bookmark_borderDriving faster on the motorway

speed limit
Originally uploaded by perlmonger

As I’ve written before, it’s an British anomaly that the speed limit is the same on motorways and dual carriageways (70 mph).

The CoLD coalition now seem to considering raising the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph (129 km/h), which would make good sense.

However, I think they should also lower the speed limit on dual carriageways to 60 mph (97 km/h), and on single carriageways to 50 mph (80 km/h) at the same time, but that isn’t mentioned in the article, so I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up.

bookmark_borderA mandoline from Penang

Georgetown (Penang)
Originally uploaded by whitecat singapore

Our old plastic mandoline (i.e., vegetable slicer) had broken down to the extent that it normally cost me one finger per onion, so I found a new one at a good price from an online shop called Baking Frenzy.

I didn’t investigate where the shop was based, but it appeared to be based in the UK, given that all prices were given in pounds.

However, yesterday the postman turned up with a parcel covered in pretty Malaysian stamps, sent by a person with a Chinese name from an address in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

The slicer is absolutely fine, although it has some signs of having been intended for sale in East Asia.

I really love it when globalisation becomes almost personal like this!

bookmark_border2011 + 4 + 1 + 4 = 2010 + 5 + 5

Scottish Parliament
Originally uploaded by Kieran Lynam

The Scotsman could recently reveal that the Scottish parliamentary election following this year’s election will be moved from 2015 to 2016 because the four-year cycle for elections to the Scottish Parliament would clash with the newly-established five-year cycle for UK elections.

At first that sounds like a really good idea, but as a commenter called “Save the cheerleader – save the world” wrote underneath the article:

Let’s see if I’ve got this right. The next Scottish Parliament will be extended from 4 years to 5, in order to avoid a clash with the next 5-yearly UK election. That means it will run from 2016 to 2020…the date of the next UK election. D’oh!

No doubt the obvious solution will be to delay the Scottish elections yet again. And again. And again. At a stroke, without any public debate at all, the term of the Scottish Parliament will have been increased from 4 years to 5, in perpetuity.

This is absolutely true, of course, and I find it strange nobody has spotted this – or does everybody assume that the five-year Westminster cycle will be abolished as soon as a single party gets into power again?

There are already signs the election campaign will be interesting, by the way. In a blog posting about Wendy Alexander, Iain Macwhirter wrote:

As far as I can tell, Labour stands – in this election – for 1: increasing council tax; 2, cutting health spending in real terms; 3, restoring university tuition fees in the form of a graduate contribution; 4 stuffing yet more people in jail who shouldn’t be there; 5 protecting supermarkets from proper taxation. Oh: and jobs, of course – theirs. No wonder they were so determined to keep the price of booze down. We’ll need it.

Harsh, but fair!

bookmark_borderFewer students

Glasgow University (2)
Originally uploaded by ScubaBeer

In an article in The Herald it is claimed that “Scottish universities want to charge students fees of £12,000 for a four-year degree”.

Shocking as that is in its own right, I found the last part of the article even more interesting:

[U]niversities agreed with the Scottish Government to maintain student numbers this year, despite cuts to the teaching budget, by paying a portion of the costs themselves.

As a result, in 2011/12 some 19% of students, or nearly 28,000 learners, are “fees only students” – which means the Government pays only around a quarter of the cost of teaching them.

[…] [A]ny reduction of student numbers would hit first year students disproportionately hard, because universities cannot alter numbers in any other year. And it uses the example that, to achieve a 10% reduction in student numbers for a four-year course, first year admissions would have to be reduced by 40%.

Under last year’s total intake to Scottish universities of some 35,000 UK students, that would mean 14,000 fewer next year – although it is inconceivable cuts of this magnitude would be sanctioned by any Scottish Government. “If universities are not confident of the urgent introduction of a sustainable funding model, they will be forced to act to bring the student population back to a level which is closer to the number of fully funded student places. Failure to do so could jeopardise the quality and long-term reputation of Scotland’s universities,” the circular states.

“If student numbers had to be reduced, this would mean that increased numbers of well-qualified applicants would face rejection over late 2011, early 2012.”

I actually think it would be good to lower the number of university students in the medium term. There are far too many young people studying for degrees that aren’t going to help them find a job.

However, it’s not the best universities – such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews – that need to downsize; it’s the new ones that clearly aren’t as highly rated by employers.

Also, of course the government should create lots of good alternatives to a university study – I don’t suggest for one minute that the best alternative to going to university is simply to find a job straight after school.

Finally, it’s paramount that any change happens slowly. Reducing the number of university places by 40% in one year would be absolutely disastrous, which of course the universities know, which is why they’re saying it to call the government’s bluff.

bookmark_borderContinental time

CLOCK – Musée d’Orsay
Originally uploaded by danalipar

According to this article in The Telegraph, the British government are thinking about introducing ‘double summertime’.

Although they’re using this bizarre name for it, it’s really just continental time, also known as Central European Time, given that it would put the UK in exactly the same time zone as France, Germany, Denmark and many other countries.

For that reason, I’d support it – it’s always a hassle to have friends and family in another time zone.

However, what would it mean in practice here in Scotland?

Today, the 21st of February, the sun would have risen at 8.30am and set at 6.30pm. Not too horrible, given that schools start at 9.

On the 20th of December, however, daylight would be from 9.45am to 4.45pm (instead of 8.45am to 3.45am). In practice, that would mean that kids would travel to school in complete darkness for at least a month, but on the other hand they’d actually be able to play outside for an hour or two after school.

On the 20th of June, daylight would be from 5.30am to 11pm(instead of 4.30am to 10pm), which actually would suit me better.

So bring it on! If they’re really that worried about kids going to school in the dark, there’s nothing preventing northern schools from shifting their hours to compensate.

bookmark_borderBirkes og makroner

Årets bedste fødselsdagsgave var nok en slidt gammel bog fra 1966, som min søster gav mig: Politikens Vi Bager.

Som hun sagde, da hun gav mig den, var den svær at skaffe, da den på det nærmeste er blevet kult.

Og det undrer mig ikke! Der er meget få billeder i, men den rummer mange hundrede opskrifter – ikke som de hersens moderne kogebøger, der er skrevet af folk, der tror, at tyve opskrifter, fyrre smukke farvebilleder og tredive anekdoter udgør den perfekte kogebog.

Men som jeg fandt ud for et par måneder siden, er det altså dybt frustrerende med opskrifter, der angiver, man skal bruge 200 g makroner, når man bor i et land, hvor den slags ikke er til salg.

Sådan er Vi Bager ikke. Der er opskrifter på makroner, kransekagemasse, sigtebrød og spandauere – alt det, en dansker i udlandet kan savne.

Som nu fx i morges, da jeg bagte birkes:

Tebirkes (ca. 14 stk.)
25 g gær
1½ dl mælk
1 æg
1 spsk. sukker
½ tsk. salt
300 g mel
75 g smør el. margarine

Gæren udrøres i den lunkne mælk.

Æg, sukker, salt og mel røres i.

Dejen slås godt i fadet.

Stilles til hævning til den dobbelte størrelse (ca. 20 min.).

Dejen slås ned og rulles ud på et melet bord til ca. 25 × 40 cm.

Smørret skæres i tynde skiver og fordeles over halvdelen af dejen.

Den anden halvdel foldes over.

Dejen udrulles og foldes sammen i 3 lag.

Dette gentages 2-3 gange.

Til sidst udrulles dejen til ca. 30 × 70 cm og foldes i 3 lag på den lange led.

Skæres i ca. 5 cm brede stykker, efterhæver på pladen ca. 15 min.

Pensles med æg og drysses med birkes.

Bagetid: ca. 15 min. ved god varme (200°).

Det var ikke de bedste birkes, jeg har fået, men de var nu ganske udmærkede.

bookmark_borderSpoken French

Spoken and written French are so different that they can probably be considered two separate languages.

Nevertheless, most language courses and grammars ignore this issue and try to teach some sort of compromise language in which ‘money’ is argent, ne isn’t dropped, and the passé simple isn’t used.

Street French” is one attempt at solving this, but it focuses too much on slang, and it still spells everything in normal French orthography.

Why hasn’t anybody created a language course and grammar of spoken French in which everything is given in IPA instead?

E.g., here’s the present tense of m???e ‘to eat’:

im??? (?lm???)
im??? (?lm???)

A dialogue could look as follows:

k?m?? tytap?l?
??map?l le??.
ta d f?ik?
n??, ?e pa d f?ik.

If only I was better at French, and if only I thought such a course would sell, I’d write it myself!