Bookish Martel man wins Man Booker

Life of Pi book coverAn acquaintance of mine, Yann Martel, won the Man Booker prize last night for his novel Life of Pi. His life will almost certainly never be the same. As I write, he’s being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today after having been up all night partying somewhere in London.

The best newspaper coverage has been in the Guardian. The day before the winner was announced, novelist and prize judge Russell Celyn Jones wrote (Read between the hype):

The whole point of the Booker prize is to bring attention and new readers to such books that would otherwise struggle in a market dominated by commercial fiction. Life of Pi is a good example.

More can found in the following two Guardian stories. The first, more interesting piece, is about Yann; the second focuses on the prize itself.

I can’t comment on his book because I haven’t read it. I hardly ever read fiction. Real life is so fascinatingly bizarre who needs to make stuff up?

The reality of text

Yet more interesting stuff from this week’s Economist ( | European telecoms). It seems …

One of the fastest-growing uses of text messaging, moreover, is interacting with television. Gartner’s figures show that 20% of teenagers in France, 11% in Britain and 9% in Germany have sent messages in response to TV shows.

I hate “reality television” shows, such as the Big Brother series, which have been the prime source of this interactive television trend. I have yet to see or hear any participant or fan with anything significant to say on any of these programmes. As far as I’m concerned the primary benefit of getting them all to communicate by text message is that each one is limited to only 164 characters. You can’t have too many run-on sentences with that reality!

Computers and people

Here’s an excerpt from an interesting editorial in this week’s Economist: | Computers and government (subscription required). Although it’s really commenting on IT projects in government, I think the same points are relevant to all organizations. In fact, it shouldn’t be titled "Computers and government" but "Computers and people".

Most private-sector bosses - especially since the bursting of the dot-com bubble - hope for nothing more than a return on their investment through lower costs and some improvement in competitiveness. But politicians (vide Mr Blair), desperate to find quick fixes and unencumbered with any understanding of what technology can and can’t do, often expect miracles. And one of the things that technology can’t do is to alter people’s attitudes towards change. "Change management" is never easy, but in the public sector it is especially hard because there is too little competitive pressure pushing it, and there are too many powerful unions holding it back. The commonest reason for IT failures is that custom-made systems are built to fit existing ways of working. Such systems, which consultants are only too happy to create, are expensive, deliver only marginal benefits and are inherently likely to go wrong.

So how can civil servants avoid disaster? First, they should regard installing new software as an opportunity to re-engineer the way they work in the light of both the Internet and how they want to operate for the next 20 years. Consultants cannot make those decisions for them. The new business processes must also fit unmodified software, not the other way round: the more modifications to the software, the greater the risk. Second, they should beware of incomplete automation: if one area of operations still depends on hand-written forms, little will be gained. To this end, they must buy business applications that have been engineered from the outset to work together. These may not individually be the "best of breed" that consultants often recommend, but they are more likely to be properly integrated - think of Microsoft Office. Finally, IT systems should provide managers with vital information; most fail to because data are fragmented and hard to find. With an Internet-based system, important information can be kept in one place, and managers can get at it when they need it.

A Passion Killer

Norwich City underwearMy very first wedding anniversary is coming up, and I’ve been racking my brains for anniversary present ideas. However, I think I’ll pass on this one from the BBC:

An aggrieved wife has said “knickers” to her husband because of his obsession with Norwich City [football club]. Joanne Bradley was sick of playing second fiddle to the First Division club and is filing for divorce. The final straw came when husband Neil bought her some tasty Norwich underwear… as an anniversary present.

What would Delia, who’s part owner of Norwich City FC, say?

Different views of news

I always find it interesting when different media report the same story in different ways, or as in this case, when a story makes headlines in one location, but doesn’t see the light of day in another.

For several days now, the top Canadian story about the Queen’s current tour of Canada is that the Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, has stated that the monarchy should be abolished. On Sunday Radio Canada International reported:

A political controversy is brewing over untimely remarks by Canada’s deputy prime minister. Hours after Queen Elizabeth arrived Friday for a 12-day tour of Canada to mark her Golden Jubilee, John Manley called for the abolition of the monarchy. Now a former prime minister says Mr. Manley has shown rudeness and poor political judgement. Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark is calling for Prime Minister Jean Chretien to reconsider Mr. Manley’s duties as host to the Queen during her visit to Ottawa this week.

Meanwhile, here in Britain this story hasn’t made the news at all. On Monday the coverage was all about that spectacular puck drop, and today it’s about running adrift in Winterpeg’s Red River during a cold spell (see Queen ‘ashen-faced’ after rescue from freezing river).

I can only assume that British journalists think their audiences at home just don’t care whether or not the Queen remains the Canadian head of state. And who can blame them? It would make even less difference here, than it would in Canada.

US Radio Wants a Digital Revolution

Here’s an interesting article from the Associated Press (via Wired) about the advent of digital radio in the US: Radio Wants a Digital Revolution. As I read it I wondered if the author would mention the experiences other countries have had implementing digital radio, but no such luck. Only at the very end do we learn that…

Canada and parts of Europe and Asia have had digital radio for years, but those broadcasts are carried on a frequency reserved in the United States for the military.

The Accrington Apples

BBC1 is in the middle of a new TV series on the weather (Wild Weather). Last night’s programme featured the story of the “Accrington apples”. On the night of November 8, 1984 the house of Derek and Adrienne Haythornwhite in Accrington, Lancashire, was bombarded by at least 300 apples. More apples were discovered in nearby gardens as well. The couple were woken up at night by thunderous noises on the roof, and by the time it was over they were ankle deep in apples!

It seems the weather was responsible for picking these apples up and dumping them on the Haythornwhites, and apparently lots of things fall from the sky in a similar way (see LOOK OUT BELOW! Reports of various creatures and strange objects falling to earth). Truth is once again stranger than fiction.