We couldn’t do this with our gerbils – not only are they too big, but they’d be through that piece of popcorn in about 4 seconds.

We still only have 3 gerbils (I think, haven’t seen one of them yet this morning), and have named the fat one Pillsbury in the hopes that he is just fat.

(HT: Neatorama)

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In which your shut-in author writes to the BBC when his pedant juices come to boiling point:


I was reading your piece on the latest supercomputer, and was a little disappointed to read the following:

“The latest number cruncher is capable of operating at so called “petaflop” speeds – the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.”

There are two problems with this one sentence. The first is that the OED defines ‘so called’ as “commonly called or designated by the name or term specified, often incorrectly” An excellent use is to describe the so called War on Terror, because that is how our current situation is called, whether it is a justified title or not.

By contrast the speed of supercomputers is actually measured in flops, and at the moment the fastest use the larger unit of petaflops. They aren’t ‘so called’ petaflops any more than my house is 13 so called miles from Southampton; Southampton actually is that far from my home, and Blue Gene/P actually does operate at petaflop speed.

A second, lesser point: A petaflop isn’t the “equivalent” of 1,000 trillion calculations per second, it actually is 1,000 trillion calculations per second. A mile isn’t the equivalent of 1,760 yards; that’s what it actually is.

I understand that you have to skim some details to maintain user interest (not mentioning the type of calculation that gives a flop its name, for example), but if there’s one thing the BBC should always be able to do, it’s to use words and sentences at least as well as I do.

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We have 3 boy gerbils. To be honest I have to take the RSPCA’s word on this, because they’re not exactly hung like hamsters, but we’ve had no reason to doubt that. Until now. We currently have one normal gerbil, one who could probably stand to lose an ounce or two, and one who is bordering on morbidly obese. Right now we’re hoping that the biggest problem we’re facing is how to put one gerbil on a diet without starving the others.

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There’s a report on the BBC about Britain’s most dangerous roads. The first thing that struck me is that they’re all in the north of the country, probably because there isn’t enough space in the south to get up enough speed for a decent accident.

A little study showed something a little more surprising. In England driving lessons and tests are conducted on public roads without any introduction (at least when I learned, the only requirement was if your instructor asked you to read the Highway Code first). As was common, therefore, my instructor drove us a little way out of town before handing over the tonne of rolling death to my control. I remember very clearly the effort I made not to exceed the 30mph limit, forgetting that the road we were on was a 60mph (not that this was a bad idea, of course).

Anyway, the slightly startling result of the safety survey is that for my very first driving trip, after a brief trip away from town, I turned on to the second most dangerous road in the country, followed that for a while, then cut across to the 8th most dangerous road. Perhaps I should have been doing 20mph.

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