5G nonsense

About ten years ago someone stole our telephone exchange and plunged the entire village I live in into a communications Stone Age.

Carrier pigeons were flung squawking into the air to pass important communiques. Carts were dusted off and tethered to reluctant horses. I think we had our first case of leprosy since 1798.

So, no landlines and no broadband. So use your mobile phones, I hear a bespectacled student shout from the back row.

Well, we can't. We have no mobile phone reception either. Actually that’s a bit of lie, you can sometimes get one bar of reception whilst you’re dialling a number but that will inevitably drop to no bars as soon as somebody answers.

When our telephone exchange was finally restored to working order I spoke to my mobile phone operator to vent my spleen about our lack of reception here, but they didn’t really care.

Instead we hear announcements of 3G, 4G and now 5G, sponsored by the Chinese Intelligence Service I'm led to believe. It irritates me to see these Gs incrementing like this when we’re effectively 0G for most of the time. People in the most populous boroughs of London might get 5G but what of the rest of us?

You may wag your finger and say that this is the price I pay for living in the countryside and by way of compensation I have sheep to look at, but surely it’s just a matter of a few more transmitter masts. I can’t believe they’re all that expensive in the grand scheme of things. They certainly don’t look expensive.

As it happens I now have a mobile phone plan that allows me to dial out through my wireless network but many operators don’t have such facilities.

And there’s still the matter of text messages. I would rather amputate my head than send a text message but banks keep trying to send login security codes to me via text message, and that’s just pointless. So now I just guess how much money I’ve got and hope for the best.

I suppose I have the opposite problem to those who live in civilisation. They’ll use their entire data allowance in 30 seconds with 5G, whereas I can’t use any of my data allowance no matter how hard I try.

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