The Quantum Angler
He never gets Bohred of fishing.

Monday, August 21, 2006

King of the Assembly Line

The social hierarchies of today's factories are complex. In the cut-and-thrust world of manufacturing, nobody gives two hoots about your football team, the cost of your alloys, or how often you say words like "innit" and "mate". Instead, the clever-clogses with the best degrees get all the respect. So, when I began work at a factory three weeks ago, I found instant adoration. Working men grovelled in humility at my Physics Master's from Imperial. In fact, there were few who could match my extensive knowledge of diode lasers or the philosophy of Descartes. In the intellectual debates which frequently raged over lunch, I put many men to shame with my knowledge of the sciences. I even found myself dabbling in some healthy corruption; solving physics problems on the side for the boss ensured I always got to operate the best machines and was first in the queue for the pie van. In short, life was good.

Now there was one man known to rule the factory floor; a fork-lift driver with a Master's from Cambridge, known simply as the Prof. I was told his understanding of the Copenhagen interpretation was unparalleled in contemporary manufacturing; he had published many important papers in respected factory journals. Everything had to go through him, and he took a disliking to my recent social advances. One day tensions came to a head when, as I sat pondering the impossibilities of Cartesian dualism over lunch, he approached me. "I challenge you to a maths-off!" he blurted. The room fell silent; all around men looked up from their Nature journals and gasped.

Maths-offs were once a regular feature of factory life. In a maths-off, two men take turns to set their opponent a difficult integral to solve. The first man to fail to evaluate the function put before him, loses. Such events can be extremely dangerous. In 1989 at a steel refinery in Lancashire, 28 workers died when a riot broke out following a maths-off. The trouble started when one of the combatants was caught using the Runge-Kutta numerical method to the fourth order. This is of course blatant cheating as the functions must be solved analytically, and the culprit was lynched for it, which led to the riot. Following this well-publicised case, the government began a crackdown, and today maths-offs are, thankfully, very rare.

Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge, and a rudimentary blackboard and chalk were produced from their hiding place underneath a workbench (blackboards have been outlawed in factories since the Mathematical Competition Act of 1990). Several men kept watch for bosses as the contest got underway. I went first, scrawling a tangle of pure algebra on the board. "Old skool, eh?" responded the Prof, and he got to work. Five minutes later the integral had been evaluated. His riposte was a fiendish arrangement of coses and sines. Murmurs circled around the room and it looked like this would be impossible to solve, but the Prof's smug smile was wiped off as he watched me convert the function to complex exponentials for an easy solution. My turn again, and I whipped out a nasty path integral. "Child's play!" said the overconfident Prof, and he wrote out his solution. As he stood back I exclaimed "You failed to notice that this was a closed path, and the integrand represents a conservative force; the answer is in fact zero." Fuming with rage, the Prof stormed off, and the maths-off was over.

From that day forth I have enjoyed the luxury of free tea from the vending machines, and my choice of radio station.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The joy of weekends

Weekends. Oh how I've missed thee. For months, the simple pleasure of a weekend has escaped me; that is until now.

But hark, I hear the cries of disbelief. You wonder how anyone could miss out on weekends for so long. You may even allege I am taking nonsense for the sake of a blog. Well you'd be wrong. For as long as I can remember I have either been studying or pissing around; during Imperial finals you don't have the luxury of weekends, and once exams are over you monkey around all week anyway to the point where there's nothing really different about a Saturday. But now that I'm taking a short break in what's known as the "real world", weekends have revealed themselves to be a precious comodity.

Wikipedia defines a weekend as "a time for leisure and recreation, and/or for religious activities." Taking this advice to heart, I sought to resolve my recent weekends in the appropriate manner, as set out by Wiki. I began with religion. Bit of a toughie if you're not religious, I mean what could I worship if not a deity? It didn't take long for the answer to come to me, and it tasted great.

"Hop"ping on the first train to London after work, I reached the Great British Beer Festival in the early evening. I met up with regular drinking buddy Alex in the queue, and we braced ourselves for a glorious night of real-ale at that holy temple of beer, Earl's Court Exhibition Centre. After purchasing an extortionately over-priced glass, Alex and I wasted no time hunting out the funniest-sounding ales. Then once our immediate ale-thirst had been quenched, we met up with fellow revellers Pete, Damien, Marc, the Dude Next Door and others. It was then time for some food, and what better way to fill our bellies than emptying a large portion of our wallets into the coffers of a curry vendor with a monopoly that stretched as far as we could be arsed to look. This tactic produced a medium/large-sized portion of chicken tikka, which was quite tasty.

The rest of the evening proceeded roughly as one might expect, with the exception that Alex didn't remove his clothes. He did however, attempt to have oral sex with a life-sized glass-fibre cow (see figure above), and were it not for an irate security guard he might have succeeded. Following this festival of beer we retired to Damien's flat for port and cheese. Along the way we stopped off at Tesco's to acquire said foodstuffs, and of course to use the disabled toilet. The evening ended in a very civilised fashion as we discussed life, women, and the works of Isaac Asimov on the roof while sipping port and eating Danish Blue.

The following weekend I sought to serve up the other two ingredients for a good weekend, leisure and recreation. For this I headed to the scenic Chiltern hills in Buckinghamshire, home of rich people, Pete's brewery and relatively recent acquaintance of the QA's, Library Girl (anonymity preserved!). Recreation took the form of a night out in Aylesbury accompanied by Pete, LG and various friends thereof. Despite many desperate attempts to convince me that Aylesbury sucked, I was actually left with quite a good impression (Pete - come for a 'night out' in Chippenham, I'll show you a real crappy chav-infested town!). The next day we achieved leisure with a stroll around Combe Hill (OK... we drove there and walked for 5 minutes, but it counts!).

So there you have it, the recipe for a good weekend! Now, back to the real world...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rant of the week: Train tickets and chicken

Hello minnows, and welcome back to the Quantum Angler! After a brief hiatus, my fishy blog will now return with a vengeance, and to that end I present to you a new feature - rant of the week! So without further Apu, let the rants begin!

Right, trains. Very fertile ground for a rant you'll agree, but I have a specific one in mind. I mean, tickets are expensive right? £27.05 return from my 'hood to London (with a YPR) ain't cheep, especially as the journey takes just 75 minutes. And then you have to stand up and sometimes they don't run at all. But I'm English, so I don't mind a bit of bad service or high prices. Where I draw the line however is a straight rip-off, so imagine my horror when I try to buy a single; £26.40 would be the price, a mere 65p cheaper than the return. That's a measly 2% saving if you only want half the journey! Before you say it, this is no isolated case, but simply the state of affairs on many if not most journeys around the country. What a rip-off!

In essence then, the tickets are effectively the same price, and that leads to one of two conclusions; either a return ticket is a bargain, or a single ticket is a rip-off. Given I've already asserted that my return ticket is not a bargain, the latter must be true. In other words, they will no longer sell you a one-way train ticket in this country at its true market value.

This is certainly a dastardly trick by the rail operators, but it's not just they who may take the credit. Ever tried buying chicken in Sainsbury's? You'll have experienced exactly the same thing. A standard tray of 4 chicken breasts is priced at £5.99, but if you buy two the second costs just £1 more, i.e. it's £6.99 for 8. Obviously then, you buy 8 breasts to save money in the long term. This "offer" runs continuously. Some may be fooled into thinking they've found a bargain, but I put it to you that the market value of the chicken is actually £6.99 for 8, I mean why would they give you another one almost for free all the time? You are made to buy 8 rather than 4 because if you bought 4 you'd pay almost double its true value. With this the supermarkets make you buy more, increasing their profits.

As a side-note there's the sheer waste which this policy must produce. No doubt a lot of people forget to freeze the extra chicken for later and it goes off. It once happened to me and Alex; collectively we had 16 chicken breasts in the fridge because of this "offer". Because our fridge was so jammed with stuff our flatmates forgot about, it never kept things very cool, so all the chicken went off. What a sad waste!

I could end this rant by citing it as an example of how this country is going to pot, and how we could solve this problem by kicking out a few immigrants. But I'm not after a job with the Daily Mail, it just annoys me when companies use their monopolies to extort you like this!