Originally uploaded by viralbus.

Because Pudge has got rhythm, I bought a xylophone (or more precisely, as Wikipedia informs me, a glockenspiel). He loves it a lot, and so does Charlotte, as can be seen from this photo (whereas Marcel seems to largely ignore it).

He has definitely got the hang of it – he instinctively knows how to hold the sticks, and he’s quickly getting a more controlled touch.

I wonder how long it’ll take before he starts playing tunes… 😉

bookmark_borderTypes of democracy

The Economist Intelligence Unit has produced a really interesting survey of democracy in the world (in PDF format).

It confirms my worry that political participation is horribly low in the UK, much lower than in any similar country. I suspect Denmark’s score is dragged down by the lack of separation of church and state.

The survey splits democracy into five separate categories:

  1. Electoral process and pluralism
  2. Functioning of government
  3. Political participation
  4. Political culture
  5. Civil liberties

I extracted the data and did some analysis of my own. The strongest correlation seems to be between (1) and (5) – that is, electoral process and pluralism are closely tied to civil liberties. A somewhat less strong correlation is found between (2), (3) and (4) – that is, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture are all linked together.

On the other hand, the weakest correlation is between (1) and (4) – that is, electoral process and pluralism are fairly independent of political culture.

This means that one can very roughly split the world’s governments into four groups, based on two axes, (1)+(5) vs. (2)+(3)+(4):

  1. Countries like Angola, Central Africa, Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan which score low in all regards.
  2. Countries like Bosnia and Hercegovina, Dom Rep, Ecuador, Georgia, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger and Russia which technically are democracies and have some civil liberties, but where there are big problems with the functioning of government and with political participation and culture.
  3. Countries like Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique which are very far from being pluralistic democracies and are low on civil liberties, but which nevertheless have functioning governments and a certain degree of political participation and culture.
  4. Countries like Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland which do well in all respects.

bookmark_borderTemporary email addresses

Slashdot were running a story about 10 Minute Mail today. Basically, it’s a web page that gives you an email address that only lasts ten minutes.

It’s extremely useful because lots of other web sites requires you to provide an email address, but you can’t be sure they won’t spam you later. Also, to get a permanent email address with Yahoo! or Hotmail or whoever, you normally need to provide a valid email address to get started, so this provides a nice starting point.

However, this also means it’s a very useful way for spammers or other bad guys to cover their tracks, so I wonder whether this web page will remain available, or whether there’ll be pressure to get it shut down…

bookmark_border5 år med VK(O) :-(

Jeg så i de danske netaviser, at den af Dansk Folkeparti støttede VK-regering nu har styret Danmark i fem år. 🙁

Det har jo været en deprimerende regering at læse om, men rent faktisk har jeg ikke oplevet ret meget af dens virke personligt, da jeg jo emigrerede til Skotland tre-fire måneder efter dens tiltræden (eller med andre ord lige så hurtigt, som jeg kunne finde et job i udlandet).

Jeg håber ikke, den kommer til at fejre mange flere fødselsdage!


My parents are coming on a visit for the weekend – my mum will arrive tomorrow (Thursday) and my dad the next day, and they’ll go home together on Tuesday.

They haven’t met Phyllis yet, so it’s good they’re finally coming. I hope the weather won’t be too dreich!

bookmark_borderThe difficulty of acquiring a Scottish accent

When I moved to Scotland nearly five years ago, I imagined I would quickly acquire a Scottish accent. That hasn’t happened, however. This is due partly to the number of non-Scottish colleagues I have and to the other varieties of English I hear on TV.

However, a big problem is not being able to guess pronunciations correctly based on my knowledge of RP. There are at least four major issues:

  1. Syllable-final /r/. In common with most varieties of American English, the /r/ is pronounced in words like port, far and better. Given that I know how to spell, this is easy enough to do when I have time to think, but I can’t do this perfectly while speaking quickly – not only will I forget to put in some /r/s, but I’d also tend to put in some extra /r/s in words like bath.
  2. ir, er and ur: In most Scottish accents, the words bird, herd and curd don’t rhyme. It’s the same problem as before: I can do it when I’m given time to think, but not otherwise.
  3. wh: The h is not silent in wh, and this leads to the same problems as before. The spelling is not always a guide – the h is silent in whelk, for instance.
  4. north vs. force: In common with some other varieties of English (including old-fashioned RP and Jamaican), the vowel in north is different from the one in force. In this case, I can’t even do it correctly when given time to think about it, because I’d need to relearn all relevant words.